Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

Cook examines developments in the Middle East and their resonance in Washington.

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On the Death of a Friend in Israel

by Steven A. Cook
Elhanan Harlev Elhanan Harlev

On the Death of a Friend in Israel

My friend Elhanan Harlev died on July 1st after a long illness. We had an odd friendship. He was an Israeli by way of Germany and Argentina. I am a kid from Long Island. Elhanan was more than three decades older than me. We did not share a common language. Against those odds we somehow managed to communicate. Often times it was through an able interpreter like his wife, my cousin Carol, or one of her sons from her first marriage—most often Ari, who has popped up on this blog from time to time. At other times, Elhanan and I just found a way to understand each other. Never has a name, Elhanan means “God is Merciful,” been so apt for the soft-spoken, gentle, and wise soul that he was (and remains). His was an extraordinary life because it was so normal. And in that normalcy, he taught me more about Israel than much of what I have read. Read more »

(Memorial Day) Weekend Reading: Mubarak’s Mansions and To Boycott or Not To Boycott?

by Steven A. Cook
Steven Cook wears t-shirts purchased in Cairo, Egypt in Spring 2011, Winter 2011, Summer 2012, and Spring 2014 (from left to right) reflecting the changes in Egyptian politics. Steven Cook wears t-shirts purchased in Cairo, Egypt in Spring 2011, Winter 2011, Summer 2012, and Spring 2014 (from left to right) reflecting the changes in Egyptian politics.

Hossam Bahgat writes about the recent verdicts against former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his sons, and how Egyptians unwittingly paid for their lavish lifestyles over the years.

Aliaa Hamed muses on why Egypt’s revolutionaries are boycotting the elections. Read more »

Social Work, Violence, and Palestinian Nationalism

by Steven A. Cook
An Islamic Jihad militant stands guard during a rally marking the 25th anniversary of the movement's foundation in Gaza City  (Suhaib Salem/Courtesy Reuters). An Islamic Jihad militant stands guard during a rally marking the 25th anniversary of the movement's foundation in Gaza City (Suhaib Salem/Courtesy Reuters).

Is Islamic Jihad getting soft?  Most likely not, but last Sunday, Jodi Rudoren had an interesting piece in the New York Times about the group. For those not familiar with the details of Islamic Jihad (sometimes referred to as Palestinian Islamic Jihad), it was founded in the late 1970s by Palestinian students studying in Egypt, frustrated that, for all the rhetorical demands in the Arab world and beyond for the establishment of a Palestine state, no one was doing much about it.  As the group’s name implies, its focus was exclusively liberating Palestine—from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean—through violence. Read more »

Turkey: “What Next?”

by Steven A. Cook
Sun sets behind the 16th century Ottoman era Blue Mosque in the old city of Istanbul (Fatih Saribas/Courtesy Reuters). Sun sets behind the 16th century Ottoman era Blue Mosque in the old city of Istanbul (Fatih Saribas/Courtesy Reuters).

“What next?”  That is the question that virtually everyone in Turkey is asking and it has Turks on edge. It has become shorthand for a series of other questions: Will Prime Minister Erdogan declare his presidential candidacy? Probably…maybe…,but you never know. Will President Gul oppose him? Unclear. Can Erdogan remain prime minister?  Yes, but he seems to want to be president. Would Gul be willing to be prime minister if Erdogan becomes president? He says he won’t play Medvedev to Erdogan’s Putin, but that may just be a tactic.  If not Gul, then who would assume the prime ministry? Perhaps deputy prime minister Ali Babacan, but whoever it is—besides Gul—it will certainly be someone Erdogan can control or intimidate.  Can Erdogan be marginalized in the officially apolitical presidency? The prime minister is the sun around which Turkish politics revolves; he does not do “marginalized.” Read more »

Weekend Reading: Sudanese Refugees in Jordan, Egyptian Insults, and Living Without Sabra Hummus

by Steven A. Cook
A Palestinian vendor reads a newspaper with the death of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi on the front page in Jerusalem's Old City (Amir Cohen/Courtesy Reuters). A Palestinian vendor reads a newspaper with the death of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi on the front page in Jerusalem's Old City (Amir Cohen/Courtesy Reuters).

IRIN reports on Jordan’s neglected refugees.

Mada Masr presents “Lexicon of a revolution’s insults,” which looks at new terms and labels invented after the Egyptian uprising of January 25. Read more »

Egypt’s Gotta Have It: Spending Bill Ambivalence

by Steven A. Cook
A soldier rests while on guard atop an armoured personnel carrier (APC) after night clashes at Tahrir Square in Cairo (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). A soldier rests while on guard atop an armoured personnel carrier (APC) after night clashes at Tahrir Square in Cairo (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

Last week the Congress passed the omnibus spending bill for fiscal years 2014 and 2015.  In one sense, this was very good news as it staves off a budget stalemate and another possible government shutdown until after the November elections.  Still, there was not much for anyone of any political persuasion to like about the bill, which seems to be a combination of unnecessary spending and gratuitous cuts. Many Egypt watchers in Washington also found a reason to groan buried deep within the 1,582-page legislation.  After the Obama administration delayed delivery of some military equipment because of the July 3 coup d’état, the Congress has paved the way for a full resumption of the assistance program to Egypt including $1.3 billion in military aid and $250 million of economic assistance.   The spending bill may have done away with the national security waiver that made it easy for an administration to overcome congressional efforts to withhold aid (see Rice, Condoleezza circa 2007) in favor of criteria that Cairo must meet to receive assistance, but it is back to business as usual.  Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who is chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on State Department, foreign operations, and related programs, tried to make the best of the spending bill declaring that it represented the “toughest conditions the Congress has imposed on aid to the Egyptian military.”  This seems a rather low bar given that Washington has never actually imposed any conditions on military aid to Egypt.  What Leahy does not mention, of course, is the fact that the new law exempts Egypt from Section 7008 of the Foreign Operations Appropriations Law, which says that the United States will not aid governments that come to power as a result of coups d’ état. Read more »

Egypt: Reductio Ad Absurdum

by Steven A. Cook
Members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi shout slogans during a protest against the military (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). Members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi shout slogans during a protest against the military (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

Outsiders tend to underestimate the deep psychological impact that the last almost three years have had on Egyptians.  Not long after the exhilaration of Mubarak’s exit, Egyptians confronted the complexities of their reality.  What followed is now a well-worn story of disappointment, tragedy, more disappointment, some more exhilaration, and despair.  There are, of course, Egyptians who are looking forward to better days now that the Muslim Brotherhood experiment has been short-circuited.  Still, the uncertainty and violence have taken a toll.  For good reason, Egypt is a country collectively on-edge. Although it has avoided the general depravity that characterizes Syria—with perhaps the exception of the Sinai—the delegitimizing and dehumanizing discourse that is now common in Egyptian debates about the future makes the search, conducted mostly by outsiders, for negotiation and consensus fanciful.  Egypt has reached the stage where, despite a roadmap for reconstituting an electoral political order, the goal remains for one group or another to impose its political will on the others, just as it has been since February 2011. Read more »

Hero of the Crossing? Anwar Sadat Reconsidered

by Steven A. Cook
Late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat seen announcing to the Egyptian
parliament, and the world his venture to visit Israel, Egypt's enemy at
the time, on November 9, 1977 (Courtesy Reuters). Late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat seen announcing to the Egyptian parliament, and the world his venture to visit Israel, Egypt's enemy at the time, on November 9, 1977 (Courtesy Reuters).

At 2pm on October 6, 1973, operation codename “Badr” began when two hundred Egyptian aircraft—under the command of General Hosni Mubarak—screamed low over the Suez Canal on their way to Israeli airbases and command and control installations in the Sinai.  Within fifteen minutes of the airstrikes, 4,000 Egyptian soldiers aboard more than 700 rubber dinghies made their way across the Canal along five fronts to assault the Bar-Lev line. By the morning of October 7, the Egyptian military had transferred an astonishing 90,000 men, 895 tanks, and 11,000 vehicles into the Sinai and established five bridgeheads east of the Canal while inflicting heavy losses on the Israel Defense Forces. Read more »

Weekend Reading: The “New” Libya, International Indecision on Syria, and the Brotherhood’s New Strategy

by Steven A. Cook
A man walks past graffiti depicting ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi (R) and the Deputy Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood Khairat Al-Shater in downtown Cairo, September 24, 2013 (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). A man walks past graffiti depicting ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi (R) and the Deputy Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood Khairat Al-Shater in downtown Cairo, September 24, 2013 (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

Abdel Bari Atwan looks at the devastating reality of the “new” Libya.

Kristian Coates Ulrichsen says that Syria is paying the price of international indecision. Read more »