Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

Saudi Arabia’s Gamal Mubarak

by Steven A. Cook Monday, June 20, 2016
Saudi Arabia's Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reacts upon his arrival at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France (Charles Platiau/Reuters). Saudi Arabia's Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reacts upon his arrival at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France (Charles Platiau/Reuters).

The deputy crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, was in Washington last week, arousing all the usual questions about what is going on in his country. Is it stable? Is the crown prince, Mohammed bin Nayef, in good health? Has the deputy crown prince, who is the son of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, already eclipsed the crown prince, the king’s nephew? Nobody knows for sure, of course, but Saudi watchers and other observers keep trying to guess anyway. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Libyan Identity, an Alawite State, and Cairo’s Ramadan Lanterns

by Steven A. Cook Friday, June 17, 2016
A woman with her daughter look at a stall selling festival lights and Ramadan lanterns, or "fanoos Ramadan", at Sayida Zienab district market during the first day of Ramadan in old Cairo, Egypt (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters). A woman with her daughter look at a stall selling festival lights and Ramadan lanterns, or "fanoos Ramadan", at Sayida Zienab district market during the first day of Ramadan in old Cairo, Egypt (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters).

Nada Elfeituri discusses the politics of identity and tribalism in Libya as civil strife continues to unfold.

Stefan Winter examines a 1936 pro–Syrian unity petition by Sulayman al-Asad, grandfather of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who pushed against the creation of an Alawite state. Read more »

Weekend Reading: The Sarona Attacks, the Islamic State’s Factions, and What Is Ahrar al-Sham?

by Steven A. Cook Friday, June 10, 2016
Relatives and friends mourn during the funeral of Ido Ben Ari, one of four Israelis who was killed in an Palestinian shooting attack in Tel Aviv, at a cemetery in Yavne, Israel (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters). Relatives and friends mourn during the funeral of Ido Ben Ari, one of four Israelis who was killed in an Palestinian shooting attack in Tel Aviv, at a cemetery in Yavne, Israel (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters).

J. J. Goldberg dissects the nature of the recent terrorist attack in Tel Aviv that killed four.

Tore Hamming examines the different ideological strains within the Islamic State group, focusing on its “extremist” wing. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Tunisia’s Beggars, Post-Islamist Islamists, and Assyrians in Syria

by Steven A. Cook Friday, June 3, 2016
2016Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi (L), talks with Rached Ghannouchi, leader of the Islamist Ennahda movement, during the congress of the Ennahda Movement in Tunis, Tunisia (Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters). 2016Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi (L), talks with Rached Ghannouchi, leader of the Islamist Ennahda movement, during the congress of the Ennahda Movement in Tunis, Tunisia (Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters).

Inel Tarfa interviews street beggars in Tunis, who express a complete lack of faith in the Tunisian government.

Nervana Mahmoud remains skeptical of Rachid al-Ghannouchi’s plan to divorce political Islam from his Tunisian Islamist party Ennahda. Read more »

On the Road in Israel

by Steven A. Cook Tuesday, May 31, 2016
(Photo by Steven A. Cook). (Photo by Steven A. Cook).

When I was twenty-four years old, I moved to Jerusalem. It was basically my junior year abroad, only three years after my actual junior year. I took some Hebrew, began Arabic lessons, and enrolled in a few graduate level classes at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, but I did not take these studies very seriously. I spent weekends in Tel Aviv, south Sinai, and the Galilee. I also hung out in East Jerusalem—where I discovered what real hummus tastes like; sorry, Israelis—and ventured into the West Bank any number of times. By the standards set by the second intifada, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians at the time was fairly tame. The first Palestinian uprising was winding down before I even arrived in Israel. Once I got to know the city pretty well, I would walk from the university through Sheikh Jarrah and from there to Damascus Gate for the above referenced hummus. I’d ride the 29 (or was it the 23?) Aleph bus through East Jerusalem just to see if it would get stoned—this was a few years before Palestinian suicide-bombers began blowing up buses. I do not actually remember much in the way of bloodshed during my year living on French Hill, though I am sure there was violence. Read more »

Memorial Day Weekend Reading

by Steven A. Cook Friday, May 27, 2016
Almost three thousand American soldiers—of whom 287 remain unknown—are buried just outside of Tunis (Photo by Steven A. Cook). Almost three thousand American soldiers—of whom 287 remain unknown—are buried just outside of Tunis (Photo by Steven A. Cook).

In the national collective memory of World War II, the North African campaign is often forgotten. Almost three thousand Americans were killed there in battles that took place between 1941 and 1945. Some of the earliest direct engagements of the war between U.S. and German forces took place in Tunisia, between the cities of Sidi Bouzid and Kasserine. There is no better book about this period than Rick Atkinson’s An Army At Dawn. Enjoy.

Drinking From the Nile

by Steven A. Cook Wednesday, May 25, 2016
A view of the Nile from Zamalek (Photo by Steven A. Cook). A view of the Nile from Zamalek (Photo by Steven A. Cook).

There is an Egyptian saying that goes like this: “Once you drink from the Nile, you will come back again.” I first drank from the Nile in June 1993 and I have been coming back ever since. That said, I took an almost two-year hiatus from Egypt that lasted from April 2014 until last week. I stayed away for a variety of reasons, from the general—I was growing weary of airplanes and I ached for my daughters on long trips—to the specific—I needed to actually write the book I had been talking about for the previous few years, but also, quite frankly, out of fear. Read more »

Weekend Reading: The Folly of Iraqi Partition, Turkey’s New Prime Minister, and Geopolitical Shiism

by Steven A. Cook Friday, May 20, 2016
Tribesmen loyal to the Houthi movement perform the Baraa dance during a gathering to show support to the movement in Sanaa, Yemen (Khaled Abdullah/Reuters). Tribesmen loyal to the Houthi movement perform the Baraa dance during a gathering to show support to the movement in Sanaa, Yemen (Khaled Abdullah/Reuters).

Ben Connable contends that persistent arguments to partition Iraq are often incoherent and offer weak solutions.

Murat Yetkin profiles Turkey’s presumptive new prime minister, Binali Yildirim, who was formerly the minister of transportation. Read more »

Tunisia: On the Road to Nowhere

by Steven A. Cook Tuesday, May 17, 2016
A monument to Mohammed al-Bouazizi in Sidi Bouzid (Photo by Steven A. Cook). A monument to Mohammed al-Bouazizi in Sidi Bouzid (Photo by Steven A. Cook).

“The only things [that have] changed are the names of the streets. They used to be [called] November 7, now they are [called] December 17.”

A young Tunisian said this to me in Sidi Bouzid on Sunday. For those less familiar with Tunisian history, on November 7, 1987, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali pushed the country’s founder, Habib Bourguiba, from power in a palace coup, and December 17, 2010, is the day when Mohammed al-Bouazizi set himself on fire in front of the governorate building in Sidi Bouzid—an act of desperation that began the Tunisian uprising that deposed Ben Ali almost a month later. The quote is a simple and powerful rebuke to the oft-repeated phrase that Tunisia is “the one Arab Spring success story.” The country is not yet a success, but it also is not a failure. Read more »

Don’t Blame Sykes-Picot for the Middle East’s Mess

by Steven A. Cook Friday, May 13, 2016
Members of the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS), a militia affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), detonate improvised explosive devices captured from Islamic State fighters near village of Umm al-Dhiban, northern Iraq (Goran Tomasevic/Reuters). Members of the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS), a militia affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), detonate improvised explosive devices captured from Islamic State fighters near village of Umm al-Dhiban, northern Iraq (Goran Tomasevic/Reuters).

This article was originally published here on ForeignPolicy.com on Friday, May 13, 2016.

Sometime in the 100 years since the Sykes-Picot agreement was signed, invoking its “end” became a thing among commentators, journalists, and analysts of the Middle East. Responsibility for the cliché might belong to the Independent’s Patrick Cockburn, who in June 2013 wrote an essay in the London Review of Books arguing that the agreement, which was one of the first attempts to reorder the Middle East after the Ottoman Empire’s demise, was itself in the process of dying. Since then, the meme has spread far and wide: A quick Google search reveals more than 8,600 mentions of the phrase “the end of Sykes-Picot” over the last three years. Read more »