Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

Weekend Reading: Tourism in Egypt, Descartes in Reyhanli, and Corruption in the KRG

by Steven A. Cook Friday, November 20, 2015
A girl holds a child inside a refugee camp for the internally displaced in Jrzinaz area, southern part of Idlib province, Syria October 13, 2015 (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters). A girl holds a child inside a refugee camp for the internally displaced in Jrzinaz area, southern part of Idlib province, Syria October 13, 2015 (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters).

Farah Halime studies how continued violence in Egypt, particularly against the tourism industry, negatively impacts the country’s economy.

The blogger Maysaloon discusses teaching identity, philosophy, and Descartes to Syrian refugee children. Read more »

Repost: What Should the U.S. Do About ISIS?

by Steven A. Cook Monday, November 16, 2015
A passerby pauses near a makeshift memorial with U.S. and French flags outside the French embassy in Washington November 16, 2015  (Carlos Barria/Reuters). A passerby pauses near a makeshift memorial with U.S. and French flags outside the French embassy in Washington November 16, 2015 (Carlos Barria/Reuters).

Last June, I participated in a National Journal symposium asking, “What Should the U.S. Do About ISIS?” After last Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris, for which the self-proclaimed Islamic State has claimed responsibility, I went back and looked at what I wrote. My bottom line was this: The United States has a responsibility to its allies, but policymakers should understand that bringing military force to bear on the Islamic State will not alone resolve the problem. The phenomenon of Islamist extremism is first and foremost a political and theological challenge that Washington barely understands; this part of the fight is best left to Arabs and Muslims. Have a look at what I wrote. I believe it stands up pretty well. Feel free to let me know what you think. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Ramlat Bulaq, Bedouin Poetry, and the Islamic State vs. Israel

by Steven A. Cook Friday, November 13, 2015
A small cruise boat passes Nile City Towers, which is owned by Naguib Sawiris the owner of Orascom Telecom, overlooking the river Nile in Cairo June 7, 2013 (Asmaa Waguih/Reuters). A small cruise boat passes Nile City Towers, which is owned by Naguib Sawiris the owner of Orascom Telecom, overlooking the river Nile in Cairo June 7, 2013 (Asmaa Waguih/Reuters).

Omnia Khalil reviews the struggles of everyday life in the Cairene neighborhood of Ramlat Bulaq.

William Tamplin takes a look at Jordan’s most popular Bedouin poet and his use of verse to express Arab political arguments. Read more »

Egypt: Into the Unknown

by Steven A. Cook Monday, November 9, 2015
An Egyptian army soldier stands guard near debris from a Russian airliner which crashed at the Hassana area in Arish city, north Egypt (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters). An Egyptian army soldier stands guard near debris from a Russian airliner which crashed at the Hassana area in Arish city, north Egypt (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters).

The Egyptian state is weak. The country’s leaders are in a state of either panic or perpetual confusion. No one is in control. As in the darkest, most contested days of former President Mohammed Morsi’s tenure, Egypt’s failure once again seems plausible. Despite what supporters of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi claim about webs of conspiracies hatched in Washington, Doha, Istanbul, Jerusalem, or wherever, Egyptians have no one to blame but themselves. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Egypt’s State of Idiocy, Darth Mediene, and Libya’s Tribes

by Steven A. Cook Friday, November 6, 2015
A man reads newspaper in the alley of the old city of Algiers Al Casbah, Algeria (Zohra Bensemra/Reuters). A man reads newspaper in the alley of the old city of Algiers Al Casbah, Algeria (Zohra Bensemra/Reuters).

Maged Atiya laments the Egyptian state’s devolution into idiocy.

Sam Metz and Abdallah Brahimi explore the potential reasons behind the recent dismissal of Algerian spy chief Mohammed Mediene. Read more »

What Turkey’s Election Surprise Says About The Troubled Country

by Steven A. Cook Tuesday, November 3, 2015
People wave flags and hold a portrait of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan outside the AK Party headquarters in Istanbul, Turkey (Osman Orsal/Reuters). People wave flags and hold a portrait of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan outside the AK Party headquarters in Istanbul, Turkey (Osman Orsal/Reuters).

This article originally appeared here on Fortune.com on Monday, November 2, 2015.

Just five months after failing to secure a parliamentary majority for the first time since 2002, Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) came roaring back on Sunday with 49.4% of the popular vote and a renewed mandate to govern without any coalition partners. Going into the elections, all the polling indicated that the AKP would garner about 40% of the vote, which would force it to seek coalition partners to form a government. This was precisely the outcome of the June elections, after which the inability of the AKP and Turkey’s other main parties to agree on a government produced a “hung parliament” and Sunday’s re-run elections. There are already questions about the AKP’s turnaround, improving almost ten percentage points in an environment where the country is once again at war with the terrorists of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), where the self-declared Islamic State has perpetrated horrific bombings taking the lives of 134 Turks since July, and where the economy has been on the slide. Opponents of the AKP and critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who sabotaged coalition talks in June because he did not like the election results, suspect the outcome was manipulated. Erdogan and AKP party officials insist that voters opted for stability during increasingly uncertain times. Regardless, neither Erdogan nor the AKP have answers for the multiple crises buffeting the country. Read more »

Turkey: Past Is Present

by Steven A. Cook Sunday, November 1, 2015
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan leaves the voting booth at a polling station in Istanbul (Murad Sezer/Reuters). Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan leaves the voting booth at a polling station in Istanbul (Murad Sezer/Reuters).

When this post goes up Turkish electoral officials will likely still be tallying the results of Sunday’s do-over parliamentary elections. Like the voting that took place on June 7, this round is widely regarded to be crucial. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s quest for the executive presidency, the coherence of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), the integration and normalization of the Kurdish-based People’s Democratic Party (HDP), and the quality of Turkish politics going forward are all thought to be riding on the outcome. If the pre-election polling is accurate—and they have been stable for months—Turks will be faced with the same, inconclusive result that they produced five months ago, resolving nothing. Then again, anything can happen. I have been told that Turkey’s political institutions are both robust and meaningful, giving them the capacity to process people’s grievances and prevent excesses of both winners and losers. I have my doubts. Last June’s elections were supposed to have proven the resilience of Turkey’s democracy, but Erdogan demonstrated his ability to manipulate the political system because the elections did not go his way. Turkey is actually more fragile than people believe. Read more »

Weekend Reading: The Saudi-Iranian Cold War, the Return of the Free Syrian Army, and Lebanon’s Protests

by Steven A. Cook Friday, October 30, 2015
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, shakes hands with Saudi Arabia's King Salman at the Royal Court, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, May 7, 2015 (Andrew Harnik/Reuters). U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, shakes hands with Saudi Arabia's King Salman at the Royal Court, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, May 7, 2015 (Andrew Harnik/Reuters).

Reza Marashi argues that ending the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran is necessary to create a new and effective security framework in the Middle East.

Alex Rowell examines the slow and quiet return of the Free Syrian Army to prominence as a relevant player in Syria’s civil war. Read more »

The Middle Eastern Revolutions That Never Were

by Steven A. Cook Tuesday, October 27, 2015
A man walks past graffiti that reads "Revelation, Screaming of people" at Mohamed Mahmoud street which leads to the Interior Ministry, where clashes between protesters and security force took place in late November, near Tahrir Square in Cairo December 5, 2011 (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters). A man walks past graffiti that reads "Revelation, Screaming of people" at Mohamed Mahmoud street which leads to the Interior Ministry, where clashes between protesters and security force took place in late November, near Tahrir Square in Cairo December 5, 2011 (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters).

This article originally appeared here on the American Interest on Monday, October 26, 2015.

Bloodshed, fragmentation, and repression portend a Middle Eastern future very different from the democratic dreams that many Western observers and some young locals entertained in 2011 and 2012. When the so-called revolutions of the region began to produce instability and violence, some analysts suggested there was no need to worry. What was happening in the Middle East was a process, albeit a painful one, that was common to countries that had undergone transitions to democracy. Yet it turns out that Egypt is not France and even Tunisia, the Arab Spring’s lone “success story”, is not Poland. For various political, structural, and historical reasons, unlike Western Europe of two centuries ago or Eastern Europe of two decades ago, authoritarian instability, not rocky democratic transitions, is the Middle East’s new reality. Read more »