Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

Weekend Reading: Remembering Omar Sharif

by Steven A. Cook Friday, July 17, 2015
Egyptian actor Omar Sharif poses for a photograph during the presentation of his latest film entitled "Disparadme" at a hotel in Aviles, northern Spain, June 16, 2009 (Eloy Alonso/Reuters). Egyptian actor Omar Sharif poses for a photograph during the presentation of his latest film entitled "Disparadme" at a hotel in Aviles, northern Spain, June 16, 2009 (Eloy Alonso/Reuters).

Randa Ali from Al-Ahram remembers legendary Egyptian actor Omar Sharif.

Magdi Abdelhadi laments Omar Sharif’s death as a reminder of a bygone era of Egyptian culture. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Condemning or Condoning Egypt,Urban Redevelopment in Alexandria, and Linking ISIS?

by Steven A. Cook Friday, July 10, 2015
A boy holds a Tunisian flag as he stands near bouquets of flowers laid at the beachside of the Imperiale Marhabada hotel, which was attacked by a gunman in Sousse, Tunisia (Zohra Bensemra/Reuters). A boy holds a Tunisian flag as he stands near bouquets of flowers laid at the beachside of the Imperiale Marhabada hotel, which was attacked by a gunman in Sousse, Tunisia (Zohra Bensemra/Reuters).

Maged Atiya writes that, two years after, the removal of former President of Egypt Mohammed Morsi is as difficult to condemn as it is to condone.

Amro Ali examines the debate on urban development in Alexandria and the rebuilding of that city’s famed lighthouse. Read more »

Egypt’s Coming Chaos

by Steven A. Cook Monday, July 6, 2015
Relatives of 21-year-old Mohamed Adel, one of the army officers who died in yesterday's Sinai attacks, carry his coffin during the funeral in Al-Kaliobeya, near Cairo, Egypt, July 2, 2015 (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters). Relatives of 21-year-old Mohamed Adel, one of the army officers who died in yesterday's Sinai attacks, carry his coffin during the funeral in Al-Kaliobeya, near Cairo, Egypt, July 2, 2015 (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters).

This article originally appeared here on ForeignPolicy.com on Friday, July 3, 2015.

When Egyptian Prosecutor-General Hisham Barakat’s car was blown up in Cairo this week by as of yet unknown terrorists, there was a profound sense of foreboding that Egypt was in some new, unprecedented phase of violence. These concerns were only reinforced when the Islamic State-affiliated Wilayat Sinai, or “Province of Sinai,” killed dozens of soldiers and policemen in a spectacular raid on the town of Sheikh Zuweid the following day. Egypt is indeed entering unchartered territory, fighting an undeclared war in the Sinai Peninsula that is spreading to population centers in the Nile Valley. It is hard to imagine how Egyptians will avoid a prolonged period of bloodshed. Read more »

Reinventing Egypt’s Jews

by Steven A. Cook Monday, June 29, 2015
An Egyptian army soldier stands beside a star of David, on a wall surrounding the Israeli Embassy in Cairo September 4, 2011 (Mohamed Abd El-Ghany/Reuters). An Egyptian army soldier stands beside a star of David, on a wall surrounding the Israeli Embassy in Cairo September 4, 2011 (Mohamed Abd El-Ghany/Reuters).

After two millennia, it seems Jews are “in” in the Middle East. In what can only be described as a stunning turn of events, Jews—though not Israelis—have become “What’s Hot” in the region, and the Muslim Brotherhood has become “What’s Not.” The nostalgia for lost Jewish communities has been a recurring theme since at least 2012 with the release of Amir Ramses’ documentary Jews of Egypt. The latest installment is the Egyptian Ramadan serial called The Jewish Alley (Haret el-Yahood). In between, there has been a rediscovery of Jewish life and culture in Tunisia, Morocco, and Lebanon, where the Maghen Abraham synagogue has been undergoing a lengthy renovation. It is easy to overstate the case given Egypt’s recent history of seemingly pathological anti-Semitism, but Egyptians seem to have gone further than others in the region in their rediscovery of Jewish life and culture. This should make well-meaning people feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but what is happening in Egypt is actually less rediscovery than reinvention. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Kurdish in Turkey, The Ghost of Omar Pasha, and Islam vs. Jihadism

by Steven A. Cook Friday, June 26, 2015
Former spy chief and presidential candidate Omar Suleiman talks during an interview with Reuters at his office in Cairo April 14, 2012 (Asmaa Waguih/Reuters). Former spy chief and presidential candidate Omar Suleiman talks during an interview with Reuters at his office in Cairo April 14, 2012 (Asmaa Waguih/Reuters).

Nadeen Shaker investigates how Turkey’s Kurds are reclaiming their language in the classroom.

Farah Halime of Rebel Economy has published a translation of former Vice President of Egypt Omar Suleiman’s September 2011 court testimony in the case against former President Hosni Mubarak. Read more »

Michael Oren’s Myths

by Steven A. Cook Monday, June 22, 2015
Israeli schoolchildren hold the Israeli and American flags during a rehearsal for U.S. President Barack Obama's visit at his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres' residence tomorrow, in Jerusalem March 19, 2013 (Baz Ratner/Reuters). Israeli schoolchildren hold the Israeli and American flags during a rehearsal for U.S. President Barack Obama's visit at his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres' residence tomorrow, in Jerusalem March 19, 2013 (Baz Ratner/Reuters).

Israel’s former ambassador to the United States, Michael B. Oren, has been all over the papers, online magazines, and blogs in the last week. He has had opeds in the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Foreign Policy.com, and gave a two part interview to Shmuel Rosner, the political editor of the Jewish Journal. Most of what has appeared are excerpts from Oren’s new book, Ally, in which he recounts his time in Washington. Oren has stirred passions among Israel’s supporters, its detractors, defenders of the Obama administration, and its harshest critics. This is all because Oren’s depiction of President Obama, his worldview, and his administration’s approach to the Middle East is not generous, to put it diplomatically. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Egypt’s Jews, an Afternoon With Hezbollah, and Moroccan Salafis

by Steven A. Cook Friday, June 19, 2015
An Afghan man reads the Koran on the holy fasting month of Ramadan at a mosque in Herat (Mohammad Shoib/Reuters). An Afghan man reads the Koran on the holy fasting month of Ramadan at a mosque in Herat (Mohammad Shoib/Reuters).

Sigal Samuel reviews a new Ramadan television series about Egypt’s Jewish community.

The Beirut Report recounts the story of a journalist held by Hezbollah in southern Beirut. Read more »

What Should the U.S. Do About ISIS?

by Steven A. Cook Monday, June 15, 2015
Shi'ite paramilitaries and iraqi army riding on a tank travel from Lake Tharthar towards Ramadi to fight against Islamic state militants, west of Samarra, Iraq May 27, 2015 (Stringer/Reuters). Shi'ite paramilitaries and iraqi army riding on a tank travel from Lake Tharthar towards Ramadi to fight against Islamic state militants, west of Samarra, Iraq May 27, 2015 (Stringer/Reuters).

This article originally appeared here on NationalJournal.com on Saturday, June 13, 2015.

The policy debate would be more productive if we asked ourselves what we should not do about ISIS. Having made the world safe for democracy in the 20th century, Americans are naturally disposed to want to meet great ideological challenges. But the struggle against ISIS is a political and theological fight that is largely beyond the United States. The group is successful at this moment because of a series of failures—of the Iraq project that began in 2003, of the Arab republics, of the Arab uprisings, of the Muslim Brotherhood’s experiment with governance, of shortsighted policy in Libya—that have made its claims about authenticity, citizenship, and religion attractive to young men and women grappling with these failures. At the same time, there are millions of Arabs and Muslims who do not want to live in ISIS-land, and who have begun to respond to the threat that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi represents. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Rediscovering Saddam, Revisiting Tunisia’s Democracy, and Reviewing the Islamic State

by Steven A. Cook Friday, June 12, 2015
Saddam Hussein testifies during his trial in Baghdad, Iraq, June 12, 2006 (Jacob Silberberg/Reuters). Saddam Hussein testifies during his trial in Baghdad, Iraq, June 12, 2006 (Jacob Silberberg/Reuters).

Victor Argo revisits the persona of longtime Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Nadia Marzouki and Hamza Meddeb question the assumptions behind the claim that Tunisia is a democratic success story. Read more »