Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

Weekend Reading: Egypt’s Informers, Algeria’s Political Complexities, and The Non-Intifada

by Steven A. Cook Friday, November 14, 2014
A supporter of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi shouts slogans against the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups, after the collection signatures for a petition in downtown Cairo (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). A supporter of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi shouts slogans against the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups, after the collection signatures for a petition in downtown Cairo (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

Belal Fadl characterizes Egypt as a state-sponsored nation of informers.

Anna Jacobs explores the complexities of the Algerian political system. Read more »

Tunisia: First Impressions

by Steven A. Cook Wednesday, November 12, 2014
The view from Sidi Bou Said. The view from Sidi Bou Said.

Tunis—Ever since Tunisia’s October 26 elections, there has been a raft of paeans to the “birthplace of the Arab Spring.” Tunisia does look pretty good, especially as it sits in between the chaos, resurgent authoritarianism, stasis, and faux reform of the neighborhood. The free and fair elections, which occurred ten months after the adoption of a new compromise constitution and a little more than a year after violence almost wrecked the whole post-Zine El Abidine Ben Ali political process, is worthy of praise. There have been two peaceful elections since Tunisians sent Ben Ali packing, which is an important benchmark for the country’s political trajectory. There is no doubt that Tunisians should be feeling pretty good about themselves, but I wonder if the editorial writers and commentators haven’t gotten a bit carried away. According to my friend and colleague, Amy Hawthorne, who observed last month’s elections, Tunisia’s transition to democracy is “very fragile.” I agree; Tunisia may be the best of the lot, but there are lots of ways it can go wrong. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Trouble In Morocco, Egypt 1990s Style, and What Are The Palestinians Saying?

by Steven A. Cook Friday, November 7, 2014
Israeli border police officers walk past the Dome of the Rock on the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City (Ammar Awad/Courtesy Reuters). Israeli border police officers walk past the Dome of the Rock on the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City (Ammar Awad/Courtesy Reuters).

Zineb Belmkaddem examines how the Moroccan authorities are clamping down on opposition movements.

Dina El Khawaga argues that the Egyptian government is reproducing the authoritarian measures of the 1990s to consolidate its power. Read more »

Burying Ataturk In Erdogan’s Castle

by Steven A. Cook Monday, November 3, 2014
Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan leaves an official ceremony to mark Republic Day at the new Presidential Palace in Ankara (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters). Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan leaves an official ceremony to mark Republic Day at the new Presidential Palace in Ankara (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters).

What can anyone say about Turkey’s new presidential palace that has not already been said? It is enormous. It is gaudy. It is expensive. I am not sure what was wrong with the old place, which is nestled into a hillside in the Cankaya area of Ankara. Inside, it was a tasteful blend of republicanism with a subtle nod to Ottoman greatness, but it was altogether understated. The aura of the old palace seemed consistent with the restraint and above-politics powers that were built into the Turkish presidency. I guess it was no longer right for the times. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Algeria’s Police Protest, Yemen’s Houthis Move In, and Egypt’s Liberals Explained

by Steven A. Cook Friday, October 31, 2014
Police officers gather near the Presidential Palace in Algiers October 15, 2014 (Louafi Larbi/Courtesy Reuters). Police officers gather near the Presidential Palace in Algiers October 15, 2014 (Louafi Larbi/Courtesy Reuters).

Thomas Serres suggests that the recent police protests in Algeria demonstrate how Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s regime is “being inundated from all sides.” Read more »

Egypt’s Economy: Bringing The State Back In

by Steven A. Cook Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) meets with U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew at the presidential palace in Cairo (Hassan Ammar/Courtesy Reuters). Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) meets with U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew at the presidential palace in Cairo (Hassan Ammar/Courtesy Reuters).

Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew visited Cairo on Monday and no one seemed to notice or care. That’s probably because of the awful terrorist attack that took the lives of at least 31 Egyptian conscripts and reportedly two officers in the Sinai Peninsula over the weekend. Lew’s visit was not going to deal with any number of the hot topics on the U.S.-Egypt agenda—human rights, military and economic assistance, press freedoms, and the ongoing fight against extremism, anyway. “Economic statecraft,” it seems, is just not that sexy. Exciting or not, it is important, especially since the Obama administration seems to have come to the conclusion that the United States can be most constructive on Egypt through policies that focus on the economy. There is an assumption among many in the Beltway policy community that at least on economic issues and their solution, the United States and Egypt can agree. Working with other countries to aid their economic development is a good idea, of course, but I wonder whether, like so much of the conversation between Washington and Cairo, American and Egyptian officials have very different ideas about the right approach to Egypt’s economic problems. Don’t be surprised, then, if the economy becomes another point of friction, or if Egyptian decision makers just ignore Washington’s advice. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Reading History in Doha, Egypt Intervenes in Libya, and Nervous Gulfies

by Steven A. Cook Friday, October 24, 2014
Kuwait's Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Sabah al Khalid al Sabah presides over the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) meeting in Riyadh June 2, 2014 (Faisal Al Nasser/Courtesy Reuters). Kuwait's Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Sabah al Khalid al Sabah presides over the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) meeting in Riyadh June 2, 2014 (Faisal Al Nasser/Courtesy Reuters).

Explore the Qatar Digital Library, an archive featuring the cultural and historical heritage of the Gulf and the wider region.

Janet Basurto, writing for Egyptian Streets, explores the reasons behind Egypt’s intervention in Libya. Read more »

Weekend Reading: The Artful Arab Spring, Disillusionment in Sidi Bouzid, and Rethinking Fragmented States

by Steven A. Cook Friday, October 17, 2014
Artists, who [are] against the Egyptian army and government, work on graffiti representing Egypt's life along Mohamed Mahmoud Street near Tahrir Square in Cairo (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). Artists, who [are] against the Egyptian army and government, work on graffiti representing Egypt's life along Mohamed Mahmoud Street near Tahrir Square in Cairo (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

St. Lawrence University offers an interactive look at the Arab uprisings through the lens of graffiti art.

Michael Marcusa examines the revolutionary spirit of the youth of Sidi Bouzid three-and-a-half years after the Tunisian uprising. Read more »

Turkey Has Been Consistent, Just Not In Line With U.S.

by Steven A. Cook Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the 69th United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York (Lucas Jackson/Courtesy Reuters). Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the 69th United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York (Lucas Jackson/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on NYTimes.com on Tuesday, October 14, 2014.

Turkey could still commit itself to becoming a more active member of the anti-ISIS coalition, though that seems unlikely. Last Friday, Ankara agreed to train members of the Free Syrian Army, and is still considering whether it will allow American and allied forces to use the Incirlik air base in the fight against the militant group. However, the permission to use this sprawling airfield close to the Syrian border may not be the breakthrough that U.S. officials have touted, revealing a continuing gap between Washington’s security needs and Turkey’s political dilemmas. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Houthi Rebels, Orthodox Intelligence, and Combative Kurdish Women

by Steven A. Cook Friday, October 10, 2014
Kurdish Peshmerga female fighters take up positions during combat skills training before being deployed to fight Islamic State militants, at their military camp in Sulaimaniya, northern Iraq (Ahmed Jadallah/Courtesy Reuters). Kurdish Peshmerga female fighters take up positions during combat skills training before being deployed to fight Islamic State militants, at their military camp in Sulaimaniya, northern Iraq (Ahmed Jadallah/Courtesy Reuters).

Abdul-Ghani Al-Iryani finds that Yemen is becoming polarized between the Shia Houthi rebels and the Sunni Islah Islamist party.

J. J. Goldberg looks at the rising influence of the right in Israel’s security and intelligence agencies. Read more »