Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

Egypt and The Exigencies of Self Preservation

by Steven A. Cook Monday, February 10, 2014
Riot police officers sit behind barbed wire in front of the presidential palace in Cairo (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters). Riot police officers sit behind barbed wire in front of the presidential palace in Cairo (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters).

Last week, a knowledgeable and respected DC-based Egypt expert commented that Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al Sisi is “just a cog in the machine.”  It is not at all clear what exactly this means.  If there is a machine, who is behind it?  And if it is not al Sisi, who is it? The “cog in the machine” explanation of Egyptian politics is not new, it has just become more pronounced over the last three years.  It ranks high with other myths of Egyptian politics, notably the “evil genius” view of senior military commanders who allegedly pull levers and push buttons in a masterful subterfuge that produces only the outcomes that serve the military’s interests.  Perhaps al Sisi is a cog in the military’s machine, but it seems that Egyptian politics are more prosaic. Read more »

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

by Steven A. Cook Friday, February 7, 2014
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 »

Settlement Impossible

by Steven A. Cook Monday, February 3, 2014
Actress Scarlett Johansson poses at a film premiere (Mario Anzuoni/Courtesy Reuters). Actress Scarlett Johansson poses at a film premiere (Mario Anzuoni/Courtesy Reuters).

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the never-ending peace process are back.  Not that they ever went away, but the conflict has gotten far more newsprint and bandwidth in the last week or so than it has over the last six months. On Sunday, the New York Times ran three pieces in its “Sunday Review” section that touched on the conflict.  Essays by Hirsh Goodman and Omar Barghouti dealt specifically with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign—an issue bound up in politics and fraught with emotions that is linked to the efficacy of non-violent protest, the fight against South African apartheid in the 1980s, and the long effort to deny the Jewish connection to the territory that is now Israel and the West Bank. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Fade to Black

by Steven A. Cook Friday, January 31, 2014
A shopkeeper sells copies of the daily newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters). A shopkeeper sells copies of the daily newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

Flipboard.com’s  booklet of news related to press and media freedom across the Arab world.

Turkey’s internet problem. 

Reporters Without Borders worries about the lack of freedom of information in Libya and its effect on the prospects for democracy.

Grading Mearsheimer

by Steven A. Cook Monday, January 27, 2014
Egypt's Prime Minister Essam Sharaf (L) speaks with U.S. President Barack Obama next to Egypt's Minister of Finance Samir Radwan (C) before posing for a group photo at the G8 summit in Deauville (Philippe Wojazer/Courtesy Reuters). Egypt's Prime Minister Essam Sharaf (L) speaks with U.S. President Barack Obama next to Egypt's Minister of Finance Samir Radwan (C) before posing for a group photo at the G8 summit in Deauville (Philippe Wojazer/Courtesy Reuters).

When I was at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, I enrolled in a seminar on the revolutions in Eastern and Central Europe with Professor Michael Mandelbaum.  The Soviet Union, Poland, Hungary, East Germany, and Czecholsolvakia were not quite my thing, but the course was an interesting diversion from the Middle East and it was topical (this was 1994).  When Mandelbaum—who is now a friend and mentor—returned my first paper, he scratched along the bottom of the last page, “Your conclusions are surely correct, but you make a series of dubious assertions along the way.”  I had the same reaction when I read John J. Mearsheimer’s recent contribution to The National Interest, “America Unhinged.” Read more »

Weekend Listening: Mideastunes and Rapping in Turkey and Iran

by Steven A. Cook Friday, January 24, 2014
A teacher plays the saz, a traditional musical instrument, during a music class at the Arbat refugee camp in the northern Iraqi province of Sulaimaniya (Yahya Ahmad/Courtesy Reuters). A teacher plays the saz, a traditional musical instrument, during a music class at the Arbat refugee camp in the northern Iraqi province of Sulaimaniya (Yahya Ahmad/Courtesy Reuters).

Mideastunes.com, a “search engine,” of sorts, for finding music from the Middle East.

Jenna Krajeski profiles Tahribad-i Isyan, a Turkish rap group from Sulukule, Istanbul and discusses the urban development and minority experience that inspire their songs. Read more »

Erdogan for the Win

by Steven A. Cook Thursday, January 23, 2014
Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan greets his supporters during a meeting in Istanbul January 17, 2014 (Osman Orsal/Courtesy Reuters). Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan greets his supporters during a meeting in Istanbul January 17, 2014 (Osman Orsal/Courtesy Reuters).

Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a stunningly gifted politician.  He can be thuggish, high-handed, painfully arrogant, but he also seems to have an innate sense of what makes many Turks tick and how to connect with them.  The Gezi Park protests that began last spring—and never really ended—brought tens of thousands of people out into the streets in Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir, as well as smaller demonstrations in other cities to denounce the Turkish leader and his AK Party, but Erdogan was able to muster hundreds of thousands of supporters in response.  At the time I wrote that Erdogan was weak and vulnerable precisely because the prime minister felt compelled to stage rallies to prove his popularity.  That piece seems to dovetail well with more recent articles wondering if the current corruption scandal roiling Turkey means the “end of Erdogan” or whether his days “are numbered.” I stand by everything I wrote in “The Strong Man at His Weakest,” but Erdogan is not going anywhere.  He may even be the prime minister again. That does not mean that the apparent slugfest has not damaged Erdogan, it certainly has. Yet these injuries (mostly self-inflicted) are offset by the fact that the prime minister’s opponents have some significant political disadvantages and constraints of their own.  It may not seem that way, but upon close inspection Tayyip Bey may very well ride out this scandal. Read more »