Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

Social Work, Violence, and Palestinian Nationalism

by Steven A. Cook Thursday, May 8, 2014
An Islamic Jihad militant stands guard during a rally marking the 25th anniversary of the movement's foundation in Gaza City  (Suhaib Salem/Courtesy Reuters). An Islamic Jihad militant stands guard during a rally marking the 25th anniversary of the movement's foundation in Gaza City (Suhaib Salem/Courtesy Reuters).

Is Islamic Jihad getting soft?  Most likely not, but last Sunday, Jodi Rudoren had an interesting piece in the New York Times about the group. For those not familiar with the details of Islamic Jihad (sometimes referred to as Palestinian Islamic Jihad), it was founded in the late 1970s by Palestinian students studying in Egypt, frustrated that, for all the rhetorical demands in the Arab world and beyond for the establishment of a Palestine state, no one was doing much about it.  As the group’s name implies, its focus was exclusively liberating Palestine—from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean—through violence. Read more »

How Personal Politics Drive Conflict in the Gulf

by Guest Blogger for Steven A. Cook Tuesday, May 6, 2014
Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (Louafi Larbi/Courtesy Reuters). Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (Louafi Larbi/Courtesy Reuters).

David Roberts, lecturer in the Defence Studies Department at King’s College London, based at the Joaan Bin Jassim Staff College in Qatar, offers expert insight into the recent tensions among the major GCC states.

“I love all the countries of the Gulf, and they all love me.” With this less than subtle statement, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the vocal Qatar-based Muslim Brotherhood scholar tried to do his part to repair regional relations in the Gulf that have badly frayed in recent weeks. Long-brewing discontent erupted in early March with the unprecedented withdrawal of the Saudi, Emirati, and Bahraini ambassadors from Qatar. Subsequent mediation from Kuwait’s Emir has led the protagonists to the cusp of a modus vivendi, and a vague document has been agreed upon. Read more »

Weekend Listening/Viewing/Reading: Satire in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia’s “Garden,” and Lebanese Relief Workers

by Steven A. Cook Friday, May 2, 2014
Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) employees count votes at an analysis centre in Baghdad May 2, 2014 (Thaier Al-Sudani/Courtesy Reuters). Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) employees count votes at an analysis centre in Baghdad May 2, 2014 (Thaier Al-Sudani/Courtesy Reuters).
Karl Sharro discusses Lebanese politics and the role of satire in political analysis of the Middle East on Karl Morand’s Middle East Week Podcast. Read more »

Egypt’s War on Honest Language

by Steven A. Cook Wednesday, April 30, 2014
A soldier stands guard atop an armoured personnel carrier (APC) in front of murals of people killed during Egypt's uprising, at Mohammed Mahmoud Street near Tahrir Square in Cairo (Mohamed Abd El-Ghany/Courtesy Reuters). A soldier stands guard atop an armoured personnel carrier (APC) in front of murals of people killed during Egypt's uprising, at Mohammed Mahmoud Street near Tahrir Square in Cairo (Mohamed Abd El-Ghany/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on ForeignPolicy.com on Wednesday, April 30, 2014. 

Egyptian officials will respond to the storm of criticism over the mass death sentences handed down to 683 Egyptians and the banning of the April 6 Movement — a youth movement that was influential in the 2011 uprising — by doing what they always do. They will insist that the country’s judiciary is independent from political forces, and that judges are merely following the letter of the law in handing down harsh sentences. Egypt, in this version of reality, is actually a country where rule of law is paramount. Read more »

The Myth of Obama’s Failure in the Middle East

by Steven A. Cook Tuesday, April 29, 2014
U.S. President Barack Obama waves after addressing Israeli students at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem (Baz Ratner/Courtesy Reuters). U.S. President Barack Obama waves after addressing Israeli students at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem (Baz Ratner/Courtesy Reuters).

I wrote the following piece, which appeared here in Al Monitor yesterday with my friend, Michael Brooks. Michael is the host of the Intersection podcast on Aslan Media and a contributor for the award-winning daily political talk program the Majority Report.
Read more »

Closing the Channels of the Military’s Economic Influence in Turkey

by Steven A. Cook Thursday, April 24, 2014
Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (2nd R) is flanked by Ground Forces Commander and acting Chief of Staff General Necdet Ozel (C), Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz (R) and top military officials (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters). Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (2nd R) is flanked by Ground Forces Commander and acting Chief of Staff General Necdet Ozel (C), Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz (R) and top military officials (Umit Bektas/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here as part of the Middle East Institute’s Middle East-Asia Project on civilianizing the state. 

Since the patterns of civil-military relations in Turkey began to change a decade ago, analysts have focused on the modalities and the durability of civilian control of the armed forces, the consequences of the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer cases on the cohesion of the armed forces, and how the transformation of the officer corps’ historic relationship with the political system has affected the capabilities of the armed forces. Observers have given significantly less attention to the military’s role in the economy. Since the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923, the military has deployed its power in this area through indirect means. First, during relatively brief periods of military rule, the officers influenced economic policy without dictating the details of policymaking. Second, the military’s pension fund invests its members’ funds in the economy. Finally, until the mid-1980s, the senior command exercised control over the military procurement process through various military foundations. Over time, however, the military’s ability to shape economic policies has changed and the officers’ role in the economy has become normalized. Read more »

Arab Spring Reality Check

by Steven A. Cook Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Protesters from Tunisia's marginalised rural heartlands hold a hunger strike as they prepare to spend their second night outside the Prime Minister's office in Tunis January 24, 2011 (Zohra Bensemra/Courtesy Reuters). Protesters from Tunisia's marginalised rural heartlands hold a hunger strike as they prepare to spend their second night outside the Prime Minister's office in Tunis January 24, 2011 (Zohra Bensemra/Courtesy Reuters).

This article was originally published here on Muftah on Tuesday, April 22, 2014. 

It has been more than three years since the uprisings in the Arab world began.  The civil war in Syria, the persistent conflict between rebel militias and the government in Libya, the return of authoritarianism in Egypt, and the ongoing bloody crackdown in Bahrain all make for considerable hand-wringing among regional observers—to say nothing of Middle Easterners themselves, who once hoped for a better future. Read more »

Turkey: “What Next?”

by Steven A. Cook Monday, April 21, 2014
Sun sets behind the 16th century Ottoman era Blue Mosque in the old city of Istanbul (Fatih Saribas/Courtesy Reuters). Sun sets behind the 16th century Ottoman era Blue Mosque in the old city of Istanbul (Fatih Saribas/Courtesy Reuters).

“What next?”  That is the question that virtually everyone in Turkey is asking and it has Turks on edge. It has become shorthand for a series of other questions: Will Prime Minister Erdogan declare his presidential candidacy? Probably…maybe…,but you never know. Will President Gul oppose him? Unclear. Can Erdogan remain prime minister?  Yes, but he seems to want to be president. Would Gul be willing to be prime minister if Erdogan becomes president? He says he won’t play Medvedev to Erdogan’s Putin, but that may just be a tactic.  If not Gul, then who would assume the prime ministry? Perhaps deputy prime minister Ali Babacan, but whoever it is—besides Gul—it will certainly be someone Erdogan can control or intimidate.  Can Erdogan be marginalized in the officially apolitical presidency? The prime minister is the sun around which Turkish politics revolves; he does not do “marginalized.” Read more »

Weekend Reading: Turkey’s Intelligence State, Egypt’s Subsidies, and Syria’s European Jihadis

by Steven A. Cook Friday, April 18, 2014
Lebanese Christian priests distribute painted eggs in celebration of Easter after an Easter service at St. George church in central Beirut (Jamal Saidi/Courtesy Reuters). Lebanese Christian priests distribute painted eggs in celebration of Easter after an Easter service at St. George church in central Beirut (Jamal Saidi/Courtesy Reuters).

Fehim Tastekin wonders if Turkey is reverting to an intelligence state.

Mohamed Gad, writing for Mada Masr, asks if current Egyptian Finance Minister Hany Qadry will actually reform Egypt’s subsidies. Read more »