Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

Recep Tayyip Erdogan: Turkey’s Executive President

by Steven A. Cook Tuesday, January 17, 2017
Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan addresses district governors at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey (Kayhan Ozer/Handout/Reuters).

A little more than twelve years ago, Turkey began membership negotiations to join the European Union. At the time it seemed to be the conclusion of a four-decade-long Turkish effort to become part of the West. The government of Turkey—then, as now, under the leadership of the Justice and Development Party (AKP)—had not exactly fulfilled all of the requirements to begin the process, but the European Commission reasoned that the very act of opening negotiations on the acquis communautaire would encourage the Turks to fulfill their obligations. I trace the path from this hopeful moment to Turkey’s current authoritarian reality in my upcoming book, False Dawn: Protest, Democracy, and Violence in the New Middle East. There is neither need nor space to give the whole story away here, but it is important to note that Turkey is about to reach the culmination—or denouement—of this fascinating and, for many Turks, dispiriting tale. Before the week is out, Turkey will become a full-fledged electoral autocracy. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Turkey’s Constitution, Wine in Lebanon, and Iraq’s Provinces

by Steven A. Cook Friday, January 13, 2017
A Syrian labourer gathers grapes at Chateau Kefraya in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley at the end of the harvest (Jamal Saidi/Reuters).

Michael Daventry tracks the voting progress on eighteen amendments to Turkey’s constitution as the so-called “executive presidency” bill makes its way through the Turkish legislature. Read more »

Weekend Reading: A Changing Discourse on Syria, Salman’s Saudi Troubles, and Turkey’s Soft Power

by Steven A. Cook Friday, January 6, 2017
Saudi King Salman bin Abbulaziz Al-Saud attends the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) 37th Summit in Manama, Bahrain (Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters).

Nervana Mahmoud considers how the discourse on the Syrian conflict could change in 2017.

Alain Gresh finds that Saudi Arabia’s King Salman can claim few successes in his time as ruler so far. Read more »

The Misplaced Optimism of the Two-State Solution

by Steven A. Cook Thursday, December 29, 2016
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks on Middle East peace at the Department of State in Washington (James Lawler Duggan/Reuters).

In the spring of 1991, when I was a research assistant for the director of studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, I met Joseph J. Sisco. Long-since retired, he had been the assistant secretary of state for the Near East and South Asia and undersecretary of state for political affairs. Among other things, Mr. Sisco (as I called him, even though he told me to use “Joe”) played an important role in Middle East diplomacy in the late 1960s and the first half of the 1970s. I was fortunate that Mr. Sisco took an interest in me. He was generous with his time, and on the few occasions that I published op-eds, he was gracious enough to offer his comments and encouragement. I remember some years later I ran into him on the DC Metro. This was just about the time when the Oslo process was starting to come undone by waves of suicide bombers attacking buses in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and other Israeli cities. After greeting each other, I asked Mr. Sisco what he thought about the prospects for continued progress in the context of such gruesome bloodshed. He replied, “Steven, you always have to be optimistic.” That was the last time I saw him in person; he died in late 2004. I am afraid if Mr. Sisco were still alive, his perspective would likely be darker than it was that day aboard the Red Line, especially after the spectacle of this past week. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Egypt’s Church Bombing, Jihadi Street Art, and Saudis Go to the Track

by Steven A. Cook Friday, December 16, 2016
A Saudi man trains his son to ride a horse in a desert near Tabuk, Saudi Arabia (Mohamed Al Hwaity/Reuters).

Maged Atiya ponders what the Egyptian state can do in the aftermath of the bombing at St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church in downtown Cairo.

Loubna Salem takes a look at examples of jihadi street art. Read more »

Violence for Violence’s Sake

by Steven A. Cook Tuesday, December 13, 2016
A nun cries as she stands at the scene inside Cairo's Coptic cathedral, following a bombing, in Egypt (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters).

Last weekend was terrible. There were terrorist attacks in Cairo, Istanbul, Mogadishu, Aden, and Maiduguri in Nigeria, killing close to two hundred people. When the news broke of the attack in Cairo, I was spending time with family and friends, one of whom asked me if I was going to be on TV talking about what had happened there and in Istanbul. I am not sure what there was to say. That Egypt and Turkey are under attack? That both countries are unstable? Speculate about the most likely suspects? This ritual seems so banal when friends in both cities are marking themselves “safe” on Facebook. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Tunisian Economics, Assad and the Jihadis, and Palestinians in Egypt

by Steven A. Cook Friday, December 9, 2016
Tunisian lawyers demonstrate against the government's proposed new taxes, near the courthouse in Tunis, Tunisia (Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters).

Francis Ghiles finds that persistent economic problems threaten the stability and success of Tunisia’s democratic transition.

Elias Muhanna speculates on the relationship between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and jihadi groups. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Tension in Turkey, Kuwait’s Election, and Reexamining Tunisian History

by Steven A. Cook Friday, December 2, 2016
Kuwaiti women cast their votes during parliamentary election in a polling station in Kuwait City, Kuwait (Stringer/Reuters).

Nick Ashdown discusses the tense political and social climate in Turkey in the months after the failed coup attempt.

Habib Toumi argues that reforms to Kuwait’s electoral law in July 2006 have succeeded in diminishing the influence of large tribal coalitions in last weekend’s parliamentary elections. Read more »

Why Turkey Is Salivating for President Trump

by Steven A. Cook Friday, November 25, 2016
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses police officers and cadets during a conference in Ankara, Turkey (Handout/Reuters).

This article was originally published here on on Thursday, November 24, 2016.

If Turks celebrated Thanksgiving, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s supporters would be giving thanks for U.S. President-elect Donald J. Trump. Read more »