Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

Egypt’s Economic Reform: The Good and the Bad

by Steven A. Cook Monday, November 14, 2016
Egyptians gather to buy subsidised sugar and oil from a government truck, after goods shortage in retail stores across the country and after the central bank floated the pound currency, in downtown Cairo, Egypt (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters).

I wrote this piece with my friend Imran Riffat, who has served in senior management positions with a major international bank and has experience in Cairo that includes a five-year stint as country head of the Egyptian operation. 

Last Friday, many Egyptians and more than a few Egypt watchers in Washington, DC, held their collective breath. November 11 was to be the “Revolution of the Poor,” but the 22 million who live in poverty did not show up in Tahrir Square to demand change. It might have been the large number of riot police and armored vehicles in the streets that kept people away. It also might have been the sheer exhaustion of the last six years and the fear of what might come next should another “revolution” erupt. The era of former President Hosni Mubarak may be perceived as an era of stagnation, but thus far it looks good along a number of economic, social, and even political dimensions in comparison to what has followed it. Still, Friday was a big win for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (and a setback for the Muslim Brotherhood, whose spokesman, Hassan Saleh, seemed to be foaming at the mouth in his official statement on behalf of the group encouraging protests). Not long after it became clear that Egyptians were not mobilizing came the announcement that Egypt and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had agreed to a much-needed $12 billion loan. Then, on Sunday, the Egyptian stock market did well. To cap off the weekend, Egypt’s national soccer team beat Ghana 2-0, vaulting the team to the top spot in its World Cup qualifying group. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Liberal Arts in the Middle East, Morocco’s Durability, and Lebanon’s New President

by Steven A. Cook Friday, November 4, 2016
Protests take part in a rally called by the February 20 Movement in Rabat after a fishmonger in the northern town of Al Hoceima was crushed to death inside a rubbish truck as he tried to retrieve fish confiscated by police (Stringer/Reuters).

Ted Purinton and Allison Hodgkins argue that the Middle East needs to invest in the liberal arts as a way to foster a productive citizenry and combat violent extremism. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Yemen’s Moualleds, Lebanon’s Presidency, and Iraq’s Book Market

by Steven A. Cook Friday, October 28, 2016
Christian politician and FPM founder Michel Aoun (L) talks during a news conference next to Lebanon's former prime minister Saad al-Hariri after he said he will back Aoun to become president in Beirut, Lebanon (Mohamed Azakir).

Afrah Nasser reflects on the lives of Yemen’s moualleds—Yemenis who have a non-Yemeni parent—before and after the Saudi-led war.

Ali Hashem argues that former Prime Minister of Lebanon Saad al-Hariri’s decision to support the nomination of General Michel Aoun, a pro-Hezbollah politician, for the Lebanese presidency—which has been vacant for over two years—is advantageous for both Hariri and his Saudi allies. Read more »

Thinking About Culture and the Middle East

by Steven A. Cook Monday, October 24, 2016
Tunisian lawyers gather as they demonstrate against the government's proposed new taxes, near the courthouse, in Tunis, Tunisia (Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters).

I read Ross Douthat’s column in the New York Times every Sunday. I guess that qualifies me as a fan, but it’s not that I agree with everything he writes. On at least one occasion, I thought his column was downright weird. For the most part, though, I appreciate his insights into cultural and religious conservatives that are the bread and butter of his work. On Sunday, October 9, he offered his readers a piece called “Among the Post-Liberals.” It was an exposition on how the “new radicals,” “new reactionaries,” and “religious dissenters” within the West are engaged in trenchant critiques of the Western, liberal, democratic, capitalist order, though none of these groups have developed a unified theory of what ails this system or of what should come next. Of Douthat’s 808 words, it was the following passage that really grabbed me: Read more »

Weekend Reading: Libyan Music, Gazan Tunnels, and Moroccan Politics

by Steven A. Cook Saturday, October 22, 2016
A voter casts his ballot at a polling station in Rabat, Morocco (Youssef Boudlal/Reuters).

Matthew Millan’s short documentary introduces us to the world of Libya’s revolutionary musicians.

Marina Chamma takes a look at the inner workings of a tunnel traversing the Egypt-Gaza border and what it means to Palestinians. Read more »

Egypt’s Nightmare

by Steven A. Cook Wednesday, October 19, 2016
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi attends the graduation of 83 aviation and military science at the Air Force Academy in Cairo, Egypt (Egyptian Presidency Handout/Reuters).

This article was originally published here on ForeignAffairs.com on Tuesday, October 18, 2016. It has also been published in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs magazine. Read more »

The Perplexing Problems of Solving Syria

by Steven A. Cook Monday, October 17, 2016
Rebel fighters shoot their weapon towards Dabiq town in northern Aleppo countryside, Syria (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters).

This article was originally published here on War on the Rocks on Monday, October 17, 2016.

What is there to say about Syria? That it is a tragedy? That only the horrors of the Holocaust, Pol Pot’s reign of terror, and Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution diminish its human toll? That the so-called international community strenuously condemns the murder of hundreds of thousands and the displacement of half of Syria’s population? These are, as so many have pointed out, merely words to salve the collective conscience of officials who have chosen to do the absolute minimum while a major Middle Eastern country burns. This tragedy was coming. It was obvious once Syrian President Bashar al-Assad militarized the uprising that began in the southern town of Deraa in March 2011. Policymakers in Washington and other capitals assured themselves — against all evidence — that it was only a matter of time before Assad fell. But anyone who knew anything about Syria understood that the Syrian leader would not succumb the way Tunisia’s Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali or Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak did. No, Assad’s ignominy is different, borne of the unfathomable amount of blood he has spilled. There was a time when this violence could have been minimized and American interests served through an intervention, but policymakers acquiesced to the arguments of those who said it was only a matter of time or, when Assad did not fall quickly, that it was too hard. Until it actually was. Now, the desperate images emerging from Aleppo have made it impossible to look away. It remains a matter of debate precisely what the Syrian air force and its Russian partners seek in Aleppo, thought it seems that they are seeking to wrest control of the eastern half of the city by flattening it from the air. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Waiting on Mosul, Talking With Ghassan Kanafani, and Oman’s Houthi Policy

by Steven A. Cook Friday, October 14, 2016
Pro-government soldiers march during a military parade celebrating the 54th anniversary of North Yemen's revolution in the central province of Marib (Ali Owidha/Reuters).

Mustafa Habib provides a breakdown of the various groups and armed forces operating in Iraq’s Nineveh governorate, where the city of Mosul, controlled by the self-styled Islamic State, is located. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Syria’s Trauma, Tunisia’s Sayings, and Egypt’s Economic Woes

by Steven A. Cook Friday, October 7, 2016
People who fled from Islamic State-controlled areas arrive in the northern Syrian rebel-held town of Waqf, near al-Rai town, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters).

Peter Harling delves into the political and psychological trauma that the Syrian conflict’s victims and fighters suffer from.

Inel Tarfa guides readers through the world of Tunisian sayings and proverbs. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Shimon Peres, Egypt’s Ultras, and the Kurds of Iran

by Steven A. Cook Friday, September 30, 2016
Israeli President Shimon Peres reads a newspaper during the Ambrosetti workshop in Cernobbio, next to Como (Paolo Bona/Reuters).

Michael Koplow contemplates the legacy of Israeli founding father and politician Shimon Peres, who died earlier this week.

Karim Zidan takes a look at the Ultras of Egypt, die-hard fans of the soccer club Al-Ahly, exploring the role they play in Egyptian politics and society. Read more »