Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

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

Weekend Reading: Russia’s Withdrawal, Escaping Fallujah, and Syrian Art

by Steven A. Cook Friday, March 18, 2016
Men carry a Free Syrian Army flag while attending an anti-government protest in Maarat al-Numan, south of Idlib, Syria (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters). Men carry a Free Syrian Army flag while attending an anti-government protest in Maarat al-Numan, south of Idlib, Syria (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters).

Dmitry Gorenburg and Michael Kofman argue that Russia intends to remain entrenched in the Syrian conflict, even after withdrawing troops from the region.

Kamal al-Ayash explores the dangerous route families use to escape from Fallujah to Baghdad, Turkey, and Europe. Read more »

Between Ankara and Rojava

by Steven A. Cook Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Kurdish women gesture and shout slogans during a demonstration against the exclusion of the Syrian Kurds from the Geneva talks, in the northeast Syrian Kurdish city of Qamishli (Rodi Said/Reuters). Kurdish women gesture and shout slogans during a demonstration against the exclusion of the Syrian Kurds from the Geneva talks, in the northeast Syrian Kurdish city of Qamishli (Rodi Said/Reuters).

This article originally appeared here on ForeignAffairs.com on Tuesday, March 15, 2016.

Nearly seven years ago, U.S. President Barack Obama traveled to the Turkish capital, Ankara, to address the country’s parliament. Turkey was second only to Russia in its need of a “reset.” The war in Iraq had damaged Washington’s ties with Ankara, which had warned of the dangers of a U.S. invasion and paid a price for its destabilizing effects. The new U.S. president’s gauzy rhetoric before the Grand National Assembly about how Turkish and Americans soldiers stood shoulder-to-shoulder “from Korea to Kosovo to Kabul” and his admiration for “Turkey’s democracy” seemed to hit exactly the right notes. It was the dawn of a new era in which close relations with a large, prosperous, democratizing, predominantly Muslim country would exemplify a more constructive, less belligerent course for U.S. foreign policy. Read more »

Egypt’s Black Market Blues

by Steven A. Cook Tuesday, March 15, 2016
A customer counts his U.S. dollar money in a bank in Cairo, Egypt (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters). A customer counts his U.S. dollar money in a bank in Cairo, Egypt (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters).

Just as I was heading out the door yesterday, I received a message from my friend Timothy Kaldas with just two words: “They caved.” I knew exactly what he was referring to. The Central Bank of Egypt determined that it could no longer defend the Egyptian pound and devalued the currency a whopping 13 percent. You can now exchange a U.S. dollar at a bank in Cairo for about nine pounds, which is great for tourists, if there were any. It is about time Egyptian banking officials took this step, which immediately injected some confidence in the financial markets and among investors. It may seem beside the point to ask why it took them so long, but the answer to that question might tell observers something about what to expect next from Egypt’s economic policymakers. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Egypt’s Unions, Tunisia’s Youth, and Syria’s Protests

by Steven A. Cook Friday, March 11, 2016
Protesters carry a Free Syrian Army flags during an anti-government protest in the al-Sukari neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria (Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters). Protesters carry a Free Syrian Army flags during an anti-government protest in the al-Sukari neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria (Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters).

Giulio Regeni, in his last article before his death, finds that Egypt’s independent trade unions remain willing to defy the state.

Benoit Challand examines the alienation of Tunisia’s youth and its implications on jihadi recruitment. Read more »

Sisi Wags His Finger

by Steven A. Cook Thursday, March 10, 2016
Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi attends the opening ceremony of the 26th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union (AU) at the AU headquarters in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa (Tiksa Negeri/Reuters). Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi attends the opening ceremony of the 26th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union (AU) at the AU headquarters in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa (Tiksa Negeri/Reuters).

Is Egypt melting down? It has an insurgency, a currency crisis, a brazen and brutal security apparatus that is sowing dissent, a phony political process, and a leader who has lost his grip. These are, at least, the reasons that have been outlined in various commentaries and analyses over the last few weeks or so. It may have reached a crescendo when President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi gave his disastrous (by all accounts) “Egypt 2030” speech. The Egyptian historian Khaled Fahmy called Sisi’s performance Qaddafi-esque. For those keeping score, that is not a compliment. Sisi rambled, wagged his finger at those in attendance, demanded that they only listen to him, and offered a number of loopy ideas for resolving Egypt’s indebtedness including putting himself up for sale. Despite the tough times, Egyptians—who are preternaturally hilarious—put their president up for sale on eBay. He was fetching more than $100,000 before the sale was taken down. Of course, Egypt’s present tribulations are no joke, but I wonder if much of the commentary, especially those parts of it related to Sisi, is not misleading. Egypt may be melting down, but I do not believe it is because the Egyptian president “has lost his grip,” if only because he never had one. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Portraying Tunisia’s Revolution, Turkey’s TAK, and Orwellian Syria

by Steven A. Cook Friday, March 4, 2016
A girl waves a Tunisian flags during celebrations marking the fifth anniversary of Tunisia's 2011 revolution, in Habib Bourguiba Avenue in Tunis, Tunisia (Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters). A girl waves a Tunisian flags during celebrations marking the fifth anniversary of Tunisia's 2011 revolution, in Habib Bourguiba Avenue in Tunis, Tunisia (Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters).

Khadija Mohsen-Finan discusses discrepancies in the portrayal of the Tunisian revolution around the world and Tunisians’ own purview on the achievements and difficulties of the past five years. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Remembering Heikal, Iran’s Elections, and the Arab Media’s Refugees

by Steven A. Cook Friday, February 26, 2016
Iran's former Parliament speaker Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri fills in his ballot during elections for the parliament and Assembly of Experts, which has the power to appoint and dismiss the supreme leader, in Tehran (Raheb Homavandi/Reuters). Iran's former Parliament speaker Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri fills in his ballot during elections for the parliament and Assembly of Experts, which has the power to appoint and dismiss the supreme leader, in Tehran (Raheb Homavandi/Reuters).

Maged Atiya reflects on the late Mohammed Hassanein Heikal’s relationship with his readers and his role in Egyptian society.

Rouzbeh Parsi examines the paradoxes of Iran’s parliamentary and Assembly of Experts 2016 elections. Read more »

Thinking About “the Kurds”

by Steven A. Cook Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Kurdish demonstrators gesture during a protest against the curfew in Sur district and security operations, in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, Turkey (Sertac Kayar/Reuters). Kurdish demonstrators gesture during a protest against the curfew in Sur district and security operations, in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, Turkey (Sertac Kayar/Reuters).

Hi folks. It’s been a while. During my hiatus it seems the world has gone mad or madder. I am not exactly sure where to begin. The list of blog topics that I have collected over the last few weeks is long. I am going to pick up where I left off, with Turkey. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Libya Five Years On, Iran and the Shia, and Contextualizing Heikal

by Steven A. Cook Friday, February 19, 2016
Libyans celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Libyan revolution, at Martyrs' Square in Tripoli (Ismail Zitouny/Reuters). Libyans celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Libyan revolution, at Martyrs' Square in Tripoli (Ismail Zitouny/Reuters).

Nada Elfeituri ruminates on the five years since Libya’s February 17, 2011, revolution and the mistakes her fellow Libyans have yet to learn from.

Robin Yassin-Kassab questions the assumption that Iran acts as a protector for Shia Muslims throughout the Middle East. Read more »

Weekend Reading: Iraq’s Kakai, “Being Syrian,” and a Death in Cairo

by Steven A. Cook Friday, February 12, 2016
Syrians line up as they wait to cross into Syria at Oncupinar border crossing in the southeastern city of Kilis, Turkey (Osman Orsal/Reuters). Syrians line up as they wait to cross into Syria at Oncupinar border crossing in the southeastern city of Kilis, Turkey (Osman Orsal/Reuters).

Ako Shawais discusses Iraq’s Kakai minority and describes his role as their first political representative in Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government. Read more »