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Steven A. Cook

Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies

Expertise

Middle East; Politics in the Arab world; U.S.-Middle East policy; Turkish politics; civil-military relations in the Middle East; Arab-Israeli conflict.

Bio

Steven A. Cook is Hasib J. Sabbagh senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). He is an expert on Arab and Turkish politics as well as U.S.-Middle East policy. Dr. Cook is the author of The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square (Oxford University Press, Fall 2011), which won the Washington Institute for Near East Policy's gold medal in 2012, and Ruling But Not Governing: The Military and Political Development in Egypt, Algeria, and Turkey (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007).

Dr. Cook has published widely in foreign policy journals, opinion magazines, and newspapers, and he is a frequent commentator on radio and television. He also currently writes the blog, "From the Potomac to the Euphrates."

Prior to joining CFR, Dr. Cook was a research fellow at the Brookings Institution (2001–2002) and a Soref research fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (1995–96).

Dr. Cook holds a BA in international studies from Vassar College, an MA in international relations from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and both an MA and PhD in political science from the University of Pennsylvania. He speaks Arabic and Turkish and reads French.

Thwarted Dreams: The Persistence of Authoritarianism and Violence in the New Middle East

The much-anticipated transitions to democratic political systems in the Middle East have not materialized. Despite the enthusiasm surrounding the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and other countries, a rather different reality of instability and repressive politics has emerged in the region. In my forthcoming book, Thwarted Dreams: The Persistence of Authoritarianism and Violence in the New Middle East, I argue that the revolts of 2010-11 represented a collective false dawn. While some uprisings failed to overthrow entrenched social and political orders, other states face potential break-ups in the absence of strong institutions. Still other countries are either experiencing a consolidation of authority that is blunting political opposition or struggling to find a formula that will allow them to escape political stalemate. Since the uprisings in 2010 and 2011, observers have often asserted that there is "no going back" in the Middle East, meaning a return to pre-uprising politics. That is surely true, but it does not imply—as so many have assumed—a democratic future for the region. Rather than a particularly difficult moment on the path in the transition to democracy, the Middle East's present uncertainty, violence, and authoritarianism is also its future.

Turkey: A Case Study in Democratic Reversal

Just a decade ago, Turkey seemed on track to becoming a full-fledged liberal democracy. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002 and oversaw a period of dramatic political reform. By the time the European Commission recommended, in 2004, that Ankara begin pursuing EU membership, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was earning praise for having discovered a Turkish "third way," in which Islamists pursued political and economic reform without sowing dangerous social divisions. A decade later, however, Turkey's democratic transition is over. Although more Turks are voting and engaged in politics than ever before—thanks to AKP reforms that have helped produce a growing middle class—over time, the government has increasingly restricted their ability to contest its decisions. Pressure on journalists, restrictions on freedom of expression, police brutality, and limits on social media have all become hallmarks of Turkish politics. Overall, Turkish leaders have used the quasi-democratic institutions of the political system to advance an anti-democratic agenda. My work on Turkey—articles, blog posts, and roundtable meetings—aims to identify the trends in Turkish politics and what they may mean for the broader region.

Featured Publications

Book

Restoring the Balance

Authors: Richard N. Haass, Stephen D. Biddle, Ray Takeyh, Gary Samore, Steven A. Cook, Isobel Coleman, Steven Simon, Martin S. Indyk, Michael O’Hanlon, Kenneth M. Pollack, Suzanne Maloney, Bruce O. Riedel, Shibley Telhami, Tamara Cofman Wittes, and Daniel L. Byman

Experts from the Council on Foreign Relations and the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution propose a new, nonpartisan Middle East strategy drawing on the lessons of past failures to address both the short- and long-term challenges to U.S. interests.

See more in Middle East and North Africa; Diplomacy and Statecraft

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Video

Egypt's Democratic Quest: From Nasser to Tahrir Square

Speaker: Steven A. Cook

Egypt's 2011 revolution marks the latest chapter in Egyptians' longtime struggle for greater democratic freedoms. In this video, Steven A. Cook, CFR's Hasib J. Sabbagh senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies and author of "The Struggle for Egypt", identifies the lessons that Egypt's emerging leadership must learn from the Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak regimes.

See more in Egypt; Democratization

Video

Prospects for Palestinian Statehood

Speaker: Steven A. Cook

Steven Cook, Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations discusses the prospects and implications of the Palestinian bid for UN recognition of statehood. Cook cautions that "an American veto or American opposition to this declaration of statehood is likely to roil already intense and uncertain and unstable political environments throughout the region."

See more in Palestine; Sovereignty

Video

9/11 Perspectives: Transformation in U.S. Middle East Policy

Speaker: Steven A. Cook

This video is part of a special Council on Foreign Relations series that explores how 9/11 changed international relations and U.S. foreign policy. In this video, Steven Cook, Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations discusses how the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 transformed the United States' Middle East policy. Cook argues the attacks led to the conclusion that "authoritarian stability -- that is, relying on authoritarian leaders in the region to help create a political order that made it relatively easier for the United States to pursue its interests in the region -- was perhaps no longer appropriate." Instead, U.S. policy has been devoted from that point on to "fostering democratic change in the Middle East."

See more in 9/11 Impact; Middle East and North Africa; United States

Video

Syria's 'National Dialogue' Lacks Credibility

Speaker: Steven A. Cook

Steven A. Cook, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations argues that the national dialogue convened by the Syrian government lacks credibility, and raises question about what steps the Syrian military will take as the regime faces continued popular protests.

See more in Syria

Recent Activity from From the Potomac to the Euphrates

CFR Events

General Meeting ⁄ New York

NY Town Hall: Middle East Update

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General Meeting ⁄ New York

Turkey Update

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Corporate Meeting ⁄ Washington

Foreign Affairs Live: The New Emerging Markets

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General Meeting ⁄ Washington, DC

Turmoil in Turkey

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Media Conference Call

The Situation in Turkey

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Corporate Meeting

The Situation in Turkey

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General Meeting ⁄ Washington

Egypt's Presidential Election: Before the Ballots

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Guest Event ⁄ Washington

U.S.-Turkey Relations - A New Partnership: Report of a CFR-Sponsored Independent Task Force

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Guest Event ⁄ New York

U.S.-Turkey Relations: A New PartnershipReport of a CFR-Sponsored Independent Task Force

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Symposium

Session Four: Regional Consequences: The Geopolitics of the Changing Middle East

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Academic Conference Call

The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square

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Conference Call

Egypt’s Parliamentary Elections: Impact and Implications

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General Meeting

The President's Inbox: The Greater Middle East

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Academic Conference Call

Gaza Update

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Conference Panel Session

Center for Preventive Action Symposium on Preventive Priorities for a New Era, Session Two: Outlook for Critical Regions

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Symposium ⁄ MInneapolis

2008 Foreign Policy Symposium: The Greater Middle East

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Roundtable Meeting

Turkey's Political Battle: Secularism vs. Democracy

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General Meeting ⁄ New York

Muslim Views of the West

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General Meeting ⁄ Fairfax

Townhall on Iraq and the Middle East

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Conference Call ⁄ New York

Fractured Alliance? The Future of U.S.-Turkey Relations

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Symposium ⁄ New York

The Emerging Shia Crescent Symposium: Is Shia Power Cause for Concern?

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National Program Meeting ⁄ Minneapolis

Conference on Democracy in the Arab World: Why and How?

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General Meeting

Promoting Reform in the Arab World: Report of an Independent Task Force

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Roundtable Meeting

No god but God

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Roundtable Meeting

Morocco: Model for Arab Reform?

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General Meeting

The January 9 Elections and Beyond: The Road Ahead for Israelis, Palestinians, and the United States

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General Meeting

Town Hall Meeting: Foreign Policy and the Presidential Election

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Press/Panels

Radio Interview

Erdogan Falls Short

Joining Richard Aldous, host of the American Interest's podcast, Steven Cook discusses Turkey and the recent general elections. Cook argues that while the elections represent a setback for President Erdogan, political stability moving forward is not a guarantee.

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Video Interview

Charlie Rose: Turkey Elections

Steven Cook joins Soner Cagaptay and Elmira Bayrasli on Charlie Rose to discuss the signifiance of the recent Turkish general elections for Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

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Video Interview

PBS: Erdogan Election Upset

CFR's Steven Cook talks with PBS's Alison Stewart to discuss the results of Turkey's parliamentary elections that saw the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lose the majority it held for twelve years.

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Video Interview

U.S. Airpower Strikes Tikrit, Iraq

CFR's Steven Cook joins Katherine Spector to speak with Alix Steel of Bloomberg TV's Street Smart to discuss the the expulsion of ISIS from Tikrit in Iraq and the implications on the regional oil trade.

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Video Interview

Egypt carries out bomb raids against ISIS

CFR's Steven Cook discusses Egypt's bombing raids against ISIS in retaliation for the group's brutal attacks with Ayman Mohyeldin and Brian Katulis on MSNBC's NOW with Alex Wagner.

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Video Interview

Reviewing the Anti-ISIS Strategy

CFR’s Steven Cook appears on MSNBC’s NOW with Alex Wagner with former senior advisor to President Obama David Axelrod to discuss the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition, the battle for Kobani, and Turkey’s commitment to the operation.

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Radio Interview

Battle for Kobani, Turkey, and U.S. Strategy Against ISIS

CFR’s Steven Cook joins Liz Sly of the Washington Post and Frederic Wehrey of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on WHYY’s Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane to talk about recent developments in the Syrian-Kurdish town of Kobani.

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Video Interview

Turkey's Role in Combating ISIS

As Turkey believes that the root cause of the rise of ISIS is the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the Turks will not be fully committed to the anti-ISIS coalition absent an American plan for regime change in Damascus, says CFR’s Steven Cook on C-SPAN with Peter Slen.

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Video Interview

A "Generational" Fight Against ISIS?

CFR’s Steven Cook appears on MSNBC’s NOW with Alex Wagner to talk about the generational aspect of the fight against ISIS and terrorism.

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Video Interview

Iran Ends Allegiance to Nouri al-Maliki

With demands for a new government under Haider al-Abadi, CFR’s Steven Cook appears on MSNBC’s NOW with Alex Wagner with former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Wesley Clark to discuss the recent developents in Iraq and Nour al-Maliki’s options.

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Video Interview

Violence Spreads in the Middle East

As the fighting in Gaza continues, CFR’s Steven Cook joins Luke Russert on MSNBC’s NOW with AlexWagner along with Bobby Ghosh of Quartz to discuss what Israelis and Palestinians are looking for in a ceasefire proposal.

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Video Interview

People Seeking Shelter in Gaza

CFR’s Steven Cook appears on MSNBC’s NOW with Alex Wagner to talk about the recent fighting between Israel and Hamas, security issues in Gaza, and the humanitarian casualties of the war.

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Radio Interview

Turkey: Democracy in Turmoil

Steven Cook speaks on Warren Olney's To The Point to discuss the Turkish elections, their implications for Turkish democracy, and U.S.-Turkey relations

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Video Interview

Assad: "Expect everything" in Response to Any Missile Strike

CFR's Steven Cook appears on MSNBC's Martin Bashir to debate the consequences of a possible U.S. missile strike in Syria, as well as the costs of supporting true regime change, as Syria's Bashar al-Assad threatens retaliation for any attack, with Lara Setrakian, managing editor of "Syria Deeply."

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Radio Interview

U.S. Intervention in Syria Likely has a Time Limit

The crisis in Syria deepens as reports surface that the government is using chemical weapons against its civilians. Syria denies the allegation and President Obama has not made a final decision regarding military intervention. "There needs to be a signal sent to the international community that the use of these types of weapons are beyond the pale and that there would indeed be consequences as a result of using them," says CFR's Steven Cook on Marketplace.

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Radio Interview

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood Remains Defiant After Crackdown

Hundreds of people were killed in Egypt when armed forces cleared protest camps set up by supporters of ousted President Morsi. CFR's Steven Cook, in an interview on NPR, explains that the recent military crackdown on those protesters can be seen as an attempt by the Muslim Brotherhood to delegitimize the government appointed by the military and their use of violence and martyrdom, increasing sectarian tensions in the country.

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Radio Interview

Egypt's Military "A Builder, A Liberator and Savior"

In the wake of the military intervention in Egypt that removed President Mohammed Morsi from power, CFR's Steven Cook talks with NPR's Audie Cornish about the current and historical role of the Egyptian military in politics, arguing that the Egyptian military is apolitical and does not have an ideological commitment to one particular group, only wanting to protect its own interests and its reputation as the protector of the Egyptian state.

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Radio Interview

Egypt at a Crossroads...Once Again

Egypt is bracing for increased violence between massive crowds for and against Mohamed Morsi. Tanks are in the streets of Cairo, and Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood claims there has been a military coup. Has the United States given its tacit approval? What are the potential consequences for democracy in Egypt and the Middle East? CFR's Steven Cook says, in an interview with KCRW's Warren Olney, that the United States is a side-show to the continuous struggle for power in Egypt, and that Washington's primary interest in the Middle East is security and not democracy.

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Video Interview

"Dire Situation" in Syria Forces U.S. to Act Pro

The White House has promised to step up assistance to Syrian rebels, after determining that the Assad government has used chemical weapons against the rebels. CFR's Steven Cook says this may be too little, too late. In an interview on CNBC, Cook explains that the rebels are on the defensive, and in the meantime Assad's regime is strengthening its position.

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Video Interview

Turkey Explained: CFR Analyst Outlines Issues

Turkey's government is facing its biggest protests in years as demonstrators and police clashed for a 12th consecutive day. CFR's Steven Cook explains the situation in Turkey and the clashes between street demonstrators and the ruling AK party led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

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Radio Interview

After Protests, Evaluating Turkey's Role as a Democracy

CFR's Steven Cook, talking on NPR, examines Turkish prime minister Erdogan's illiberal and authoritarian turn in Turkey in light of the recent protests in Istanbul's Gezi Park and discusses what this means for the prospects of Turkish leadership in the region as a "democracy."

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Radio Interview

Recognizing the Armenian Genocide

President Obama recognized the annual Remembrance Day for the estimated 1.5 million Armenians who died in the former Ottoman Empire; however, Obama stopped short of calling the term "genocide" to define the awful events of 1915. CFR's Steven Cook, in an interview with Larry Mantle on Air Talk, explains that the Obama administration does not want to create tension in U.S.-Turkey relations, and using the term "genocide" would do just that.

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Radio Interview

The Challenges to Democracy in Egypt

Ongoing violence in Egypt highlights the continued tensions between the government and the opposition, and raises questions about the prospects of Egypt's transition into a democracy. CFR's Steven Cook talks with Neal Conan of NPR, claiming that Egypt has quickly moved from an exhilarating moment of national unity to a deep polarization, which has complicated Morsi's ability to govern and calls into question Egypt's democratic transition. Should things continue to get worse, he says, there could possibly be a military intervention in Cairo.

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Video Interview

Egyptians Vote on New Constitution

CFR's Steven Cook discusses the latest on Egypt's first referendum on the draft constitution that will drive Egypt's policies in the future.

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Article

Steven Cook Wins Washington Institute Book Prize

Steven A. Cook's The Struggle for Egypt, a chronicle of modern Egypt that culminates in the revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak, has been awarded the gold medal in The Washington Institute's 2012 Book Prize competition.


Radio Interview

Regional Implications for Israel-Hamas Conflict Could be a "Nightmare Scenario"

What is at stake for Israel's neighboring countries, in light of the new conflict between Israel and Hamas? "The Israelis could be looking at a situation in which their relations are deteriorating with Egypt, faced with the possibility of two fronts in Gaza, and in the north from Hezbollah, and the crumbling of its relationship with Jordan. All around, a nightmare scenario," says CFR's Steven Cook in an interview for PRI's The World.

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Radio Interview

The US and Syria After the Election

CFR's Steven Cook talks to PRI's The World and explains the intense reluctance among officials at the Department of Defense, the State Department, and the White House to commit to involvement in Syria. He says that Washington wants to be sensitive to Syria's security concerns without getting directly involved and entering into a situation that might turn into another Afghanistan or something similar.

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Radio Interview

Egypt Vows Swift Response to Violent Attack from Sinai Region

Egypt has blocked access to the country from the Gaza Strip in the wake of an assault on an Egyptian border station. "The residents of the Sinai have long felt that they have been neglected by the central government in Cairo. They have been abused by the police. There are significant socio-economic problems throughout the Sinai but, in particular in northern Sinai," says CFR's Steven Cook, speaking on PRI's The World. The real issue, he says, is whether post-revolutionary Egypt has the capacity to deal with the Sinai's complex challenges.

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Video Interview

Who's supporting Syria's regime abroad?

How influential has international help been for Assad, and what can the West do to stop the violence? CFR's Steven Cook appears on Fox News and says the Assad regime remains in place mainly due to the large amount of support it gets from the Russians and Iranians, while the rebels have received minimal international aid. Cook claims that this is not a "fair fight," and warns that we are in for much more bloodshed in Syria unless there is concerted international action.

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Radio Interview

Should the West Intervene in Syria?

The failure by the Arab League mission to stop the violence in Syria puts more pressure on the international community at large to intervene in that country, but the United States has no plans to do that. "If we want to see an end to the violence and a hope for democracy in Syria, the next stop is international intervention. If not, Assad will likely be around for some time and will kill many more people," argues CFR's Steven Cook on PRI's The World.

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Article

Books for the Discerning Stocking

Slate.com recommends Dr. Steven Cook's new book, The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square, saying, "Cook brings the revolution to life."

Radio Interview

What's at Stake in Egypt?

The elections in Egypt have exposed deep rifts between the ruling Military Council and various opposition groups. CFR's Steven Cook discusses what is at stake for Egypt's military in light of the recent parliamentary elections. Speaking on PRI's The World, he explains the military's desire to maintain its power, and how their legitimacy is being threatened by the possibility a true democracy emerging in Egypt.

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Article

What's Next for Egypt?

Christian Science Monitor calls The Struggle for Egypt:From Nasser to Tahrir Square by Dr. Steven Cook, "[An] excellent new book."

Article

What the Generals Did to Egypt

Thanassis Cambanis for the New York Times Sunday Book Review says, "Cook has given us is a scholar's well-informed, analytical history, which offers invaluable insights to anyone interested in how Egypt came to its present impasse" about Dr. Steven Cook's new book, The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square.

Radio Interview

Egypt, 30 Years After Anwar Sadat's Death

Lynn Neary, from NPR's Morning Edition, talks to Steven Cook, senior follow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, about the 30th anniversary of the assassination of former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. They discuss how the past is shaping Egypt's future.


Article

The Struggle for Egypt on Kirkus Reviews

Dr. Steven Cook's new book, The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square is reviewed by Kirkus Reviews: "[A] detailed account of the build-up to revolution and how recent developments were organized . . . Cook, who is intimately familiar with Egypt and its political and cultural history, begins from Nasser's 1952 coup, providing broad context for his discussion."

Video Interview

Update on Turkey

Dr. Steven Cook appears on Charlie Rose to discuss the recent resignations of Turkey's top military officers.

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Radio Interview

Six Months of Revolution and Change in the 'Arab Spring'

 

It has been six months since popular protests forced Tunisian President Zine Abidine Ben Ali to announce he was stepping down. That event has shaken the Arab world. CFR's Steven Cook talks with PRI's The World, saying that many changes have been made but that it is still too early to tell what the political trajectory of the region will be, as Tunisia, like Egypt, is still having difficulty realizing its revolutionary promise.

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Radio Interview

Will more countries follow Egypt?

CFR's Steven Cook, in an interview with PRI's The World, discusses the prospects for a regional "domino effect" in Egypt's neighborhood.

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Video Interview

Hosni Mubarak Meets with President Obama

A look at Hosni Mubarak's meeting with President Obama in Washington with Steven Cook of The Council on Foreign Relations and Michele Dunne of The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Charlie Rose.

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