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on 4 February 2012
With the unfolding of the momentous revolutionary events in Tahrir Square there was an urgent need for publishing an authoritative yet accessible work to describe and explain the tortuous political journey and the woeful socioeconomic changes which have gripped the Egyptian society in the last 60 years and culminated in the rapid demise of one of the most stable regimes (on the surface) in the Middle East.Having devoured this book in less than two days one cannot recommend a more comprehensive and better balanced account.It stands head and shoulders above the light journalistic accounts which abound at present ,for instance Bradley's ' Inside Egypt'.
The revised edition is the one to obtain as it contains a more up to date concluding chapter which takes into account the more recent developments since the toppling of Mubarak regime and provides a careful analysis of the post revolutionary political game as well as some insightful musings about the future of Egypt in the wider arena of International politics.The author asserts the centrality of an inspiring ' Grand National Project' for the legitimisation of any political regime, that was missing during Sadat and Mubarak tenures.
My only reservation is the indiscriminate and confusing use of the term 'liberal' in this account .It describes widely diverse and sometimes antagonistic political positions. For instance the plutocratic and cosmopolitan deeply unequal society of the early 20th Century is described as the great liberal experiment. Futhermore all secular political groupings are described as liberal as opposed to the Conservative Islamists. Yet a great number of the so called Liberals would prefer the return of an authoritarian regime.History shows that Secular Modernisers are not necessarily liberal.Later in the text some Islamists are described as liberal because they are prepared to accept the democratic game while avowing the essential inequality of Women and Christians. The same term is applied indiscriminately to all those who embraced Neo- liberal Capitalism .Members of the most influential capitalist elite provided backbone support to the Cronyism of the autocratic Mubarak regime and not an insignificant minority amongst them proffered strong Islamist sympathies.Understandably in a non academic work like this it would be arduous to qualify every time the use of 'liberalism' as a valid concept in various political contexts and outside the norms of the western political discourse.
Nevertheless this work should prove a milestone in the political literature generated after the " Arab Spring" I particularly admired the Author's objectivity and nerve in including a whole chapter out of seven about the' Egyptian Christians' to credit them for their immense contribution to the country's modern cultural and political development.A compelling enlightening read.