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3.0 out of 5 stars YESTERDAY'S PAPERS, 5 July 2011
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This review is from: On the State of Egypt: What Caused the Revolution (Paperback)
"On the State of Egypt" is a collection of articles published between November 2009 and October 2010 by Alaa Al Aswany, author of the "Yacoubian Building" and "Chicago," in "al-Dustar" and "al-Shorouk, " two opposition newspapers that have had editors arrested and abused. They are well hewn and full of the voice of liberal reason, justified outrage and patriotic concern. However, they are rather yesterday's news and readers who expect an analysis of how the January revolution developed or of what comes next will have to look elsewhere.

Al Aswany has two main topics. The first is that nothing can go right for Egypt as long as it is headed by a corrupt, effectively unelected and unaccountable regime. Nothing can go right, not the economy, the justice system or even healthcare, as long as every subordinate official, from ministers (many of them grossly unqualified) down are dependent exclusively on the favor of the regime for their prosperity. Al Aswany is outraged by the elitist view that "ordinary Egyptians ... are rabble or riffraff who do not know their own best interests;" or by the attitude of the President and his family that they are making great sacrifices on behalf of "their" people; or that Mubarak can even think that he can pass on the country to his son "as if it were a poultry farm."

The author's second main target is "flawed religiosity" or excessive "piety without morality." Egypt has seen a marked increase in religiosity in recent years. Al Aswany attributes this to the secondary impact of the repression and deprivation engendered by the corrupt regime and also to the lavish funding of Wahhabi preachers (including television clerics) by the itself corrupt Saudi monarchy. How can policemen in good conscience go back and forth between their torture chambers and the prayer-rooms conveniently installed for them to exercise their piety at the appointed hours throughout the day? How can bitter clerics rant against the mere thought of women being improperly "covered" (which is not at all required by Islam) and then fail to speak out against the all-corrupt, anti true Islam regime? (The abuse of women is another of Al Aswani's main concerns).

By its nature, this collection is close to being overtaken by events and full of repetition. This is compensated to a degree by the author's elegant writing (translated here by Jonathan Wright) and his use of anecdote, fable and parable. One article, for example, recounts a chance meeting with Gamal Mubarak in a fashionable restaurant only to "reveal" at the end that it was all a dream. In another piece, al Aswany contrasts the abject apology that Gordon Brown was obliged to make following his inadvertent insult to Gillian Duffy with the complete lack of apology on the part of his Egyptian counterpart to the entire population for his widespread abuse.

Al Aswany's mantra, repeated at the end of nearly all these articles, is "Democracy is the solution." The reader can hardly disagree, but whether it will be the outcome is another matter, not addressed here.
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