Thursday, 21 February 2013

Book review - Egyptian Revolution

Soldiers, Spies and Statesmen – Egypt’s Road to Revolt
By Hazem Kandil
Pubs. Verso 2012
Hdbck.  £16.99

If you want to understand the underlying forces and mechanisms of Egypt’s recent revolutionary turmoil, you couldn’t find a more informative book than this. Beyond its detailed analysis of the historical forces that culminated in the Tahrir Square demonstrations and regime change, it also has relevance for understanding revolutionary change everywhere. In his introduction the author says: ‘To study revolution is to study how the masses awaken from their slumber and thrust themselves on the centre stage of their own history only to watch their aspirations either usurped or repressed.’ This rather fatalistic conclusion is, as we well know, too often the historical truth.

Kandil was born in Egypt and now lectures at Cambridge. His deep knowledge and understanding of Egyptian politics within the wider world context is impressive. The main thrust of his argument is that the Egyptian revolution was able to gather strength not as a direct result of spontaneous uprisings of the people, but as a result of infighting between the three pillars of Egyptian state power: the military, the security services and the political elite. He takes us back to the origins of modern Egypt in order to demonstrate his case convincingly. From British colonial rule, through Nasser, the Suez debacle and the catastrophic six days war with Israel, via Sadat, Mubarak and the Muslim Brotherhood government of today. In this history, he reveals how, after the Second World War, the CIA ‘loaned’ former top Nazi SS and Gestapo officers to the Egyptian regime to help it in its struggle against communism and democratic change and to ensure Egypt remained in the western orbit.

The reason the Mubarak regime was unable to successfully suppress the people’s demands for democracy, he argues, was that the military, unhappy with the leading role given to Mubarak’s notorious security services, was unwilling to allow itself to be used as a tool of suppression or be seen as a continuing supporter of the unpopular corrupt business and political class; it viewed the uprising as an opportunity to re-establish its prominence and status in the country.
A valuable contribution to our understanding of Middle Eastern politics and to comprehending the mechanisms of revolutionary change in general.

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