Nasser's Egypt, Arab Nationalism, and the United Arab Republic

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Nasser's Egypt, Arab Nationalism, and the United Arab Republic, by James Jankowski. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2002. viii + 184 pages. Notes to p. 220. Bibl. to p. 228. Index to p. 234. $49.95.

Early in his introduction, James Jankowski poses the primary question any reviewer must ask about a new book on Egyptian "state policy, policymaking, and policy implementation toward the Arab world" from the 1952 Free Officer revolt through the formation of and dissolution of the ill-fated United Arab Republic nearly a decade later (p. 1). The importance of the period - spanning the intensification of Arab-Israeli hostilities, Suez, the Lebanese civil war, the overthrow of the Iraqi monarchy and near-toppling of Jordan's King Husayn - is indisputable. This was (for better or worse) the hey-day of Arab nationalist aspirations and the golden age of Jamal `Abd al-Nasir, even if the end product was the "big headache" (p. 115) that became the United Arab Republic (UAR). Consonant with this, however, has been the publication of countless studies of Egypt, Syria, and Arab politics over the course of the last five decades. So what is left to write?

Jankowski takes on the issue, tracing the grand narratives over three generations and assessing the contributions of numerous students and observers of Nasir's Egypt and its influence on the Arab Middle East (pp. 37). The basic tenets of those narratives the pragmatism of the Nasir regime, the gradual evolution from reluctant regional player to intimate, if dominant partner in a bi-national state, the primary role of Nasir in reorienting his nation's regional and global views - are largely intact. Jankowski argues that little attention has yet to be paid to Nasir's own evolving attitude toward Arab identity and Arab nationalism, and certainly toward the troublesome idea of structural unity. And he demonstrates, even more persuasively - primarily by embarking on the project himself - that the copious memoir literature that began to emerge in the late 1970s, then blossomed in the eighties had yet to be "fully exploited" in assessing the era (p. 7).

Deftly handling an impressive array of published and archival materials, Jankowski is able to re-narrate what remains an exceedingly complex and fascinating story. If Egypt remains stage center, the scene of action necessarily shifts from Cairo and Damascus to Amman, Beirut, and Baghdad. …