Egypt -- Egypt during the Nasser Years: Ideology, Politics, and Civil Society by Kirk J. Beattie

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Egypt During the Nasser Years: Ideology, Politics, and Civil Society, by Kirk J. Beattie. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1994. vi + 235 pages. Appends. to p. 243. Bibl. to p. 249. Index to p. 269. $60.

Reviewed by Robert L. Tignor

The cloak of secrecy with which Egypt's military leaders surrounded themselves following the 1952 coup d'etat is steadily being pulled aside, offering observers and analysts new data and perspectives on the first and most fully studied of the military regimes on the African continent. For a long time, the military satraps made official proclamations and granted interviews to sympathetic journalists. Later, some members of the inner circle ('Abd al-Latif Baghdadi, Zakhariya Muhiy al-Din, and Muhammad Najib, for example) offered self-serving memoirs that did, however, place the reader around the table of the Revolutionary Command Council. In this fascinating and informative book, Kirk Beattie documents the Jamal 'Abd al-Nasir years through the more than 100 interviews he conducted with regime leaders, political opponents, and privileged observers. Although the prevailing custom has been for scholars to limit their interviews to no more than 50, the author, through the dint of being there and being an ardent researcher, far exceeded this allotment. The result is the most extensive and comprehensive body of oral testimony ever assembled on some of the most tumultuous years in Egypt's modem history.

Autobiographies, memoirs, and oral testimony must, of course, be used with great caution since, by definition, they are extremely self-interested. Yet, until scholars are allowed access to the records of the Revolutionary Command Council and the Egyptian Council of Ministers (unlikely to occur in the near future), the analyst can penetrate authoritative documentation in no other way. Beattie's reconstruction of the events of this cataclysmic era in Egyptian, Middle Eastem, and intemational politics has the feel of correctness. Certainly, his account of the tensions within the military regime itself is authoritative. It reveals how bitter disputes arose over how long the military should remain in office, how to align the country in the Cold War dispute, how, or whether, to establish democracy, and how to promote economic growth. …