Egypt: Economic Crisis and the Politics of Reform in Egypt

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Economic Crisis and the Politics of Reform in Egypt, by Ray Bush. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. xvi + 157 pages. Bibl. to p. 178. Index to p. 184. $55. Reviewed by Ibrahim M. Oweiss

The title of the book under review is somewhat misleading. In fact, this book is a socio-political study of economic reform in Egypt's agricultural sector. It does not address the benefits to the overall economy. Yet, the author argues that the economic reform and structural adjustment program (ERSAP), which were undertaken by international financial institutions (IFIs) and the Government of Egypt (GOE) in 1991-96, were shortsighted and were developed under a fundamental misunderstanding of the social organization and economic dynamics of rural Egypt. The most valuable part of this study is the comprehensive and original research that Bush conducted in two towns in rural Egypt (Kafr Saad and Kafr Tasfa), which documents the effects of the reforms over the last decade in a meticulous manner. Bush uses this data as evidence to show that the standard of living has decreased for many people and that the very structure of life in the countryside is being undermined by the reforms. This is because, in the planning process of the reform policy, the existing order in the countryside, centering on the household as a unit, was not taken into account, nor were the fellahin and the small landholders (with less than five feddans) included. In contrast, the forthcoming economic study by J. Dirck Stryker and Selina Pandolfi (soon to be published by the University of Michigan Press) shows that economic reforms made significant progress in reducing poverty and providing social services to the poor.

The first two chapters of Economic Crisis and the Politics of Reform in Egypt are devoted to an explanation and analysis of all of the events that led to the Egyptian economic crisis and the manner in which the GOE has reacted. Bush places every particular evaluation of policy in a specific context, by outlining the opposing point of view or explaining where the current debate in the policy or subject under discussion stands (e.g., p. 82). For instance, he discusses extensively the role of women in production and the implications of gender inequality. But before he offers his analysis of the effects of a gender-blind policy, he gives a detailed historiography of the nature and direction of the debate surrounding this issue and where it presently stands. He also cites extensive references that are useful to researchers who wish to examine any one aspect of the book in greater detail.

One convincing point in Bush's argument about the shortcomings of the present policy deals with the "tyranny of the market" (pp. …