EGYPT: Egyptian Politics: The Dynamics of Authoritarian Rule

By Alterman, Jon B. | The Middle East Journal, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview
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EGYPT: Egyptian Politics: The Dynamics of Authoritarian Rule

Alterman, Jon B., The Middle East Journal

EGYPT Egyptian Politics: The Dynamics of Authoritarian Rule, by Maye Kassem. Boulder, CO: LynneRienner Publishers, 2004. x+194 pages. Bibl. to p. 204. Index to p. 212. About the author. $49.95 cloth; $19.95 paper.

Maye Kassem's book on the Egyptian political system is welcome, yet paradoxical. The author, an Egyptian scholar based at the American University in Cairo, has written a highly critical guide to authoritarian politics in Egypt. She pulls few punches and feels free to name names. The system that she describes, and in which she lives and works, is clearly a more sophisticated kind of authoritarianism than it is often caricatured to be.

At the same time, this Egyptian author chose to write her book in English, with (as I counted) a grand total of three Arabic written sources. Whether by design or necessity, her virtually complete reliance on English -language materials highlights the split between critical political discourse in the Arab world in Western languages and that appearing in Arabic.

Kassem's volume does not break new theoretical ground. Her guides to the structure of Egyptian politics are well known to scholars in the field, including Raymond Baker, Robert Springborg, Eberhard Kienle, Joel Beinin and others. What she does instead is to illustrate these authors' observations with case studies culled from the increasingly lively English -language press in Egypt, including the Cairo Times and the Al-Ahram Weekly, and her own interviews with key figures.

This book has four thematic chapters: on the development of the Presidency as the central structure of state patronage and control, on political parties and elections, on civil society (here largely seen in terms of labor unions and syndicates), and on Islamist politics. She draws examples from the 1950s to the present, stressing the development of institutions and trends in domestic politics.

The theme running throughout is that the Egyptian government has worked assiduously to either co -opt or coerce its potential foes, all the while defining loyalty and opposition in relation to the President. Particularly striking in this regard is her sympathetic account of the travails of Ramy Lakah, who ran for parliament in 2000. Although politically well connected, Lakah had no intention of being a government rubber stamp, and there his problems began.

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