Sadat and After: Struggles for Egypt's Political Soul

Sadat and After: Struggles for Egypt's Political Soul

Sadat and After: Struggles for Egypt's Political Soul

Sadat and After: Struggles for Egypt's Political Soul


Most analyses of Egyptian politics present the limitations and failures of official political life as the complete story of politics in Egypt. Raymond Baker's direct observation of Egyptian politics has convinced him that alternative political groups have sustained themselves and carved out spaces for promising political action despite official efforts at containment.

In this compelling study, Baker recreates the public worlds of eight groups on the periphery of Egyptian politics. They range in their political stances from Communists to the Muslim Brothers and include shifting clusters of critical intellectuals who gather around influential journals or in research centers, as well as the quiescent aestheticists of the Wissa Wassef community. Taken together, the experiences of Egyptians in alternative groups reveal that Egyptians are more than the objects of diverse external pressures and more than the sufferers from multiple internal problems. They are also creative political actors who have stories to tell about the human potential to struggle for humane values and goals in the modern world.

In examining Egypt from the margins rather than from the center, Baker proposes a new direction for Third World political studies. He suggests a way out of the impasse in the current development literature, which is fixed on a scientific study of causes and determinants, by focusing on actual political struggles and alternative political visions.


When I was teaching in Egypt in the late seventies and early eighties, I regularly heard university students and other young intellectuals call into question existing forms of discourse about Egyptian political life. The Sadat government relaxed authoritarian controls in the seventies; yet, these young people still did not know where and how they could live the best possible collective life, given existing political arrangements and their country's place in the world. The new generation decided that available explanations of economic and political failures that blamed the political elite or external enemies did not indicate what ordinary people could do to struggle for a better future. Official "campaigns" for development in the face of external enemies took place on a distant and unreal stage beyond any history students could make and beyond any politics they could experience. Government slogans about economic and military battlefronts said nothing concrete; in fact, these rhetorical battles of official public life blocked constructive social discourse and action. They diverted attention from the repressiveness of existing forms of political life and hindered prospects of changing politics according to values of human community worthy of struggle. Egypt's student youth asked if there was not something in the record of Egyptian public life that might give some sense—however fragmentary—of the kind of community they should try to build.

The students found official Egypt's answers to these questions unsatisfactory. The existing political regime in Egypt originated with a 1952 coup d'état by military conspirators led by Colonel Gamal Abdul Nasser . . .

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