The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square

The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square

The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square

The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square


The recent revolution in Egypt has shaken the Arab world to its roots. The most populous Arab country and the historical center of Arab intellectual life, Egypt is a linchpin of the US's Middle East strategy, receiving more aid than any nation except Israel. This is not the first time that the world and has turned its gaze to Egypt, however. A half century ago, Egypt under Nasser became the putative leader of the Arab world and a beacon for all developing nations. Yet in the decades prior to the 2011 revolution, it was ruled over by a sclerotic regime plagued by nepotism and corruption. During that time, its economy declined into near shambles, a severely overpopulated Cairo fell into disrepair, and it produced scores of violent Islamic extremists such as Ayman al-Zawahiri and Mohammed Atta.

In The Struggle for Egypt, Steven Cook--a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations--explains how this parlous state of affairs came to be, why the revolution occurred, and where Egypt might be headed next. A sweeping account of Egypt in the modern era, it incisively chronicles all of the nation's central historical episodes: the decline of British rule, the rise of Nasser and his quest to become a pan-Arab leader, Egypt's decision to make peace with Israel and ally with the United States, the assassination of Sadat, the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood, and--finally--the demonstrations that convulsed Tahrir Square and overthrew an entrenched regime.

Throughout Egypt's history, there has been an intense debate to define what Egypt is, what it stands for, and its relation to the world. Egyptians now have an opportunity to finally answer these questions. Doing so in a way that appeals to the vast majority of Egyptians, Cook notes, will be difficult but ultimately necessary if Egypt is to become an economically dynamic and politically vibrant society.



AFORD EXPEDITION? Isn’t that the really huge one? I asked myself as I stood staring down Mohammed Mazhar Street on a mind-numbingly hot Cairo afternoon in late August 1999. Less than fifteen minutes before, I had fielded a phone call from a gentleman named Hassan telling me to wait for him in front of my apartment building, and that he would pick me up in his green Ford Expedition. I didn’t think too much about it until I made my way down to the street. A Ford Expedition? I hadn’t seen many of those. Cairo’s thoroughfares were clogged with a variety of high-end Mercedes, BMWs, Range Rovers, and loads of more modest Mitsubishis, Skodas, Fiats, and Daihatsu minivans, as well as the odd ancient Russian Lada or two, but not a tank like the Expedition. I quickly did a rough calculation. To buy one of the biggest SUVs on the market in Egypt probably cost Hassan double what he would have paid in the United States. Couldn’t be, I thought. I must have misheard him over the scratchy phone line.

My image of Hassan, whom I had met two days before via e-mail, was of one of those underemployed university graduates that one often comes across in Egypt. They are frequently found working some combination of odd jobs—in the post office, fixing watches, driving taxis—to help keep mothers, fathers, sisters, wives, and children fed. What led me to him was a short article he had penned in an Englishlanguage publication called Civil Society that, best I could tell at the . . .

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