Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Official Stories: Politics and National Narratives in Egypt and Algeria

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Official Stories: Politics and National Narratives in Egypt and Algeria

Article excerpt

Official Stories: Politics and National Narratives in Egypt and Algeria, by Laurie A. Brand. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2014. 274 pages. $27.95.

Reviewed by Hugh Roberts

This tightly written book offers an account of "how state elites construct and reconfigure" national narratives "to serve the goals of regime consolidation and maintenance" in Egypt and Algeria, two countries with much in common and, above all, the fact that events defined as "revolutions"-but dominated by the military-constituted the contemporary state in each case. Beginning with a discussion of the salience of state discourse as a political tool and thus the relevance of studying this for a rounded understanding of authoritarian forms of government, the author then provides two chapters on Egypt, from 1952 to the 2011 toppling of President Husni Mubarak, two on Algeria from 1962 to 2014, a chapter drawing certain conclusions from her analyses of the two cases and finally an epilogue, reviewing her findings in the light of the "Arab Spring" and reflecting on the "limits of revolution."

Brand has based her analysis on careful readings of official documents. These include the speeches of the two countries' successive presidents (plus President Gamal 'Abdel Nasser's Philosophy of the Revolution), party declarations and platforms, the texts of constitutions and national charters and, in particular, the successive editions of school history textbooks. This painstaking research enables her to trace the way in which successive leaderships in Egypt since 1952 and Algeria since 1962 have initially framed the national narrative and then modified it over time, a concern throughout being their own legitimacy and the need to persuade their audiences that, whatever the twists and turns, and even U-turns, not to mention failures of policy, the leadership of the moment is keeping faith with the fundamental principles of the "revolution" that constituted the state. She is particularly good on the effort involved and difficulties encountered by the various regimes in "rescripting" the national story in this way, and notes how school textbooks have sometimes failed to keep pace with the changes of line in presidential speeches.

Given the numerous parallels between the two cases, the result is a book that will be particularly useful for teaching courses on the comparative politics of the Middle East and North Africa, despite the fact that Brand largely abstains from comparative analysis herself. …

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