Egypt: A Grand Delusion: Democracy and Economic Reform in Egypt

By Springborg, Robert | The Middle East Journal, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

Egypt: A Grand Delusion: Democracy and Economic Reform in Egypt


Springborg, Robert, The Middle East Journal


A Grand Delusion: Democracy and Economic Reform in Egypt, by Eberhard Kienle. London and New York: LB. Tauris Publishers, 2001. xiv + 200 pages. Notes to p. 245. Bibl. to p. 267. Index to p. 274. $59.50 cloth; $24.50 paper.

The title of this work is misleading, for while Kienle provides a thorough description of political "deliberalization" under President Husni Mubarak, he devotes much less attention to the economy and its linkages to the polity. His primary purpose is to debunk the contention of the Egyptian government and certain Western scholars and governments that a reforming Egypt is on the path to democracy, a contention that, alas, even Mubarak himself had abandoned well before the book appeared in English in 2001. The thesis of the work no longer in question, its contribution is that of providing a thorough documentary record of the legal and extra-legal means employed by the state to restrict political liberties during the early and middle 1990s. Kienle has done an admirable job in recounting the by-now familiar story of how the regime manipulated local and national elections, harassed human rights activists and groups, censored the media, subordinated unions and professional associations, marginalized opposition political parties, tortured political prisoners and, in short, created a dictatorship in which the population is thoroughly cowed.

More a chronicle than a theoretical explication, the book under review nevertheless seeks to evaluate various interpretations of the motives lying behind the draconian deliberalization. Reviewing the evidence, Kienle rejects the oft-repeated notion, given more credence in the wake of September 1I th, that radical Islamism left the state with no alternative but to repress. He argues instead that Islamist violence provided justification for repression of all and sundry, not just the violent. The regime was intent on deliberalization because, according to Kienle, economic reform undertaken by a weak state requires a battening down of political hatches, and the very longevity of military rule has corroded political legitimacy, thus necessitating brutality to sustain incumbency. Kienle also investigates the intriguing issue of the interaction between state and society, and how the latter - increasingly depoliticized, marginalized, and Islamicize - has tolerated and even invited the excesses of the former. …

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