The Struggle for Egypt
From Nasser to Tahrir Square
- Foreign policy analyses written by CFR fellows and published by the trade presses, academic presses, or the Council on Foreign Relations Press.
"There is a tendency to believe that Egyptians rebelled against Hosni Mubarak.... That is true, but it is not entirely accurate," writes CFR Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies Steven A. Cook in The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square. He argues in the book that Egyptians "revolted against a regime—a political order" that, while led by Mubarak for three decades, was one he had inherited from former presidents Anwar al-Sadat and Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Cook, who was in Cairo when the revolts broke out, provides one of the first historical analyses explaining the reasons behind the uprising, which he calls "if not predictable, inevitable."
The political upheaval of spring 2011 stemmed from the "intense debate to define what Egypt is, what it stands for, and what its relation to the world is." Cook notes in a related Foreign Policy article that for the first time Egyptians can openly debate the structure of their social and political systems outside the "circumscribed contours of an authoritarian political system."
Cook traces the "stirrings of Egyptian nationalism" back to the 1880s and culminates his narrative with the events in Tahrir Square in early 2011. He chronicles the end of the British occupation, the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood, the rise of Nasser and his quest to become a pan-Arab leader in the 1960s, Egypt's decision to make peace with Israel and ally with the United States, the subsequent assassination of Sadat in 1981, and the revolution that overthrew Mubarak.
Cook explains that Egyptian politics have been influenced by internal forces such as Islamists, Nasserists, and liberals, in addition to pressures from the "foreign component"—in particular, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and the United States. It is against this complex ideological backdrop that Egyptians are trying to answer central questions about their national identity: What principles and values should guide Egypt at home and abroad? What is the role of religion and nationalism in the life of the country?
While there is "great hope that the Egyptians can construct a new political system and rebuild their society peacefully, that is unlikely as long as the underlying and antecedent debates about Egypt and what it stands for remain unresolved," asserts Cook.
With the fall of Mubarak, Cook stresses that the United States should "come to terms with the end of the strategic relationship" with Egypt. He adds that Washington "risks playing a malevolent role in the transition if it tries to interfere. This is not only because of the mistrust many Egyptians have for the United States, but also because the trajectory of Egyptian politics is unknowable and is likely to stay that way for some time." He concludes, "Against the broad sweep of contemporary Egyptian political history, the demands for change from Tahrir Square are yet another manifestation of the struggle for Egypt that has been going on since at least the late nineteenth century."
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Reviews and Endorsements
[An] excellent new book.
Christian Science Monitor
From his wanderings on the Arab streets of Cairo (and dozens of other Arab and Turkish towns), Cook brings the revolution to life. But he does so with the depth of knowledge of someone who has understood the dynamics of Egyptian--indeed, Arab autocracy--for years.
Tell[s] the story of Egypt in rich detail, beginning with Nasser and on to Sadat and Mubarak.
Nancy Youssef, Washington Week
Incredibly vivid . . . the single best book on Egypt.
Jumping from the chaotic byways of Cairo to the highest reaches of international diplomacy, this providentially-timed account of modern Egyptian history combines immersion journalism with insightful policy analysis. A Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Cook translates an insider's perspective for a general readership.
A timely, well-researched and lucid political history that sweeps back to the origins of the praetorian dynasty that has ruled Egypt since the 1952 military coup.
With meticulous historical context and the acumen of a political scientist, Cook . . . weaves together a narrative drawn from archives, interviews and his own firsthand reporting during a decade of visits to Egypt [and] offers invaluable insights to anyone interested in how Egypt came to its present impasse . . . a substantial and engaging book.
New York Times Book Review
[A] detailed account of the build-up to revolution and how recent developments were organized . . . Cook, who is intimately familiar with Egypt and its political and cultural history, begins from Nasser's 1952 coup, providing broad context for his discussion.
A sweeping history of modern Egypt. . . . A reliable single source for understanding the flow and complexities of Egyptian politics, especially since the 1952 revolution.
Daniel Kurtzer, former U.S. ambassador to Egypt
Exceptionally timely. . . . An accessible, knowledgeable, fair-minded, and very useful examination of the last sixty years of Egypt's political history, including moments of great pride and decades of deep frustration. Anyone pondering the challenges and opportunities confronting Egypt--and Egypt's allies--after the January 25th Revolution would do well to start with this lucid account.
Lisa Anderson, president, the American University in Cairo
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