The New York Times Book Review
The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Squareby Steven A. Cook
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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.
The New York Times Book Review
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"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, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, weaves together a narrative drawn from archives, interviews and his own firsthand reporting during a decade of visits to Egypt.... What Cook has given us is a scholar's well-informed, analytical history, which offers invaluable insights to anyone interested in how Egypt came to its present impasse...a substantial and engaging book."
New York Times Book Review
"An excellent new book."
The Christian Science Monitor
"Cook brings the revolution to life. But he does so with the depth of knowledge of someone who has understood the dynamics of Egyptianindeed, Arab autocracyfor years."
"Timely, well-writtenELthe best up-to-date review of Egypt's modern political history through the opening months of the revolution that brought down Hosni Mubarak. His account of how the 1952 Egyptian revolution produced the Nasserist authoritarian regime is more relevant today than ever, as is his discussion of the final years of the decaying Mubarak regimeincluding intriguing new evidence about Gamal Mubarak's activities."
ForeignPolicy.com, Best Books on the Middle East, 2011
"Cook's Struggle for Egypt is not just another Arab Spring book but one with lasting relevance for Egypt watchers. With 30 pages of footnotes, a 40-page bibliography and a comprehensive index, it is full of useful reference material, while personal anecdotes provide local flavor and add to the overall appeal.... Even those who know Egypt well will learn something new from this fresh presentation of events."
Middle East Policy
"The Struggle For Egypt, is 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." The Economist
"Cook's Struggle for Egypt is not just another Arab Spring book but one with lasting relevance for Egypt watchers. With 30 pages of footnotes, a 40-page bibliography and a comprehensive index, it is full of useful reference material, while personal anecdotes provide local flavor and add to the overall appeal . . . Cook's exploration of the history of the regime and the dynamics it produced help place current events in context and provide important insights about how the main protagonists are likely to respond to the evolving order. Even those who know Egypt well will learn something new from this fresh presentation of events." iddle East Policy
"Cook is a compelling writer who has a knack for memorable openings and knows how to appeal to both a scholarly audience and the interested general reader. The treatment of the recent political changes in The Struggle for Egypt is a master-class in how popular historians can cover sudden developments while still maintaining a focus on a longer period." Matthew Partridge, London School of Economics (June 2012)
The unfolding of events leading up to the overthrow of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, including a detailed account of the build-up to revolution and how recent developments were organized.
Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Cook (Ruling But Not Governing: The Military and Political Development in Egypt, Algeria and Turkey,2007), who is intimately familiar with Egypt and its political and cultural history, begins from Nasser's 1952 coup, providing broad context for his discussion. He duly investigates the many strands of Egypt's religious, military and political history, in particular since the British bought the Suez Canal Company from its French owners at the end of the 19th century. Cook also focuses on the relationship between Islam and Egypt's military, demonstrating how U.S. policies have been spread through the Middle East by the Agency for International Development, working with the Egyptian government's institutions. Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood is the main concern, since it has provided a core of personnel for al-Qaeda's terror operations around the world, including 9/11. Cook also profiles the secular opposition, which has been increasing, and the factors that contributed to the Tahrir Square demonstrations.
A nice complement to Lloyd Gardner's similar book, The Road to Tahrir Square (2011), though Cook is more concerned with internal than international dynamics.
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Meet the Author
Steven A. Cook is the Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. A leading expert on Arab and Turkish politics, Cook is the author of Ruling But Not Governing: The Military and Political Development in Egypt, Algeria, and Turkey.
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The Struggle for Egypt is an in-depth look at how the modern Egyptian state was established. It focuses on the relationship between the regime and the populace. Mr. Cook presents the information in an accessible and engaging manner. FYI: The MB is discussed in the book but not extensively. If you're looking for a resource on the MB I recommend "The Muslim Brotherhood: Evolution of an Islamist Movement" by Carrie Wickham
Cook has written an excellent review of developments in modern Egypt, particularly since the 1952 revolution. His discussion of the ups and downs in the relationship between the United States and Egypt during this period is especially relevant as the US administration seeks to cope with the new regime in Cairo headed by Mohammed Morsi. Cook presents much food for thought for all who seek to understand the reasons for the difficulties the US has so often encountered in its relations with Cairo.
January 25, 2011, the news was all about Egypt and the revolution. Multitudes filled Tahiri Square demanding political change and for President Mubarak to step down to make way for democracy and personal freedom. We realized that this development might lead to a better future for Egyptians but it put a hold on our plans to travel there until a later time. By early January 2012, parliamentary elections had been held, the first free and open elections in Egypt's long history. News reports suggested that the revolution and transition were proceeding well enough and conditions had stabilized so that visitors could again travel safely. We decided to go. During our travels we met many Egyptians, visited all of the places on the normal tourist itinerary, observed protests, posters, the opening of the People's Assembly (Parliament), read Al-Ahram Weekly, the English language paper, grieved over the deaths of more than 60 fans at a football (soccer) match, become a bit used to guards carrying kalashnikov machine guns everywhere. Finally, it was time to leave, to consider all that we had experienced and learned and to write about those experiences.But we needed more information to assemble the mosaic of impressions, conversations, and observations through a better understanding of the history that had eventually driven the Egyptian people to take to the streets in significant numbers to demand regime change and democracy. We discovered 'The Struggle for Egypt' by Steven Cook, which we found to be an excellent book to provide us with the historic context we needed. The Struggle for Egypt begins with a story about Hassan, a member of the elite wealthy class, whose anger and frustration over the sad state that Egypt had come to before the revolution as well as his ideas about what the future might bring had provided the author with clear insights. Conversations such as this as well as in depth research enabled Cook to narrate and interpret the events of the past hundred and thirty years beginning with the first stirrings of nationalism in the 1880s, through the Free Officers' coup in 1952, the Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak years, to Tahrir Square in January, 2011. The author argues that Egyptians have never been able to define "what Egypt is, what it stands for, and what its relation to the world is." He explores the role of foreigners, foremost the United States, in this long debate as he narrates the story of the continuing conflicts between the Muslim Brotherhood and the National Democratic Party (NDP), the socialist and nationalist policies and alignment with the USSR during the presidency of Gamal Abdel Nasser. After Nasser's death, during the Presidency of Anwar Sadat, the narrative explores the turn toward free market economics, bridge building with the Brotherhood, the Camp David Accords to make peace with Israel, and ultimately Sadat's assassination. This opened the door to the presidency of Hosni Mubarak and over thirty years, the deterioration of Egypt's economic and social structures, the absence of the rule of law, the violence of the police, the power of the military, the lack of accountability. Then the events leading up to the revolution are traced and we meet a few of the characters whose names we were reading in Al-Ahram: Omar Suleiman, Mohamed ElBaradei, Gamal Mubarak, Ahmed Shafiq. Cook has written a readable, comprehensive, compelling, well documented history of an extraordinary country. It well s