Few Middle Eastern countries inspire as much interest as Egypt, and, historically, more books have been written about its politics than any other country in the region. In the past decade, however, proper, well-studied books on Egyptian politics seem to be appearing less frequently.
“Inside Egypt: The Land of the Pharaohs on the Brink of a Revolution by British journalist John Bradley is an attempt to fill this gap.
According to Bradley, who penned the 2005 book “Saudi Arabia Exposed, Egypt’s current problems can be traced to the corruption of the ‘Free Officers regime,’ which even conceding the effects of colonialism, “fared badly in every respect when compared to the Mohamed Ali dynasty.Nasser’s coup got rid of everything that was good in Egypt and slowly replaced everything that was bad with something much worse.
Thus, the book is a devastating critique of almost every aspect of Egyptian governance since 1952.
Unfortunately, “Inside Egypt often lacks a sense of balance in its criticisms of the Egyptian government. Sometimes the reader wonders if the author is an official spokesman for King Farouk, the nominal monarch of Egypt before he was kicked out of the country by Nasser in 1952. As harshly as Bradley criticizes the government, he makes very little attempt to seek out their views in interviews.
A second criticism, which may explain the first further, is the absence of written Arabic sources. Because of his knowledge of spoken Egyptian Arabic, Bradley is able to gain a degree of access and understanding of Egyptian society that most foreign journalists cannot. But true immersion in the society cannot be achieved solely through conversations in colloquial Arabic.
One has to seek out what is being written on paper. Bradley does not, relying almost exclusively on English-language sources. The problem with this is that analysis which may be more favorable to the government’s performance can be found in print (Arabic) media. To make no attempt to research written assessments of the government’s performance, while simultaneously attacking it, is problematic.
However, the book has many strong points. The role of Sufis, Coptic Christians and Bedouins in contemporary Egyptian politics is rarely mentioned in the Western press.
Bradley covers them extensively, for example, giving readers a good sense of socio-economic changes in the Sinai Peninsula which have radicalized some Bedouin elements. A chapter on sexual exploitation in the tourism industry is depressing and repulsive, but critical reading because it is rarely written about.
The book’s highlight is a chapter on the Muslim Brotherhood. A widely-held view in the US and Europe is that the Ikhwan would win a competitive election in Egypt. Bradley disagrees and argues that the “starting point of any discussion of the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence in Egypt should be a recognition that the number of seats they gain is not a reflection of their support.
He makes a compelling case that the story of the Brotherhood in Egypt “is not so much one of triumph in the face of adversity, as a failure to garner mass popular support despite a social, political and economic malaise in Egypt that elsewhere has proved a hugely fertile environment for the spread of Islamism- radical or otherwise.
“Inside Egypt falls short in its big-picture analysis of Egyptian governance and does not make a convincing case that Egypt is “on the brink of a revolution. However, individual chapters on Coptic Christians, Sufis, Bedouins and the Muslim Brotherhood are insightful and eye-opening, which makes it a must read for anyone interested in Egyptian politics.