by Raymond Ibrahim
Middle East Quarterly
A review of Inside Egypt: The Land of the Pharaohs on the Brink of a Revolution by John R. Bradley (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).
To the general reader, Inside Egypt is a good introduction to some of the problems rife in the most populous, Arabic-speaking country. From regime corruption and oppression, to widespread poverty and discontent, to human rights abuses and the plight of Egypt’s minorities, most of the important issues are here. Bradley, formerly a Middle-East-based foreign correspondent, also provides useful insights, such as how the current regime exploits the West’s fear of the Muslim Brotherhood to its advantage.
Unfortunately, there is a myopic tendency to view nearly every problem in Egypt as a byproduct of Husni Mubarak, Egypt’s president since 1981, and in Bradley’s view, the “most corrupt offender of them all.” Even things one might have supposed were products of time or chance—from the condition of Egypt’s Bedouin, who have led the same desperate lifestyle for centuries, to the radicalization of Muslims, a worldwide phenomenon—are somehow traced back to Mubarak.
While the Mubarak regime is responsible for many of Egypt’s woes, blaming all of the nation’s problems on it is misleading. By minimizing the Islamization of society and the influence of the Brotherhood, which the author claims “has made only limited inroads into the mainstream” since Egypt’s Muslims are “intolerant of extremist Sunni doctrine,” Bradley moves from fact-based evidence to conjecture and, perhaps, wishful thinking.
Indeed, this is the book’s chief problem. Bradley is convinced that, given a chance, through the elimination of Mubarak, Egyptians would create a liberal, egalitarian, and gender-neutral society. This tendency to project things that are important to the author (though often not to Egyptians) is highlighted by his fixation on homosexuality in Egypt. The topic permeates the entire book, including a rather out-of-place section recounting the in-and-outs of Western gay tourism in Luxor.
In short, while the book is a good primer for novices to Egypt’s culture and politics, the author’s own proclivities mar his objectivity. And while he is convinced that Egypt is a byproduct of Mubarak, one is left wondering instead whether Mubarak is a byproduct of Egypt.
©2011 Raymond Ibrahim