Egypt during the Nasser Years: Ideology, Politics, & Civil Society

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Egypt during the Nasser Years: Ideology, Politics, & Civil Society

By Kirk J. Beattie
Westview Press, 1994
260 pp. $60.00

The Nasser era is far enough in the past that one can have some historical perspective on it, but it is still close enough that the inquisitive researcher can talk to those who knew Nasser and the inner workings of his regime. Beattie has exploited this opportunity skillfully, interviewing many of the key figures of the Nasser era, reading the memoirs of others, and stitching together a readable and convincing account of the evolution of Nasser's political thinking. From an early flirtation with the Muslim Brethren to a later embrace of left-leaning socialism, Nasser remained essentially a nationalist, a pragmatist, and a dictator. But he was a dictator in a military regime in which the military was loyal to his rival, Abdel-Hakim Amer. The Nasser-Amer rivalry, now understood but at the time carefully hidden, helps explain much about Nasser's behavior in the 1960s, including some of his maneuvers on the eve of the fateful 1967 war. Nasser was able to cling to power after the war, but he never succeeded in creating a "hegemonic bloc," in Beattie's words, which means that Egyptian politics continues to reflect liberal, leftist, and Islamist currents. Some see this lack of ideological unity in the country as an impediment to development, but it might also be viewed as a promising base from which to construct a more pluralistic and tolerant polity than anything Nasser could imagine. One may quibble with Beattie's theoretical framework, but his research is solid, which makes the book of enduring value.

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