A Portrait of Egypt: A Journey Through the World of Militant Islam
By Mary Anne Weaver
Farrar, 1999, 352 pp.
Weaver has produced a compelling narrative of the confrontation between Islamists and the Egyptian state since the early 1970s. She integrates the metaphor of the priest (Sheikh Umar Abdel Rahman) and the soldier (Husni Mubarak) into the story of developments well known but seldom so well presented: Anwar al-Sadat's early support of the Islamists to foil the Egyptian left; the influx of fundamentalist Muslims into Afghanistan in the 1980s to fight Soviet domination (with U.S. Funding); the resultant rise of antigovernment terrorism in Egypt and the Muslim world; the bombing of the World Trade Center; the massacre of Western tourists at Luxor; and the increasingly heavy-handed official response to the Islamist challenge. Weaver did not just meet the leaders on both sides but ferreted out those living outside the law to uncover their past history and present mindset. Her findings are grim, seeing the Islamists gaining as the state clumsily uses brute force. Partly based on essays that have appeared over the years in The New Yorker, this is a book by someone who knows Egypt and writes forcefully. The reader should sample her brilliant use in the concluding pages of individual encounters to illuminate larger issues.