In This Review

Once Upon A Revolution: An Egyptian Story
Once Upon A Revolution: An Egyptian Story
By Thanassis Cambanis
Simon & Schuster, 2015, 288 pp

Cambanis’ remarkable account of Egypt’s 2011 uprising and 2013 counterrevolution is built on his firsthand reporting. Cambanis was in the country during both developments and shared in the initial euphoria and in the bitter disappointment that followed. He tells the story mainly through in-depth profiles of two men: Basem, a middle-aged, secularist architect who became politically active in anger at the almost comically fraudulent 2010 parliamentary elections that confirmed President Hosni Mubarak’s grip on power, and Moaz, a young activist in the Muslim Brotherhood, impatient with the group’s leadership and willing to cooperate with people like Basem. Cambanis’ analysis is sharp, and he does not hold back when it comes to graphically depicting the Egyptian state’s violence against its own people, be they Coptic Christians or Muslim Brotherhood supporters. In his gripping account of the 2011 massacre of some two dozen Copts at a protest in front of the Maspero television building in Cairo, Cambanis squarely blames the violence on the military leadership. Likewise, Cambanis accuses the military of deliberately killing as many Brotherhood supporters as possible during a protest against the 2013 military coup that brought General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to power. Cambanis claims, at one point, that the lessons of the 2011 uprising cannot be unlearned. But even though the Egyptian people pushed out one autocrat, Sisi’s regime is more authoritarian and less liberal than Mubarak’s. So it’s not altogether clear what the lessons are.