Skip to main content

P2 - Egypt: Revolution, Failed Transition and Counter-Revolution by Azmi Bishara (review)


Marwa Fikry Abdel Samei

The Middle East Journal, Volume 77, Number 1, Summer 2023, pp. 101-103 (Article)

Published by Middle East Institute

For additional information about this article

For content related to this article

© Middle East Institute. This article is for personal research only and may not be copied or
distributed in any form without the permission of The Middle East Journal.

Egypt: Revolution, Failed Transition and Counter-Revolution, by Azmi Bishara.
Translated by Mandy McClure, Chris Hitchcock, and Peter Daniel. London: I. B. Tauris, 2022. 732 pages. $108 cloth, $86.40 e-book.

Reviewed by Marwa Fikry Abdel Samei

I hope this work has contribut- ed to an understanding of a cru- cial period in the history of the Arab region and to document- ing the course of its grassroots uprisings against dictatorship. Equally, if not more importantly, I hope it has helped shed light on some critical theoreti- cal issues by offering a study of a concrete case. Reality is the laboratory of the social scienc- es, and their core methodology is the historical method which examines phenomena in their unfolding . . . (p. 679).

With these words, Azmi Bishara con- cludes his book on the 2011 Egyptian revolution. Much ink has been spilled on ana- lyzing the revolution and the conditions that made it possible. Most of these studies have focused on President Husni Mubarak’s era (1981–2011) and traced the gradual accu- mulation of the revolutionary momentum throughout the years, especially during the 2000s. They have also either relied heavily on the democratic transition literature or an- alyzed the revolution purely from the lens of economic grievances. Thus, Bishara’s book is distinctive in its approach; he treats revo- lutions, like all social phenomena, to have “various dimensions that require the histo- rian’s attention: economic, political, histori- cal and discursive” (p. 3).

For this reason, he contextualized the revolution in a much broader background that goes back to 1952. The book, divided into two parts, deals with the story of the Egyptian Revolution, “one of a great hope which culminated in tragedy” (p. 351). Part I (“From July Republic to January Revolution”) comprises seven chapters. Here, Bishara tracks the background of the revolution down to the re- public established in July 1952. He examines the social and political history of the regime that Egyptians revolted against in 2011, arguing that there are noticeable continuities in the structure of the regime established in 1952 on top of which are: the powers of the presidency, the supremacy of the security ap- paratus, and the existence of a ruling party in- tersecting with the state bureaucracy (p. 47). Focusing on “economic liberalization and political authoritarianism,” Bishara reveals the gradual development from central plan- ning to an open, Western-oriented economy. In his view, with the hastened liberalization and privatization during the 1990s, “the vast majority of the population did not experience the effects of growth; class divisions widen- ed and discontent grew” (p. 93). Gradually, businessmen grew independent of the state and emerged, during Mubarak’s later years, as a lobby influencing the state bureaucracy (p. 97). This climate, Bishara argues, fueled a growing tendency to rebel out of frustration with social and economic conditions, a situ- ation that was exacerbated by “awareness of relative deprivation and/or humiliation, and a sense of long-term stagnation” (p. 101).

Additionally, Bishara examines the history of protests in Egypt. He exposes the myth that, prior to January 25, 2011, Egyp- tians had been acquiescent, highlighting the roles played since 1952 by students, parts of the middle class, and labor activists in challenging the regime and expressing their dissatisfaction with its policies. Bishara also sheds light on a much-neglected element in the Egyptian Revolution, which is the role of governorates outside the capital. Most studies have focused on the revolution as an exclusively urban phenomenon specific to Cairo. Bishara, however, demonstrates with several examples how other areas in Egypt played a crucial role in the revolution.

Bishara also gives much attention to the organizers of the protests. He provides de- tailed information on the different revolutionary youth groups that masterminded the 2011 protest movement. Chapter 6 provides rich data on the youth of the revolution: their numbers, ideological beliefs, educational.