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Egypt on the Brink: From Nasser to Mubarak Paperback – January 11, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


"Short, readable, clear, and passionately written. A good introduction to Egypt's story.”—Boston Globe
(Boston Globe)

"Osman delivers textured historical context . . . and he focuses analysis more accurately than most current pundits."—Carlin Romano, The Chronicle of Higher Education
(Carlin Romano The Chronicle of Higher Education)

“Published a short time before thousands of Egyptians began pouring into Cairo's Tahrir Square, Egypt on the Brink is a timely account of Egypt near the end of the 30-year Mubarak era. It is presented thematically, rather than chronologically, and one of the most intriguing themes is the notion that whereas Egypt in the age of liberal nationalism (the 1920s and 1930s) and the Nasser years (1952-70) had a regional standing and a sense of national purpose, Hosni Mubarak's regime lost both this standing and this purpose as it devolved into a dreary despotism. Yet Osman writes with neither nostalgia nor disdain. Separate chapters discuss the Islamists, the Christians, the rise of liberal capitalism, and Egypt's youth. Even the conclusion, which speculates on who and what regime would replace Mubarak, now overtaken by events, offers useful thoughts on Egypt's distinctive politics.”—L. Carl Brown, Foreign Affairs
(L. Carl Brown Foreign Affairs)

“Strange, then, that despite continued fascination with ancient Egypt, so little aside from turgid academic tomes or breathless journalistic accounts has been published about the current condition of the most populous country in the turbulent Middle East, and among the most influential. “Egypt on the Brink” is a slim book, simply written and easy to understand, and it goes a long way to filling this void. […] The author, Tarek Osman, a Western-educated Egyptian banker and occasional columnist, brings the eye of an intelligent amateur to the story of his country’s past half-century. He writes with feeling, backed up by an impressively broad list of sources as well as sharp critical insight and astute judgment.”—The Economist

“It is hard to imagine a timelier book than Egypt on the Brink. . . an elegantly written and insightful analysis of the fissures and discontents of contemporary Egypt.”—James Jankowski, Middle East Journal
(James Jankowski Middle East Journal)

About the Author

Born and raised in Egypt, Tarek Osman was educated at the American University in Cairo and Bocconi University in Italy. His writings appear in a number of publications in the United Kingdom, Europe, and the Middle East.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (January 11, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300162758
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300162752
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,134,473 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Theodore M. Horesh on March 4, 2011
Format: Paperback
This is a clear and concise account of recent Egyptian history. It is comprehensive, covering recent social, political, religious, and economic transformations. And published by Yale University Press, it is easily an academic level text, in spite of the author's apparent lack of academic or publishing background. More importantly, the book is well written and has deep explanatory power. In short, it is the sort of book in which I find myself underlining every line.

Having read other accounts of recent Egyptian history, I have often come away feeling that I still didn't understand Egyptian passions. Osman probes deeply into the successes and failures of the early twentieth century constitutional monarchy and parliament, the opening and westernization of the culture during that time, and why that opening failed to take root. He thoroughly explains not just the events of Nasser's revolution and rule from 1952-1970 but also his successes and failures, why Nasser did so much to galvanize national pride, and why he ultimately failed. He does the same for Sadat and the Islamists and Mubarak, bringing to the subjects far greater nuance than I have yet to find elsewhere.

This is an objective reading of Egyptian history. But Osman's reading of say the rule of Nasser or the rule of Sadat is sympathetic enough to give the impression he is on their side. He does this continually, bringing sympathy and intelligence to his subjects. This lends to the book far more cultural explanatory power than is to be found in most histories. You will come away not just feeling like you understand what is happening in Egypt and why it is happening but how different classes probably feel about what is happening. This can ennoble Egyptians without sweeping anything under the rug.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 1000 REVIEWER on April 17, 2011
Format: Paperback
This very well written, concise, and insightful book is a short survey of recent Egyptian history aimed at providing the background for understanding the present difficult situation of Egypt. Written prior to the recent overthrow of the Mubarak government, it is notable for laying out many of the tensions of Egyptian society that led to the apparently successful revolution.

This book is organized chronologically. The first chapter briefly covers the 19th century reformist efforts of the Mohammed Ali dynasty and the modernizing, liberal constitutional monarchy that was its successor (under British colonial control). Osman presents this as something of a Golden Age of Egyptian elite society with a relatively dynamic economy, cosmopolitan culture, religious toleration, considerable innovation in Islamic theology and social thought, a high rate of artistic achievement, the development of important and relatively democratic political institutions, and a sense of "Egyptianism." Osman is careful to point out the defects of this period, notably the monopolization of wealth by a relatively small oligarchy and some notable political failures. The following and particularly good chapter is very nice overview of Nasser's dominance of Egypt, stressing the revolutionary nature of his regime, both in terms of developing a state dominated economy that did initially produce substantial growth and opened up opportunities for many Egyptians, and the "Arabization" of Egyptian politics in which Egypt was the center of the Arab world and Egyptians had a broader consciousness of themselves. The failure of Nasser's "project" with the enormous defeat in the Six Day/June war, economic stagnation, and political repression is described objectively and critically.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Paul J. Markowitz on January 24, 2012
Format: Paperback
The recent "peaceful revolution" in Egypt has successfully started a transition of power in this most important and strategic Middle Eastern country. Perhaps even more significantly it has begun a seismic shift throughout the Middle East and beyond, whose ultimate impact has yet to be fully determined. Therefore it is a most propitious and timely moment for a book to be published that traces the political, social and religious history of Egypt from Nasser to Mubarek.

Osman's thesis is that at the end of the first half of the 20th Century, Egypt was an agrarian nation where people were attached to the land. Now it is the largest exporter of cheap labor in the Middle East and is suffering a major "brain drain". In this process Egypt has transformed from a beacon of tranquility (where there has been no civil war for 7000 years), to a breeding ground for aggression.

Although Osman focuses on the period from 1950 to present, he puts into historical perspective much of the earlier history of Egypt. Egypt had a long history of being foreign-ruled by stronger societies that coveted Egypt's geopolitical position of being at the crossroads of the world. Even Mohamed Ali (1805-1849), credited with being "the founder of modern Egypt", was of Albanian origin and came to Egypt as a soldier of the Ottoman Empire. It was Ali who initially Europeanized the country, educated the best and brightest Egyptians in Europe, and created an independent modern army.

Although Ali's successors ruled with a highly authoritarian style, a middle class began to emerge, and both Cairo and Alexandria took on the appearance of a European style metropolis. This became cemented in 1869 with the opening of the Suez Canal. By 1882 Britain occupied Egypt to maintain control of Suez.
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