Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Mona El-Ghobashy's "Bread and Freedom"

Mona El-Ghobashy is Clinical Assistant Professor of Liberal Studies at New York University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Bread and Freedom: Egypt's Revolutionary Situation, and reported the following:
When Egypt’s longtime president Hosni Mubarak was toppled by a popular uprising-cum-military coup in February 2011, what followed were 30 months of relentless competition over who would rule Egypt and on what terms. Page 99 analyzes one of the most powerful contenders in that power struggle, the senior military generals who hastily came together as the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and edged out Mubarak on February 11. SCAF seized executive and legislative powers and promised to hand them to elected civilian politicians within six months. The analysis plunges into why many in Egypt and abroad welcomed SCAF’s intervention rather than fearing a military dictatorship:

From page 99:
The armed forces had a distinct mystique, at once familiar and well-regarded in public culture yet insulated and inscrutable, furthering the perception that they were a professional, neutral third party ridding Egypt of a reviled autocrat. It helped that the generals’ most powerful patron swiftly certified their status as legitimate interim rulers. Hours after Mubarak’s departure, US President Barack Obama declared, “The military has served patriotically and responsibly as a caretaker to the state, and will now have to ensure a transition that is credible in the eyes of the Egyptian people.” But this is hardly the whole story of why military intervention did not immediately raise hackles.
The Page 99 Test works well, since it reflects a main feature of my book: explaining Egypt’s politics using general concepts from the historical social sciences, in this case “military involvement in politics.” The rest of the page reviews the many different forms of military involvement in a country’s politics, which helps explain why it was not immediately clear what role SCAF would play in post-Mubarak politics, which is why we see little initial opposition to the generals’ seizure of power. That changed in a matter of months.

Yet page 99 gives a distorted idea of the book as a whole. Existing studies and popular understandings tend to focus on the generals as the decisive actors, especially in hindsight given the outcome of a military coup that toppled the first elected president in 2013 and extinguished the democratic revolution. What my book does is reconstruct the hectic politics that led to this result, showing how the military and many other politically relevant actors interacted in confusing and unpredictable ways. Nearly every page of the book shows multiple actors cooperating, colliding, talking past each other, and competing to shape post-Mubarak politics. Egypt’s revolutionary situation was made not by ‘revolutionaries’ facing off against ‘the military,’ but by the simultaneous actions of civilian politicians, youth activists, police commanders, generals, civil servants, industrial workers, judges, parliamentarians, and journalists.
Learn more about Bread and Freedom at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue