When Egypt erupted in protests last January, many observers were shocked. Hosni Mubarak had stared down tough challenges in the past, and few believed he would fall. And while many Americans rooted for the protesters in Tahrir Square, others worried that a future without Mubarak might be even worse than a future with him.
Steven A. Cook’s new book, “The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square,” examines Egypt’s modern history, setting the stage for the events of last January, and providing us with some clues as to what may come next.
I recently had a chance to talk with Cook about about Egypt, as well as some of the modern presidents — Gamal Nasser, Anwar Sadat, and Mubarak — featured in his book.
One of the problems with Mubarak, Cook explained, was that — unlike his predecessors — he essentially provided no raison d’etre. This vacuum allowed Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood to fill that philosophical void.
“Nasser tried — though Nasserism — to establish the kind of compelling vision for Egyptian society,” Cook said. “And Sadat … tried to create a compelling vision — [but] Mubarak didn’t even bother to try it.”
Cook explained that Mubarak believed the way to establish stability was through “economic development that would give the vast majority of Egyptians a stake in a kind of stable, non-dynamic, political rule …”
The United States, of course, benefited from the stability and peace Mubarak’s regime provided — but “the question going forward,” Cook says, “is what kind of damage did this kind of authoritarian stability do for the future tragectory of Egypt?”
That is a question we may be wrestling with for a long time.
If you’re interested in this fascinating topic, be sure to listen to our full conversation here.