noticed, Putin turned the Duma (parliament) into a rubber stamp. Many of the other freedoms of the 1990s were drastically cut back. Even the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the brutal poisoning of the human-rights activist Alexander Litvinenko in London, and the assassination in Qatar of the former president of Chechyna, Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, were not wake-up calls for most people. Now ‘former’ intelligence officers can be found everywhere: in the prime minister’s office, among t he deputy p r ime minister s , i n t he Pres i dentia l Administration, the ar med forces, the Ministr y of Internal Affairs, the major branches of industry, the railways, banks and the Academy of Sciences. The production of strategic metals – such as nickel, palladium and polonium – is also in the hands of the FSB. Relations between the Moscow Patriarchate and the FSB are even closer than they were prior to 1991, now that official state atheism has been discarded. Of course, as the authors seem to imply, the FSB is lacking in creative ideas about how to create a better future for the Russian people. The stress is placed on maintaining the status quo, on stability rather than
JOHN R BRADLEY
EGYPT ON THE BRINK: FROM NASSER TO MUBARAK
By Tarek Osman (Yale University Press 282pp £14.99)
AUTHORITARIAN REGIMES IN the Middle East may be dull, but at least they’re predictable. Take the recent announcement by Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s official spokesman that the ailing dictator will stand again for election in 2012. By that time he will be 84 years old and will have already been in power for more than three decades. One popular theory has it that, during what will presumably be his final term, Mubarak will finally name his neo-liberal banker son, Gamal, as vice president, a position purposefully left vacant until now. Thus the son will inherit the throne of the father, albeit on the back of fraudulent elections.
In Egypt on the Brink, Tarek Osman charts the major political, social, economic and religious developments in his home country from 1952, when Gamal Abdul Nasser overthrew the monarchy, to the tediously repressive decades of Mubarak’s rule. Essentially this is a wise, liberal Egyptian’s lament for the interminable decline of his once great nation, from indisputable leader of the Arab world to a country that is now routinely dismissed, even by Egyptians themselves, as increasingly irrelevant.
sustainability, as though the supplies of gas and oil will never run dry. One of the main myths revolves around the dogmatic and unimaginative Yuri Andropov, still seen by some today as a sort of role model, despite the fact that he placed the world on the verge of a nuclear holocaust in the autumn of 1983. Another unimaginative person is Nikolai Patrushev, the head of the FSB from 1999 until 2008. In 2000 he fatuously referred to FSB officers as ‘our new “nobility”’. But most members of the old Russian nobility were by nature and tradition humane, well-educated, fluent in foreign languages and genuinely cultured. Compared with them, the new ‘noblemen’ are a bunch of uncivilised commoners.
Some readers of this volume may query a few of the sources used by the authors. It should be realised that most of the archives of the KGB and FSB remain completely closed and will not be declassified for many years to come. With very few exceptions, only Russians living in Russia really know and understand the truth about the past and present of their country, because they have experienced it in their own skin. To order this book at £15.19, see LR bookshop on page 10
The book opens with what has become the standard nar rative of Egypt’s rise and fall, in which prewar, cosmopolitan Cairo and Alexandr i a – with their political pluralism, intellectual vibrancy and relig ious tolerance – are played off against the hopelessness of the impoverished, repressive present. In stark contrast to much of the rest of the developed world, Osman writes, Egyptian society over the past half century has not only not progressed, but on many fronts actually regressed. No one who lives in Egypt would argue with the validity of that assertion. However, Osman readily acknowledges that, for all the glamour and relative freedom it offered, the reform movement of the early twentieth century crucially failed to improve the lot of Egypt’s silent majority, the poor.
Nasser: went left
The resulting popular frustration paved the way for Nasser’s bloodless coup. Osman’s diplomatic eagerness to present both sides of every story is nowhere more evident than in his discussion of Nasser. As the first native Egyptian ever to rule his own country, Nasser truly revolutionised, for good or ill, every aspect of society, and changed the course of the country forever. The secular Nasser, Osman states, was probably the most popular Arab leader since the Prophet, and his glory years, culminating in the nationalisation of the Suez Canal, are lovingly recreated. Still, even Osman – who touchingly
LITERARY REVIEW Dec 2010 / Jan 2011