Egypt on the Brink

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On Wednesday, as events continued to unfold across Egypt, Leonard spoke to Tarek Osman about what’s happened in Egypt over the last 55 years, since the rise of Gamal Abdul Nasser.

While Osman, the author of Egypt on the Brink: From Nasser to Mubarak, saw the roots of today’s events as going all the way back to Napoleon, he described great changes in the last 60 years:  

"If you look at 1950, the midpoint of the 20th Century at Egypt and try to speculate how this country would look 50 or 60 years down the line…most speculators, most strategic thinkers would have imagined an Egypt that is very different from Egypt today. Today, Egypt is very conservative; at that time it was very liberal. At that time, in the 50’s, it was very nationalist. Today it’s very sectarian oriented. It was very cosmopolitan. Today it’s not cosmopolitan. At that time, Egypt was a worldly city – even in terms of social glamor. Today, it’s certainly far from that.”

Osman also told Leonard that not just the liberal movement in Egypt has gained strength over the week of protests, but also the military establishment. “Another major winner – though a subtle winner – is the military establishment, which has always commanded massive respect from the Egyptian population. The way they handled the demonstrations for the past week has actually increased that respect.”

Osman explained that Egypt’s decision to sign a peace treaty with Israel and become a US ally in the region has also played a role in the increasing discontent – not just in Egypt but around the region:

“Until today – 30 or 40 years down the line – there’s still this divide between the Arab leaders who are friends of the US and are more or less allied with American interests in the Middle East and a very significant percentage – I’m not sure whether it’s the majority or not – but a very significant percentage of the Arab masses, specifically in the poor Arab countries – Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Syria, Algeria – who very much see those interests as in opposition to their own aspirations.”

He went on to explain that although the US gives billions of dollars in Egypt each year, most Egyptians don’t see that money as having much impact on their lives.

You can listen to the entire interview, including a discussion of the rise and decline of Arab nationalism, here.