The last thing one would expect from a book entitled ‘Egypt – the Elusive Arab Spring’ is a set of firm beliefs and the attempt to develop a vision of history. Yet, this is what Wafik Moustafa tries to do in his latest essay which bears the same title.
The extent of the difficulties he had to face becomes evident if one considers that, as the author writes in the introduction, the book “was started under Mubarak, edited under Morsi, and launched under Sisi”, so it has probably undergone substantial changes in the process. However, the thesis at its core is likely to have remained unchanged, because this book is not the product of a rushed attempt to give an opinion on some of the most remarkable, and commented on, events which happened in the world in the last years. On the opposite side, as the author himself clearly states, the book “has been many years in the making” and was originally conceived “in response to my experiences when I stood for the Egyptian presidency”, a bid that resulted as unsuccessful, but left Moustafa – a British-Egyptian citizen, a medical doctor and the founder and current chairman of the Conservative Arab Network – willing to give voice in another way to those who did not identify themselves with the regime.
The author manages to do this – in a slightly different context – by broadening his analysis both from a geographical and a temporal point of view. As for the former aspect, Moustafa does not only try – at the beginning of the book – to put the Egyptian Spring in context by briefly reviewing the situation in the other Arab, Middle Eastern and North African countries, but devotes a chapter each to Turkey and Israel, seen as key elements in the picture he wants to sketch. As for history, this is an important feature of the book from the beginning: the author goes into deep detail both when making references to the events of the last years and when dealing with topics with deeper roots, such as the origins of the Egyptian military regime or of the Muslim Brotherhood. Often, historical clarifications are given at the beginning of a chapter, as an introduction to Moustafa’s opinions, in other cases the separation between the two is less evident.
As for the arguments developed throughout the book, many of them are those which one can expect from an activist who campaigned against the political Islamization of Egypt, but also criticized the army and the police in the aftermath of the coup staged by general Abdel Fattah al-Sisi against the then president Mohammed Morsi. Nevertheless – and maybe unexpectedly – he also admits the failures of those who appear to be, more or less, on his same side. The United States, for instance, do not deserve as much blame as the rhetoric of some politicians often make people believe; nevertheless the leaders in Washington – Moustafa states – have to recognize that some of their policies have actually been harmful to Arab interests. Nor does Mohammed el-Baradai, the former head of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, in whose leadership many believed, both in Egypt and abroad, receive better treatment, given his inability to take sides. Also Turkey which had been widely regarded as an example for the countries involved in the Arab Spring, is a disappointment to the author, due to Prime Minister Erdogan’s recent political choices.
In the end, the founder of the Conservative Arab Network is somehow forced to admit that, contrary to the expectations of many “neither protesters nor governments have learned the lessons of the Arab Spring”, because “after months of hope and anticipation it culminated in civil wars and widespread political alienation and ultimately had little positive impact worldwide”. Not all experts or scholars might actually agree with this thesis, but it is the logical consequence of Moustafa’s arguments.
Whatever opinion one might have of the author’s ideas, however, there is a weakness which The Elusive Arab Spring has in common with almost all the books of its kind: it conveys only the point of view of a single individual, one of the many opinions that coexisted in Egypt, taking into account only the supporters of the revolution. It has been written at a moment when – in a certain sense – the future is still open (an assertion that becomes even stronger if one considers all the factors listed by Moustafa). It will probably take years to get a sense of the real consequences of the events that the author deals with. So, in the end The Elusive Arab Spring may be appreciated as the personal stance of a quite important public figure, but falls short of its claim to be a comprehensive account, for the simple fact that the vision it presents is very likely to be challenged by new developments of the situation. (D.M.)
Dr. Wafik Moustafa, Egypt -The elusive Arab Spring, Gilgamesh Publishing 2014, 271pp.