Inside Egypt

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John R Bradley, Palgrave Macmillan, £14.99

Egypt is on the brink of revolution, unless the US changes its policy towards the regime of Husni Mubarak. That at least is the conclusion of John R Bradley's new book, Inside Egypt - The land of the Pharaohs on the brink of a revolution .

In a series of interviews Bradley reveals the depth of opposition to the regime among ordinary people, activists and intellectuals.

According to Bradley the root of Egypt's predicament lay in the policies set in place by Gamal Abdel Nasser and the Free Officers following the revolution in 1952. Nasser's dream of Arab unity, widescale social change and a democratic system were "fallacious", argues Bradley. The Arab leader led the country to disaster and inspired imitators (in Iraq, Yemen and Libya) who destroyed their countries.

Socialists have many criticisms of Nasser, and the limitations of his movement, yet to dismiss the 1952 revolution as a "coup" points to the heart of what is missing from Bradley's understanding of the country.

The takeover by the Free Officers came after a turbulent period of of mass opposition to the former regime. Nasser emerged out of a layer of Egyptians who struggled to free the country from colonialism.

Nasser set in motion deep social changes - among them the redistribution of land to a hungry peasantry and legalisation of unions. His confrontation with Britain, France and Israel that followed the nationalisation of the Suez Canal in 1956 marked the high point of the wave of revolutions that swept the Arab world.

It is easy to look back and declare these revolutions misadventures and paint them as doomed to become dictatorships. But countries like Egypt, Syria and Iraq went through a renaissance following the end of colonialism.

One of Nasser's mistakes, Bradley argues, is that he took the country to war against Saudi Arabia over Yemen. Yet he gives no indication that this was part of a wider struggle between Saudi Arabia, a key bulwark of US imperialism, and the new revolutions.

Part of Bradley's failings is that, even though the book is rich in interviews, it remains an impressionistic view of the country. Bradley does not explain the contradictory pressures faced by Egypt's largest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood. He is equally dismissive of Kifaya, the alliance of left wing activists, nationalists and some Islamists that was key to breaking the reign of fear.

The interviews, and his exposé of the corruption give a fascinating snapshot of the country, but he unfortunately has little understanding of the forces that are in motion. His conclusion becomes depressing: if the US does not encourage deep changes, then the Islamists will take over.