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Review – Anticolonial Afterlives in Egypt: The Politics of Hegemony

Anticolonial Afterlives in Egypt: The Politics of Hegemony
By Sara Salem
Cambridge University Press, 2020

Sara Salem’s guide offers a major new studying of the 2011 Egyptian revolution by historicizing it in opposition to the backdrop of the event of the fashionable Egyptian state and its relationship to anticolonial wrestle, decolonization and the rise of neoliberalism. Salem argues that the outbreak of the 2011 revolution ought to be understood as a consequence of the failure of the regime of Hosni Mubarak (1981-2011) and, earlier than that, of Anwar al-Sadat (1970-1981), to (re-)create the hegemony achieved by the regime of Gamal Abdel-Nasser (1952-1970), Egypt’s first post-independence ruler. The first half of the guide considers the explanations for the success of the Nasser regime and its political mission of Nasserism. The second half examines the failure of the Sadat and Mubarak regimes to breed hegemony in a context of intensifying neoliberal financial restructuring, ensuing in rising ranges of repression.

Antonio Gramsci meets Frantz Fanon

The guide adopts Antonio Gramsci’s ideas of hegemony and historic bloc in order to analyse postcolonial state-building and regime consolidation. As Salem notes, the guide just isn’t the primary to use Gramsci’s insights to politics in the Middle East and North Africa; nonetheless, it’s distinctive in bringing Gramsci into dialog with postcolonial theorist Frantz Fanon to skilfully analyse the political dynamics of postcolonial states and societies. Whilst Fanon was sympathetic to Marxism, his writings constituted a corrective to the Eurocentrism of Marxist thought. He recognised the specificity of capitalism in the colony (and, therefore, the postcolony), viewing the political elite that got here to energy after independence as a ‘dependent bourgeoisie’. This ‘dependent bourgeoisie’ was extra accountable to the metropole than to their fellow residents, because of the colonial nature of capitalism. In distinction, Salem argues that the Nasser regime and its political mission of Nasserism constitutes an instance of hegemony as a result of, fairly than subordinating itself to the ‘colonial international’ – a time period borrowed from Vivienne Jabri (2012) to discuss with Western domination of worldwide relations rooted in histories of empire – the Nasser regime sought to withstand it by its involvement in the Non-Aligned Movement and its industrialisation insurance policies that tried to interrupt dependency on colonial capital.

Nasserism and Hegemony

Chapter 2 of the guide successfully applies the ideas of hegemony and historic bloc in order to grasp how the Nasser regime produced widespread consent for its rule. Part of the success of the Nasser regime was its means to mirror and applicable the considerations and calls for of radical actions already current inside Egyptian society, specifically, calls for for freedom from colonial domination and for social justice, even because it moved to suppress these actions. Consequently, the Nasser regime was in a position to construct a historic bloc of common forces, comprising employees, peasants, troopers and nationalist capitalists, which was cemented by the extension of materials advantages to hundreds of thousands of working folks. Yet, Nasserism contained a number of contradictions and limitations. A central half of Nasserism’s attract was its promise of progress and freedom from colonial domination. However, in its means of pursuing these aims, it reproduced colonial kinds of improvement that depended upon the exploitation of employees and the dispossession of the Nubian folks. Meanwhile, ‘[t]he decision by the new bloc to limit rather than eliminate capitalist forms of economic development meant that Egypt’s integration into the capitalist world market […] was bolstered fairly than damaged’ (p.151). Thus, Nasserism was unable to totally liberate Egypt from the colonial worldwide and really fulfil the guarantees of decolonization. The remaining nail in the coffin of the Nasserist mission was the 1967 army defeat of the Arab armies by the hands of Israel. This created a disaster for the regime, resulting in efforts to dismantle Nasserism.

Neoliberalism and the Afterlives of Hegemony

The second half of the guide examines in element the failure of successive regimes to recreate hegemony, largely because of the incapability of financial liberalization insurance policies, geared toward attracting overseas and personal funding, to offer materials advantages for almost all of Egyptian folks. As a end result, the regime more and more relied on the help of Western capital and Western governments, alongside rising ranges of coercion, to remain in energy, making it a great instance of the dependent bourgeoisie described by Fanon. In essence, the reinsertion of Egypt into the colonial worldwide and the impossibility of nationwide improvement to the profit of the bulk of Egyptians made it not possible to create hegemony after 1967. In this respect, Salem calls the interval between 1967 and 2011, ‘the afterlife of hegemony’, which ought to be understood in phrases of Gramsci’s notion of ‘interregnum’ – ‘a time of uncertainty in which the old is dying but the new cannot be born’ (p.204). Popular frustration with this case led to the outbreak of the 2011 revolution.  

The remaining chapter of the guide considers the afterlives of hegemony in Egypt by the idea of haunting, borrowed in specific from Avery Gordon (2008), to discuss with the lingering of the previous in the current. For me, this can be a stand-out chapter as a result of it centres the historic expertise of anticolonial wrestle in understanding up to date political dynamics and political subjectivities in postcolonial states. This is one thing that I’ve additionally sought to underline in my earlier work on the emergence of authoritarianism in the Arab world (2008) in addition to in relation to understanding the challenges of political transformation after the 2011 revolution (2015). Salem makes use of the idea of haunting to grasp the on-going energy of the Nasserist mission:

On the one hand, I see Nasserism as haunting in the sense that it normalized sure concepts round what politics in Egypt’s postcolonial interval ought to seem like and what an financial mannequin based on concepts of impartial improvement may ship. On the opposite hand, Nasserism ought to be understood as a kind of haunting in that it considerably affected the flexibility of leftist social forces to forestall the very neoliberal mission Nasser constantly warned Egyptians about (p.260).

In this respect, the chapter discusses how the spectre of Nasserism knowledgeable employees’ resistance to neoliberal restructuring from the Nineteen Seventies onwards and their calls for for a restoration of the working circumstances and industrial relations established below Nasser. Yet, the truth that neoliberalism was in a position to make such strides in Egypt was additionally a mirrored image of the weak point of the left and their concepts. Whilst this criticism just isn’t with out grounds, it’s also essential to do not forget that the left was roughly defeated internationally – both because of this of direct repression by right-wing allies of the United States in the title of preventing communism or because of this of changing into ideologically discredited with the autumn of the Soviet Union.

Towards a Decolonial Future and the Ghosts of Nasserism

Salem ends the guide with Fanon’s name to reject Europe as a mannequin to emulate. This would imply rejecting notions of ‘sovereignty’ and ‘mastery’, breaking free from ‘capitalist modernity’ and transcending ‘the nation’ in order for decolonization to be absolutely realised (pp.278-79). This name couldn’t be extra well timed and extra pressing. Today, capitalism is extra firmly entrenched than ever earlier than, right-wing forces are in the ascendancy throughout the globe and we face well being pandemics and environmental disaster. However, the query stays as to the right way to arrive at a decolonial future? This is past the scope of this specific guide. However, on this query of praxis, Antonio Gramsci’s writings present an important useful resource for considering by the politics of difficult hegemony – specifically, by the ideas of ‘war of position’ (an assault on the dominant ideology and worldview) and ‘war of manoeuvre’ (an assault on the coercive equipment of the state) (Gramsci 1971). In the 2011 revolution, Egyptians waged a profitable battle of manoeuvre in opposition to the Ministry of the Interior. However, the return of the army to energy in 2013, on a wave of hyper-nationalism and nostalgia for the Nasser period, means that revolutionaries didn’t wage a coherent battle of place. In this respect, Sara Salem’s guide highlights the political necessity of lastly placing the ghost of Nasserism to relaxation if the guarantees of freedom, dignity and social justice are to be realised.


Fanon, Franz (1963) The Wretched of the Earth, New York: Grove Press.

Gordon, Avery (2008) Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Gramsci, Antonio (1971) Selections from the Prison Notebooks, London: Lawrence and Wishart.

Jabri, Vivienne (2012) The Postcolonial Subject: Claiming Politics/Governing Others in Late Modernity, London: Routledge.

Pratt, Nicola (2015) “After the 25 January Revolution: Democracy or Authoritarianism in Egypt?” in Revolutionary Egypt: Connecting Domestic and International Struggles, ed. Reem Abou-El-Fadl, Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 43- 82.

Pratt, Nicola (2007) Democracy and Authoritarianism in the Arab World, Boulder: Lynne Rienner.

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