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Book Review: A Portrait of Egypt

Few months back, browsing in a bookstore, I saw a book “Pakistan”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0374528861/jksobservat-20 by Book Review: PakistanWeaver. I looked up in my library and put a request for the book. Till that book came, I thought I would read some other books by the same author and that’s how I picked up “A Portrait of Egypt”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0374527105/jksobservat-20

The subtitle of the book is “A Journey through the world of militant islam” and the author travels to meet various islamic militants who want to bring Egypt under Shariat. The politics becomes interesting, something similar to Pakistan, where military rulers use the help of fundamentalists to remain in power without succumbing to their influence.


The rise of militant islam started with the peace treaty signed between Egypt and Israel. This gave rise not only to fundamentalism, but also to anti-Americanism, even though US gives aid worth $40 billion making Egypt the country after Israel to get the largest American aid. Another revealing fact in the book is the amount of funding provided by Saudi Arabia to the militant groups. Does this pattern sound familiar ?

Another fact that I learned was that the militant groups have established a parallel government which is far more efficient than the official one. The militant groups have established themselves in various universities. They do not tolerate intellectuals. The Nobel Laureate Nagib Mahfouz was stabbed by the militants, but he survived. Women are forced to wear the burqa, a Taliban in the making.

I learned a lot about Egypt and found a lot of similarities between India and Egypt. Both these ancient civilizations now serve as the showcase for failed socialist experiments. Atleast India is a democracy. This is a very readable book and since we are familiar with Pakistan’s story, we can relate with Egypt’s story as well.

This book was written by the author after numerous trips to egypt and after interviews with the various important people playing a major role in the regional politics, such as Hosni Mumabark, Sheikh Omar, the blind cleric who wants Islamic law to be enforced in Egypt, Nagib Mahfouz the Nobel Prize winner whom the militants tried to murder etc. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand the difficulties of a predominantly muslim nation trying to remain secular.

Here is “Niraj’s review”:http://www.nirajweb.net/mt/niraj/archives/001641.html of the same book

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