The history of Western intervention in the Middle East stretches from the late eighteenth century to the present day. All too often, the Western rationale for invading and occupying a country to liberate its people has produced new forms of domination that have hindered rather than encouraged the emergence of democratic politics. Abdeslam M. Maghraoui advances the understanding of this problematic dynamic through an analysis of efforts to achieve liberal reform in Egypt following its independence from Great Britain in 1922.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Egypt’s reformers equated liberal notions of nationhood and citizenship with European civilization and culture. As Maghraoui demonstrates, in their efforts to achieve liberalization, they sought to align Egypt with the West and to dissociate it from the Arab and Islamic worlds. Egypt’s professionals and leading cultural figures attempted to replace the fez with European-style hats; they discouraged literary critics from studying Arabic poetry, claiming it was alien to Egyptian culture. Why did they feel compelled to degrade local cultures in order to accommodate liberal principles?
Drawing on the thought of Lacan, Fanon, Said, and Bhabha, as well as contemporary political theory, Maghraoui points to liberalism’s inherent contradiction: its simultaneous commitments to individual liberty and colonial conquest. He argues that when Egypt’s reformers embraced the language of liberalism as their own, they adopted social prejudices built into that language. Efforts to achieve liberalization played out—and failed—within the realm of culture, not just within the political arena. Opinions voiced through literary works, cartoons, newspaper articles on controversial social issues, and other forms of cultural expression were ultimately more important to the fate of liberalism in Egypt than were questions of formal political participation and representation. Liberalism without Democracy demonstrates the powerful—and under appreciated—role of language and culture in defining citizenship and political community.
1. Colonialism as a Literary and Historical Phenomenon 14
2. The Colonial Encounter in Egypt 37
3. Defining the Boundaries of the Political Community 64
4. The Cultural Preconditions of Citizenship 87
5. Egypt’s Liberal Experiment in Comparative Perspective 118
Selected Bibliography 171
“Liberalism without Democracy raises fundamentally important issues and is incredibly timely and relevant to current debates in the Middle East about democratization and foreign intervention.”—Diane Singerman, coeditor of Cairo Cosmopolitan: Politics, Culture, and Urban Space in the New Globalized Middle East
“Abdeslam Maghraoui’s book is among the more cogent recent explanations of the reasons liberalism failed in the Middle East. Through its examination of the role of language and culture in Egypt, Liberalism without Democracy sheds light on a central weakness of liberalism—its commitment to individual liberty and colonial conquest.”—Edmund Burke III, coeditor of After the Colonial Turn: Orientalism, History, and Theory
“This is a valuable book. [This is not] simply a thorough, detailed study of Egyptian politics. . . . [It] is much more than that. It is relevant to the present American misadventure in Iraq and to Western imperialism more generally. . . . Perhaps no one else has thoroughly documented, as well as Maghraoui, the extent to which some “liberal” writers tried to mimic the West. The author has provided much compelling evidence to support the ideas of those scholars who decry the confusion between modernization and Westernization.”
Middle East Studies Digest