Evaluation – Anticolonial Afterlives in Egypt: The Politics of Hegemony


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

Sara Salem’s ebook gives a big new studying of the 2011 Egyptian revolution by historicizing it towards the backdrop of the event of the trendy Egyptian state and its relationship to anticolonial battle, decolonization and the rise of neoliberalism. Salem argues that the outbreak of the 2011 revolution needs 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 primary a part of the ebook considers the explanations for the success of the Nasser regime and its political challenge 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, leading to rising ranges of repression.

Antonio Gramsci meets Frantz Fanon

The ebook adopts Antonio Gramsci’s ideas of hegemony and historic bloc with a view to analyse postcolonial state-building and regime consolidation. As Salem notes, the ebook isn’t the primary to use Gramsci’s insights to politics within the Center 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. While Fanon was sympathetic to Marxism, his writings constituted a corrective to the Eurocentrism of Marxist thought. He recognised the specificity of capitalism within 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 challenge of Nasserism constitutes an instance of hegemony as a result of, quite than subordinating itself to the ‘colonial worldwide’ – a time period borrowed from Vivienne Jabri (2012) to check with Western domination of worldwide relations rooted in histories of empire – the Nasser regime sought to withstand it by its involvement within the Non-Aligned Motion and its industrialisation insurance policies that tried to interrupt dependency on colonial capital.

Nasserism and Hegemony

Chapter 2 of the ebook successfully applies the ideas of hegemony and historic bloc with a view to perceive how the Nasser regime produced widespread consent for its rule. A part of the success of the Nasser regime was its skill to replicate and applicable the considerations and calls for of radical actions already present inside Egyptian society, particularly, 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 widespread forces, comprising employees, peasants, troopers and nationalist capitalists, which was cemented by the extension of fabric advantages to tens of millions of working folks. But, Nasserism contained a number of contradictions and limitations. A central a part of Nasserism’s attract was its promise of progress and freedom from colonial domination. Nevertheless, in its technique of pursuing these targets, it reproduced colonial types of improvement that depended upon the exploitation of employees and the dispossession of the Nubian folks. In the meantime, ‘[t]he determination by the brand new bloc to restrict quite than eradicate capitalist types of financial improvement meant that Egypt’s integration into the capitalist world market […] was strengthened quite than damaged’ (p.151). Thus, Nasserism was unable to completely liberate Egypt from the colonial worldwide and actually fulfil the guarantees of decolonization. The ultimate nail within the coffin of the Nasserist challenge was the 1967 navy 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 a part of the ebook examines intimately the failure of successive regimes to recreate hegemony, largely because of the lack of ability of financial liberalization insurance policies, geared toward attracting international and personal funding, to offer materials advantages for almost all of Egyptian folks. Consequently, the regime more and more relied on the assist of Western capital and Western governments, alongside growing ranges of coercion, to remain in energy, making it a very good 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 good thing about nearly all of Egyptians made it unattainable to create hegemony after 1967. On this respect, Salem calls the interval between 1967 and 2011, ‘the afterlife of hegemony’, which needs to be understood when it comes to Gramsci’s notion of ‘interregnum’ – ‘a time of uncertainty wherein the outdated is dying however the brand new can’t be born’ (p.204). Well-liked frustration with this case led to the outbreak of the 2011 revolution.  

The ultimate chapter of the ebook considers the afterlives of hegemony in Egypt by the idea of haunting, borrowed particularly from Avery Gordon (2008), to check with the lingering of the previous within the current. For me, it is a stand-out chapter as a result of it centres the historic expertise of anticolonial battle in understanding up to date political dynamics and political subjectivities in postcolonial states. That is one thing that I’ve additionally sought to underline in my earlier work on the emergence of authoritarianism within 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 challenge:

On the one hand, I see Nasserism as haunting within 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 unbiased improvement might ship. Then again, Nasserism needs to be understood as a type of haunting in that it considerably affected the flexibility of leftist social forces to stop the very neoliberal challenge Nasser persistently warned Egyptians about (p.260).

On this respect, the chapter discusses how the spectre of Nasserism knowledgeable employees’ resistance to neoliberal restructuring from the Seventies onwards and their calls for for a restoration of the working situations and industrial relations established underneath Nasser. But, 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. While this criticism isn’t with out grounds, it is usually essential to keep in mind that the left was kind of defeated internationally – both on account of direct repression by right-wing allies of the USA within the identify of combating communism or on account of changing into ideologically discredited with the autumn of the Soviet Union.

In direction of a Decolonial Future and the Ghosts of Nasserism

Salem ends the ebook with Fanon’s name to reject Europe as a mannequin to emulate. This could imply rejecting notions of ‘sovereignty’ and ‘mastery’, breaking free from ‘capitalist modernity’ and transcending ‘the nation’ to ensure that decolonization to be absolutely realised (pp.278-79). This name couldn’t be extra well timed and extra pressing. In the present day, capitalism is extra firmly entrenched than ever earlier than, right-wing forces are within the ascendancy throughout the globe and we face well being pandemics and environmental disaster. Nevertheless, the query stays as to find out how to arrive at a decolonial future? That is past the scope of this explicit ebook. Nevertheless, on this query of praxis, Antonio Gramsci’s writings present an important useful resource for considering by the politics of difficult hegemony – particularly, by the ideas of ‘struggle of place’ (an assault on the dominant ideology and worldview) and ‘struggle of manoeuvre’ (an assault on the coercive equipment of the state) (Gramsci 1971). Within the 2011 revolution, Egyptians waged a profitable struggle of manoeuvre towards the Ministry of the Inside. Nevertheless, the return of the navy to energy in 2013, on a wave of hyper-nationalism and nostalgia for the Nasser period, means that revolutionaries did not wage a coherent struggle of place. On this respect, Sara Salem’s ebook 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 Issues: Haunting and the Sociological Creativeness, Minneapolis: College of Minnesota Press.

Gramsci, Antonio (1971) Choices from the Jail Notebooks, London: Lawrence and Wishart.

Jabri, Vivienne (2012) The Postcolonial Topic: 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 Home and Worldwide Struggles, ed. Reem Abou-El-Fadl, Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 43- 82.

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

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