Why, one might ask, do we need another book on the Nasser years? This period has been studied more intensively than any other in the modern Arab world. It is reasonable to assume, as this reviewer did, that little could be added to the already relatively thorough record. Moreover, Nasserist models for Arab economies and polities are now passed, having been rendered irrelevant by liberalizations. So why should potential readers part with hard-earned dollars and labor through yet another revised doctoral thesis on a mined out, dated topic?
The answer is that Beattie has done a brilliant job in locating nuggets of valuable new information that contribute to what is undoubtedly now the authoritative account of the Nasser years. Interviews with virtually all living major politicians of the era, plus scores of minor ones, have produced a wealth of material that provided new facts and perceptual data that Beattie has integrated into a cogently written, persuasive account of politics from the late monarchial period to the death of Nasser.
But the study is valuable not just because it is an authoritative historical account. It is also highly relevant to interpretations of contemporary Egyptian and Arab politics. The Nasserist experiment with mobilizational politics and "Arab socialism" were archetypes widely emulated elsewhere in the Arab world. Most previous analyses of their alleged shortcomings and outright failures have been undertaken in the absence of a complete understanding of the internal dynamics of the Nasser regime. Beattie's study provides new material which enables us better to comprehend the purposes for which Nasserist political and economic structures were created, and the manner in which they functioned. This information in tum will make possible more balanced comparisons between the Nasserist and subsequent political economy models, including that of export led growth which Egypt currently is adopting in incremental fashion.
Whether intended by Beattie or not, his account of Nasserist politics provides interesting contrasts and comparisons to the Mubarak era. One such contrast suggests that authoritarian political systems, even when in the same country, differ in their degree of internal political differentiation. The Nasserist political elite was politically more variegated than is its contemporary equivalent, which, outside the small presidential inner circle, is composed entirely of technocrats lacking autonomous political bases, partisan affiliations or distinctive ideologies. Political differentiation is now more structured along the lines of government versus formal, legal opposition. Political strategies, however, appear to have remained markedly similar, in that elites and counter-elites in both eras have appreciated the central political role of the military and sought either to counterbalance that institution or, more typically, curry favor with it.
The book is also useful for students of contemporary Egyptian politics because some of the dramatis personae identified by Beattie are still politically active, including Lutfi Wakid, Ibrahim Shukri and Yusuf Wali. The latter is currently the minister of agriculture and secretary general of the National Democratic party. He is described by Beattie as having assisted Nasser in his struggle against General Naguib in March 1954 by trucking workers into Cairo from the showcase Liberation Province so that they could join pro-Nasser demonstrations.
Although Beattie has provided a uniquely detailed study of the Nasser era, he is not content with descriptive analysis alone. Instead he seeks to answer the question of why Nasser failed to mobilize domestic resources adequately, a question which he contends has not been adequately answered by previous studies of the period. His answer is sought in Gramsci's notion of hegemony, which is defined as a situation in which a ruling class has ''succeeded in persuading the other classes of society to accept its own moral, political, and cultural values" (p.8). Beattie argues that "despite partial success in suppressing or demobilizing political opponents (whether in or outside the government)," Nasser never succeeded in establishing such hegemony. That failure, in tum resulted in debilitating political infighting which crippled both decision making and policy implementation. Despite its ostensibly authoritarian character, Nasser's political system remained, according to Beattie, ideologically fragmented.
Fortunately most of this theorizing is confined to the introduction, although the adjective "hegemonic" is liberally sprinkled throughout the volume, defining, for example, in successive paragraphs on pages 14 . intentions, struggle, formula, edifice, contenders and forces. Apart from being too expansive, he the elusive, the notion of hegemony is of limited value because, like Sorel's myth of the general strike, it never obtains in reality. The question is not whether there are or are not alternative political ideologies, for there always are. The appropriate questions are, upon what social foundations are those ideologies based? How are those who espouse those ideologies organized, and what resources do they possess? What mechanisms exist to suppress adherents of those ideologies and/or enable them to compete for power?
Beattie's preoccupation with ideological paralysis causes him to create redundant units of analysis, while ignoring the importance of institutions that actually do structure behavior. So, for example, he identifies three factions as existing within the political elite-Left, Center and Right. The problem is that while these labels may describe with some accuracy the political beliefs of those identified as belonging to those factions, the factions themselves had no coherence, in part because considerations other than those political beliefs clearly were of greater importance for individual actors. The Right faction is described as including "active military, intelligence, and security officials (Amer, Nasr, Badran, Radwan), as well as a large number of technocrats with Western training and at least latent, pro-Western and procapitalist orientations (Marei, Abd al-Munim al-Qaisuni),". etc. In reality Marei, al-Qaisuni and others said by Beattie to be in this faction were sworn enemies of the group around Amer. What divided them was their respective institutional positions and backgrounds (military versus civilian). They did not perceive that they shared ideological predispositions. Their political alliances were with members of other factions identified by Beattie, who also notes that those in the elite drifted between the three factions, and that the factions "were rent internally by deep-seated personal and primary group rivalries" (p. 174). Since the analytical category of faction is based on imputed political beliefs that have no demonstrated linkage to behavior, it is redundant.
Beattie implicitly recognizes the limited utility of the notion of ideological hegemony by discarding it in his analysis of intra-elite politics. He chronicles flirtations by individual Free Officers with the Muslim Brotherhood, Misr al-Fatat, Hizb al-Watani, al-Wafd and other political organizations, and then surmises that such flirtations were instrumental rather than ideological in nature. The Free Officers were looking for instruments with which to overthrow the monarchy and oust the British, and ultimately they wisely concluded that it was the military that held out most hope. Beattie also skillfully traces conflict within the military itself, which he notes rests not upon ideological differences, but loyalties within units. Beattie also explains correctly the rise of the Arab Socialist Union (ASU) and the Youth Organization not as manifestations of ideological consciousness, but as a consequence of Nasser's need of civilian counterweights to balance the military, which was then under Amer's control. When Amer passed from the scene, the ASU and the Youth Organization went into eclipse, as did the leftist rhetoric which had been churned out as part of the general strategy of containing the military.
Curiously Beattie does not draw appropriate conclusions from the evidence he presents. Having provided numerous examples of how struggles for power based on loyalties structured by the civilian-military divide, other institutional attachments or personal considerations split the elite, he continues to postulate that ideological heterogeneity was the principal impediment to the regime's success. The evidence he presents suggests that ideology was more a consequence of intra-elite competition than a cause of it.
The hand of extraneous theorizing mercifully does not sit too heavily on this fine work, however. Beattie has done a masterful job of assembling the facts and interpreting them with skillful judgment, thus producing what is now the definitive work on this critical era in modern Arab politics.