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Liberation Square

Egyptian journalist Ashraf Khalil brings insight and thorough reporting to his account of the end of the Hosni Mubarak government.

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Sections of Khalil’s narrative demonstrate that the power of the masses can begin with the courageous words and actions of inspiring individuals. As technology evolved, brave individuals could rally support through the Internet, a phenomenon that no dictatorship can control completely. Unfortunately, one of those heroes served in death more than in life; Khalil recounts the saga of Khaled Saieed, a 28-year-old introverted computer geek residing in Alexandria, Egypt. During June 2010, two plainclothes police officers accosted Saieed at a cyberspace café, and beat him to death. The reasons for the apparent arrest of Saieed are unclear, but the results are evident indeed: countless Egyptians became enraged at the before-and-after photographs circulating on the Internet. Before, Saieed looks like an ordinary, harmless young man. After, his brutalized corpse could not be ignored.

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Khalil does not always profess objectivity as he presents his narrative. At the end of the text, it is impossible to know yet whether Khalil deserves praise as a prognosticator. Here is a summary of his punditry, found in the book’s Epilogue, which is titled “The Cairo Effect.” Khalil notes that because of “its population, history and geographic position,” Egypt has always greatly influenced other Middle East nations. Circa 2012, “a properly rebuilt Egypt – one structured around rule of law, firm governmental checks and balances, and trusted, uncorrupted national institutions – could gradually transform the Middle East. An Egypt built around the idea of a true meritocracy, a place where people can choose their own leaders and then peacefully choose different ones, could become the proverbial ‘light unto the nations’ for a region that has been sliding backward for most of the past century.”

Even a permanent peace with Israel seems possible now, Khalil believes – not because most Egyptians are comfortable with Israeli hegemony, but because peace is a better alternative than war.

Steve Weinberg is a member of the National Book Critics Circle, author of eight nonfiction books, and an investigative reporter with 40 years’ experience.


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