NASSER: A Political Biography by Robert Stephens

NASSER: A Political Biography

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A preeminently geopolitical biography by a journalist familiar with the Middle East, basically sympathetic to his subject and disposed to take Nasser's domestic policies at face value, but judiciously impartial on the Israeli-Arab question. Though he does not whitewash internal repression, Stephens is uncritical of Nasser's economic measures and he simply reports the lack of a mass movement and the officers' preference for non-parliamentary rule with little exploration of basic political issues. The book is also sociologically shallow: it is difficult to understand Nasser without a sharper view of the character and composition of the army, of Nasser's party apparatus, and of the bureaucracies. Instead, the book's strength lies in its mappings of Egyptian relations with the Eastern Arab states, the region's relations with the Western powers, and the Israeli conflict. There is surprisingly little about Nasser's ties with the USSR. The complexities of the 1956 crisis are well-sketched. Like Maxime Rodinson (whom the bibliography omits, along with David Waines and others) Stephens points to the Anglo-American fear that Egypt would rouse the oil satrapies to nationalistic measures. After discussing the UAR merger with Syria (it's breakdown is attributed to Nasser's overweening ruling style) and the ""miscalculated"" Yemen war, the book traces the prelude to the 1967 war. Stephens submits that Israel in fact only tried to scare Syria and Nasser overreacted; that Nasser's military hubris only extended to believing Egypt could repel an Israeli attack; and that Nasser's postwar resignation was sincere and the public upsurge spontaneous. Unfortunately, the treatment of the postwar period is brief, with little analysis of Nasser's efforts to keep the Palestinian guerrillas under control as he explored a settlement with Israel. The chapter of ""conclusions"" is much weaker than the book as a whole, featuring ""passionate-but-calculating"" appositions which reflect its weak theoretical backbone; the insufficiency of political analysis is reflected by Stephens' failure to locate Sadat in the Egyptian scene or to characterize internal factional developments during Nasser's lifetime. For an understanding of the regime Nasser built, Abdel Malek's Egypt: Military Society (1968) is vastly more worthwhile.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1972
Publisher: Simon & Schuster