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Making the Arab World: Nasser, Qutb, and the Clash that Shaped the Middle East

It is the historical roots of the clash between the Islamists and the nationalists in Egypt, that culminated in the bloody coup in Egypt in 2013 and whose influences have been felt around the Middle East for more than a half century, that Fawaz A. Gerges attempts to trace in his new book, titled Making the Arab World: Nasser, Qutb, and the Clash that Shaped the Middle East.

 

The protests ignited by the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia in the final days of 2010 metamorphosed into, as it were, a huge conflagration swallowing the whole Middle East one way or another. Paeans accompanied the protests initially, but slowly anti-Arab Spring forces gained ground against the insurgent peoples and lastly they were able to quench these waves of protests and turn the paeans into elegies. The watershed moment for the termination of these protests was the coup contrived against democratically-elected Mohamed Morsi in July 2013 in Egypt. It is the historical roots of the clash between the Islamists and the nationalists in Egypt, that culminated in the bloody coup in Egypt in 2013 and whose influences have been felt around the Middle East for more than a half century, that Fawaz A. Gerges attempts to trace in his new book, titled Making the Arab World: Nasser, Qutb, and the Clash that Shaped the Middle East. The main argument of the book is that the struggle between the Islamists under the leadership or guidance of Sayyid Qutb, and the nationalists under the leadership of Gamal Abdel Nasser, which has repercussions beyond Egypt, is not “cultural and civilizational,” as Syrian poet Adonis asserts, but instead about power (p. 45). “The confrontation between Arab nationalists and Islamists,” writes Gerges, “was more a struggle between two camps vying for influence and political supremacy than one about ideology per se” (p. 22). Ideology matters, Gerges adds, but secondarily. Perhaps more important than not being cultural or civilizational or ideological, Gerges argues, the struggle was not inevitable: “It emerged and was consolidated through a series of contingent events, personality clashes [especially Nasser vs. Qutb], and workaday political rivalries” (p. 5).

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