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De Smet Brecht, Gramsci on Tahrir. Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Egypt, London, Pluto Press, 2016, 288 p

Sarah Tonsy
p. vol 144

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1In Gramsci on Tahrir: Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Egypt, Brecht De Smet analyzes the events that took place in Egypt starting January 2011 using a Gramscian theoretical framework. Although, De Smet concentrates on the post 2011 events, he draws back on other historical instances in Egypt’s political timeline relevant to his analysis. Thus, placing various events that took place in Egypt over the past two centuries in a global comparative context, this book provides an analysis of what took place in Egypt through moving from a global to a micro focus.

2In analyzing the power dynamics that were at play since 2011, De Smet uses Gramsci’s most visited concepts of hegemony, passive revolution, permanent revolution, and his less used concept of Caesarism. The aim of this book is to bring Gramsci more towards scholars’ reach in the social sciences, by making his concepts vivid through application. The culprits of the capitalist and neoliberal systems get unraveled and clear through this hand-in-hand with Gramsci’s theories in Tahrir – Liberation Square in Greater Cairo.

3De Smet starts by giving a clear theoretical framework, definition and socio-historical context to Gramsci’s theories and concepts before concentrating on Egypt. Outlining first of all the concept of Caesarism, which refers to the interference of a third party – neutral party – in the case of a political crisis. The author highlights the clear differences between Caesarism, permanent and passive revolution, explaining that Caesarims could move to an authoritarian Caesarism depending on the leader. Second is the concept of permanent revolution, which he refers back to Karl Marx and Leon Trotsky as well to complete the Gramscian concept that he provides in terms of a form of social and economic emancipation of subaltern groups. Passive revolution is the third idea that shows the importance of a Gramscian analysis to post-2011 Egypt. It is a form of restoration of the old order but through a form of shuffling of bourgeois groups, which does not change more than the face of the old regime but carries on with the same economic, social and political practices.

4Although the book is meant to concentrate on walking with Gramsci through the Egyptian 2011 Revolution, De Smet does not ignore the use of other definitions and interpretations of concepts often used by social scientists in recent analyses of the events that swept over the Arab world starting December 2010. Also, De Smet uses relevant scholarly work produced on Egypt, its workers’ movement, the state, and past significant events, providing researchers with major bibliographical references. However, what makes this book unique is that it provides a different ‘eye’ on past, present and potentially future events in Egypt.

5The idea of a ‘capitalist transition’ through a form of what started as a Caesarist intervention in Egypt – through the ‘soft coup’ – and ended with a passive revolution is the main outcome from this analysis of Egypt’s 2011-13 events using Gramsci’s concepts. Connecting political and social emancipation is an element of permanent revolution that was vivid in the case of Egypt. It disappeared with the coming about of the army as a Caesarist solution that dissolved the political significance of the masses. From De Smet’s perspective, these types of capitalist transitions and resilience will only lead to further instability; regionally and globally, as other contentious revolutionary movements mushroom worldwide. Concluding that in order for change to take place on a micro-level – such as examined through the case of Egypt – macro-level reconfiguration of the neoliberal order has to occur first.

6Through De Smet’s analysis, other dynamics surface and provide recommendation for further detailed examination of the Egyptian political field. First is the urban-rural dynamics, which is recurrent throughout De Smet’s analysis and when going back in history to when Egypt was not yet a republic. This urban-rural dynamic sheds light on the centralized structure of the Egyptian state apparatus and the decentralization and horizonatalism of contention. Second, the power dynamics between the elite and security sector at different periods in Egypt is often highlighted in De Smet’s analyses, which provides a pertinent topic for further in-depth analysis. In turn, this leads to questions that contribute to the understanding of civil-military relations in Egypt and how changes in these relations affect the outcome of political crises, including mass uprising. Third is the ‘problem’ with the resilient Egyptian – among other countries – authoritarian situation. De Smet outlines why the 2011 did not work from a Gramscian perspective? What should be done to overcome such failures? It is not a handbook of ‘how to carry out a revolution in 18 days?’ but more of what contentious movements do to be repetitively overcome by those in power, or the elite.

7This work by De Smet definitely provides room for further use of Gramsci’s concepts without restricting this use to the provided analysis of the Egyptian case. This work through making Gramsci ‘usable’ for students, academics, and social scientists opens the door to different analyses and perspectives on inherited debates in the field, while raising new ones.

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Sarah Tonsy, « De Smet Brecht, Gramsci on Tahrir. Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Egypt, London, Pluto Press, 2016, 288 p », Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée [En ligne], Lectures inédites, mis en ligne le 10 février 2017, consulté le 22 septembre 2017. URL : http://remmm.revues.org/9543

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Sarah Tonsy

CHERPA, IEP, Aix-en-Provence

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