Laura Miller reviews Liberation Square by Ashraf Khalil: The overthrow of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in Egypt last year served as dramatic proof that the Arab Spring wasn’t just a passing, or purely Tunisian, phenomenon. Egypt’s revolution heralds the coming obsolescence of the late-20th-century-style militarized pseudo-democracy in the Middle East, and its influence has extended as far as Wall Street’s Zuccotti Park. Future generations will surely study Tahrir Square and what happened there intensively, but anyone in search of an expert account today need look no further than Ashraf Khalil’s “Liberation Square: Inside the Egyptian Revolution and the Rebirth of a Nation.”
Khalil is a Cairo-based journalist who reports on the Middle East for a variety of Western publications. While it’s impressive that he has published “Liberation Square” before the one-year anniversary of the uprising, it’s not unusual. Reporters routinely crank out quickie books on major news events, and these tend to be rushed and lumpy creations, nearly as ephemeral as the newspaper stories on which they’re based. What’s remarkable about “Liberation Square” is how good it is, how well written, how perfectly calibrated in its amounts of background, commentary and prognostication — and above all how thrilling it is to read.
“Liberation Square” is also far from impartial, though I doubt there are many readers who will fault it for that. As a longtime Cairene, Khalil is able to quickly and vividly sketch the mindset of his countrymen as, a mere year ago, they faced the demoralizing prospect of Mubarak’s son, Gamal, continuing his father’s nepotistic, kleptocratic style of governance into the foreseeable future. He knows the jokes they told and the shame they felt — as a nation of famously “clever, resourceful and resilient” people, inheritors of an ancient and storied civilization — at being dominated by a pack of bullies, liars and incompetents.