Into the Hands of the Soldiers: Freedom and Chaos in Egypt and the Middle East
David Kirkpatrick spent several years as a correspondent for the New York Times reporting from Cairo, Egypt. He was in country at the end of the Mubarak era and witnessed the Arab Spring as it unfolded in Cairo and spread across the Middle East. His unique experience as a reporter on the ground gave him a glimpse of the culture and politics in Egypt during that time and this chronicle is eye opening.
Kirkpatrick reported on the many protests, the bloody crack downs, the chaotic elections, and the military take over and ouster of two presidents (one, arguably, the first leader to be democratically elected there in more than thirty years). After reading this book, it is easier to understand how the West misunderstood the Arab Spring and it is at least clearer why democracy did not sweep the region like everyone from western world leaders, to news agencies, to university political scientists predicted.
Many of the events described are tragic on a scale that sometimes boggles the imagination. Much of what Egyptians regard as part of daily life would be intolerable in Western countries: The police who stand by watching as demonstrators assault women and burn stores, a military that turns on its citizens and kills thousands of peaceful demonstrators, people disappearing from their homes and locked up for weeks and months without being charged, torture as a given whenever anyone is arrested for political reasons, the lack of free speech to criticize the government, the press that is controlled by the government, the military control of almost every aspect of the civilian life, including the government, the utter lack of separation between the state and religion, and on and on. The list of policies and situations that are the very antithesis of a democracy is long and disturbing.
The author also describes many instances where good and decent citizens of Egypt attempt to shed light on the corruption and attain some semblance of justice for the country. Sadly, in most instances these people are often ignored, suppressed, and even killed by the very government they are trying to expose for the better. The descriptions of the violence that Egypt has descended into are as shocking as they are saddening. Still the book is well written and an excellent introduction to the politics of the region.