On 10 June the Youm7 website carried a summary of my book Democracy Prevention: The Politics of the U.S.-Egyptian Alliance (Cambridge University Press 2012), translated into Arabic under the title إجهاض الديمقراطية.. الحصاد المر للعلاقات المصرية الأمريكية فى أربعين عاًما (Dar El Thaqafa El Jedida 2013).
The book draws on interviews with key decision makers and previously untapped written sources to argue that authoritarianism is a transnational phenomenon in which multiple governments participate. Since Washington resumed diplomatic ties with Cairo in the early 1970s, the United States has been a key partner and contributor in the use of repression and the suppression of public opinion in Egypt.
Democracy Prevention encompasses 7 chapters and 265 pages of text and bibliographical material. It has been called “the most well-documented, insightful, and compelling interpretation of American-Egyptian relations available” and “a must-read for all concerned with the connection between U.S. Middle East policy and the struggle for democracy in the Arab world.” In 2013 it was recognized by Choice magazine as an “outstanding title” in comparative politics. By presenting a selection of the material in the book’s Arabic edition, Youm7 introduced its readers to a small portion of the book’s thesis and evidence.
Soon after running the summary of Democracy Prevention, Youm7 posted a story reporting that former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak had remarked that everything in the book was a figment of the author’s imagination. In particular, Mubarak took exception to Youm7 reproducing the argument in Democracy Prevention that he was grooming his son Gamal for the presidency. Mubarak reportedly asserted that he never once considered appointing Gamal to a position in government and, further, he challenged the author to provide one piece of evidence to support any claims about a hereditary succession project. These reactions appear to have come from an incredibly limited consideration of Democracy Prevention, namely the Youm7 summary. Mubarak and other people are welcome to debate the book’s thesis. In order to do so, however, they would first need to read the book itself, not a one-page synopsis.
On the question of hereditary succession, my writings predate the book. In 2007 and 2008 I published peer-reviewed articles in the journal World Politics and the Arab Studies Journal in which I analyzed the phenomenon of hereditary succession in non-monarchical autocratic regimes. Contrary to Mubarak’s apparent assumption that hereditary succession must entail a formal and direct appointment, the historical pattern is actually the opposite. Because such regimes officially eschew monarchism, the process must appear meritocratic, i.e., it must look like the son becomes a ruler not because of his heritage but because of his qualifications. Therefore republican rulers who seek to pass power to family members have typically done so by obstructing alternative candidates, informally promoting the heir apparent, and altering institutions to make a dynastic transition a fait accompli.
What I argue in Democracy Prevention and my related scholarship is that the patterns of institutional change and informal relations in Egypt during the 2000-2010 were consistent with the general model of hereditary succession in republic-style autocracies. Most significantly, the constitutional changes of 2005 and 2007, introduced by Hosni Mubarak and promoted by Gamal Mubarak, shifted the nomination process for presidential candidates from the People’s Assembly to political parties, including the ruling National Democratic Party. Indeed, when the January 25 Revolution erupted, among the country’s leading political forces, only the National Democratic Party, in which Gamal Mubarak had risen to the rank of deputy secretary general, met the criteria for nominating a candidate for the presidential elections scheduled for September 2011.
At the start of 2011 many Egyptians and outside observers were expecting a Gamal Mubarak presidential bid. Indeed the impression of an imminent hereditary succession was a core grievance among demonstrators in the January 25 Revolution. Thanks to the constitutional changes, any nomination of Gamal would have technically been an appointment by the NDP, not President Mubarak, but this formality did not fool anyone familiar with a country where power is concentrated heavily in the chief executive. In his Youm7 response, Mubarak repeats his 2000 denial that anything like the Syrian transition, from Hafez al-Assad to Bashar al-Assad, would have occurred in Egypt on his watch. During his last decade in office, however, Mubarak’s actions reproduced the pattern of Syria and other modern autocracies in which the chief executive presides over the informal ascent of a family member while obstructing alternative candidates and making a dynastic transition all but inevitable.