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Into the Hands of the Soldiers: Freedom and Chaos in Egypt and the Middle East

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A candid narrative of how and why the Arab Spring sparked, then failed, and the truth about America's role in that failure and the subsequent military coup that put Sisi in power--from the Middle East correspondent of the New York Times. In 2011, Egyptians of all sects, ages, and social classes shook off millennia of autocracy, then elected a Muslim Brother as president. Th A candid narrative of how and why the Arab Spring sparked, then failed, and the truth about America's role in that failure and the subsequent military coup that put Sisi in power--from the Middle East correspondent of the New York Times. In 2011, Egyptians of all sects, ages, and social classes shook off millennia of autocracy, then elected a Muslim Brother as president. The 2013 military coup replaced him with a new strongman, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who has cracked down on any dissent or opposition with a degree of ferocity Mubarak never dared. New York Times correspondent David D. Kirkpatrick arrived in Egypt with his family less than six months before the uprising first broke out in 2011, looking for a change from life in Washington, D.C. As revolution and violence engulfed the country, he received an unexpected and immersive education in the Arab world. For centuries, Egypt has set in motion every major trend in politics and culture across the Middle East, from independence and Arab nationalism to Islamic modernism, political Islam, and the jihadist thought that led to Al Qaeda and ISIS. The Arab Spring revolts of 2011 spread from Cairo, and now Americans understandably look with cynical exasperation at the disastrous Egyptian experiment with democracy. They fail to understand the dynamic of the uprising, the hidden story of its failure, and Washington's part in that tragedy. In this candid narrative, Kirkpatrick lives through Cairo's hopeful days and crushing disappointments alongside the diverse population of his new city: the liberal yuppies who first gathered in Tahrir Square; the persecuted Coptic Christians standing guard around Muslims at prayer during the protests; and the women of a grassroots feminism movement that tried to seize its moment. Juxtaposing his on-the-ground experience in Cairo with new reporting on the conflicts within the Obama administration, Kirkpatrick traces how authoritarianism was allowed to reclaim Egypt after thirty months of turmoil. Into the Hands of the Soldiers is a heartbreaking story with a simple message: The failings of decades of autocracy are the reason for the chaos we see today across the Arab world. Because autocracy is the problem, more autocracy is unlikely to provide a durable solution. Egypt, home to one in four Arabs, is always a bellwether. Understanding its recent history is essential to understanding everything taking place across the region today--from the terrorist attacks in the North Sinai and Egypt's new partnership with Israel to the bedlam in Syria and Libya.


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A candid narrative of how and why the Arab Spring sparked, then failed, and the truth about America's role in that failure and the subsequent military coup that put Sisi in power--from the Middle East correspondent of the New York Times. In 2011, Egyptians of all sects, ages, and social classes shook off millennia of autocracy, then elected a Muslim Brother as president. Th A candid narrative of how and why the Arab Spring sparked, then failed, and the truth about America's role in that failure and the subsequent military coup that put Sisi in power--from the Middle East correspondent of the New York Times. In 2011, Egyptians of all sects, ages, and social classes shook off millennia of autocracy, then elected a Muslim Brother as president. The 2013 military coup replaced him with a new strongman, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who has cracked down on any dissent or opposition with a degree of ferocity Mubarak never dared. New York Times correspondent David D. Kirkpatrick arrived in Egypt with his family less than six months before the uprising first broke out in 2011, looking for a change from life in Washington, D.C. As revolution and violence engulfed the country, he received an unexpected and immersive education in the Arab world. For centuries, Egypt has set in motion every major trend in politics and culture across the Middle East, from independence and Arab nationalism to Islamic modernism, political Islam, and the jihadist thought that led to Al Qaeda and ISIS. The Arab Spring revolts of 2011 spread from Cairo, and now Americans understandably look with cynical exasperation at the disastrous Egyptian experiment with democracy. They fail to understand the dynamic of the uprising, the hidden story of its failure, and Washington's part in that tragedy. In this candid narrative, Kirkpatrick lives through Cairo's hopeful days and crushing disappointments alongside the diverse population of his new city: the liberal yuppies who first gathered in Tahrir Square; the persecuted Coptic Christians standing guard around Muslims at prayer during the protests; and the women of a grassroots feminism movement that tried to seize its moment. Juxtaposing his on-the-ground experience in Cairo with new reporting on the conflicts within the Obama administration, Kirkpatrick traces how authoritarianism was allowed to reclaim Egypt after thirty months of turmoil. Into the Hands of the Soldiers is a heartbreaking story with a simple message: The failings of decades of autocracy are the reason for the chaos we see today across the Arab world. Because autocracy is the problem, more autocracy is unlikely to provide a durable solution. Egypt, home to one in four Arabs, is always a bellwether. Understanding its recent history is essential to understanding everything taking place across the region today--from the terrorist attacks in the North Sinai and Egypt's new partnership with Israel to the bedlam in Syria and Libya.

30 review for Into the Hands of the Soldiers: Freedom and Chaos in Egypt and the Middle East

  1. 4 out of 5

    Murtaza

    The 2011 Egyptian Revolution was probably the most captivating political spectacle of a generation. Seven years later, after watching the revolution rise, try to steady itself and then collapse in the face of a brutal counterrevolution, David Kirkpatrick has written what is perhaps the best history of this period to date. Based on his own on-the-ground reporting as a New York Times correspondent in Egypt as well as access to top officials in D.C. and Cairo, Kirkpatrick has reconstructed the even The 2011 Egyptian Revolution was probably the most captivating political spectacle of a generation. Seven years later, after watching the revolution rise, try to steady itself and then collapse in the face of a brutal counterrevolution, David Kirkpatrick has written what is perhaps the best history of this period to date. Based on his own on-the-ground reporting as a New York Times correspondent in Egypt as well as access to top officials in D.C. and Cairo, Kirkpatrick has reconstructed the events of the revolution and its fraught aftermath. The book tells the story of the street movement as well as the backroom dealings that helped snuff it out. His reporting as a whole helps dispel the cloud of miasma that has settled over Egypt's tragic recent history, which remains unclear and contested to most. On the U.S. side the book provides access to John Kerry, Ben Rhodes and a host of military officials who had dealings with the Egyptians. It is clear above all else that despite some dissensions, the U.S. government absolutely green-lighted the 2013 coup against an elected government that, despite its flaws, had not crossed any line that warranted this extreme step. The U.S. government scarcely blinked in the face of Egypt's return to militaristic fascism, standing by to watch wholesale massacres of unarmed demonstrators, as well as mass torture and disappearances. U.S. officials both implicitly and explicitly cheered Sisi on and continue to do so, providing billions in military aid to his regime. Reading Kirkpatrick's account of what his regime really represents shows how monstrous American policy has been in this regard and how drastically it diverges from its soaring rhetoric. Its clear that the Egyptian military and "deep state" never for a moment intended to hand over real power to any elected government, let alone a Brotherhood one. From the moment that Mubarak fell they did everything they could to divide the revolutionaries, constrain the new government's ability to function and set the stage for their own violent reassertion of power. Under Sisi the police state is now back with a vengeance, annihilating everyone in its path, whether they be Islamists, liberals, leftists, Christians or even nationalists who speak out against the obvious mismanagement and brutality of the regime. Above all his military regime and its Western backers share a paternalistic, neocolonial attitude towards the Egyptian people. Despite their heroic fight for democracy, witnessed by the entire world, the Egyptian military, Washington D.C., and Sisi's Gulf Arab patrons have all worked to make the ultimately racist case that the Egyptian people need to be harshly repressed by military force, as they are unfit to govern themselves. I saw very differently myself during my brief time in Egypt after the revolution, where people were very eager to engage in real grassroots democracy and meaningful free speech, even at the risk of their lives. It was a vibrant contrast to older democracies where most people have long ago tired of civic life, preferring instead to pass their time in entertainment. The fact that Egyptian civilians were killed en masse within a year of elections for making what the world deemed to be the wrong choice it is a sad commentary on the brutalities that the liberal international order is willing to countenance against those it considers the Other. Kirkpatrick tells the story of Egypt's tragedy through the lives of its people from all strata of society, and he does so with a refreshing amount of humility. The book eschews almost all the cliches that tend to color writing on the region, and he is very self-aware about his own perspective as an American with a privileged vantage point on events. He doesn't fall into the trap of portraying any side uncritically, but one thing that comes across clearly is how fundamentally wrong the coup was. It was an act of pure barbarity waged under the banner of enlightenment, and its gruesome apex, the Raba'a Massacre, was the trigger that turned the entire region into a vicious zero-sum game between totalitarian militaries and nihilist-Islamist groups. One imagines how the world would've reacted if it had been the Morsi government that carried out such a massacre. Egypt is perhaps the most important Arab country culturally and politically in the Middle East. The tragedy of its defeated revolution is the story of the region as a whole. If you want to understand how colonialism continues to persist, in ways that, behind the scenes, are every bit as brutal and cynical as they were a century ago, this is the book to read.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ina Cawl

    one of the sad truth in this book is that even Islamist who believed in democracy were failed by the West, and it only strengthened ISIS point view that through explicit violence not demonstration that you will able to take control of your country another book which made me disillusioned

  3. 5 out of 5

    Loring Wirbel

    Since this book clearly was a personal narrative rather than a footnoted historical work, several dangers related to the Western journalist's narrative perspective were apparent. Kirkpatrick, while a talented domestic New York Times correspondent, was a neophyte to foreign reporting in general and the Middle East in particular. His family took advantage of classic instances of white and Western privilege. Given the heavy propaganda barrage Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had engaged in since seizing p Since this book clearly was a personal narrative rather than a footnoted historical work, several dangers related to the Western journalist's narrative perspective were apparent. Kirkpatrick, while a talented domestic New York Times correspondent, was a neophyte to foreign reporting in general and the Middle East in particular. His family took advantage of classic instances of white and Western privilege. Given the heavy propaganda barrage Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had engaged in since seizing power (yes, a 'coup') in June 2013, was there any way Kirkpatrick could get it right? The answer is a resounding yes, and then some. This book not only accurately describes the brutal demise of the Arab Spring, it serves as a template as to how authoritarian populism spreads in many countries worldwide, egged on by the stupidity of The People. But before we get to the errors of the masses, let's be clear that no one comes away looking good in KIrkpatrick's tale. Mohamed Morsi appears as a well-meaning but bumbling fool, Obama as the would-be good Samaritan who tries (and often fails) to keep consistency amid a cabinet that values order over justice. But Hillary Clinton and John Kerry come off looking like defenders of fascism. Mohamed ElBaradei, as much as he renounced the coup later on, comes across as a toady for al-Sisi. The second-generation protesters in Tahrir Square, the 2013 Facebook-oriented Tamarrod movement, come off as a project of the mukhabarat. And our old pals Michael Flynn and James Mattis (who at that time worked for Obama) were nothing less than orchestrators of the coup. In short, everyone is evil. As we all look to the devastation caused by Trump and wish for a better outcome for HRC, it is useful to remember that the grumbling Western left got one thing right: everyone who is part of the global bipartisan elite or the new populist authoritarians is evil. There are no good guys, period. Kirkpatrick is enamored of the 2011 protesters in Tahrir Square, yet is realistic as to their limitations. Thugs working for the "deep state" (and the slogan carries meaning here) were everywhere, while Mubarak was still in power, and during the brief interregnum when Morsi was elected. In fact, the thugs took care to not enforce too heavily under Morsi, so that the people would beg for less chaos in their lives, and al-Sisi could ride in as their savior. Remember, and this cannot be repeated often enough, Morsi was inept, but the Muslim Brotherhood did not try to instigate a police state. It advocated nonviolence until long after the massacre of thousands of unarmed protesters in Rabaa in August 2013. The fault lay with the middle-class people who could not stand the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood won a free and fair election, and who thereby threw their lot in with the army, an army that later jailed tens of thousands and executed scores of people daily - far worse than anything under Mubarak. Kirkpatrick is right to spend a good deal of time studying the Egyptian media and bureaucratic forces behind the army and police, the ones that truly allowed al-Sisi's horror to spread. Egyptian propagandists are like the Saudi liars who tried to turn the war on Yemen into a patriotic crusade. Even the mildest skepticism or critique of al-Sisi led to shouts of "Traitor!" from talk-show hosts and celebrities in the 2013-2018 period. In short, the people of Egypt created their own authoritarian fascist state by mutual acclaim, a pattern repeated in Turkey, Poland, The Philippines, Hungary, et. al. The United States does not belong fully in this camp because resistance is strong, and because Trump is far too narcissistic and incompetent to be a good dictator. The most tragic part of the book comes in the last 50 pages, in the last half of the "Deep State" chapter and in the epilogue. Kirkpatrick sincerely wonders how erstwhile Westernized liberals in Egypt could have been so blind as to put their faith in the military. We know that the people live in fear, and that many have retreated into private hobbies so that they don't have to think how their society has collapsed. But Kirkpatrick talks to one woman about how former protesters in Tahrir Square have turned to discussing their depression and panic attacks on Facebook, on a daily basis. There is trolling and mutual recrimination on Facebook, to be sure, but there is also a reticence among many to simply say out loud "Wow, we were really stupid, weren't we?" But becoming an activist for the long haul demands that we look in the mirror every so often and admit to ourselves how dumbass we were to engage in this or that campaign. The people of Egypt are still far from that self-reckoning. In the epilogue, Kirkpatrick talks about Trump's first months in office, and explicitly talks about Egypt as a template for global authoritarianism. The lesson I take away from this book can be summarized by a discussion I had with a so-called progressive activist who talked about her admiration for Putin, because Russia after all needed "a firm hand." I told her that no one calling themselves a progressive should ever favor a firm hand under any circumstances, even if the alternative is chaos and disorder. Since most people prefer safety, security and predictability to democracy, such a vision is highly unpopular these days. Yet Kirkpatrick adheres to such a view, and argues that there is never any reason for citizens who have engaged in protest to be snookered by the call for a "firm hand."

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sami

    A very well written and comprehensive book. There has been many books about this period but this is the only one that covers how surprised and unprepared the US has been and how divided the Obama administration was, about how to deal with every development. It also covered a lot of blank areas of my knowledge and questions about some events. The writer is objective and deeply caring about Egypt and the Egyptians. His ability to gain so much knowledge of Egypt in a short period is remarkable.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ahmed Alfakharany

    A true tale from an outsider’s perspective I could rarely find any text (in any form) that presented a true, unbiased, and professional encounter of the tragic events that happened in Egypt from late 2010 till early 2018. This is one of the few titles that did this. It did it well.

  6. 5 out of 5

    DJ Cheek

    An excellent explanation of the tumult that engulfed Egypt from 2011 - the present. Written as a series of dispatches dealing with crucial events or key stakeholders, Kirkpatrick illustrates the high drama of the Arab Spring and the aftermath.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    Excellent! If you want to know what i was like to be in Egypt during the January 25, 2011 Revolution - why the Arab Spring fizzled and why it matters this is the book for you.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

    Excellent primer/refresher on the Egypt revolution.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Abhas Kumar

  10. 5 out of 5

    William Gallo

  11. 5 out of 5

    Loai

  12. 5 out of 5

    Moataman Daader

  13. 5 out of 5

    Brian Illari

  14. 5 out of 5

    Steve

  15. 5 out of 5

    Abderrahim El Moulat

  16. 4 out of 5

    pearce fleming

  17. 5 out of 5

    Tricia Kennedy

  18. 4 out of 5

    Amr Soliman

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ty

  20. 5 out of 5

    Will Barnes

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sam

  22. 5 out of 5

    Vikas Erraballi

  23. 5 out of 5

    Joseph

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ahmed Fouad

  25. 5 out of 5

    Ehren Meditz

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sadok Rouai

  27. 4 out of 5

    Ahmed Medhat

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ahmed

  29. 4 out of 5

    Usama Farah

  30. 5 out of 5

    Michael Haase

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