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Liberation Square

Egyptian journalist Ashraf Khalil brings insight and thorough reporting to his account of the end of the Hosni Mubarak government.

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Liberation Square:
Inside the Egyptian Revolution and the Rebirth of a Nation
By Ashraf Khalil
St. Martin’s
324 pp.

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Journalism in a specific setting usually deserves its reputation as the “first rough draft of history.” Because the end of the Hosni Mubarak government in Egypt came just last year, it would be reasonable to expect little of historical permanence from a book-length account of what happened. Yet Egyptian journalist Ashraf Khalil confounds expectations with an insightful account that feels rich – and perhaps will attain permanence.

Khalil, who sometimes writes for this newspaper, lives in Cairo, speaks the Arabic language fluently, and has reported Egyptian news for a long time. He also served as editor in chief of an English-language newspaper, The Cairo Times, that pushed against censorship from the dictatorship by operating as much as possible in the manner of the relatively free Western media. An account from Khalil is certain to top anything coming from the traditional Western foreign correspondent who parachutes into a hot spot without the appropriate language training or knowledge about the context. It is difficult to imagine a better guide to the Egyptian portion of the so-called Arab Spring than Khalil’s book Liberation Square.

Like all accounts that look inside long-standing dictatorships, “Liberation Square” cannot completely account for what may be the most perplexing dilemma of human history: Why does any population allow the rise of brutal, dishonest men (and occasionally women) to dominate every aspect of life? Can any author thoroughly parse the reality of an Adolf Hitler or a Josef Stalin or a Hosni Mubarak and show us how that person gains control over millions or tens of millions of an historically proud, accomplished, spirited people? No. But Khalil labors mightily to reach that explanatory summit, and offers plenty of wisdom, along with action-packed reportage, along the way.

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