Fouad Ajami: Egypt's Next Leader Won't Be A Creature of Tahrir Square

Roundup: Historians' Take

Mr. Ajami is a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. His newest book, The Syrian Rebellion, will be released by Hoover Institution Press at the end of this month.

The prevalent view that this week's presidential election is Egypt's first experiment with the ballot box is only partly true. Egyptians of a certain age knew parliamentary life and the competition of political parties. This was during the liberal interlude between 1923, when the country became independent from British rule, and 1952.

In that year a cabal of young military officers led by Muhammad Naguib and Gamal Abdel Nasser upended the old order, abolished the monarchy—and delivered Egypt into six decades of authoritarianism.

The new men in charge disdained parliaments and political parties and banished the resident foreigners—Italians, Greeks, Armenians, Jews—who had been the driving force in the nation's economic life. They sequestered property, and they vowed to make Egypt a dominant military power. In the process, they broke their burdened country, thwarting its bid for modernity. "The Revolution has stolen the property of a few and the liberty of all," said a character in "Miramar," a work of fiction by Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz that was published on the eve of the his country's Six-Day War with Israel in 1967. Hosni Mubarak was the last centurion of that revolution...

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