Written in French by a German and then translated into English, A Grand Delusion is a tough read—and the small typeset is likely to drive a person to the brink of nervous exhaustion. The organizational framework—thematic rather than chronological—does not help either. Making one's way through this book feels like swimming in a pool of ever-hardening cement.
This is a shame, for the author's arguments are insightful and contain useful nuggets on Egypt's progression, or lack thereof, toward a politically liberal and economically successful society. The attempt to develop a liberal democratic society, known in Arabic as the infitah, began under Anwar as-Sadat and was continued by Husni Mubarak. The infitah has indeed exhibited some liberal traits but, as the title indicates, Egypt has fallen far short of actualizing these goals.
Why? Kienle argues economic liberalization failed because of its selective execution and failure to extend liberties to those "whose elasticity varies with income and resources. "Yet, it is unclear whether Kienle's assessment of these problems is based on Egypt's failure to fully implement capitalist reform or because Kienle himself is beholden to an anti-capitalist ideology. Nor does he propose steps that Egypt must take to achieve viable economic reform.
On the political side, presidential and parliamentary elections, partial freedom of the press, and the presence of some human rights organizations make up the good news. On the other hand, the government tries civilians in military courts, has large numbers of political prisoners, interferes in elections, and restricts the advancement of civil society. Many of these restrictions have "not only prevented the extension of existing liberties but even led to their reduction. " As such, Kienle concludes, "restrictions even cast a doubt upon the notion of a 'blocked transition' and the hope that what was unfolding was merely a temporary setback on the long march towards liberal democracy. "Unfortunately, to date, many with a stake in Egypt's progression have clouded their vision by assessing a "potential future," rather than confronting the bleak realities Egypt currently faces.