This article seeks to present an alternative approach to understanding the failure of democratization in the Arab world by locating the problem of democracy-building within the logic of the process of reproducing national identity and culture. The conceptual framework draws on the writings of Antonio Gramsci and postcolonial theorists such as Edward Said. Taking Egypt as a case study, I examine a series of events surrounding a human rights report about police brutality in Egypt to illustrate how the struggle to reproduce Egyptian national identity impacts upon the practice of democracy. In the course of searching for an “authentic” Egyptian identity, uncorrupted by Western influences, a critical mass of Egyptian civil society participates in producing a political consensus in which civil and political freedoms may be legitimately sacrificed in the name of national unity and security. This is despite attempts by some Egyptian activists to challenge dominant conceptions of national identity and culture in order to open up democratic spaces
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