The Dictatorship Syndrome

Alaa Al Aswany / Translated by Russell Harris

‘Al Aswany is a world writer, making Egyptian concerns into human ones and beautifully illuminating our always extraordinary and sometimes sad and baffling world.’
The Times

‘Aswany’s The Dictatorship Syndrome seeks to pathologise autocracy with the eye of both medical professional and author preoccupied with the human condition.’
Financial Times



‘The book helps us scrutinise and better understand ourselves, as citizens and members of society, as much as it gives a sharp analytical insight into the complex elements that constitute dictatorships in the Middle East and what fate may await.’
Inside Arabia

‘great observations and thought-provoking insight’
Egyptian Streets

‘… Al Aswany’s intention isn’t to give a history lesson. More ambitious, the intellectual analyses the mechanisms that lead to dictatorship: those characteristic of the figure of the autocrat, but also those that drive an entire people to accept – in a way – the absolute power of one man alone.’
The Africa Report

‘a very readable account of some of the author’s history and ideas’
Chartist Magazine 

‘Aswany is optimistic that The Dictatorship Syndrome is a curable disease and that Pharaohs can be put to pasture, both to save humanity and give hope to those who dream of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’
Contemporary Review of the Middle East

‘… describes, with illuminating precision, what a real dictatorship consists of’
Le Monde

‘An important book that captures a defining political moment in the history of the region and that will provoke much conversation.’
Eugene Rogan

‘Alaa Aswany first and foremost reminds the storytellers of the world that at this point in time they all have a moral responsibility to look the reality in the eye and tell the story of the truth. The great story teller cures the current perils of humanity with his words.’
Ece Temelkuran

The Dictatorship Syndrome is a personally powerful story of how the strongman rule has tuned the Arab lands into a wasteland… There is a fierce urgency to Alaa Al Aswany’s call for the Arab people to break their political chains and regain their consciousness.’
Fawaz A. Gerges

‘It is a very worrying but readable for a book about a fairly grim subject matter… eloquently describes just how normal people in a democracy can become inadvertent enablers and supporters of this type of person.’
Halfman, Halfbook blog

‘Impressively informative, keenly insightful, exceptionally thoughtful and thought- provoking.’
Midwest Book Review 


The study of dictatorship in the West has acquired an almost exotic dimension. But authoritarian regimes remain a painful reality for billions of people worldwide, their freedoms violated and their rights abused. They are subject to arbitrary arrest, corruption and injustice.

What is the nature of dictatorship? How does it take hold? In what conditions and circumstances is it permitted to thrive? And how do dictators retain power, even when reviled and mocked by those they govern? In this deeply considered and at times provocative short work, Alaa Al Aswany shows us that – as with any disease – to understand the syndrome of dictatorship we must first consider the circumstances of its emergence, along with the symptoms and complications it causes in both the people and the dictator.

ALAA AL ASWANY is the author of bestselling novels The Yacoubian Building, Chicago, The Automobile Club of Egypt, the novella and short story collection Friendly Fire and the 2011 non-fiction work On the State of Egypt. His work has been translated into 37 languages and published in over 100 countries. Al Aswany was named by The Times as one of the best 50 authors to have been translated into English in the last 50 years.

Find Alaa on Twitter @AlaaAswany

Listen to Alaa Al Aswany on The University of Oxford Podcast here.

RUSSELL HARRIS is an established translator of literary works from French and Arabic.

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