LINGUIST List 15.410

Sat Jan 31 2004

Review: Discourse Analysis: Dunne (2003)

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  1. Ihab Shabana, Democracy in Contemporary Egyptian Discourse

Message 1: Democracy in Contemporary Egyptian Discourse

Date: Sat, 31 Jan 2004 15:28:15 -0500 (EST)
From: Ihab Shabana <>
Subject: Democracy in Contemporary Egyptian Discourse

Dunne, Michele Durocher. Democracy in Contemporary
Egyptian Political Discourse. Discourse Approaches To Politics,
Society and Culture. John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2003

Announced at

Ihab A. I. Shabana, Visiting Research Student, SOAS, University of
London; Assistant Lecturer, Department Of English, Al-Azhar
University, Egypt

Political discourse or the study of politics on the basis of discourse
analysis has taken prominence over the last decade of the
20th.century. Previous contributions were concerned more with the use
of language in politics. Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four is a classical
example which inspired prominent scholars like Chilton (1988) to
approach the use of political language in the media. Fairclough (1989)
and Wilson (1990) are also among the leading works that contribute to
the well establishing of the study of politics and discourse. Chilton
and Sch�ffner (1997) and (2002) are also among the building blocks
towards establishing an interdisciplinary area of research that needs
more contributions. Dunne's work in hand is a good step on the way.

This book presents a good introduction to the issue of democracy in
Egypt as one of the most pivotal countries in the Middle East. The
motivation for this topic was the feeling of frustration experienced
by the author at the difficulty American experts find in reading
rightly public discourse on many political issues including
democracy. She also admits that another reason for opting to tackle
the issue of democracy is the variety of different interpretations,
which surround the march of democracy in Egypt, and the different
attitudes she came across.

The selected data, although all concerned with the issue of democracy,
vary greatly. They comprise excerpts from presidential speeches of
president Mubarak during the period 1999-2000, a written appeal signed
by leaders of the opposition parties in late August/early September
1999 and an earlier declaration by Arab human rights activists in a
human rights conference hold in Casablanca issued in April 1999 under
the title ''Casablanca Declaration'', analyzed by the author for
comparison. In addition there are newspaper reflections from two
eminent columnists at the Al-Ahram daily newspaper, Fahmi Huwaydi and
Hala Mustafa, whose writings focus on democracy but from different
perspectives; Huwaydi is classified as a moderate Islamist
intellectual who does not see any contradiction between democracy and
Islam, while Mustafa is perceived as a liberal intellectual who has
wide connections with the government that may enable her to have
access to policy makers in Egypt.

Having introduced the data, in Chapter 2 Dunne presents the
theoretical approach applied in her analysis. First, she reviews the
thoughts of some prominent theorists in discourse like Bakhtin and
Goffman. Then, she introduces Ron Scollon's theory of Mediated
Discourse as an approach to the interpretation of social
actions. According to Scollon (1998) all human actions are
interactively mediated and hence our communicative practices are made
via suitable means, either text or talk, to build a certain image in
the mind of the receiver. Dunne also utilizes Critical Discourse
Analysis, as applied by Ruth Wodak who has a special interest in the
use of discursive strategies to build national image. Dunne finds in
Wilson (1990) a model for her analytical work from a pragmatic
perspective: in addition to implicature, presupposition metaphor, and
question use, which are considered as primary linguistic tools for
pragmatic analysis, Dunne, following Wilson, focuses on pronoun use
and self-reference as an effective tool in politics for distancing
oneself from a certain responsibility or even for positioning oneself
at the center of policy making. In the course of her analysis, Dunne
is mainly concerned with probing the purposes sought beyond a given
discourse on democracy, and also how these purposes are realized
through the use of language.

In chapter 3, Dunne reviews the different contexts from which she has
obtained her data. A visit paid to Egypt for fieldwork enabled her to
provide clear and objective contextualization for the different types
of discourse she analyses. In particular, interviews with some of the
closest persons in the presidential circle afford her clear vision of
how the president's speeches are written. In that regard, Mubarak,
unlike his predecessors, does not have only one journalist responsible
for drafting and preparing his speeches; rather they are prepared by a
community of participants around him, depending on the degree of power
each party enjoys. However, the mastermind of the final draft is his
senior aide. This doesn't exclude the fact that Mubarak has the final
say on his speech before delivering it in public.

In the case of the opposition powers' petition, their lack of real
power is apparent, and their constant endeavor to compromise with the
government in exchange for more seats in the People's Assembly. This
reflects, in my belief, the real dilemma of the democratic experience
in Egypt. That is, there is a giant power (i.e. the National
Democratic Party), which has dominated the political scene in Egypt
since the return of the parties in the seventies, whereas all other
parties do not hold any real ground among the people. The Islamic
movement, represented in Muslim Brotherhood Group, and though
officially banned by the government, is more popular than all the
other opposition parties. It has seventeen MPs in the Assembly,
elected in 2000 as independents.

As for the intellectual journalists, both Huwaydi and Mustafa reflect
their views on the issue of democracy in their writings. Huwaydi
constantly stresses his belief in democracy but from an Islamic
perspective, whilst Mustafa portrays herself as a democratic liberal
who shows support for Mubarak's notion of gradable democratic reform.

In Chapters 4 and 5, Dunne explores two key strategic functions of the
discourses she analyses. The two prominent functions are
''constructing identity'' and ''power relations''. The linguistic
devices she uses in her analysis are deixis (focusing on
self-reference and the definite article) and interdiscursivity. She
also uses other devices when needed to serve her purposes.

According to Chilton and Sch�ffner (1997:212), the language of the
elite in power reflects not only their thoughts but also their
actions, for either those who govern or even those who are classified
as opposition. This is highly recognizable in the language of the
presidential excerpts. The speeches of the president are carefully
prepared by his community of practice in order to enhance, center and
stabilize the image of the president as the real holder of power in
the country. However, the speeches also reflect the strong belief of
the president in democracy as the ultimate option for the
country. Similarly we can observe at which points the community of
practice seem to use the definite article to distance the president
from issues which may draw criticism from the audience. Such issues,
from which the president is meant to be distant, include unfair
previous elections and the credibility of the democratization
process. This, in my view, reflects the power and centralization
enjoyed by the presidential institution in Egypt as the real holder of

In contrast, fragmentation, disunity and lack of coordination are
fully apparent in the language used by opposition parties and those
involved in the September 1999 petition. Their use of the pronoun
''they'' reflects a deep sense of depersonalization, and distancing
from the content of the petition. This may of course show their fear
of the potential consequences of the petition. In addition, they want
to maintain space for negotiation with the government in attempt to
secure seats in the new parliament. Unfortunately such negotiations
may take place simply because the government is interested in having
the opposition represented in the parliament, despite the fact that
the opposition may not have enough support in their
constituencies. This fact was discovered by the author in one of her
interviews: a member told Dunne that the weak and disorganized
situation reflects the lack of ''ideological commitment'' suffered by
the opposition parties in their negotiations with the government for
real democratic reform. The strategic function of ''identity
construction'' therefore, on the part of the opposition parties, is
affected by their fragile attitude towards the issue of democracy in

In the case of the two prominent columnists, Dunne notices that their
endeavor to build their identity is largely shaped by the background
of each. Here, things are more personalized, as each author attempts
to persevere with the issue of democracy in his writings, but from
their two different perspectives. Huwaydi usually positions himself as
a defender of democracy, but from the Islamic point of view, while
Mustafa presents herself as a 'think tank' with affiliation to the
government (she writes for Al-Ahram newspaper, one of the main state
institutions). However, both are similar in using the technique of
interdiscursivity to express their commitment to president Mubarak's
thoughts on democracy. It is also interesting that Dunne demonstrates
Huwaydi's tendency to portray himself as an independent from Islamic
movements, given that his father used to be a prominent figure in the
Muslim Brotherhood, and despite the fact that he is widely perceived
as an Islamist writer.

In relation to power relations in the discourses of the different
parties, it is clear that the community of practice in the
presidential discourse aim at boosting the pro-democratic image of the
president. At the same time however, ''framing'' the other and
''hidden polemic'' techniques are used in the president's speeches to
reinforce the centralized power enjoyed by the presidential
institution. Similar techniques are used for example to portray NGOs
as a potential danger whose loyalty to the country is questionable.

Power relations in the discourse of the September 1999 petition are
again in the domain of keeping space for compromise with the
government. This also reflects to what extent the opposition parties
in the Egyptian political arena are weak and dependent on the
government for gaining ground, even on a crucial issue like democracy.

In respect of the discourses of Huwaydi and Mustafa on democracy,
power relations are shown in the form of challenges to the other power
groups. Each one uses interdiscursivity in his/her own interest;
Mustafa presents herself as a pro-democrat to enhance her image as a
prominent liberal intellectual, while Huwaydi uses his literary
competence to show how far he is independent from the Islamists and
also to negotiate power with the censors at the state-controlled press
who may ban some of his weekly articles for different (or no) reasons.

Chapter six assesses the findings Dunne revealed in her research. It
is remarkable that there is no difference between the discourse of the
presidential speeches on democracy and on practice. This reflects the
top-down gradable democracy that is meant to be applied in Egypt by
the ruling group, and which, in their view, will give the government
the chance to qualify the people for further adaptation to
democracy. Dunne considers that the use of the terms ''democracy'' and
''civil society'' was really an appeal to different communities during
the pre-presidential election in 1999 as a sign of a new period for
the president. However, she also demonstrated via interviews that
democracy has become a well-established concept in Egyptian public
discourse, in response to the global discourse in which Egyptians need
to participate.

In sum, the book in hand presents a thorough and objective study of
the discourse of democracy in Egypt in different domains.

It presents an analytical study of the production and processing of
discourse in politics from pragmatic, ethnographic, sociolinguistic
approach. It is considered as a useful source for students of
linguistics in general, and of discourse and politics in
particular. It is also a good case study on a contemporary issue for
students of Near and Middle East studies.


Chilton, Paul (1988) Orwellian Language and the Media, London: Pluto

Chilton, P. and Sch�ffner, C. (1997), Discourse and Politics, in
Teun van Dijk (ed.) Discourse as Social Interaction, London: Sage
Publications pp. 206-230

Chilton, P. and Sch�ffner, C. (2002) Politics as Text and Talk,
Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Fairclough, Norman (1989), Language and Power, London: Longman

Scollon, Ron (1998) Mediated Discourse as Social Interaction, London
and New York: Longman

Wilson, John (1990), Politically Speaking, Oxford: Basil Blackwell


Ihab A. Shabana is a Ph.D. candidate at Al-Azhar, Egypt & SOAS,
London. She is Assistant Lecturer of Linguistics, Al-Azhar, and
Visiting Research Student at SOAS in 2002-2004. Her areas of interest
include: Pragmatics, Political Discourse, Sociolinguistics and
Translation studies.
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