Nasser’s revolution in 2013
- 23-07-2013 06:47PM ET
Nasser’s revolution in 2013
In both the July 1952 and June 2013 revolutions, the popular mandate to the army was to depose a collapsing and discredited ruling regime, writes Ahmed El-Tonsi
This year’s anniversary of the revolution led by former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel-Nasser in July 1952 is of great significance for both the history and the future of Egypt. Coming just a few weeks after the June 2013 Revolution, a successful popular revolution, the anniversary of Nasser’s revolution inevitably poses questions about the similarities and dissimilarities between the two.
The objective behind posing such questions is not to draw a comparison or analogy between the two events. Rather, it is meant to identify a kind of historical continuity between them, while at the same time acknowledging their basic contextual differences. Nasser’s revolution was a unique event in Egypt’s modern history that reshaped the country’s politics, economy and society. Accordingly, it should not be a surprise to find that Nasser’s revolution has affected the course, slogans and even leadership of the June Revolution.
In fact, there are similarities between the two revolutions, drawn attention to by the ongoing, yet arcane, debate on the definition of the facts of what took place on 23 July 1952 and 30 June 2013. The categorisation of the two events, either as military coups or popular revolutions, has been a matter of intense theoretical debate among scholars, experts and analysts utilising a variety of technical approaches to define each event within a specific research paradigm developed from similar or even dissimilar historical experience or contexts across Africa, Latin America or Eastern Europe.
The political orientations of the different commentators or political actors have been the major factor in these highly polarised definitions. Uncertainties surrounding the exact definition of the two events have emerged from the sweeping generalisations that have characterised the work of many political scientists, particularly Americans in their pursuit of a mega-theory that would encompass all socio-political phenomena while transcending time and place. In other words, the definitions have been coloured by different ideological interpretations across the whole political spectrum, as well as by the politically biased stands of the different actors on the regional and global levels.
One example of such biased definitions can be seen by recalling the early responses of the US Obama administration to the 25 January Revolution in 2011, comparing this with its reaction to events in June this year when the administration for the second time failed to predict popular revolution in Egypt. In January 2011, just a few days before the revolution, some US officials and analysts even confirmed what they saw as the “invincibility” of the former Mubarak regime and its enduring stability.
Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, for instance, spoke about Egypt on the afternoon of 25 January 2011 by stating that “our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.” The events ongoing at the time contradicted Clinton’s assessment even as she was making it, causing it to be seen as an underestimation of the nature, genesis and evolution of the popular revolution.
As a result, Egyptians should not pay too much attention to the second failure of the US administration to understand events in Egypt, which took place in June, and they should not pay attention to the stands of foreign powers either, or allow these to deter the post-June regime from taking the necessary steps to bring back law and order to Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood has now gone from being an ousted political organisation to a real security challenge, and this challenge has to be properly addressed without foreign meddling in the country’s national reconciliation, which, indeed, should also be eagerly pursued by the Brotherhood association if it sincerely wants to join the new Egypt.
Apart from such theoretical exercises, it is worth mentioning that the two ousted regimes, the monarchical and the Muslim Brotherhood, were identifiably suffering from severe legitimacy crises before the revolutions. The two regimes, led by the former King Farouk and the former president Mohamed Morsi, respectively, were evidently failing despite the initial popular celebrations that had attended their coming to power, Farouk as a young king of Egypt and Morsi as the country’s first democratically elected president.
The two revolutions were the outcome of unprecedented and deplorable social and political conditions. Both regimes had been losing popular support. Morsi’s regime ultimately ended up resting on the support only of Brotherhood members and affiliates, for example. By the time the monarchical regime finally fell in July 1952, there had been a series of events, among them the great Cairo fire in which large sections of the capital were burned, that had come as the expression of the regime’s historical failure. People welcomed the army move’s against the monarchical regime on 23 July 1952, seeing it as representing their own will and aspirations. Soon afterwards, the military’s move was transformed into a fully-fledged revolution as a result of the passage of radical and egalitarian measures like the agrarian reforms and the abolition of titles.
As a result, Nasser’s view of the army officers as the mere vanguard of the revolution was particularly insightful. Among the early testimonies of the change induced by Nasser’s revolution was that by the US ambassador to Cairo at the time, Jefferson Caffery, who in November 1954 concluded that the new regime “had done more for Egypt in two years than all its predecessors put together before it”. Nothing close can be said about the Muslim Brotherhood regime before the 30 June Revolution, which devastatingly misruled the state, still being re-established following the 25 January Revolution, while at the same time pursuing its parent association’s ultimate objective of the “Brotherhoodisation” of state and society. The present US ambassador in Egypt, Anne Patterson, has been unable to find words to praise Morsi’s dilapidated regime.
In both revolutions, the popular mandate to the army was to depose the collapsing ruling regimes. In 2003, the commentator Tarek Al-Bishri wrote that “three major or grand shifts in Egypt’s history since the beginning of the 19th century have witnessed the participation of army officers, starting from Mohamed Ali’s move in 1805 and going on through the Orabi Revolution in 1881 and then the 1952 movement.” The January 2011 and June 2013 revolutions should thus be seen within the same context of the army’s participation in leading grand historical shifts. Such a historical role has its own reasons, which Al-Bishri has attributed to the particular nature of the relationship between the military on the one side and the state and society on the other in modern Egypt.
Another similarity can be seen in Nasser’s book Philosophy of the Revolution, in which he wrote, “I see no reason, as I sit alone in my study with my thoughts wandering, why I should not recall, at this stage of my thinking, a well-known story by the Italian author Luigi Pirandello that he called, ‘Six Personalities in Search of an Author’.” In the aftermath of the 1952 Revolution, Nasser’s question was soon to be answered through his own ascendancy, making him the hero of the Egyptian revolution and the Egyptian people.
The writer is a political analyst.