Saturday, October 29, 2011


Gamal Abdul Nasser (1918-1970), the greatest genius produced by Egypt in five hundred years, was the first Egyptian since the Pharaohs 2,500 years ago to govern Egypt. Nasser led the complete liberation of Egypt and the restitution of national dignity in a titanic struggle with both his 35 million mostly downtrodden people and numerous world powers that undercut his efforts at every opportunity.
On 22 July 1952, the Free Officers, led by Gamal Abdul Nasser, realized that King Farouk might be preparing to move against them. They decided to strike and seize power the next morning. On July 26, King Farouk, forced to abdicate in favor of his infant son, sailed into exile on the same yacht on which his grandfather, Ismail, had left for exile about seventy years earlier. In 1954, the army overthrew King Farouk of Egypt whereby Lieutenant Colonel Gamal Abdul Nasser was subsequently made President of Egypt.
It was under Nasser that Egypt finally succeeded in ridding itself of the last vestiges of British imperialism; that Egypt attempted to steer a middle course between the Western countries and the Soviet Union and its allies and in so doing became a founder of the Nonaligned Movement that exists to this day; that Egypt moved out of the isolation the British had imposed on the country and assumed a leadership position in the Arab world; and that Egypt became the "beating heart" of pan-Arabism and the symbol of renewed Arab pride.
Internally, Nasser destroyed the political and economic power of the old feudal landowning class. Education and employment opportunities were made available to all Egyptians regardless of class or sex. Women were encouraged to get an education and go to work as part of the national struggle for economic progress and development. After the revolution, women were at last granted the right to vote. Nasser emphasized social programs to improve the living and working conditions of the peasants and workers, such as the electrification of villages, worker housing, minimum wage laws, decreased working hours, and worker participation in management. Industrialization intensified, and the country became less dependent on the export of cotton. The economy grew at acceptable rates in spite of some problems. After the June 1967 War with Israel, however, the military expenditures began to absorb about 25 percent of Egypt's gross national product (GNP). Also, the population increase that had begun in the 1940s began to overtake the economic advances.
It is true that Nasser never really opened up his rule to popular participation. He once admitted that he had become so used to conspiracy, by necessity that he tended to see a conspiracy in everything, a view that prevented him from conducting an open rule. He wanted to establish a basis of support for his regime but one that would not require the regime to give significant power to the public. He felt that an ideology such as socialism might accomplish this, but at the same time he feared that the commitment would be to the ideology and not to him. Thus, when Nasser died in 1970 he left behind an imperfect and unfinished revolution.
(Adapted from
Nasser wrote: “When I now try to recall the details of our experience in Palestine (in 1948), I find a curious thing: we were fighting in Palestine, but our dreams were centered in Egypt. Our bullets were aimed at the enemy in his trenches before us, by our hearts hovered over our distant country, which we had left to the care of wolves.” As one of Nasser’s fellow officers lay dying he told his comrades: “The biggest battlefield is in Egypt.”
“Every man we questioned had nothing to recommend except to kill someone else. Every idea we listened to was nothing but an attack on some other idea. If we had gone along with everything we heard, we would have killed off all the people and torn down every idea, and there would have been nothing left for us to do but sit down among the corpses and ruins, bewailing our evil fortune and cursing our wretched fate.”
“If anyone had asked me in those days what I wanted most, I would have answered promptly: To hear an Egyptian speak fairly about another Egyptian. To sense an Egyptian has opened his heart to pardon, forgiveness and love for his Egyptian brethren. To find an Egyptian who does not devote his time to tearing down the views of another Egyptian.”
Nasser was especially disillusioned with the professors at universities who did not advance any ideas to him and instead, “each confined himself to advancing himself, pointing out his unique fitness for making miracles. Each of them kept glancing at me with the look of one who preferred me to all the treasures of earth and heaven.”
In summary, Gamal Nasser was a giant of the twentieth century who curiously is not well-remembered today. He was ahead of his times. The world powers that constantly opposed his attempts to mainstream Egypt into the world while he was alive may long for his forward-looking pragmatic and logical approach compared to the backward-looking Islamist extremism rife in the region today. He accomplished much in spite of his short life.
Gamal Abdel Nasser was not a great manager: finances during the 18 years on his watch were in bad shape. Yet it was under Nasser that life for millions of poor peasants, who had been poor for hundreds of years, finally improved. It was under Nasser that schools were built, clean drinking water brought to people, clinics opened. Through it all, the state's bureaucracy grew top-heavy, patronage and corruption were rampant, and the authoritarian police state was honed, though it would not become the internal, infernal prison of the slightest dissenters until the years of Sadat and Mubarak.
(Pierre Tristam, Guide)
In Egypt, a country where 50 per cent of the population is under 30 years old and which has known no other regime than Mubarak’s state of emergency, with its torture and surveillance, it was the reaction to the murder of Khaled Said, a young blogger beaten to death by the police, that was a turning point. It began with a protest of 1,000 people in Alexandria during Said’s funeral and then went ‘underground’ onto the internet. Pictures of his crushed face are still on his facebook page. The next spark in the North African revolution was in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, ignited by the self immolation of Mohamed Bouazazi, a vegetable peddler whose cart and produce were confiscated by the police. Over the next month, despite increased repression, protests grew across Tunisia and President Ben Ali was pushed out of the country.
The sit-ins, strikes, and demonstrations of 2006, the almost daily workers’ actions of early 2007, and the massive strike of textile workers in Muhalla al-Kubra in 2008 were initiated by working women. These struggles led to beatings and imprisonments as well as some wage increases and bread subsidies as the regime tried to cheaply buy its way out of crisis. The mixture of economic hardship, political repression and social control indicate how deep the uprooting of the old regime had to be.
Once the lid is taken off a police state, it is very difficult to put back on. Mental liberation and the radical change in consciousness that accompanies revolution, entails a rethinking of everything, a questioning of everything that has been taken for granted. What had been normal for so long has been fundamentally shaken. After 30 years of life under Mubarak, the Egyptian people had become historical protagonists. Tahrir Square, the revolution’s focal point, became territorialized by those who had not counted. It became the space of a new kind of work, namely the hard but collectively joyous work of human liberation.
Mubarak’s departure represents a victory for the movement but it is not the goal of liberation. Egypt remains at a crossroads with the military as the only possible institution to renormalize it. Yet under the guise of the national interest any return to the old normal must include suppressing freedom, strikes, demonstrations, and any other manifestation of the economic and social revolt against injustice and exploitation that has been brewing for the past decade.
In 1956, four years after the 1952 Egyptian revolution and one year into the Algerian revolution, Algeria’s liberation movement met in the Soummam Valley to discuss the organization and programme of its revolution. An important principle adopted there was that rather than militarizing politics, the military and any military decision had to be subservient to, and under the control of, the political struggle. It is a principle that continues to haunt Algeria and Egypt where militarized states of emergency have been in place for decades, abrogating political rights and suppressing spaces for public discourse.
In Egypt the army – intimately connected to the economy and self-interested in the maintenance of the status quo – is repeating the same calls it made during the last days of Mubarak under the slogans to ‘return to order’ and ‘return to normalcy.’ Yet the people are not na├»ve.
It is the revolution happening in the minds of the people – including perhaps those among the army’s rank and file – that is really significant. Nasser understood its importance, calling his book on the liberation of Egypt a ‘philosophy of revolution’.
The ‘commune’ at Tahrir Square produced a new political form. And in an attempt to de-communalize that form, it has now been deterritorialised. As youths moved to literally and symbolically clean the square, the military destroyed the shelters, banners, and artworks and removed the people.
(Adapted from PAMBAZUKA NEWS ‘What makes the lid blow off?’ by Nigel C. Gibson, 2011-02-17, Issue 517 at
Many thoughtful Egyptians will be recalling this "bon mot" as the watch one ruler, the ousted Husni Mubarak, replaced by a military junta led by Field Marshall Mohammed Tantawi. Egyptians are getting more Mubarakism, sans Mubarak, at least for now. This is not what most Egyptians want or deserve. The new military junta just proclaimed it would support the hated Israeli-Egyptian peace deal signed by Anwar Sadat, thus assuaging fears in the US and Israel. In an example of typical post-coup talk, the junta says elections will be held sometime in the future. Many Egyptians are still euphoric over the ouster of Gen. Mubarak, known to one and all as "pharaoh." Most of them do not yet seem to have realized that the people who have taken over the regime are the very same generals, policemen and tycoons who ran it under Mubarak.
The dreaded secret police, or "Mukhabarat," is commanded by Gen. Omar Suleiman, who is widely viewed as America’s and Israel’s man in Cairo. Alongside him are Marshall Tantawi, chief of staff Lieutenant General Enan and Ahmed Shafik, also seen as America’s men on the Nile. The US usually had a backup for its favorite dictators; Gen. Omer Suleiman was Mubarak’s US-anointed successor. After Anwar Sadat’s assassination, Gen. Mubarak was quickly engineered into power.
(Adapted from Egypt's Faux Revolution: Bait and Switch on the Nile by Eric Margolis at

Gamal Abdul Nasser and Family, 1960

Egypt’s younger officers must be thinking about the example of Gamal Abdel Nasser, who seized power in 1952 after Egypt’s disastrous war with Israel in 1947–8. Perhaps there is a young colonel or even major who may try to seize power and emulate Nasser, who is still adored by many Egyptians in spite of his disastrous mistakes. People have forgotten many of them. What they do remember was that when Nasser died of a heart attack in 1970, his family had little money, and they recall that Nasser spoke for Egypt, not foreign powers.
So far, the so-called Egyptian Revolution has only been a game of musical chairs. The United States still dominates Egypt’s military, policy, and economy. Washington provides wheat without which Egypt cannot feed itself.
Israel still exercises powerful influence over Egypt, thanks to its supporters in the US Congress. An angry word from Jerusalem, and Egypt’s wheat could be cut off. Egyptian and Israeli intelligence are as entwined as was Israel’s Mossad with the Iranian Savak secret police.
The massive pyramid of Egypt’s police state – to use a fine metaphor from the brilliant Albanian writer Ismail Kadere – will not be easily lifted, perhaps without a full scale, violent revolution. To date, the revolt on the Nile has not even produced a Kerensky, never mind a Lenin.
If Egyptians feel cheated by the change of power in Cairo, as many will, and violent demonstrations begin, what will happen if the junta orders a battalion commanded by a colonel to open fire on protesters?
The first young officer who refuses and orders his men to join the demonstrators could become Egypt’s new hero. Nasser’s ghost haunts Cairo.
(Adapted from Egypt's Faux Revolution: Bait and Switch on the Nile by Eric Margolis at

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