Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: Where are Egypt’s New Icons? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page
Media ID: 55293933

Egyptian demonstrators tear a portrait of President Hosni Mubarak during a protest against his rule in the northern port city of Alexandria on January 27, 2011. (AFP)

A friend of mine asked me, “What happened to the Egypt that was once the factory of skilled politicians and the womb that carried symbols and leaders, all sadly lacking now? Has Egypt become so barren that all that its population of 90 million people could produce is its pacific and meek prime minister?”

The position of prime minister in a country like Egypt is a senior post that requires a strong character with a charismatic and decisive personality. Such a position requires a “bigwig.” Yet the Muslim Brotherhood, despite their broad popular base of adherents and trained activists, have failed to find a heavyweight character with a strong and charismatic personality to assume the leadership, other than Khairat El-Shater and Aboul-Fotouh who quit the Brotherhood (or it was the Brotherhood that pushed him out?). I told my friend that it is a problem suffered by the majority of Arab states, and even by many counties world-wide—not just Egypt alone.

Let us stick to Egypt for a while, before we tour the world in order to demonstrate that the lack of serious leaders is an international problem. In Egypt, the 1952 revolution produced a heavyweight leadership that had a considerable impact, no matter we if agree or disagree with them and no matter if we loved or hated them. My point is not to discuss the merits of their politics, but rather the impact of charismatic personalities, an attribute which both the good and the bad may share.

The Egyptian revolution that overthrew the monarchy pushed to the forefront extremely influential names such as Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat and even Hosni Mubarak. In other Egyptian political parties, such as Al-Wafd, there were also historical heavyweights, names such as Saad Zaghloul, Mostafa Al-Nahhas and Foad Siraguddin. Now, however, Egyptian opposition parties have no names to rival their predecessors. Egypt also lacks a comparable generation of artists and scholars. Where has the influential group of Al-Azhar’s sheikhs and scholars—such as Mohamed Al-Khedr Hussein, Mahmoud Shaltout, Abu Zahrah and Abdulhalim Mahmoud—gone?

In our age, where are the Arabic literary giants who emerged during the Egyptian golden era, such as Taha Hussein, Aqqad, Sayyid Qutb, Al-Rafei, Al-Manfalouti, Ahmed Shawqi and others, gone? My friend said, “Even in the world of sports, Egypt failed to produce people to rival Hassan Shehata, Abu Jeresha, Mahmoud Al-Khatib and Shubeer. As for Egyptian art, whether you liked it or not, Egypt has become barren and is unable to produce a singer like Umm Kalthoum, Mohamed Abdulwahab, Abdulhalim Hafiz, or a composer like Al-Sonbati or Baligh Hamdi.”

In the world of Islamist politics in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood has failed to produce as weighty a leadership as those of its first generation, such as Hassan Al-Banna who died in his early forties yet still left a powerful legacy. Among Banna’s disciples are Hassan Al-Hodhaibi, Sayed Sabiq, Omar Al-Telmesani, Mohamed Al-Ghazali, and even Al-Qaradawi belongs to the same generation. Today, if you asked a specialist in Egyptian Islamist groups to name someone in the ranks of the Brotherhood’s scholars equal to those Egyptian symbols, he would definitely feel perplexed and would not be able to provide an answer.

It is striking that Egypt following the 1952 revolution, when its population was only 20 million, was full of iconic figures of all walks of life. Now, however, with a population of almost 90 million, Egypt is less capable of producing such people, although it is in a dire need of them. Such a phenomenon, as I mentioned previously, is not limited to Egypt alone, but includes every single Arab state, and could even be universal.