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Opinion: From Nasser to Sisi | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Protesters cheer with Egyptian flags and a banner of army chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, seen between former presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser (R) and Anwar Sadat, as they gather for a mass protest to support the army in front of the presidential palace in Cairo July 26, 2013. (Reuters/Asmaa Waguih)

The state in Egypt is all-encompassing and powerful, and so it is no surprise that the legitimacy of the state has prevailed over that of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood may have been able to hijack the presidency, but its president Mohamed Mursi did not know how to hold onto the position. Mursi opted to remained under the patronage of the Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau, thereby throwing away his popular legitimacy.

Egypt is the gift of the Nile. However the concept of the state is Egypt’s gift to the world. Egypt taught the world the meaning of authority and rule, thanks to its more than seven-thousand-year-old civilization.

In the 1920s Egypt’s Wafd Party gained popular legitimacy through the polls, nevertheless, the state overthrew party leader Prime Minister Mustafa El-Nahhas Pasha time and time again. Despite this, the party which enjoyed popular legitimacy did not rebel, nor did it resort to violence against the state. Nahhas continued to be democratic and never lost his legitimacy.

In Egypt, liberation from occupation produced Gamal Abdel-Nasser who staged a revolution and took control of the state. Here was a man who knew how to administer the state and lead. He relinquished the slogan of “Unity of the Nile Valley”, giving the Sudanese the freedom to choose, and so both Egypt and Sudan were liberated from occupation. As a result, Nasser became an inspiration for all liberation movements. As for the Brotherhood, it revolted against the state, attempting to assassinate Nasser, who for his part clamped down on freedom and democracy as a result.

The Syrian people rebelled against unity, but they were mistaken to do so because they did not struggle for freedom within a pro-unity and pan-Arab project. A leader emerged from the embers of this revolution to become president, and he continued to humiliate the Syrian people for decades under the false façade of pan-Arabism. This same leader promoted sectarianism which only served the interests of foreign powers at the expense of the Arabs.

Nasser was the hope for millions of Arabs, yet his intellectual and political views did not make a democrat out of him. Nasser committed grave mistakes: He antagonized the Gulf States and disagreed with his military commander Abdel Hakim Amer. He fought against the pan-Arab Ba’athist Party and instead entered into an alliance with its secularist wing. As a result, he became embroiled in a war against Israel that he was not prepared to fight by the Salah Jadid and Hafez Al-Assad regime. This took place at a time when his elite troops had been deployed to to Yemen, 3,000 km from the theater of operations in Sinai.

I feel sad and embarrassed to say, after all these years, that Nasser and the Syrian regime must shoulder the historical responsibility for the Naksah [defeat in the 1967 Six Day War], the defeat of the non-democratic pan-Arab project, the subsequent occupation of the Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights, and the continuing occupation of Palestine.

Nasser did not bequeath power to his sons but to his political and ideological rivals. President Anwar Sadat used the state to hit and eradicate the predominant Nasserist wing in Egypt. He also failed to exploit the great potential of the semi-victory achieved in the October 1973 war.

Sadat became entangled in a disproportionate reconciliation with Israel, detaching himself from the rest of the Arab world, resulting in Egypt losing its historic role and influence in the Arab and regional milieu. Then Sadat gambled on the Muslim Brotherhood and Jihadist Islam to confront the Nasserists and secularists whose strong presence on university campuses did not represent a genuine threat to his regime. This Jihadist Islam was ultimately successful in assassinating the president of the state, however it can never and will never succeed in seizing state control. The Egyptian state emerged from Sadat’s assassination stronger than ever. Hosni Mubarak released Egypt’s detained liberal and secular political leaders, while he also successfully tamed the extremist Islamists. The Mubarak state handled the Brotherhood by leaving the door open for them; a door that sometimes took the Brotherhood members to parliament as independent candidates, and other times took them to Tora prison.

There is a great deal of history between Gamal Abdel-Nasser and Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi; ranging from the age of liberation (Tahrir) to the era of freedom. However does the firmness Sisi has exhibited towards the Brotherhood entitle him to a leading position in this different era, namely the era of civil democracy?

I believe that Sisi is fully aware of the reality of his station and age. At 58-years-of-age, he is politically mature, while he also belongs to the second military generation to have graduated from the most prestigious military college in the US. He understands the US military system and its position within a civil administration and under a civil government. In this manner, Sisi is not a revolutionary army general. He may well have ambitions to play a prominent national role in order to ensure that Egypt reaches safety. In fact, the reality is that Sisi rescued Egypt in the nick of time from a destructive civil war, hence restoring the reverence, credibility, and security of the historical Egyptian state. Sisi won two bloody decisive rounds in his confrontation with the Brotherhood, rehabilitating the Egyptian military institution after the Muslim Brotherhood regime gutted the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, an entity it saw as aging, bloated, and lacking in political experience.

Yet, the price was exorbitant: there were a state of emergency, a curfew, detentions, bloodshed, and rival media campaigns. The US and Europe had gambled on the Brotherhood regime which strived to “Ikhwanize” the state and politics, blocking the way for modern, liberal Egyptian culture.

The US/European campaign against Sisi and his military institution was preposterous. It was launched under the slogans of maintaining democracy, freedom, and human rights in Egypt, while they have remained conspicuously silent about these issues in Syria. This position on the part of the West could serve to curb General Sisi’s future ambitions, however it does not detract from his bravery and courage in seeking to convince the Brotherhood and other Islamist organizations to accept a more equal and balanced representation in the country.

Is it possible to classify the new regime in Egypt? It is too early to make definitive judgments. However at first glance we can say that it appears to encompass the liberals and conservatives. Perhaps, this regime will be ready to cooperate with forces within the previous Mubarak government that had a hand in ousting Mursi. However, the regime’s inclination to the right and center has caused it to lose the support to some leftist powers, including socialist Mohamed El-Baradei’s Al-Dustour party and the April 6 Youth Movement. These days, Egypt is speaking about itself with a sense of solid national pride in reaction to the Brotherhood’s insult of the Egyptian state. Yet, nationalism is no real basis for a principled or public rule, or even a party or leader’s ideology.

The reason is that such nationalist expressions are nothing more than changeable sentiment which prevails during times of trouble, yet vanishes during times of calm.

Does the new Egyptian regime really intend to wipe the Muslim Brotherhood from Egypt’s political map? I am no supporter of the Brotherhood, but allow me to frankly say that getting rid of ideological parties such as the Ba’athists, the Brotherhood, and others, is an impossibility. Ideologies can flourish, fade from memory, and then return with a vengeance.

General Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi may be more fortunate than Major Abdel-Nasser. Both are legitimate sons of a national military institution that Egypt rightly boasts of. Yet, Sisi enjoys openness with the Gulf States that threw their regional, Arab, and international weight behind him, not to mention financial support. Perhaps, the new regime in Egypt will be able to use such support to boost and strengthen the economy. Indeed, should this new regime act otherwise, it will quickly lose public support, as was the case with Mursi’s Brotherhood regime.

The shock of the Brotherhood’s ouster is a hard lesson for them to learn. What happened was that the Brotherhood became over-excited by power, until they eventually had enough. Introducing new blood into the Guidance Bureau should serve to unburden the new leaderships from the vague principle that earthly rule must be linked to divine rule, something that late Muslim Brotherhood theorist Sayyid Qutb adopted from Indo-Pakistani Islam.

Qutb’s ideology prevented the Brotherhood from accepting Shura (consultancy) and democracy, and hindered the group’s subsequent generations from establishing a party with a stronger sense of national responsibility and a greater acceptance of political pluralism. This could have seen the Brotherhood shift from an organization known for producing esteemed orators to one known for its dialogue.