In a previous article, I indicated that the recent elections in Egypt pointed to the weakness and retreat of the once prominent Egyptian liberal current in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood which gained a third of the seats in parliament.
This retreat was emphasized by the electoral defeat of Diaaeddin Daoud, chairman of the Arab Nasserist Party and historical figure.
It was thought that Nasserism was gaining popularity, not only in Egypt, but in other Arab countries, including Mauritania and Yemen, where Nasserist parties are recognized and represented in parliament.
In recent years, Neo-Nasserist leaders have been young and dynamic. One example is the prominent Egyptian lawyer Hamdeen Sabahi. He led a revisionist movement within the party which pitted him against the old guard before his departure from the party.
The last parliamentary elections showed that Nasserism, despite its political and cultural presence, is ill-equipped to form a successful party organization.
Abdul Nasser is probably the most popular of all contemporary Arab leaders yet his legacy is not liable to be used for political mobilization, as the recent events in Egypt have demonstrated. In fact, his legacy has become a common heritage for Egypt’s political classes, including the ruling regime, which continues to derive its legitimacy from the 23 July revolution, in spite of its different strategic decisions and public policies.
I recall a conversation I had with a close associate of President Hosni Mubarak. In response to a question about the retreat of Nasserism in Egyptian politics, he indicated that this was because those closest to Nasser were currently in power. They spent their formative political years in the aftermath of the revolution and occupied a number of positions in the popular movements of the time.
According to this view, Sadat’s rule did signal a breach with the Nasserist experience. Instead, it was the natural continuation to the movement, according to the changing balance of power and local and international variations.
This analysis can be easily refuted. It reflects a certain political and culture view based on the consensus of the need to preserve Nasserist symbols. There is, however, disagreement about whether to follow its intellectual and social principles.
In this respect the difference is obvious between Nasserism and the rival Arab nationalist ideology, the Baath party, which existed around the same time.
The Baath party, since its inception, maintained a strict disciple and organization. Despite being connected to well-known political and intellectual figures, especially its founder Michel Aflaq, the Baath party failed to become a true popular movement. It had a limited influence outside the narrow confines of the party and its traditional figures did not gain power, in spite of being used in the conflict between it’s the two rival wings in Syria and Iraq.
Nevertheless, the Baathist ideology was far stronger and more intellectually coherent than Nasserism which is outlined in three documents and did not have a strong impact in the Arab intellectual domain, except for its propaganda literature and leaflets.
Therefore, it can be said that the popularity of Nasserism is based on three factors:
1- The image of the hero who confronted colonialism and Zionism and held on to his principles in spite of defeat.
2- The image of the populist leader who fought class disparities and exploitation, opened schools and hospitals, and abolished hereditary titles and privileges.
3- The image of the national leader who sought to unite the Arab nation under the banner of dignity and self-respect.
The above brief analysis reveals that the popularity of Nasserism was based on a symbolic image rather than a comprehensive political experience. This would justify the shortcomings in decision-making, especially the 1967 defeat, and its tragic consequences.
As the recent elections in Egypt demonstrated, Nasserism is not viable to be exploited for political gains. In fact, it reflects the widespread feeling of apathy, following consecutive Arab defeats, and the psychological need for a figure to lead the nation towards social justice, unity and independence.
This very illusion drove large sections of the Arab world to support Saddam Hussein in his Don Quixotic wars. There are fears that the foolishness of the military occupation might transform him into a symbolic figure.
According to Jean Lacouture, the French journalist who penned an incredible book on Nasser, the Arabs loved Abdul Nasser more in defeat and death than when he was alive and victorious.
Objective political analysis requires pride to be set aside and the experience be examined with all its mistakes and shortcomings, as well as not gambling on it to build a an intellectual project or the future.
Nasserism has retreated politically and intellectually. It has morphed into a symbol and a common legacy for the Arab nation.