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It was 60 Years Ago Today … What is the Legacy of July 23, 1952?

July 23rd, 2012 Comments off
Nasser, Naguib and Salah Salem

Anwar Sadat went to the movies, not knowing that his co-conspirators had moved up the schedule, and almost missed the revolution. But once he caught up, as the senior Signals Corps officer among the plotters, he read communique number one:

To the People of Egypt:

Egypt has passed through a critical period in her recent history characterized by bribery, mischief, and the absence of governmental stability. All of these were factors that had a large influence on the army. Those who accepted bribes and were thus influenced caused our defeat in the Palestine War. As for the period following the war, the mischief-making elements have been assisting one another, and traitors have been commanding the army. They appointed a commander who is either ignorant or corrupt. Egypt has reached the point, therefore, of having no army to defend it. Accordingly, we have undertaken to clean ourselves up and have appointed to command us men from within the army whom we trust in their ability, their character, and their patriotism. It is certain that all Egypt will meet this news with enthusiasm and will welcome it.

For 59 years, anyone speaking of “the Egyptian Revolution” meant the coup of July 23, 1952. It was the thawra, though there were always a few who said that it was merely a coup (inqilab). If the events of January 25-February 11, 2011 had not occurred, today’s 60th anniversary of 1952 would no doubt be a huge celebration. But another, more popular revolution has occurred. (Whether it has been reversed or cancelled out by SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood is, of course, a subject for debate.)

This is the fourth July 23 since I started this blog and the second since the fall of Husni Mubarak, but because it is the 60th anniversary it has itself become something of a political football.

This year, the Ahmad Maher Faction of the 6 April Youth Movement (whatever you think of the current bunch of revolutionaries, though know how to name their factions like real revolutionaries) has called on Egyptians to boycott celebrating July 23.  This has already provoked counterstrikes from supporters of the 1952 revolution: SCAF on its Facebook page called such comments “delusional,” defended the military’s role in 1952 and today, and and “asserted the 1952 revolution wasn’t only for Egypt but for the whole African, Arab and Asian world.”  Meanwhile, a group of “Nasserists” in Qena governorate also defended 1952 and “asserted that military rule didn’t begin with Gamal Abdel Nasser but had always been a feature of Egyptian political life since the time of Ramses II.”

Ramses II? But then, remember: the two pillars of Pharaoh’s power were his Army and the high priesthood. Is that so different from SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood? Well, yes, probably.

But no one can argue that the 1952 revolution has had a major impact across the Arab world, though that was not evident immediately. When the Free Officers first took over they forced the King to abdicate but didn’t even proclaim a republic until the following year, so that infant King Ahmad Fuad II, though in exile with his father, was nominally reigning through a regency council. The coup was not the first military coup in the modern Arab world (Bakr Sidqi in Iraq and Husni Zaim in Syria had gotten there previously), and at first it named a civilian Prime Minister. It as later, after Nasser supplanted Naguib and began social and economic reforms and nationalizations, that it began to look a bit more like a revolution. Nasser had enormous flaws, but no other Arab leader has enjoyed the prestige he did across the rest of the Arab world. We’ve talked a lot about Nasser and Naguib in this blog, and I refer you to the archives rather than repeat myself.

For two generations July 23 has been Egypt’s national day.Already January 25 is a contender for the title. Like so much else in this turbulent era, it will take some time for this generation of revolutionaries (Islamist as well as secular) to come to terms with that earlier “revolution” six decades ago today.

Two videos (both in Arabic), one with clips of the first revolutionary era, and the second Muhammad Naguib’s own initial broadcast:


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Shatz on Egypt seen from Alexandria

July 11th, 2012 Comments off

Adam Shatz, writing in the London Review of Books, after a recent reporting trip during the presidential elections:

In Cairo, the old, narrow politics of self-interest – or self-defence – seemed to be crowding out Tahrir Square’s expansive visions of a democratic future. I wondered whether Alexandria, a port city with a rich history of political independence, would be any different. It had dazzled Cairene intellectuals by voting for a charismatic socialist politician, Hamdeen Sabahi, in the first round of the presidential elections, while the rest of the country went for either Morsi or Shafiq, as if people couldn’t see beyond the old regime and the old opposition. Alexandria, they said in Cairo, was a city that made up its own mind, a city where the revolutionary spirit lived on. Alexandrians basked in the admiration. ‘The sea makes us braver,’ one activist told me. True or not, it certainly makes the place feel more open than Cairo, where you can hardly see the sky. The cafés have charming names that ‘read like a Levantine requiem’, as David Holden wrote of old Alexandrian phonebooks. From the terrace of the fish restaurant where I had lunch, I watched children playing on the beach; a few women were in bikinis, a rare sight in a city where more and more women wear full niqabs, including black gloves. Alexandria, once known as the queen of the Mediterranean, may no longer be the city of ‘unsurpassable sensuality’ described by Cavafy, but it seems more serene than Cairo. Maybe that was an illusion: the only difference between Alexandria and Cairo, someone said, was the weather.

The story has some great vignettes on Alex (an Islamist’s reaction to novelist Youssef Ziedan’s classist map of the country is priceless, for instance) and I agree with the conclusion, in that things are not sealed at all in Egyptian politics:

This reconfiguration, however, is far from stable, and may be a prelude to yet another shake-up in the Brotherhood’s favour, rather than a consolidation of the military’s authority. Though Morsi is a cautious man, a party bureaucrat rather than a popular leader, he has begun to adopt a more confrontational posture vis-à-vis the military. Not only has he vowed to challenge the constitutional amendments that limit his power, but he has reconvened parliament in defiance of the Supreme Constitutional Court and the SCAF; at a brief session held on 10 July, lawmakers approved a proposal to refer parliament’s dissolution to a higher appeals court. The military and the court are digging their heels in, but Morsi is raising the stakes as an elected president, with considerable popular support – and in the knowledge that the Americans will not allow the SCAF to exercise the ‘Syrian option’ of massacring its opponents. Any attempt by the army to reverse Morsi’s victory, or prevent him from governing, could ignite another uprising. The SCAF may not have the upper hand for long.



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Did Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood just Blink?

July 11th, 2012 Comments off

Some members of the Egyptian parliament met briefly on Tuesday, in defiance of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and in accordance with the call of President Muhammad Morsi to convene. Morsi over-ruled the SCAF junta’s dissolution of the parliament elected late last fall, which is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and other parties of the Egyptian Religious Right.

Morsi took on not only SCAF but also the Egyptian courts. So, as soon as Morsi issued an executive order instructing parliament to reconvene, the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled his decree unconstitutional. Morsi dismissed the new ruling, saying that the SCC lacked the prerogative to make such a ruling.

Then the speaker of the House, Katatni, took the floor at the brief parliamentary meeting, saying that parliament wanted the Supreme Administrative court to rule on the dissolution of parliament. the Supreme Administrative Court has the authority to over-rule the president.

The supreme Administrative court has said that it will not rule until next Tuesday

Katatni’s call for the courts to rule on the dissolution of parliament came as a surprise to me. What if the court rules against the Brotherhood? What of the bravado about staying in session until new elections are held.

There are two possibilities here. One is that the Brotherhood has decided to step back from the brink to which Morsi had taken them.

The other is that the Brotherhood is attempting to maneuver SCAF into acknowledging that it should have been a civilian court that decided to implement the the Supreme Constituional Court’s ruling. Morsi may be playing a long game, and carefully asserting his authority, and that of other civilian actors, over the military.

The coming days will inform us as to which is the case.

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Collision Course?

July 9th, 2012 Comments off

Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi’s order yesterday to reconvene the dissolved Parliament certainly appears to throw down the gauntlet in a challenge to the military, though so far the military response has been unclear while the Supreme Constitutional Court has reaffirmed that its decision is binding on all state authorities.

There are a few pundits suggesting that the decree actually represents a compromise with SCAF; Morsi called back the dissolved Parliament but not for a full four-year term; rather he called for new elections as soon as the new constitution is written, But if the decree represented a secret deal with SCAF, that is far from apparent so far, and the simplest explanation seems to be that Morsi has elected to move the presumably inevitable test of strength between the elected President and the military forward to his first days in office.

Yet Morsi and Field Marshal Tantawi appeared together today at a military graduation ceremony without outward indications of conflict.

The election of Morsi was seen by some as avoiding a constitutional crisis if SCAF had been perceived as rigging the election outcome; but another type of constitutional crisis, one involving a head-on clash between the executive and the judiciary with the military presumably siding with the latter. Already some of the legal arguments are centering around whether SCAF was acting in an executive or legislative capacity when it moved to enforce the court decree, since presumably Morsi has now inherited SCAF’s executive but not its legislative powers.

Once again Egypt shows its ability to have a constitutional crisis despite the impediment of not currently having a constitution.

And once again Marc Lynch’s greatest contribution to political theory, the “Calvinball” model of Egyptian politics, proves to be prescient.

UPDATE: Michele Dunne on “Morsi’s Counter Coup.”


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Is the Message Here, "We’ve Got Your Back," or "We’ve Got You Surrounded"?

July 2nd, 2012 Comments off

Friday’s feel-good day in Tahrir Square, when Muhammad Morsi pledged to exercise full Presidential powers, gave way on Saturday to the real inauguration, where he had to take the oath from the Supreme Constitutional Court that had dissolved the Parliament. He’s also had the awkward task of meeting with SCAF and seeming to offer obeisance and fealty like some feudal subordinate, though there were gratifying moments, such as when Field Marshal Tantawi saluted Morsi in a symbolic gesture acknowledging his loyalty to a civilian President (though under SCAF’s own constitutional declaration, Morsi will not have the title of Commander-in-Chief). The photo above seems particularly two-edged: is this the Egyptian military handing power to a civilian after 60 years, or is this the Egyptian military making certain that the guy in the business suit knows who’s in charge?


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Okasha, Other Shafiq Supporters Turn on SCAF

June 28th, 2012 Comments off

We’ve occasionally mentioned Egyptian television host and “personality” Tawfiq Okasha here; a highly opinionated figure with his own television network, many (like this Arab News article) have dubbed him “Egypt’s Answer to Glenn Beck.” Okasha is equally opposed to Islamists of all colorations and to the Egyptian revolution; he was a strong supporter of SCAF and of Ahmad Shafiq. More distinctively, he is known for his vigilance against the ongoing plots of the Freemasons against Egypt; he uncovers Masonic plots everywhere.

Until Sunday, he was one of SCAF’s staunchest supporters. Then they “let” the Muslim Brotherhood win the election, so now SCAF is the enemy. He is leading a demonstration tomorrow to protest SCAF’s betrayal of Egypt (and of Tawfiq Okasha). In fact, this may be the first demonstration in recent memory to be called to begin at the tomb of Anwar Sadat. He has called on “honorable Egyptians” to protest what he sees as dishonorable behavior by SCAF.

Okasha may be a clown, but he has his listeners and can cause trouble; he seems to have been responsible for the violence at the US Embassy in March. Nor is he alone in his disillusionment with SCAF, though he may be the only one to perceive the role of the Freemasons in the plot. Many of Shafiq’s supporters were absolutely convinced they were going to win, and there seems to be an implication they expected SCAF to help facilitate that. Just a week ago (back when Husni Mubarak was dead, if you recall), a lot of us thought that was the way the wind was blowing. The election results proved us wrong, and stunned the Shafiq supporters, many of whom are likely to join Okasha’s demonstration. Also, backers of former intelligence chief ‘Omar Suleiman are joining in, also disappointed that SCAF didn’t prevent Morsi’s win.

SCAF, of course, denies it had any role in influencing the electoral results.

Besides the followers of Okasha, Shafiq, and Suleiman, blogger Zeinobia notes that the Twitter account called @Military_Secret, who has been posting pro-military and pro-SCAF tweets for months, has also turned on SCAF; his tweets are in Arabic but her post translates a number of them. He seems to be more or less openly calling for a coup by junior officers against the generals in SCAF; some of Okasha’s over-the-top rhetoric has seemed to trend that way as well.

It would seem that many SCAF admirers who thought SCAF was Egypt’s only salvation are now shocked that the generals saved it for the wrong candidate.


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SCAF

June 25th, 2012 Comments off

FT, Egypt’s military hits at Muslim Brotherhood

aljazeera, Egyptians pack Tahrir to slam military ‘coup’ also check out their Live Blog
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Consolidating power

June 21st, 2012 Comments off

The appendix to last year’s interim Constitutional Declaration issued by SCAF ensures the generals remain in control, writes Gamal Essam El-Din
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‘Live with it!’

June 21st, 2012 Comments off

“…But beyond downtown Cairo, many Egyptians have no interest in a new revolution. Though acknowledging the SCAF’s poor management of the country and its undemocratic depredations, many Egyptians fear that a new round of demonstrations will catalyze even greater unrest, worsen Egypt’s declining domestic security situation, and further damage its sinking economy. …”



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Hamas Fires Qassams as Gaza Escalates

June 20th, 2012 Comments off

Following a string of Israeli air strikes inside Gaza which Israel said were aimed at breaking up terrorist plots, Hamas has begun firing Qassam rockets into Israel for the first time in over a year, escalating an already tense situation. There was also a recent clash on Israel’s border with Egypt.

It is the first attack Hamas has taken credit for since April 2011, and while it was linked by Hamas to the Israeli attacks, Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff in Ha’aretz suggest that it is at least indirectly connected with events on the Egyptian border.

During the transition/elections/ongoing crisis in Egypt, Sinai has continued to be a vacuum of authority and Gaza and Israel have entered a period of escalation. The situation is explosive (even without the issues of Syria and Iran which exacerbate tensions in the Israeli-Palestinian arena).

Though the present escalation is linked more to the Sinai border than to events in Egypt proper, there is potential danger that, if a power struggle emerges between the Muslim Brotherhood and SCAF, that could have repercussions in the Gaza sphere. Hamas emerged from the Gaza Muslim Brotherhood, whose formative years were during the 1948-1967 Egyptian occupation of Gaza, so Hamas has closer links to the Egyptian MB than most Muslim Brotherhood national groups do. And SCAF has demonstrated itself to be a defender of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, though not as enthusiastic in that regard as the Mubarak-era regime was.


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