In 1929, Gamal Abdel Nasser entered the boarding house of the Helwan High School where he stayed for one year. The following year, he moved to Ras El-Tin High School after his father joined the Postal Service in Alexandria, Egypt. It was at that school that Nasser’s national sentiment was shaped.
In 1930, the Ministry of Ismail Sidky issued a decree pertaining to the cancellation of the 1923 constitution. This fueled student demonstrations calling for the fall of colonialism and the re-institution of the constitution.
Nasser recounts the first demonstration in which he participated: “While crossing the Manshiya Square in Alexandria, I noticed clashes between some demonstrating students and the police, I did not hesitate: I immediately joined the demonstrators not knowing anything about the cause of demonstration for I found no reason to ask. It was at the police station, while receiving treatment for my head injuries, that I learned that the demonstration was an anti-government protest led by the “Masr El-Fatah” (Young Egypt) society. I went to jail filled with zeal and came out fuming with anger” (Interview with Sunday Times correspondent David Morgan, 18 June 1962).
In 1933, Nasser joined El-Nahda Secondary school at El-Zaher district in Cairo where he pursued his political career and became head of El-Nahda schools student union. During that time, his passion for reading on patriotic and history-related literature led him to read about the French Revolution, Rousseau, Voltaire, and Napoleon Bonaparte, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and Gandhi. He even wrote an article entitled “Voltaire, the Man of Freedom” which was published in the school magazine. He also read Les Misérables by Victor Hugo, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.
At the end of World War Two, colonialism still dominated large parts of the Arab World. Egypt was a monarchy under British rule and the base of Britain’s presence in the Middle East.
Egyptian discontent at still being a colony was rising and Egyptians felt angry and humiliated after their poorly-armed military lost the 1948 war against Israel.
On July 23, 1952, a group of Egyptian army officers, calling themselves the Free Officers Movement, took power in a bloodless coup. At the forefront of the uprising was a charismatic young army officer called Gamal Abdel Nasser.
This was the first military coup to happen in the Arab World and it set a precedent for many to follow. After assuming power, Nasser and the Free Officers formed the Revolutionary Command Council, which constituted the real power in Egypt. General Muhammad Naguib became Egypt’s first president. However, it soon became clear that the revolution was driven by the charisma of Nasser, and his strong ideological notions. Conflict with Naguib over strategies soon resulted in his removal, and in October, 1954 Nasser was appointed president of Egypt. He was the first native Egyptian to rule Egypt in over 2500 years.
Nasser set about changing Egypt. He had his own vision for both a new nation and the Arab World. Politically, he transformed Egypt into a republic, introducing centralized parliamentary rule, but he is better known for his domestic social programmes. Dia’ El Din Mohammad Daoud, the secretary-general of the Nasserite movement, says: “For the first time an Egyptian leader from the people and not from the upper classes, was able to win the hearts of the Arab people, there was now contact with various Arab forces and dialogue, there was a common language, one with which all Arabs could identify, this paved the way for a common Arab strategy.”
Nasser’s modern take on nationalism inspired Arabs, in a way which the Nahda, the Arab renaissance of the 19th century, had not. Nasserism had taken Arabism a step further. He believed Arabs would be stronger if united, that they shared a common struggle against colonial powers and that the liberation of Palestine should be an Arab duty.
Nasser’s vision extended far beyond Egypt. He believed that the lessons of the revolution should be applied in other Arab countries. His charisma and influence were so great that he inspired Arabs elsewhere to dream of a unified Arab nation. His defiant attitude towards Egypt’s former colonial masters made him even more popular. Nasserism swept the region.
Gamal Abdel Nasser, on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt:
“During 1953 and 1954, Party of the Muslim Brotherhood wanted to influence the course of the Revolution and submit it to their guardianship. We were not in agreement. Then, they have declared war on us and tried to assassinate me in Alexandria, October 26, 1954. The battle has begun and we imprisoned the terrorist members of the party.
In the year 1954, while we were negotiating withdrawal terms with the English occupation forces from Egypt, the ‘brothers’ held their secret meetings with staff members of the British Embassy. They told the British: ‘we can take over power; we will do this and that… ‘. That was taking place during our negotiations with British Empire, meanwhile the Party of the Muslim Brotherhood in no way acted as patriot Egyptians.
To the question: ‘what is your position on the Canal. ” (i.e. The Suez Canal) for which we were fighting, there Morshid [i.e. The Guide] answered the question! It’s you who are interested, in Egypt to fight for the canal; we have a consideration to fight elsewhere! This is the message of Muslim brothers; they are misleading the masses and trading in religion!
In 1953, we sincerely considered to work with them and to make sure they are on the right way. I myself met the supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood who has put conditions to us:
Their Morshid demanded of us In the first place, you should impose “Hijab’ (veil) on Egypt’s women, he stated. He told me as a leader, this is your responsibility! I told him, Morshid “guide”, you have a daughter enrolled in the Faculty of medicine, who does not wear a veil. So why don’t you make her wear it? If you are unable to impose the veil on a single girl, in this case your daughter, you want that of me alone, to throw the veil on ten million women in this country!
The Morshid “guide” added, women must not work! I said, by allowing women to work, we protect women from misery. We know all the stories of poor women, sick or healthy, who have had to survive… The work is a protection for women. Prevent them from work goes against society interest. We are working on empowering women so that men and women can mutually support each other! His conditions and demands do not stop there! He demanded of us ‘to close cinemas, theatres’… to immerse Egypt in darkness!
Obviously, we couldn’t give in to their demands. They fought us. In 1954, they have embarked on their assassination attempts and their ‘deception’ using religion; eventually some of them ended up convicted by the tribunal of the Revolution.
That was before the adoption of the Constitution, when we decided to pardon them and released them from the prisons. We have even enacted a law enabling them to go back to work, claim their salaries, work promotions and guaranteed their rights in all areas.
That was what we did in 1964. But in 1965, we discovered their secret organizations plotting a new conspiracy, they carried out attacks on the country’s infrastructure and I was a target as well. A plot with a rather amazing ruthlessness: the Egyptian people would be ‘apostate’. “They are Muslims Brotherhood; therefore they have to take power to guarantee that God governs in the country, not man!”
Ok! But how could God govern without Prophet? We know all that at the beginning of Islam there was a prophet! They said, we refuse the Sunni representation. We reject the parliamentary representation. We want the Government of God! But who could therefore ensure that Government of God? They can! Their Morshid “guide” is therefore the Prophet of God and we are all apostates. All Arab countries, even those that receive and supports them today, including rulers and citizens are apostates. This is what they told us: they are the only Muslims!
Naturally, they were arrested. It was certainly not a trivial operation to try to assassinate Gamal Abdel Nasser. But for one Gamal Abdel Nasser murdered arise thousand more! It is not possible to murder a whole nation. Whatever the circumstances, we cannot tolerate their destructive operations, nor their fascist behavior and ideology seeking to govern on behalf of God, while they are actually motivated by hatred.
We have therefore commenced to investigate the history of each of them who were involved or collaborated with the secret organizations. We will do the same with the heads and dangerous members of their secret organizations, who were released from prison in 1964… The rest will be released and they shall be entitled to a second chance.
Enough is enough! We will not allow them to endanger our national achievements of the past nineteen years, which were attained through hardship and suffering. We cannot rely on the henchmen of the colonizers and the reactionaries, regardless of their names, and even if the name is that of so-called Muslim Brotherhood. We all know that, in this case, their Islam is a hoax intended to entrap more people in joining them. They are just a dark force full of hatred. Their leaders have worked with those of the “Baghdad Pact” and those of the colonial countries. Their have collaborated with our enemies. They have clearly shown that the movement of the Muslim Brotherhood is nothing other than a tool used to serve the colonial powers and its reactionary puppets. Our principles forbid us from leaving these collaborators of colonialism and feudalism causing more harm to our country. We shall protect Egypt’s future and ensure the nation’s achievements.
In 1954, they tried to kill the Revolution while serving the interests of colonialism. We succeeded to reach an agreement with the English colonial power, who was occupying us on the date, forcing the occupation to agree to the withdrawal from Egypt within a maximum of 20 months. This is the time they chose to launch their deadly operations and tried to assassinate me in Alexandria.
We knocked them out and we were able to halt them. Today, the people of Egypt do despise the Muslim brotherhood since they know who they are. We did give them a second chance; they did not want it to work.”
Founded by Hassan al-Banna, the Muslim Brotherhood – or al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun in Arabic – has influenced Islamist movements around the world with its model of political activism combined with Islamic charity work. The movement initially aimed simply to spread Islamic morals and good works, but soon became involved in politics.
While the Ikhwan say that they support democratic principles, one of the group’s stated aims is to create a state ruled by Islamic law, or Sharia. Its most famous slogan, used worldwide, is: “Islam is the solution.”
After Banna launched the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928, branches were set up throughout the country – each running a mosque, a school and a sporting club – and its membership grew rapidly.
By the late 1940s, the group is estimated to have had 500,000 members in Egypt, and its ideas had spread across the Arab world. At the same time, Banna created a paramilitary wing, the Special Apparatus, whose operatives joined the fight against British rule and engaged in a campaign of bombings and assassinations.
The Egyptian government dissolved the group in late 1948 for attacking British and Jewish interests. Soon afterwards, the group was accused of assassinating Prime Minister Mahmoud al-Nuqrashi. Banna denounced the killing, but he was subsequently shot dead by an unknown gunman – believed to have been a member of the security forces.
In 1952, colonial rule came to an end following a military coup d’etat led by a group of young officers calling themselves the Free Officers.
Egypt had endured autocracy for decades. It was Gamal Abdel Nasser Hussein who first suppressed The Muslim Brotherhood, which was reactionary and opposed his land reforms and modernization plans, in the 1950s. But Nasser was extremely popular: he had planned the ouster of King Farouk, survived an assassination attempt by a Brotherhood member, and later became a hero of the Suez confrontation with Britain, France and Israel.
After the death of Nasser, Anwar el Sadat became president. After Sadat was assassinated Hosni Mubarak succeeded him. Mubarak tried to contain the Brotherhood. Not a single one of the current generals, including defense minister and coup leader Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, has the popularity, charisma, intelligence, and track record of Nasser to overwhelm the Brotherhood by force.
General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, now the supreme power, appears to be feeding into nostalgia for nationalist president after July coup.
The two men can be seen together all over central Cairo, on banners, flags and on posters on sale to tourists and locals. One is mustachioed, square-jawed, and handsome, with short graying hair and an enigmatic smile; the other is clean-shaven, open-faced, most often in dress uniform, a clutch of medals on his left breast.
The first man is the pan-Arab nationalist former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, hammer of the Muslim Brotherhood, who died in 1970. The second is General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, head of Egypt’s armed forces and, since the July coup that ousted the Brotherhood-backed president, Mohamed Morsi, the supreme power in the country.
In the coffee shops of Cairo, where political discussions have bounced off peeling walls since Nasser’s death, a vigorous debate is taking place over whether Sisi has deliberately risen in the former’s likeness – and what parallels between the two men’s careers may mean for post-revolutionary Egypt.
While Sisi has pledged stability as a central plank of the military-led government he will shepherd towards elections in the future, he has also tapped into themes that Nasser used to enshrine his legacy as one of modern Egypt’s most celebrated figures.
In his public appearances since the 3 July coup, Sisi has mirrored Nasser’s key messages of nationalism, skepticism of western intentions, Arab dignity and strong leadership. The latter has been seized on by a broad swath of the Egyptian public that has struggled in the chaos of the revolution that brought down Hosni Mubarak’s presidency in January 2011.
The parallels between him and Sisi run deep. Nasser had a background as an officer and became president with military support in 1956, after planning the revolution that had ousted Egypt’s last monarch, King Farouk, four years earlier. Sisi also has a revolution under his belt. And, while not currently an elected official, he is being talked about as a presidential candidate after the interim government ends.
“We have to make a distinction between Sisi as a person and the military institution he represents. He has a good chance to prove himself now and there is a sense that he represents the Egyptian national identity that the Brotherhood wanted to steal away.” said Hamdeen Sabahi, a presidential candidate in 2012 for a bloc of Nasserist parties, called the Popular Current.
The deadly showdown with the Brotherhood, which remains bitterly disenfranchised and encamped in two parts of Cairo, shows no sign of being conciliated. Sisi’s generals have repeatedly warned during the past week that both sites, at Raba al-Adawiya and near Cairo University, will be cleared imminently. More bloodshed would likely cast a pall over a legacy that remains very much in the making. Although some Egyptians feel that another showdown (two massacres have already taken place since 3 July 2013) may be a price worth paying, despite almost certain condemnation from some western states.
“The thing that links the two is that Sisi, like Nasser rejects the west and wants national independence,” said Mohammed Fahim. Both men fighting the Muslim Brotherhood are not seen as a bad thing.” Nasser, the man the Brotherhood wanted to forget is, however, very much part of the new Egyptian psyche. “It’s up to Sisi whether he leads by example, or just reflects in his glory,” said Fahim.
After the last verdict from the Cairo Court for Urgent Matters, the Egyptian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood is set to face a future that mirrors the majority of its past: once again becoming an illegal organization.
After some deliberation, the presiding judge proclaimed, “The court bans the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood and its nongovernmental organization, and all activities that it participates in and any organization derived from it.” He also ordered the interim government to freeze the Brotherhood’s assets and establish a panel to administer them until any appeal has been heard.
The court didn’t reveal the grounds for the ruling, but it was apparently prompted by the leftist National Progressive Unionist Party—also known as Tagammu—who claim that the Brotherhood have links to terrorists organizations and are guilty of “exploiting religion in political slogans.” Whatever the reason for the verdict, it seems that the spectacular fall of the Muslim Brotherhood is now complete.
That alleged link to terrorist organizations would have been bolstered in the eyes of the Egyptian public after the recent failed assassination attempt on Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim. Although Ibrahim escaped unscathed from the apparent suicide bombing, the attack killed one and left at least ten wounded, with voices on the street instantly pinning the blame on the Brotherhood.
“Of course it was the Brotherhood—they are terrorists! Who knows what they will do next?” cried a street vendor in downtown Cairo after hearing the news over the radio. Despite the fact that an al Qaeda-inspired group known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis has since claimed responsibility for the attack—and the Brotherhood have vehemently denounced it—they still remain guilty in the eyes of many Egyptians.
After weeks of stringent crackdowns that have resulted in the deaths of more than a thousand civilians and the arrest of most of their leading members and activists, the political potency of the Muslim Brotherhood has completely dissipated.
(Excerpts from Egypt wonders if army chief is another Nasser, Martin Chulov in Cairo, The Guardian, Wednesday 7 August 2013 at theguardian.com)