A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, July 23, 2012

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

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, they 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 "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:

No comments: