A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

From Nasser to Sisi: Nostalgia for Bonapartism?

September 28 marked the 43rd anniversary of the death of Gamal ‘Abdel Nasser, and it was marked amid growing enthusiasm in Egypt's media for another military man, Gen. ‘Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi. Although General Sisi continues to decline public comment on a possible candidacy and unofficially is said to not want to run for President, a broad range of political figures ranging from Nasserists to various types of liberals are endorsing Sisi even though he has not said he is running, And today, General Sisi called for a faster transitional period in order to restore stability in a speech to the military.

Sisi certainly has seemed a far more charismatic figure since ousting Muhammad Morsi in July than either Morsi or Sisi's military predecessor, the uninspiring Field Marshal Tantawi. But while many supporters of a Sisi Presidency see him as a charismatic leader who saved the country, others look to the Army as providing a guarantor of stability and an end to the widespread violence and lack of security that has plagued the country since the 2011 ouster of Husni Mubarak. After all, every Egyptian leader since 1952, until the year-long interlude of Morsi, came from the Armed Forces (all but Mubarak, who was  Air Force, came from the Army).

Two potential military candidates for the presidency, former Chief of Staff Sami Enan and former Air Force Chief Ahmad Shafiq (who lost narrowly to Morsi in the 2012 elections) have each said that while they are candidates, they will not run if Sisi decides to stand.

Some Egyptian leftists are warning against military rule as "fascist," but the experience of military rule in Egypt, while authoritarian, has never really been fascist. A better term might be Bonapartist, especially given the rising mood of turning to Sisi as a potential military savior who will restore stability after the chaos of the revolutionary period.

Admittedly, at this distance it is hard to judge how widespread and genuine the enthusiasm for Sisi may be, as opposed to how much it is a product of the state-owned media propaganda, though independent papers and television stations are also on the Sisi bandwagon.


Anonymous said...

If Nasser was Napoleon, that would make Sissy Napoleon III which is probably an insult to the memory of Louis-Napoleon.

Anonymous said...

Bonapartism is a well chosen description and certainly Fascism is a long way off. Using the classical categories one could argue that the threat of something like fascism is present only from the most radical and conservative of the transnational Jihadi groups, organizations such as ISIS. These do not seem to have the force or following to challenge for power in Egypt though elements of the Brotherhood could break in that direction and re-emerge if the social crisis deepens.
What you seem to leave out is the potential action of broad layers of the working-class. The action of the masses has been decisive thus far in Egypt and despite the complications of the past two years there has as yet been no broad defeat of the social aspirations of Egypt's working people.
Who runs and is elected for president is one thing, but the consolidation of something that could rightfully be considered as Bonapartist will require the substantial demobilization and lowering of the expectations of the mass of toilers.
The resolution of such questions remains well in the future and the fundamental questions of class power remain undecided in Egypt.

Michael Collins Dunn said...

To the first anonymous: it was of course in his "The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon" that Marx made his famous comment about history repeating itself, the first time as tragedy, the second as farce."

And to the second commenter: the whole Egyptian revolution started not in Tahrir square but in Mahallat al-Kubra. But who knows that?

Rawlinsview said...

As second anonymous I tried with some difficulty to be identified as the editor of the Rawlinsview blog. Your comments filter is a bit difficult to navigate
Here is a brief link to a wiki describing the events at el-Mahhalla in 2012. I am aware of the substantial role played by the industrial working class in Egypt and Tunisia, but writing from New York am only so second hand and by anecdote. Much of the American left-liberal press would have us believe that it was all started by a facebook comment, by Google staffers and by a certain former UN representative. If there have been some good deeper studies of the role of labor both organized and spontaneous in recent events in Egypt these would be quite welcome.


Anonymous said...

The toiling masses apparently have arisen.

Paging Ali Sabri and Khalid Muhiyyudeen.