A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Bonapartist Temptation, The Man on the White Horse: But is Sisi Napoleon I or Napoleon III?

The Original (Wikimedia Commons)
Several months ago, I noted that despite the tendency of many of General Sisi's critics  to misuse the word "fascist," for the mix of populist enthusiasm and yearning for a strong military leader we see in Egypt today, "Bonapartist" was probably the more appropriate term. At that time, one of my commenters suggested that if Gamal Abdel Nasser was Napoleon I, General Sisi was likely to be Napoleon III.

Indeed, there is a big difference between Napoleon I, the victor of Austerlitz who conquered most of Europe, and his nephew Louis Napoleon, the loser at Sedan who lost Alsace and Lorraine for half a century.

Juan Cole takes up the theme in a post brilliantly titled (paraphrasing Karl Marx), "The 18th Brumaire of Gen. al-Sisi in Egypt." That of course is a reference to Karl Marx's famous "The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte," analyzing Napoleon III's accession in the wake of the failed revolutions of 1848 ("18th Brumaire" refers to the coup in which the original Napoleon overthrew the Directory in 1799). (That is also the work that begins with Marx's famous lines, "Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.") Cole:
Marx, who saw the government as a managing committee for the business classes, viewed the accession to power of Napoleon III after the failed revolutions of 1848 as an investment of power in dictatorship by threatened entrepreneurs and financiers.
The anointing of al-Sisi as the candidate of the officer corps and his popularity with the Egyptian wealthy points to a similar configuration. He is a symbol of order and authority at a time when the foundations of society have been repeatedly shaken. But above all he is the great hope of the social classes that had gotten wealthy off the public sector and off of government licenses. They had been deeply threatened by the revolution. Al-Sisi’s function from their point of view is to continue to shore up the public sector companies, protect the wealth of the government-tied entrepreneurs, and attract more foreign investment and Gulf rent.
The Fallul, to use a non-Marxist term.

Masrawy (via Zeinobia)
You may also have seen  the controversy over pro-Sisi demonstrators holding military boots on their heads at the Morsi trial, a highly dubious choice of symbolism indeed; Zeinobia posted many of the pictures and like other observers she was reminded of Orwell's line at the end of 1984 "If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever " 

I suspect these young Sisi enthusiasts have read neither Marx nor Orwell, but the be-careful-what-you-wish-for rule should be kept in mind. Napoleon I, even in defeat, made a comeback from Elba for 100 days; but not all Bonapartes are the same:
Not his Uncle: Napoleon III (left) with Bismarck after the Surrender

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How about Pinochet as the role model?