A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Revival of Nasserism, or More Nostalgic "Nasserism®"?

Amr Adly has a piece at Jadaliyya called "The Problematic Continuity of Nasserism."
It's a thoughtful piece and raises some interesting points about how Nasser's picture and symbols and evocations of the Nasser era have been used in protests before and after the Revolution, not to mention how the Sisi campaign seeks to identify the general with Nasser. Adly's piece is dealing mostly with the role of Nasserism as a political tradition among the opposition to Husni Mubarak and, later to the Muslim Brotherhood.

But while he surviving Nasserist parties may seek to restore the Nasserist social experiment, I think a great deal of the symbolism when demonstrators wave portraits of Nasser or Sisi posters pair him with Nasser, I think in many cases what people are really yearning for is a sort of nostalgia for certain aspects of that era, not (except for the ideological Nasserists). That does not mean the whole package of Nasserism, including the nationalizations, the political prisons, and the pervasive security state (though of course, those last two have never gone away).

Instead, there is a nostalgia, though felt by a population the vast majority of whom were not even born at the time, for the pride that came from ousting the British from Egypt, for the populism of the early land reforms and the nationalization of the Suez Canal.

One irony is that many demonstrators have also been waving pictures of Anwar Sadat, and pictures of Nasser and Sadat linked with Sisi are frequent. But Sadat abandoned most of Nasser's socialist programs, and in some cases privatized companies Nasser had nationalized.He also made peace with Israel. The roots of many Mubarak policies began in the Sadat era. When a demonstrator waves photos of both Nasser and Sadat, it is less to support specific programs so much as to advocate a return to a style of leadership remembered through the lens of nostalgia as rather rosier and more successful than it actually was. Sisi is unlikely to return to the socialist experiments of  Nasser, or to upset the peace with Israel. He may, then, prove to be more a Sadat than a Nasser.

Though Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, now age 90, is reported to be advising Sisi, don't think we are likely to see a rebirth of Nasserism as such, so much as a symbol-rich evocation of nostalgia. Not so much Nasserism as such, but rather Nasserism®.

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