Will Egypt really show the way? [Archives:2005/820/Opinion]

February 28 2005

Hassan Al-Haifi
Even as a monarchy Egypt was considered quite advanced in its understanding of political democracy and many Egyptian intellectuals led the fight for the democratization of Egypt from way back to the 1920s. In 1952, the Egyptian Revolution overthrew the monarchy, in a relatively bloodless coup led by some young officers in the military, including the late Gamal Abdul Nasser, who eventually took over the helms a couple of years later. The “Free Officers Movement” had decided to remove the first leader in post revolutionary Egypt, the late General Mohammed Naguib, and take over the leadership of Egypt, because it was claimed that the well disciplined and patriotic senior officer was too slow in establishing the modern government of Egypt and carrying out the Revolution's aim. Actually, Naguib was pushed out after frustratingly trying to get the young officer's not to get too carried away with the new positions of power that the Revolution placed them in. Naguib was subjected to an unjust confinement in his house until the end of his life some two and a half decades later. With this second mini coup within a coup the military industrial complex reigned supreme in Egypt and many of the hopes and aspirations that were ignited by the overthrow of the monarchy never saw the light. In fact, the military established a complex totalitarian structure that became in some ways even more repressive than the monarchy was. Yet the ability of Nasser as a charismatic mover of the masses and some of the reforms instituted by the regime he built up, in a very poor country, where a very small segment of the population held all the wealth, managed to assure the regime continuity, even after some serious tragic errors, such as the failure to get a unified Arab framework into operation, with the difficulties faced by the formation of the United Arab Republic of Egypt in 1958, with Syria, which culminated in the secession of Syria just three years later. This was then followed by the attempt to spread Nasserite Arab nationalism in the Arabian Peninsula which couldn't get farther than Jabal Nuqum overlooking Sana'a, because the political power of oil was able to trap the movement in the south of the Peninsula. Then came the biggest tragedy of all when some of Nasser's spontaneous and ill studied tactical moves against Israel in the late Spring of 1967, unleashed an Israeli blitzkrieg that shattered all that remained of Egypt's military prowess (It is worth noting that the best third to half of Egyptian military power at the time was bogged down in a relentless guerilla war in the mountains of Yemen in an effort to bolster the Yemeni Republic, which later showed that it could survive on its own better than with the help of over 50,000 Egyptian troops. In addition, with the economic setbacks faced by an over-bloated, poorly managed state economic machinery, Nasser had hoped to divert attention to the Holy Land without any real intentions of a military confrontation with Israel, which in actuality Egypt was ill prepared for. The Israelis saw a golden opportunity and Israel's leverage in the region grow by over 5 times geographically and militarily). With Nasser's death, the ascent of Mohammed Anwar Sadat to the leadership of Egypt saw some signs of Egypt possibly coming out of its dismal position after the 1967 War. Egypt proceeded with Nasser's efforts to regain some face on the battlefield and supported by the former “reactionary” adversaries of the Arabian Peninsula became poised for a counter attack. The October War of 1973 did indeed destroy a lot of the mythical superiority that the international Zionist movement have always disseminated about Israel, but nevertheless could not restore all the losses of the 1967 War. Thus, we are still living the tragic consequences of whimsical decisions of a supposedly revolutionary regime that has turned Egypt into a bureaucratic and stagnant order of intertwining and overlapping power centers, which is still sluggishly trying to come out of its rut. With the tragic death of President Anwar Sadat in the early Eighties – a byproduct of the political repression against a once tame Islamic Brotherhood and other political persuasions in the country, it was hoped that President Husni Mubarak, would guide Egypt out of its pathetic conditions, politically and economically. While some of the excesses of the regime under Nasser and Sadat were not as much apparent under Mubarak and more freedom given to private economic initiative, Egypt did see some positive developments, but the machinery of the military industrial complex was far from toppled. On the other hand, Mubarak managed to hold on to full executive powers for a quarter century and it seemed like Egypt was a candidate state for its first Presidential Dynasty. Thanks to some stubborn efforts of relentless opposition groups in Egypt, who maximized whatever marginal freedoms Mubarak allowed for and the changing regional and international environ unleashed by the launching of a New World Order in the early 1990s, Egypt was indeed ripe for a substantive change in the political process.

The latest proposal of President Husni Mubarak for a constitutional amendment to allow for pluralistic participation in the election of the President of Egypt, rather than a single candidate referendum is indeed welcome news that could indeed give Mr. Mubarak a meritorious place in history. The hope is that the initiative made by President Mubarak to this effect in his state of the union message will go beyond some of the similar proposals instituted in some of the other democratization efforts in the Arab World, which never went beyond the superficial. We pray to God that in Egypt, which has a strong intellectual base and a significant size of the public that has more political awareness to bank on, maybe Mr. Mubarak has truly decided that it should rightfully be Egypt that will lead and guide this region to greater political enlightenment. Without a doubt, real democracy in Egypt is a blessing, if it materializes with the serious intentions of removing all the obstacles that have kept so much potential for Egypt under lock, with the regime relying on an endless state of emergency and martial law and a large and complex security apparatus. We hope that the National Assembly of Egypt will forget for once that it is there to serve the regime and start looking at the interests of not only the Egyptian people in coming out with the amendments that will set Egypt on the right path to modern governance and government for the people, by the people and with the people. The Egyptian people have waited so long for this and the eyes of the rest of the Arabs are all focused on what transpires out of this melodramatic initiative, which has their blessings.