Monday, July 23, 2012

Nasser: Tyrant by Popular Demand

In memory of a coup that gave unjust individuals dominion over an entire nation.

Those not well versed in the real history of our nation may view Gamal Abdel Nasser as a charming and sincere leader who had a few flaws but was nevertheless trying his best to make Egypt a better nation, trying to endow it with pride and dignity. In a nutshell, Nasser's great achievements can be summarized as the nationalization of the Suez Canal, the building of the high dam and the spreading of notions of social equality and Pan-Arabism. His short comings were allowing his buddies to take over the country, nationalization, expulsion of foreigners, huge military failures, a culture of fear, a police state, torture and dictatorship. This is the sugar coated version provided by his apologists. However, the most prevalent view of Nasser is founded upon propaganda rather than facts. The real history seems to be filled with details contrary to popular myth.

One of the most sordid decisions by Nasser was placing Naguib under house arrest for the greater part of his life. Naguib was rumored to have been a passive figure-head that took charge first till Nasser was known. It is common myth that he was chosen for his rank and had no real part in the military coup of 23rd July of 1952. This was something Nasser wanted to propagate so that the isolation of Naguib could be less painstaking to the people's conscience. But it was in fact Naguib who warned the other officers that the coup should take place earlier than their planned date of 5th of August for fear of arrests.

Naguib did not believe that Egypt should continue under military rule without parliamentary life and wanted Egypt to return to civil rule and to become a democracy. Testimonies about Naguib prove him to be a decent man and perhaps that’s why he was to endure a horrible fate. Not even the biggest advocates of Nasser can justify why he treated Naguib horribly, not in a manner that doesn't make Nasser seem evil anyway.

Nasser Apologists
There are numerous explanations that justify the reign of evil under this charismatic leader's rule, they're just logically deficient. One explanation is that Egypt needed this sort of rule at the time. Egypt had always had a political life with some form of democracy. Nasser was responsible for stealthily depriving Egyptians of that for a long time to come. At the hands of Nasser, those who called for democracy met an unfortunate fate. It was not just Naguib but also Nasser's fellow 'free officer' and friend Khaled Mohi El Din who was exiled. There were many others who were eliminated one way or another for challenging the dictatorial rule of the revolutionary council controlled by Nasser.

An implausible explanation which excused Nasser from the atrocious regime we inherited is that he wasn't running the country at all, or wasn't aware of how it was run or that those around him tricked him. But even if it were true, that would make Nasser incompetent yet still accountable. Nasser, however, was a born tactician according to Khaled Mohi El Din, and was aware of everything that went on around him. Nasser personally spied on and listened in on those around him, those he feared, those he was envious of and those he mistrusted. It's true that later on he claimed that the country was ruled by a criminal gang, but he created that gang, and he was at its root and its leader. Nasser knew what he was doing but simply didn't care.

Nasser's Dream
In all likelihood Nasser's dreams were not related to acquiring wealth; he left theft to his gang. His dream was to be in the forefront, shining, glamorous and in the lead. This was evident from the start, from before there was a coup.

According to Naguib, in 1948, Nasser was reported to have been hiding away in his bunker during an important battle in Iraq al-Manshiyya, (a Palestinian town that used to be located 32km northeast of Gaza City). Later when pictures were being taken, he moved forward amidst commanding officers who outranked him displaying from early on his desire for attention. He moved back with his fellow officers when Naguib rebuked him.

Nasser was also accused of staging his own assassination attempt in order to shine. The event took place in Alexandria in Mansheya when a member of Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood) appeared to have tried to shoot him but failed. This may have been staged since he came out unhurt even though he was shot at close range.

This event had a two fold effect, it vilified the Ikhwan and gave Nasser an excuse to eliminate them (even though he had been one of them) and put him under the spot light. It is only after he began to shine that he managed to carry out his plans of forcing out Naguib.

So what's wrong with ambition and desire to lead? Nothing, except that we have to ask ourselves two questions: What means can one use to get there? And what do you do when you get there? Nasser failed on both counts.

According to Khaled Mohi El Din, Nasser paid 4000 L.E to orchestrate protests against democracy. Even before gaining power on January the 8th, 1952, Nasser along with three other officers were involved in an assassination attempt on General Hussein Serry Amer (an officer loyal to the king). After the failed attempt Nasser suffered psychologically.

According to Psychiatrist Mostafa Hussein, "Narcissistic individuals are highly ambitious, have a sense of entitlement (they think they are special) and grandiose. This makes them desire higher positions. They are arrogant and envious of other people and have very low tolerance for criticism. They also have limited empathy."

Does this not fit Nasser perfectly? He got to power through deceit attempting to satisfy his and other officers' greed at whatever cost without empathy for the masses he ruled or those who opposed him.

People have thought Nasser to be a socialist on account of his political leanings and orations. But such a position was only taken when US support became impossible and Egypt had to turn to the Russians.

In his book Memories of a Revolution, Khaled Mohi El Din tells us of an incident showing us a classist Nasser:

As we walked down the stairs after leaving Ahmad Fuad's apartment, Gamal Abd al Nasser, who was still under the spell of that mysterious and well versed person asked, "Who is that Comrade Badr?" … "I mean what did he do before he became secretary general?"

I simply said, "A mechanic."
"Mechanic!" exclaimed Nasser. "This means that you could become a member of this party and receive your orders from a mechanic!"
The idea of the mechanic stuck in Nasser's mind, and he would often bring it up. Sometimes he would be contemptuous of it and sometimes he would denounce it, even after the revolution. At a meeting at the Revolutionary Command Council he once pointed at me and said, "His leader is a mechanic!"

Nasser's humble beginnings did not enable him to serve the people, on the contrary, it instilled envy within him. Jamal Hammad, one of the Free Officers and author of the revolution's first proclamation, tells us that in an argument with university professors about the democracy, Nasser is quoted to have said, "I don't care about the people I care about the military."

The Fate of the Free
Nasser's Free Officers Movement wasn’t entirely his either; many of the officers were based on a pre-existing group formed by the Muslim brotherhood. The Free Officers were filtered out after gaining power, unfortunately for us it was the wrong filter. Officers who were paramount to the success of the revolution like Mohamed Naguib, Khaled Mohi El Din, Abdel Latif El Baghdady and Yousef Sideeq were displeased by dictatorship and cruelty, and in effect each was sidelined in one way or another. Only the wicked and power-hungry stayed on temporarily till they were eliminated by Nasser. Despite no causalities in the coup, bloodshed was inevitable; they paneled a few death sentences, tortured a few innocents, and fabricated a few charges.

In exchange for glory and power, Nasser gave his friends authority to plunder, torture and control. They amassed great wealth and destroyed many people along the way in the name of nationalization. A prominent example of corrupt power was his close friend and fellow 'free officer' Abdel Hakim Amer who was promoted from Major to General in 1953, skipping four ranks, and made commander and chief of the entire military.

Naguib, Nasser and the Free Officers

Premeditated Defeat
If all this isn't enough to prove that a tyrannical sordid Nasser did exist, perhaps the intricacies of the '67 defeat could offer some insight. Our loss in '67 was almost premeditated by Nasser. He was informed of the attack date of June 5th after having done everything possible to provoke Israeli aggression. Moreover, he asked the military commanders to sustain Israel's first strike; our planes were arranged for Israelis to destroy. We did not even fire defense missiles at the planes that attacked us either because Nasser ordered his troops to stand down or because Amer was in the air at the time.

Speculations as to why we suffered this defeat have circulated. The most noteworthy of which interprets this premeditated defeat as a means for Nasser to gain control exerted by Amer over the army and the country. Nasser's compatriots had become too strong for him to handle and he sacrificed numerous lives to reassert control. Irrespective of how close to reality these speculations are, the fact is that Egypt's army was crushed in what is known as the six day war and much of the blame for needless deaths lie with Nasser.

Big Brother
Egypt in the 1950s started the journey of becoming an Orwellian 1984 with Big Brother watching. This big brother like the one in the novel did not want money, just power. In fact this big brother left little behind in terms of wealth, but managed to leave a fake legacy; a falsification of truth for generations to consume and a country in utter chaos.

Nationalization was a bully's way of giving legitimacy to stealing; the people never gained from it. Equality and respect were corrupted. According to witnesses of the age, the actions taken by Nasser ensured a general deterioration in people's mannerisms. Confidence in the spoken word broke down completely. A clear example of this is when people spoke to stock brokers over the phone asking them to buy shares, the following day, people would find the companies nationalized and would not pay the broker. (Another example was when Nasser nullified bank notes of 50 and 100 LE in one day).  Hence grew mistrust in this and all other fields.

Equality and respect became confused, through Nasser, respect was given only to those who had the power to hurt, and people started to disrespect one another and called it equality.  Today, all that remains is the mutated Animal Farm commandment, "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

Nasser remains loved despite all his ugly deeds and unstable psyche of control and power. Those who love him are moved by his charisma and the notion of what he could have become. Today I talk about Nasser's history disapprovingly, but I have the luxury of never having seen him, never having felt what he meant to people at the time nor heard his moving voice. I have the luxury of burrowing through books and memoirs after the facts have surfaced.

The falsified history they teach us makes him a very appealing man. Even some of those he imprisoned and tortured cannot but love him. His charm was undoubtedly exceptional and I have never been able to debate it or doubt it. I cannot blame those who love Nasser, he gave hope, was a leader and managed to control the country and those around him. Those who are fans of complete control should not but love him. I suppose he knew what Egyptians really wanted and managed to give it to them: a tyrant by popular demand.

1 comment:

mohamed said...

While I agree with many things you said, I think you failed to mention Nassers's achievements. Most importantly, I know for a fact that the first waves of land reforms were both fair, as the peasant bought the land from the owner at a reasonable price, and had a positive effect in wealth distribution (Khaled Ikram's The Egyptian Economy). Moreover, people always undermine his unwavering spirit and his refusal to let go of the Palestinian issue at all costs. Specially, letting go of the issue was a prerequisite for the US and the World Bank to finance the high dam. If we assess Nasser's reign objectively, I say it was negative but he certainly had acheivements