Not a lot of us have been around long enough to vividly remember what it felt like to live in the 1950s in Egypt. I would, however, dare say that what Egypt witnessed in the past six weeks is as close to that era as we may ever get. We recently experienced most of the symptoms that defined that time and the reoccurrence of these signs draws an eerily close resemblance to that bygone era.
Coup d’etat with a new flavour
Love it, or loathe it, what took place in July 1952 was indeed a classic coup d’etat which was hailed as a revolution. It was simply a military power grab that was embraced by the public. In July 2013, it was a public upheaval which was embraced by the military. Different people will spin what has happened differently according to their perspectives but that does not change the facts on the ground. Those facts simply illustrate that over half a century later, the military still meddles in the political scene. Whether for better or worse, it is not our focus here. The point is that the military remains the most solid political player out there.
Rise of the ultra-nationalist rhetoric
During President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s time, we witnessed a rise in the ultra-nationalist rhetoric. Egypt was a country threatened by several external forces and this kind of oratory style was much needed to garner public support and exude a sense of pride that was necessary to keep the nation together. Guess what? The same thing has happened during recent weeks. The media machine is drumming the beat and fueling patriotic frenzy. It is a time of great division that can only be made easier with fiery speeches, fund raising to support the government, songs and ill-crafted conspiracy theories.
Crackdown on publicly-supported liberties
While some people rave about the times of Abdel Nasser, not many are willing to acknowledge how his security apparatus was heavy-handed. What many are not willing to admit now is that we are seeing a repeat of the same behaviour. The interesting part is that this crackdown has now earned the public’s blessing. In the interest of national security many lines can be trespassed, many voices can be silenced and many lives can be lost. After all, it is all for a greater good.
Down with the US
The US was not viewed as a staunch ally during the 50s, 60s and part of the 70s. In fact, public opinion regarding the role of US policy in Middle East has been abysmal. Since the US is not singing the praises of the situation in Egypt, nor lending its undivided support to any of the feuding parties, the “down with the US” rhetoric is gaining momentum amongst a large segment of the Egyptian population. The irony is that both parties in the current dispute are pointing fingers at the US, claiming that it is backing the other. It is almost comical at times.
There are certainly those among us who appreciated the 50s and viewed it as a turning point in the history of Egypt. I agree that it was indeed a turning point. What I do not necessarily see is how what worked in the 50s is likely to work in this day and time.
There is absolutely no shame for a country to chart its own course of progress and to have aspirations, even if those aspirations are contrary to what the world views as a solid foundation for democracy. However, as we chart our course of progress, we must not lose sight of the mistakes of the past. We must learn from them and not get carried away in the heat of moment. That 50s show can drag on if we let it, but when the dust settles a few years down the line, we may sadly find out that we are no better off than we were three years ago.