We must begin with the questions that concluded my last article: Is Al-Sisi building a vision? Can we predict this vision based on his current positions? What are the resemblances between this vision and that of former president Gamal Abdel Nasser?
Before we try to answer these questions, we must keep in mind Al-Sisi’s performance and its resemblance to that of the heads of state since 1952. For example, after the ouster of the last king of the ‘Mohammed Ali family’, Major General Mohamed Naguib became Egypt’s first ruler that could be described as hailing from the ‘army family’ or ‘1952 family’. Egypt’s leadership since Naguib until now has included five leaders with military backgrounds and it is interesting that this issue does not constitute the only point of resemblance between the five. Their performance is similar on a number of levels, most of which may be related to this one factor.
The most prominent points of resemblance between these five leaders is mainly related to their performance for the first few months or years of rule, as this period is marked by a number of features, including discussion of previous rule as a bygone era, a deviation from the path that required a revolution in order to be corrected, or at least a difficult inheritance full of worries and problems.
The ‘Mohammed Ali family’ reign, according to Naguib, was a bygone era; Naguib’s rule, from Abdel Nasser’s perspective, was a deviation from the correct path of the revolution; Abdel Nasser’s reign to Sadat was another deviation due to ‘centres of power’, and finally Mubarak was constantly speaking about the difficult legacy he inherited from Sadat.
The characteristics of the first few months or years of rule of any president also involved talk about a ‘battle’ and how crucial it was to mobilise all efforts and forces for the sake of this battle because Egypt was vulnerable to international conspiracies. Democracy has always been deferred until the battle is won, and for Abdel Nasser, there were many battles: one against colonialism, another against communists, a third against Arab reactionaries, a fourth against the Brotherhood, and so on.
Sadat’s fundamental battle was against communists and Soviets, while Mubarak’s was posited against terrorism. Other shared features involving discussions of the importance of work and ceasing ‘talk’, as it was considered a waste of time.
Through these key features of the initial periods of the military leaders’ reigns, we can say that Al-Sisi has not strayed far from their common features. There is currently a battle against terrorism forcing us to postpone any discussion of democracy in light of the risks Egypt faces.
There is constant discussion of the necessity to work instead of talking. Finally, there is the accusation that politicians are ‘all talk’ and that power should remain in honest hands of the pure men that have descended from others.
But what about Mohamed Morsi? Let us try to identify his place in this system and mechanism by asking: Was his downfall inevitable? What is the role that the army or the ‘regime’ or ‘1952 mechanism’ played in this regard?
What is known is that the army was not against the Brotherhood after 25 January; in fact, they extended their hands to the Brotherhood.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF] recognised the results of the parliamentary elections in which the Brotherhood won and approved the results of the presidential elections that resulted in the announcement of Morsi’s win. Finally, the army handed power over to Morsi and expressed its willingness to cooperate with him, even when Morsi dismissed head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces Field Marshal Tantawi and appointed Al-Sisi Defence Minister.
I believe that the army, represented by its senior leaders and offices, was not happy with the Muslim Brotherhood coming into power because, quite simply, it was worried about its position within the state administration. However, it was not the army’s intention to rebel or refuse to cooperate: all indicators that I have mentioned affirm that the army would have liked to reach a point that would allow it to remain its position in managing the country’s affairs in collaboration, or at least in a manner free of clashes, with a president that did not have a military background. And a Brotherhood president does not differ much from a civilian president. Discomfort with a civilian president could be gradually dispersed through successful cooperation between a civilian or Brotherhood president and Al-Sisi as Defence Minister, who was appointed by the president himself. But this did not succeed…why?
Of course, and again, we can say that the army was not happy or comfortable with Morsi taking power, and as Al-Sisi himself said more than once, the army tried many times to cooperate with him but Morsi did not help this to happen. We can say that Morsi, or more specifically, the Brotherhood, are the ones who failed in managing their relationships with the army, not because of their stupidity or ignorance as some imagine, but because of the nature of their plan as an exclusionary one.
The ‘army family’ or ‘1952 family’, following a revolution on the same scale as that of 25 January , could have expanded to accommodate a civilian president, but this did not happen for a number of reasons, most of which do not go back to the army itself. Instead it goes back to the president, or more specifically, the Brotherhood, and This may directly prompt us to say that the ‘army/1952 family’ is not an expression of military rule or fascism in the direct meaning as some may imagine for a number of reasons.
Fascism requires the existence of a party or group that adopts a racist ideology with the ability to mobilise a majority as well as societal forces in order to confront a crisis that may have arisen due to a failure of democratic mechanisms to bring society to a safe and stable place. This failure may go back to stalled societal change, which may have taken place through a revolutionary process. The coup that led to fascism then takes power instead of the revolution, stealing its slogans in most cases.
Where are we in terms of characteristics of fascism now? The ‘1952 family’ does not have a racist ideology that is able to mobilise the masses, and the formation of a Nasserist ideology, if it could even be called an ideology, was not around before Nasser’s rise to power, as is the case for classic fascism. Instead, the ideology came about following Nasser’s taking power and is considered an attempt by him and his supporters to shed light on the legitimacy of his regime and ensure a degree of popular support for his positions and practices. Nasserism was formed selectively and was dictated by the interests of the regimes and its aspirations at different moments, so it is no coincidence that Nasserism has been marred in much confusion and changed more than once during a short period of time. Even Abdel Nasser’s most ardent supports do not deny this, acting as though peoples should be a testing ground for their leaders’ ideas.
Among the reasons that prompt us to say that the ‘1952 family’ is not military rule but instead a military establishment, excepting short periods, is that the country’s affairs were not managed through military councils. The army has remained very interested in the power equation, but is not the ruling party; one member of the establishment explained to me that the presence of a military president reduces the anxiety of the army greatly, which in turn greatly reduces its presence within mechanisms that managing the country’s affairs, not the opposite.
If the ‘1952 family’ is not an expression of fascist, military, or fascist military rule, then we are drawn to ask: how can we describe this era? Is it really one era with different editions?
Farid Zahran is a publisher and writer. He is the co-founder of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party.