A week after dissolving political parties, particularly on 16 January 1953, Abdel Nasser announced the establishment of the “Freedom Authority”, making it a direct subsidiary of the ruling “revolution council” at the time. It was purposely called “authority” rather than “party” or “front”. The expression makes it sound like one of the state’s authorities like the “Development Authority” or “General Authority for Roads and Bridges”.
Hefny Kadri told me that when the Freedom Authority was founded, a foreign journalist asked Anwar El-Sadat, one of the authority’s prominent leaders, about the nature of the authority. El-Sadat asserted that it’s a “frame” that brings together all Egyptians. The journalist was confused, and eventually didn’t translate the word “frame” leaving it as “Etar”, as it sounds in Arabic.
If you find this surprising, you should know what Abdel Nasser himself said about the Freedom Authority in a speech he gave in Mansoura on 19 April 1953: “The Freedom Authority is not a political party that brings gains to its members. It doesn’t aim to grasp power and authority.”
Nasser, and after him all leaders of the 1952 family, accused parties further, stating that “parties aim to grasp power and authority”. Saying that meant that the legal valid desire of political parties to grasp power in order to implement their agendas is a crime and is looked down upon by the president himself.
But what exactly is that authority? Abdel Nasser explained: “It’s a tool to sort forces of the people and rebuild society on a new valid basis where the individuals are the foundation”.
But what did he mean by “individuals”? Would it be okay if those individuals feel their freedom, dignity and humanity? Abdel Nasser didn’t pay much attention to these matters. In fact, he asserted that “rebuilding society will not occur unless each individual does his duty”. He added: “We must all work to eliminate it”, in reference to corruption. Of course, there’s always corruption that we must fight, and it’s always corruption of former presidents and their eras. There’s always the promise to eliminate corruption.
Finally Abdel Nasser said: “Know that the road is long and difficult, we need patience.” And I believe that the call for patience is one of the most important constants for 1952 leaders and up until now.
There are other constants for the organisation or entity or political administration working under the umbrella of the 1952 ruling family. The Freedom Authority, as pro-Nasser Esmat Seif El-Dawla described it, is the fundamental authority which, in Abdel Nasser’s point of view, would solve all the democratic issues Egypt was going through. All the other parties or authorities that followed, including the National Union and the Arab Socialist Union, were within the same vision of Abdel Nasser.
The Freedom Authority stated that “the authority is the way through which all Egyptians can work on issues. It is not just a party that takes advantage of the benefits, but is an authority for all Egyptians to benefit from all its activities, from any party.”
According to the authority, it is a way through which people can give service or productivity to the country.
Naguib and Abdel Nasser inherited a political elite or party which was completely independent. This is why both presidents had to make these parties on their side so that they could make use of them. El-Sadat and Mubarak, on the other hand, inherited a political party which was ready to follow orders. Al-Sisi, however, found himself facing a party which witnessed a revolution and was more looking for independence. Many of the party’s new members had already seen the revolution and were independent. Al-Sisi, still Military Intelligence director, met with many of the leaders of these parties who were discussing demands, conditions and the importance of these meetings. At the time, Abdel Nasser expressed his anger from all the politicians he met with following the 23 July 1952 Revolution. These leaders said that they had commitments they could not give up. Abdel Nasser saw this as a weak point in these leaders. I think Al-Sisi’s opinion on these politicians is no different to Abdel Nasser’s.
The only political group that Abdel Nasser respected, in the beginning, was the Muslim Brotherhood. Before they turned against him, it was the only group that Abdel Nasser cooperated with. So why was that? The group’s founder, Hassan Al-Banna, said the Muslim Brotherhood was a political party, a social advocacy group, a Sufi group, a sports body, a cultural association, an economic company, and a social concept. Isn’t this, to a large extent, the same as the Freedom Authority Declaration?
Let us remember that the military council ruled the country from 28 January 2011 to 30 June 2012. Al-Sisi was one of the prominent members of the council, with his authority considered an extension, in a sense, to the authority of the military council. He mostly stressed this through the keenness to honour Field Marshal Tantawi several times through accompanying him to the openings of a number of projects. The SCAF was the entity that ran the dialogue with politicians. It was not long until it ended the same way it did with Abdel Nasser – cooperation with the Brotherhood rather than a democratic political entity. Al-Sisi jostled with them later on the same way Abdel Nasser did.
We believe that the main reason for the clash was not the Muslim Brotherhood’s stupidity, as it has been said. But it was rather due to the exclusionary nature of the Brotherhood’s project. They were unable to coexist or agree with any other forces. Similarly, the heads of the 1952 family coveted every time they allied with the Muslim Brotherhood to use them as their political arm.
Al-Sisi, contrary to the rumours, is not a man who began his political career with the overthrow of the Brotherhood, but began his journey in alliance with them. He clashed with them eventually. We should never forget that Morsi was the one who appointed Al-Sisi as his defence minister.
I think that most of the perpetrators of this alliance between the Brotherhood and the heads of the 1952 family were confident that it was nothing more than a very short year-old deal, but nevertheless necessary for both parties.
The short term deal always relied on several factors and a variety of considerations. It can be said that the responsibility of dissolving the coalition were not necessarily equal every time. We can also say that it was never inevitable that the alliance or the deal should be broken.
Now let us ask ourselves: who was responsible of the two sides, more than the other at least, for the resolution of the alliance this time? And whether democratic political forces prompted the two parties for the alliance? Did these forces play a role in the resolution of this alliance? Most importantly: What about the future of political life under Al-Sisi’s management, the latest of the 1952 family?
Farid Zahran is a publisher and writer. He is the co-founder of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party