On 23 July 1952 and 30 June 2013 the Egyptian army was granted a popular mandate to depose discredited ruling regimes.
23 July will mark the 62nd anniversary of the 1952 Egyptian Revolution which overthrew the monarchy and ushered in the era of president Gamal Abdel-Nasser. Up until last year, 23 July had long faded from collective Egyptian memory, its anniversaries marked only by the rituals — a presidential statement paying tribute to the revolution’s leaders and achievements; a celebration staged by the Ministry of Defence; opinion pieces on the revolution and its impact on Egyptian society; patriotic radio and TV songs and re-runs of films produced in the 1950s and 1960s; and the pardoning of a number of prisoners as a government goodwill gesture.
Mohamed Naguib, Egypt’s first president (photo: girls-ly)
But since last year, renewed life has been imbued into 23 July by another revolution, that of 30 June 2013 which ultimately overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood which, not unlike the monarchy, felt it had a birth right to rule Egypt.
Tahrir Square on 30 June 2013 (photo: 7pepe)
Coming just a few weeks after the June 2013 revolution, the anniversary of Nasser’s revolution inevitably poses questions about the similarities and dissimilarities between the two. In both the July 1952 and June 2013 revolutions, the historical thread between them was the army being granted a popular mandate to depose a discredited ruling regime.
Naguib and Abdel-Nasser in an open car (photo: girls-ly)
The two regimes, led by Farouk, the young king of Egypt, and Mohamed Morsi who was of the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt’s first and only Islamist president, were evident failures. Subsequently, the two revolutions were the outcome of unprecedented deplorable social and political conditions. 1952 began with the Free Officers Movement, a group of army officers led by Mohamed Naguib and Abdel-Nasser. The revolution was initially aimed at overthrowing Farouk. However, the movement had more political ambitions, and soon moved to abolish the constitutional monarchy and aristocracy of Egypt, establish a republic, and end the British occupation of the country. The revolutionary government was staunchly nationalist and anti-imperialist.
Mohamed Morsi and King Farouk, both overthrown by popular demand
People welcomed the army’s intervention in the monarchical regime on 23 July 1952, seeing it as representing their own will and aspirations. Soon afterwards, the passage of radical and egalitarian measures like agrarian reforms and the abolition of titles transformed what was a military move into a fully-fledged revolution.Wholesale agrarian reform and huge industrialisation programmes were initiated, leading to an unprecedented period of infrastructure building and urbanisation. By the 1960s, Arab socialism had become the dominant theme.
Abdel-Nasser, when Egypt was proclaimed a republic (photo: blogspot)
From the outset, though, the revolution was faced with threats from Western imperial powers, particularly the United Kingdom, which had occupied Egypt since 1882, and France, both of whom were wary of rising nationalist sentiment in territories under their control. The ongoing state of war with Israel also posed a serious challenge, as the Free Officers increased Egypt’s already strong support for the Palestinians.
Four years after the revolution these two issues would result in the invasion of Egypt by Britain, France and Israel in the Tripartite Aggression of 1956. Despite enormous military losses, the war was seen as a political victory for Egypt, especially as it left the Suez Canal in uncontested Egyptian control for the first time since 1875, erasing what was seen as a national blight. This strengthened the appeal of the revolution in other Arab countries.
Abdel-Nasser after his announcement that the Suez Canal had been nationalised (photo: mandaraonline)
Morsi’s rule, which started with his election as president in 2012, was a test of how the Brotherhood, known mainly up till then as a bumpkin charity organisation, would yield enormous political power. It was given the benefit of the doubt but serious misrule and dogged pursuance of its ultimate objective — the Brotherhoodisation of state and society — quickly brought its downfall when nationwide protests across the nation demanded its ouster.
Both regimes lost popular support which led to military intervention. The categorisation of the two events, either as military coups or popular revolutions, or a mix of both, remains a matter of intense debate. What cannot be denied is due to the particular nature of the relationship between the military on one hand and the state and society on the other, the army has historically been at the forefront of Egypt’s seismic shifts.
Another common thread bonding the two revolutions was and remains social justice which has now turned into a global demand as witnessed by massive demonstrations here and abroad. Other connecting themes were independence from colonialism and becoming free of aristocracy and autocracy, the latter, too, once again in the news.
Since the death of Abdel-Nasser in 1970, the man whose name will be forever associated with the 1952 revolution, celebrations of 23 July have become increasingly low-key. From being a major event in the life of the nation, 23 July is now little more than one public holiday among many, the day generating little national enthusiasm.
Abdel-Nasser’s funeral was one of the biggest in history.
Years from now the same fate of indifference will befall 30 June. But both revolutions which rose up against the monarchical and the Muslim Brotherhoodwere unique events in Egypt’s modern history, reshaping the country’s politics, economy and society.