Nasser’s Ghost

As I watch Egypt’s slow-motion revolution, I wonder if somewhere among the 465,000-man armed forces is another young colonel who loves his people even more than he loves real estate.
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A NEW NASSER IN THE LAND OF THE PHARAOHS?

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by Eric Margolis

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“The king is dead!,” as the French say, “long live the king!” Will this be the case in Egypt, where one monarch, the ousted Husni Mubarak, will be replaced by another general or military junta led by Field Marshall Mohammed Tantawi?

So far, this is what Egyptians are getting. The new military junta just proclaimed it would support the rigged Israeli-Egyptian peace deal signed by Anwar Sadat, and hold elections sometime in the future.   This is not what Egyptians want or deserve.

As one option of what may develop, let’s look back to the 1947-48 Arab-Israeli war. A group of young Egyptian army officers fighting in Sinai found themselves surrounded by Israeli forces in the Falluja Pocket.

Egypt’s soldiers had fought bravely to defend the Palestinians, but their equipment was rotten and their senior generals corrupt.

Funds to buy tanks and artillery were stolen by high-ranking generals. Hand grenades and rifles hurriedly bought in Italy were sabotaged by Jewish agents. Grenades exploded as soon as their pins were pulled; rifles fired backwards, into their user’s face.

The besieged Egyptian officers, none above the rank of colonel, vowed to clean up their nation’s widespread corruption and oust its royal regime.   In 1952, they struck, exiling the British puppet, King Farouk, and proclaiming a new dawn for Egypt.

I met poor, sad King Farouk in Geneva in 1958. He spoke to me of his love for Egypt and even praised the leader of the coup that overthrew him, Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Col. Nasser and his fellow officers -that included a would-be actor, Anwar Sadat – were the first native Egyptians to rule Egypt since the days of Alexander the Great.   The fiery, charismatic Nasser electrified Egypt (literally and figuratively) and turned it into a leader of the Third World. Egypt resumed its traditional role as political, military, cultural and intellectual pacesetter for the Arab world.

This pivotal role just as quickly ended when first Anwar Sadat, then Gen. Husni Mubarak, assumed power. Both were handpicked by the Americans, Sadat reportedly as early as 1952. Under their rule, Egypt became a backwater, losing its former authority, influence, and image.

President Nasser was adored by most Egyptians for his simple life, love of country, his craggy looks and powerful masculinity. My mother, a journalist and Mideast specialist, interviewed both Nasser and Sadat. Always sharp-tongued and direct, she told me Nasser was “a real man, with guts and a true heart.” She dismissed Sadat as a “clown.”

I lived in Egypt in 1957 and remember ecstatic crowds chanting, “Ya Gamal! Ya Gamal.” A year earlier, Nasser had nationalized the Suez Canal and withstood attacks by Israel, Britain and France. To Egyptians, he was simply the “rais,” the boss.

Nasser made many grave errors. His great heart finally burst from over-work and chain-smoking. Sadat was quickly engineered into power by Washington. The same process occurred after Sadat was assassinated.

As I watch Egypt’s slow-motion revolution, I wonder if somewhere among the 465,000-man armed forces is another young colonel who loves his people even more than he loves real estate.

Egypt’s senior generals are part of the ruling establishment. Many spend more time managing their business affairs than military matters.

As in Pakistan, Egypt’s army is up to its helmets in big business: shopping centers, tourism, property, hotels, steel, telecom. Few among Egypt’s top brass wants to end their gravy train by changing the status quo.

The US also pays Egypt’s military $1.4 billion annually not to confront Israel. That’s a fortune in a poor nation.

Egypt’s younger officers must be thinking about the example of Gamal Abdel Nasser. Perhaps there is a young colonel or even major who may try to seize power and emulate the “rais.”

If Egyptians feel cheated by the change of power in Cairo, as many will, and violent demonstrations begin, what will happen if the junta orders a battalion commanded by a colonel to open fire on protestors?

The first young officer who refuses and orders his men to join the demonstrators will be Egypt’s new hero. Nasser’s ghost haunts Cairo.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2011

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