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Ten years after the violent days of early 2011, when massive and dramatic protests led to the downfall of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, the political climate in Egypt has been bleak. In 2013, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi ousted President Mohamed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood leader who narrowly won Egypt's first free presidential election the year before. Since seizing power, Sisi has stripped the country of any real politics. And he carried out a particularly brutal crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood: he imprisoned tens of thousands of Brotherhood, and listed the group as a terrorist group. On the regional level, Egypt found itself descending to a lower rank of the second rank. The country that was once the center of the Arab world is now a ghost of what it was in the past.

Under these circumstances, it is easy to forget that, for most of the twentieth century, Egypt was the most important battlefield in the struggle for the soul of the new Arab state.

Following the official dissolution of the Ottoman Caliphate, in 1924, new ideologies and approaches to governance vied to fill the void.

In the 1930s and 1940s, during Egypt's so-called liberal era, secularists, socialists, and Islamists vied for legitimacy in a chaotic but relatively liberal political atmosphere.

However, that freedom did not last.

In 1952, a secret group of young military officers led by a man named Gamal Abdel Nasser overthrew the Egyptian monarchy and eventually ended what remained of Egypt's liberal era.

Gamal Abdel Nasser, the former Egyptian president (social networking sites)

Nasser's revolution represented a watershed moment in Egypt's modern era. At its inception, the rising ideologies of political Islam and secular nationalism were unstable and remain in flux. But they soon came to define the seemingly intractable political conflict not only within Egypt, but across the wider Arab world. The competition continued in part during the 1950s and 1960s, with the bitter rivalry between two prominent figures of the period: Nasser, on the one hand, and the famous Muslim Brotherhood theorist Sayyid Qutb, on the other.

In "Shaping the Arab World: The Nasser-Qutb Conflict That Shaped the Middle East", Fawaz Gerges traces the intertwined biographies and intellectual paths of these two giants in Egyptian history. The result is a beautifully revised, deeply researched history that sheds light on the forces still toiling in Egypt under the shallow lull of Sisi's rule. Today, Nasser and Qutb will be remembered as representatives of opposing visions in Egypt. But Gerges tells a much more interesting and complex story about the relationship between the two men and the movements they helped shape. Behind the conflicting beliefs and ideologies of both were flawed people, with complex and sometimes contradictory motives. Gerges's revision of that crucial period of Egyptian history usefully shows how all ideologies—even those that appear to be the most immutable—are in fact fluid and dependent on events.

Harmonious Souls - Similar in tendencies and ideas

Born into a working-class family in Alexandria in 1918, Nasser became politically active when he was young, tracing the roots of his Egyptian patriotic feelings to a demonstration he stumbled upon at the age of twelve.

His political leanings later led him to pursue a career in the army, an institution he considered "a spearhead that could awaken the population of Egypt from its infirmity and subservience to foreigners," Gerges wrote.

Nasser had always been a nationalist, but he was, in fact, also an Islamist.

He became a member of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1947, a Sunni Islamist organization founded in Egypt by Hassan al-Banna in 1928 and eventually spread throughout the Middle East.

Nasser quickly became frustrated with the group on a personal level, but continued to cooperate closely with its leadership for several more years.

The group was rightly seen as an effective social and political force in Egypt, and thus an important ally.

Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood (social networking sites)

Nasser's criticism of the Egyptian government intensified during his time in the army, and eventually came to believe that the British-backed monarchy should be overthrown.

During the 1940s, he assembled a horde of young, like-minded military officers, officially calling them the "Free Officers" in 1949. In 1952, Nasser and the Free Officers overthrew King Farouk and established control over Egypt.

The coup, backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, was bloodless and drew almost no resistance.

At the same time, Qutb, a literary critic and public intellectual, came to prominence. Qutb was born in 1906 in the village of Mosha in Upper Egypt. Like Nasser, he was a hard reader and involved in politics from an early age. As a young man, he became a prolific writer, but resented the fact that he had never achieved the status or fame that some of his mentors had. Like many writers at the time, he also worked as a government employee in the Ministry of Education. He studied in the United States from 1948 to 1950, including at the Colorado State College of Education (now the University of Northern Colorado), in Greeley, in northern Colorado, where he developed a deep aversion to American culture that translated into an intellectual critique of the West. throughout his life.

By then, Qutb had already begun delving into Islamic subjects, publishing his influential book Social Justice in Islam in 1949. When he returned to Egypt, he began to be drawn to the Muslim Brotherhood, although he did not officially join the movement until 1953. Politically, he shared Nasser's hatred of colonialism and frustration with the Egyptian monarchy and fully supported the Free Officers in their control. In the early days of the revolution, the two men consulted frequently about their vision for Egypt after the monarchy. Qutba even served for a brief period as Secretary-General of the Liberation Front, the government's mobilization arm. But soon after the outbreak of the revolution, a rift began to form. Qutb was disappointed with Nasser when he skipped his appointment to a ministerial position. Meanwhile, Nasser realized that the Brotherhood was opportunistic and hungry for power at his expense.In 1954, after a failed assassination attempt that Gerges attributes to some rogue Brotherhood members, Nasser launched a violent campaign against the group, imprisoning thousands of Brotherhood and dissolving the organization. The most important target was Qutb himself, who was executed in 1966.

The roots of the antagonism

Abdel Nasser and Qutb saw themselves as unique historical figures on whom Egypt's fate depended.

Gerges explains that for the two men, delusions of grandeur, personal insults, and the temptations of power often take precedence over ideological or religious considerations.

Drawing on a wealth of primary sources, including shedding light on interviews with a few of those close to the two surviving men, Gerges convincingly argues that these friends have become enemies whose affairs intertwine more personally and ideologically than is generally accepted. .

Sayed Qutb, Egyptian Islamic thinker and writer (social networking sites)

Gerges' novel adds great luster to the story of Nasser's involvement with the Muslim Brotherhood, which was not a secret, but has received relatively little attention from historians. In an interview with Gerges, Farid Abdel-Khaleq, a close aide to Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, recounted that Nasser "trained the Brotherhood's youth on how to use firearms, I saw Abdel Nasser with my own eyes." Khaled Mohieldin, one of the Free Officers and one of Nasser's closest confidants, recalls that Nasser was "extremely excited" about joining the secret, paramilitary wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, known as the "Private Organization". Nasser's membership in the Brotherhood as a young man helps explain the secret of the group's subsequent hostility to him.Many leading figures in the Muslim Brotherhood, including Qutb, believe that Nasser's refusal to share power with the Brotherhood, and his violence towards them later, was the most disgusting thing, because it was a personal betrayal of his pledge of allegiance to Hassan al-Banna.

For his part, Abdel Nasser initially saw Qutb as a good spirit, who transcended the typical political or ideological classifications of the time. Pointing to a wave of enthusiastic but largely forgotten articles, which Qutb wrote in 1952, Gerges notes that he was "one of the first writers to legitimize the coup led by Nasser by describing it as a (revolution)". He also instigated a (just) military dictatorship, banned political parties, and suspended the liberal constitutional order. In one of these articles, Qutb publicly expressed his support for Nasser and the Free Officers, declaring that "in the name of millions, we will not allow you to return to the military barracks because your mission is not over yet, and your duty is to complete it."

Both Nasser and Qutb are notable examples of the kind of ideological mixing that may seem surprising to Egypt's political context today, but was once common. Until the time of Nasser's ill-fated crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, there was a fertile fluidity in Egyptian political life, which was achieved thanks to the relative openness of the liberal moment at this time. In the group's early era, some Brotherhood members were also members of the secular Wafd Party at the same time. Muhyiddin, a friend of Nasser, was, for a short time, a member of the Brotherhood's private organization and was also a Marxist.

Gerges interprets these questionable affiliations to mean that if certain events played a different role between 1952 and 1954, the army and the Muslim Brotherhood, and thus Abdel Nasser and Qutb, might never have become staunch enemies.

Gerges identifies the defining point of the end of the relationship between Nasser and the Brotherhood as being in the struggle of personalities and power.

A hatred arose between Nasser, the at times reckless, and the imprisoned and charismatic Hassan al-Hudaybi—the general guide of the Muslim Brotherhood at the time—in the years immediately following the revolution.

Al-Hudaybi assumed that Nasser would reward the Brotherhood for its support of the revolution through a prominent social and political role during the transitional period.

Meanwhile, Nasser increasingly saw the Muslim Brotherhood, the country's largest mass movement, as the only real threat to his power and growing ambition.

Hassan Al-Hudaybi, the former second guide of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (social networking sites)

Gerges offers possible contrasting facts. He says that if the Brotherhood and Abdel Nasser had chosen other paths, "the structure and identity of the state would have differed greatly; perhaps they would have been less strict, authoritarian and profound." It is tempting to imagine some alternative scenarios. Perhaps Abdel Nasser would not have sent the Brotherhood to prisons, labor camps, and gallows. If Qutb had not witnessed the torture in Nasser's cells, he might not have been able to formulate the takfiri ideology - the practice of declaring that some other Muslims are infidels - that inspired a generation of religious extremists. In other words, the struggle between secularists and Islamists - which has shaped the modern history of the blood-soaked Middle East - was never inevitable.

As far as I know, no one expected in 1952 that Nasser would soon turn against the Muslim Brotherhood and become obsessed with destroying it. No one in 1950 imagined that Qutb would go from being a moderate literary critic, or rather a secularist, to become one of the most important Islamic theorists of the century. At the time, history must have seemed wide open and even optimistic.

However, as history goes on, the options are closed. "My friend Nasser could have ended up being a religious nationalist - like the Brotherhood - instead of being an Arab nationalist," says Mohieldin. Nasser and Qutb could have made different decisions. But really how likely are they to stay on the same side if that happens? Qutb supported military dictatorship, but only because he believed that the army was the best tool for achieving radical change, and that the country's army was the only actor capable of getting rid of the old regime and paving the way for an Islamic regime. Nasser may have been part of the Brotherhood, but there is little evidence that he had strong feelings about implementing Islamic law one way or another. Only later in his life did he become suspicious that Islam played a central role in public life.Nasser's growing distrust of Brotherhood leaders after the revolution led him to become more anti-Islamist, and a tougher nationalist than he would have otherwise been. But this sequence of events does not make his commitments - which have developed in a secular and socialist direction - less legitimate or faithful. Ultimately, ideologies depend on what they are not, just as they depend on what they are.

The past was only a prelude

"Islamism" in Egypt began to coalesce with each other after it was able to identify its enemies.

The Muslim Brotherhood, especially the members of the 1980s who met Sayyid Qutb inside the prison walls, did not forget Gamal Abdel Nasser's brutal campaign against them, a period known within the group as "the ordeal."

After decades of suffering inside Nasser's prisons, the group's old members provided a major source of legitimacy. To suffer is to lead.

The ordeal affected the Brotherhood’s approach tangibly, and the group’s well-known approach to this day is to prioritize the group above anything else, yet the group has dramatically failed to achieve such a simple goal.

During the tense few months that ended in the 2013 coup that ousted Morsi from power, one of the group's officials told me that the group had "returned to an ordeal mentality."

This mentality may have enabled the Brotherhood to survive under Nasser and his successors, but this approach did not serve the group during Egypt’s short democratic experiment from 2011 to 2013 after the group resorted to skepticism and exclusion. During my interviews with members wishing to make reforms within the group, they pointed out that there is a Qutb wing (belonging to the ideas of Sayyid Qutb) within the organization that constantly works to obstruct new ideas and resist organizational reforms. For example, Muhammad Badi', the group's current guide and currently imprisoned, was a member of Sayyid Qutb's underground movement during his university studies in the 1960s.

But this way of understanding the Brotherhood’s approach today has its own limitations. Senior leaders of the group are described as extremely conservative and secretive as well as suspicious of those who are not in the organization, but they remain at odds with Sayyid Qutb’s theory of change. They were staunch supporters of gradualism, patience in the face of adversity, and more inclined to cut a deal with the military. For their part, the group’s youth, young people who did not witness the period of ordeal but witnessed the 2011 revolution that succeeded in toppling Mubarak, were angry at what they see as the shameful policies of senior leaders in the Guidance Office.

Asmaa Shukr, a journalist and former official of the Brotherhood during her thirties, was one of the witnesses to the events of August 14, 2013 known as the “Rabaa al-Adawiya massacre,” which witnessed the Egyptian army and police killing nearly a thousand Brotherhood supporters. After their sit-in Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square in Cairo. That day, she told me, she was watching a protester try to set a car on fire before a senior commander reprimanded him. “I was shocked,” Sarah says. “Your children are dying in front of you while you are busy burning a car?”

Sayyid Qutb was not interested in the idea of ​​peaceful protest. Rather, he was a revolutionary who believed in the pursuit of change through dramatic action, carried out by the group's vanguard. As long as this vanguard adheres to the Qur'an and Sunnah, Qutb believes that it will succeed where mass politics and parliamentary democracy have failed. Sayyid Qutb's vanguard model became a source of inspiration for extremist organizations. However, this model is witnessing a temporary deterioration due to the failure of the Islamic State (known in the media as ISIS) to withstand on the Iraqi and Syrian lands. It is difficult to assess the state of the Brotherhood in light of the presence of tens of thousands of its members in prisons or outside the country. The Islamist movement may seem weak organizationally, but it remains ideologically flexible.

In an ideal world, ideologies could be overthrown after facts, and politics in Egypt could be liberated from what began as an artificial and ambiguous division between Islamists and nationalists.

All of these artificially created divisions, such as borders and the nation-state or even the sectarian divide between Shiites and Sunnis, are magnified and perpetuated over time;

The ideas formulated by Gamal Abdel Nasser and Sayyid Qutb may be employed for authoritarian purposes, but this does not diminish their impact on people even after several decades have passed.

Both Nasser and Sayyid Qutb were obsessed with power;

But neither of them believed in power for his own benefit, but rather in employing this power to reshape Egypt.

Their experience supports two issues that may sometimes conflict, the first is that ideas are formed and flow at specific historical moments, and the second is that these ideas remain over time, which is an important issue, and these ideas may have enormous human costs.

The ideological currents that both Nasser and Qutb shaped are part of the fabric of the modern Middle East. The struggle between their legacy continues, and it is unlikely that one of the two parties will categorically exclude the other, but that will not prevent parties, sects, and ideologues from continuing to try.

The Egyptian regime, for example, is still determined to crush the Brotherhood in the belief that it can succeed today where it failed yesterday, and for this unfortunate reason the Arab world, and its story of two zealous, loyal, reckless men, reveals not only why Egypt's past revolution failed but serves as a warning. Worse is yet to come, not only for Egypt but for the entire Arab world.


Translation (Translation Team)

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Keywords: muslim brotherhood in egypt, gamal abdel nasser, upper egypt, sayed qutb, country, men, mohamed morsi, fawaz gerges, arab, officers, history, monarchy, gerges wrote.nasser, abdel fattah el-sisi, protests