Egypt Before The Revolution

1347 words | 5 page(s)

1.1. The roots of Egypt’s pre- 2011 political system (From Nasser to Mubarak)

The roots of Egypt political system cannot be understood without understanding first the roots and origins of the foundation of modern Egypt and the establishment of the contemporary Egyptian state. This goes back to the early 19th century, and it is an ironic tale of fighting the French revolutionary forces resulting in a new monarchy, followed by a military coup for the purpose of creating a republic, resulting in invasion by France and the imperial Great Britain. The primary political direction which was set in the twentieth century was the need for democratic self-determination without the pressures of foreign influences are dominating elites.

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Egypt had been an Ottoman province since, 1517, but early in the 19th century it was occupied by the armies of revolutionary France (Vatikiotis, 1991). After 3 disastrous years of a bitter struggle with British and Ottoman troops, as well as stern resistance from the local population, General Bonaparte’s troops sailed out of Egypt forever (Vatikiotis, 1991). After the French left, Egypt was in total chaos. There were power struggles between the Ottoman overlords and the local Mamluk princes, which intensified as the Egyptian people bore the brunt of the damage from the conflicts (Vatikiotis, 1991).

From a distance, an Ottoman mercenary soldier of Albanian origin, who was leading an Albanian contingent of soldiers, and he watched these developments attentively. He was searching for opportunity. This man was Muhammad Ali Pasha, who was dispatched by the Ottoman Sublime Porte with his mercenary troops to help restore Ottoman control over Egypt (Vatikiotis, 1991). The Egyptian people were fed up with all the bloody pandemonium in their country and took to the street in rebellion against the Ottomans and the Mamelukes. The masses were led by Omar Makram, a renowned Muslim Imam, along with other members of the Islamic clergy and Egypt’s notables. The masses ousted the Ottoman governor Khurshid Pasha, and then installed Muhammad Ali in his place, creating a precedent in Ottoman history. The Ottoman empire accepted the new reality, and Muhammad Ali established his dynastic rule over Egypt as an independent state in all but name.

Muhammad Ali and his dynasty ruled Egypt for over 150 years. It ended only in 1952 when that same military Muhammad Ali created ousted his grandson Farouk. In time the monarchy was abolished and replaced it with a republic. Here the story begins, the story of the evolution of the contemporary political system which is the essence of everything today’s Egypt stands for. Muhammad Ali initiated the process of building the modern state in 1805 and founded Egypt’s military as a conscript army. Nearly all state bureaucratic institutions that were initially established were primarily for the purpose of serving Egypt’s army. The military developed as the backbone of the Egyptian modern state governance, and this helps to position the coup which finally ended the dynastic rule of monarchs.

1.2. 1952: The army takes power
In July of 1952, a group in the Egyptian military known as the Free Officers Movement who sought to overthrow the monarchy of King Farouk and to replace it with more democratic and population determined governance (Gordon, 1992). They took control of the country through a series of demonstrations and even attacks in the years leading up to the revolution, mostly on British targets. The massacre by the British of the Buluk Nizam (police auxiliaries) resulted in riots in the streets in January 1952. The political tensions of civilian were high. While the revolution itself was non-violent, things did not go quite as planned. Gamal Abdel Nasser was one of the young army officer leading the revolution. He replaced the first President of Egypt, the very unpopular Sudan-born General Muhammad Naguibrose, and went on the rule post-revolutionary Egypt for nearly two decades.

The Free Officers Movement, despite aspiring to a self-determined state, are said to have been supported by both the Soviet and American states (Rubinstein, 2015). Certainly, both countries had a reason to support a more democratic state which lead to neoliberal economic reforms as well (Rubinstein, 2015).

There were multiple causal factors in the rising support for revolution, including a ruler disconnected to the everyday problems of the population, a history of foreign domination, and also a crisis of modernization (Vatikiotis, 1991). King Farouk was perceived as having more of an interest in pleasing British colonial powers and enjoying luxuries than leading his people, and there was a great deal of resentment (Gordon, 1992). The loss of the war against Israel was also seen as a failure of King Farouk’s leadership (Gordon, 1992). The revolution was said by the victors to be one caused by a need to develop Egypt in order to overcome the widespread poverty, illiteracy and disease. The aristocracy and elites responded that a transition was needed before democracy could be instituted for those very same reasons of poverty, illiteracy and disease. Rapidly developing health care and education infrastructure under Nasser remains one of his positive accomplishments, despite a common position that he was an autocratic dictator, in part fulfilling the requirement of the aristocracy for authoritarian rule until a more educated population was prepared for democracy.

There were multiple goals intertwined with ending the constitutional monarchy, including driving the British and other foreign occupiers out of the country and denying their authority over Egypt. Nasser (1954) described the motivations of the revolution as one of resistance to foreign exertions of power that stood in the way of real sovereignty. In particular, the occupation by the British, was an issue of resentment, particularly since it was one which had the agreement of the former monarchy. The environment was described as a confusion between tradition and modernity, where the previous approaches were known not to be sufficient, but the Western modes and processes did not resonate with the way that life in the Arab world worked. Nasser felt that external issues, particularly the Cold War, were a distraction for nations that were seeking to build their own country and Nasser was a major force and founder in the non-aligned movement which included India and others (Lucas, 1991). He led Egypt until his death in 1970 (Lucas, 1991).

The West and the Soviets perceived Egypt’s show of independence as a threat, particularly because they refused to take sides in the developing Cold War, instead maintaining a position of neutrality (O’Brien, 1966). When the United States refused to complete sales of military equipment in 1955 unless Egypt changes its position on relations with the Soviets, Nasser instead bought arms from Czechoslovakia (O’Brien, 1966). A domino effect resulted in withdrawals of partnerships with the United States and the United Nations sponsored institutions, and instead Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal Company, which was privately held (Lucas, 1991). In the same year, a combined effort saw Egypt invaded by Great Britain, France and Israel during the Suez canal crisis. Egypt was successful in retaining control over the Suez canal, representing the first time in three generations that Egyptians were governing this critical site for ship’s passing to and from Europe and Asia.

O’Brien (1966) analysed the revolution in 1952 and concluded that it represented a break from an underlying capitalist ideology favouring private enterprise and individual rights to one with a more socialist values system. Looking at much later, without the Cold War ideological division of capitalism and socialism as the primary consideration, it is easy to see that following the revolution there was a shift in the distribution of resources from the elite to the masses, with the institution of universal education and the development of infrastructure (Gordon, 1992). The result was a rapidly modernizing Arab state, however democratic and economic reforms were more elusive.

  • Gordon, J., 1992. Nasser’s blessed movement: Egypt’s Free Officers and the July revolution. Oxford University Press.
  • Lucas, W.S., 1991. Divided We Stand: Britain, the United States and the Suez Crisis (Vol. 50). London: Hodder & Stoughton.
  • Nasser, G. A. (1954). The Egyptian Revolution. Foreign Aff., 33, 199.
  • O’Brien, P., 1966. The revolution in Egypt’s economic system: from private to socialism, 1952-1965. Oxford University Press.
  • Rubinstein, A. Z. (2015). Red Star on the Nile: The Soviet-Egyptian Influence Relationship since the June War. Princeton University Press.

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