On the 60th anniversary of the July 23 Revolution, Ahram Online conducted a short interview with Abdel Ghafr Shukr, leader of the Socialist Popular Alliance and deputy chairman of the Arab and African Research Centre who was assistant secretary for educational affairs in the Socialist Youth Organisation, 1963-1976, one of the most important organisations originating from the Socialist Union of 1962-1974, the ruling party founded by President Gamal Abdel Nasser.
As someone who lived and interacted with the 23 July 1952 Free Officers Movement coup that turned into a revolution, and also lived and participated in the January 25 Revolution in 2011, Ahram Online asked Mr Shukr about whether the January 25 Revolution contradicts or cancels the 23 July movement.
“The 23 July movement aimed for national independence, justice and democracy while the January 25 Revolution aims for bread, dignity and social justice. The social justice that will be implemented through democracy and dignity includes national independence from foreign intervention. They want the same goals after 60 years,” Shukr told Ahram Online, adding that the January 25 Revolution did not cancel the the July 23 Revolution because the latter was already ended by what he described as the counterrevolution led by presidents Sadat and Mubarak.
“Anwar El-Sadat led a counterrevolution against the 23 July movement and the achievements of late Gamal Abdel Nasser, whether the industrial renaissance or the national independence that followed. Sadat fought social justice economic policies when he adopted the open market system, a system that Mubarak continued to use during his rule for 30 years, causing poverty for most,” the veteran socialist elaborated, saying that the open market system adopted by Sadat and Mubarak destroyed the industrialisation policies and agricultural reclamation projects adopted by July 23 movement that managed to restructure Egyptian society.
“Sadat fought the national independence that was aimed for by the July 23 Revolution and achieved by Nasser by depending on the United States and being its ally in the region. Mubarak continued to adopt this policy until the last day of his rule in 2011,” stated Shukr.
“Both men killed the July 23 Revolution and that’s why after 60 years we find people in 2011 and 2012 demanding the same goals as 1952,” he added.
“The January 25 Revolution and its youth did not revolt against the original July 23 Revolution. They revolted against the counterrevolution that ended the 1952 movement,” said Abdel Ghafr Shukr.
The biggest mistake and its biggest consequence
Ahram Online asked the former leading member in the Socialist Union what the biggest mistake late President Nasser made from his point of view. He said the cancellation of political pluralism.
“Nasser and the Free Officers’ biggest mistake was cancelling partisan pluralism in 1953. There was no political pluralism since then; thus authoritarianism and dictatorship were born and we paid a huge price because of that, represented in the 1967 six days war defeat,” said Shukr. “There was no parliamentary supervision or accountability of the army during that time and no accountability for its commanders, and that’s what caused the defeat that we still suffer from regionally up to this moment in 2012,” he added.
In January 1953, the Free Officers decided to disband political parties in Egypt, accusing of them of corrupting political life before 23 July 1952.
“Late President Nasser believed that social justice was more important than political and democratic reforms. By creating a new class of workers, peasants who own their land and have the right to vote, educated through the free education system, he could create the right political life. Yet he was wrong,” said Shukr.
Being considered the godfather of one of the most important youth organisations of the 1960s, Ahram Online asked Shukr his opinion on the activists and youth organisations of the January 25 Revolution.
“The January 25 Revolution youth are more devoted to its cause, ready to sacrifice, capable to mobilise in a very short time, but they lack political awareness. They need to read more about the political history of modern Egypt, to learn from the experiences of others,” Shukr said.
Among the members of the Socialist Youth Organisation that are playing a significant role in Egyptian political life now, whom Mr Shukr is proud of, include Osama El-Ghazli Harb, the former head of the liberal Democratic Front Party, and renowned human rights activist Bahey Eldin Hassan.
Muslim Brotherhood Deputy Chairman Khairat El-Shater joined the Socialist Youth Organisation while young himself, before joining the Muslim Brotherhood.
On the Muslim Brotherhood, Shukr is concerned for how the July 23 movement will be seen under the aegis of Islamist rule.
Mohamed Morsi, the new Islamist president, criticised the 1960s and President Nasser indirectly in his first public speech in Tahrir Square after he was elected.
“I am not that worried about history being manipulated because in the end history is written and preserved by university professors and history experts who know what happened,” Shukr answered.
“During the July 23 Revolution, some attacked the family of Mohamed Ali in the media, yet no one changed the fact that Mohamed Ali was the founder of modern Egypt. History cannot be changed easily," added Shukr.
“After the exile of Ahmed Orabi in the 19th century, he was attacked madly in the press, but in the decades following his death history put him in the right position as a patriotic leader,” Shukr said, insisting that truth will prevail in the end.