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Sunday, 21 July 2019

The 'Sacred March': How Nasser's dictatorship became so popular

Khaled Fahmy recently gave his reading of Sherif Younis's book 'The Sacred March,' which tackles the public's reaction to Nasser's resignation speech following the June 1967 Six-Day War defeat

Mohammed Saad , Sunday 28 Apr 2013
Khaled Fahmy
Historian Khaled Fahmy (Right) and Sherif Younis (Left) during the discussion
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Al-Tanweer Publishing House recently hosted historian Khaled Fahmy to discuss and analyse Sherif Younis’s latest book, Al-Zahf Al-Moqaddas: Mozaharat Al-Tanahy wa Ebadat Abdennaser (The Sacred March: The Step Down Protests and Worshipping Abdel-Nasser), which was lately reprinted.

The book tackles what is known in Egyptian history as "The Step Down protests," which took place 9-10 June 1967, when Egyptians took out to the street and called on President Nasser to reconsider his decision to step down as leader after the "shameful defeat" of the Six Days War that broke out 5 June and destroyed 90 percent of the Egyptian army’s ordnance and completely vanquished the Egyptian air force, according to Fahmy.

“This is a paradox, because in similar cases, when major defeats happen, we expect a palace coup or a revolution, but not mass protests everywhere chanting the name of the defeated leader. We’re in front of a unique event in history. Sherif Younis's book tackles this paradox and seeks an explanation for it that differs from traditional explanations,” Fahmy said.

Fahmy has always seen the Egyptian defeat in 1967 as a "rout" — a great defeat by any measure. He says it was not only a military or political defeat, but the collapse of a regime, society and project.

There are two explanations for why people took out to the streets on 9-10 June 1967. The first suggests that the protests were organised, and the other that they were spontaneous. According to Fahmy, Younis's book refuses both views and looks for another explanation and in doing so the author analyses the discourse of the Nasserite era through texts by influential writers that promoted Nasser at the time, like Mostafa Mahmoud and Ihsan AbdelQodoos.

“The book isn’t concerned with exposing the hypocrisy of these writers ... or examining if they were lying or saying the truth. Sherif is concerned to monitor these discourses that represent a general status and feeling towards Nasser that was dominant and were meant to be dominant.” Fahmy explained.

A central point in Younis’s book comes when he analyses Nasser’s stepping down speech. According to Fahmy, the book provides us with fresh multisided analysis of the speech as Younis pays great attention to the fact that the stepping down statement was aired, in a break from established tradition. “He simply sends the [resignation] letter to parliament,” Fahmy said.

The speech was also very long for a resignation speech, which may suggest that Nasser did not intend to leave but rather use the speech to pave the way for further years in power.

“The speech created an existential emotional status whose inevitable result was people taking to streets calling on Nasser to stay, chanting the name of the defeated leader. The state is paralysed and nobody is telling the people what’s going on. Then Nasser shows up to speak as the only person who represents the state,” Fahmy explained.

For Fahmy, the book, which for Younis is part of a larger project, gives us a new prospect of understanding the Nasser era, as it analyses Nasserite discourse since 1954 when Nasser took power until 28 September 1970 when Nasser died.

The author gave a few comments after Fahmy finished his analysis of the book. Younis said that what concerned him when he was writing the book was not that Nasser’s regime was dictatorial, but how dictatorship could gain such huge popularity so that even below the threshold of total defeat the people could chant the name of a defeated leader and give him power once again.

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