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Book Review: Nasser's mysterious underground organisation

The real value of the book comes from its historical and documentary perspective; for the Egyptian and Arab library doesn’t have any one book devoted solely to this wondrous organisation

Mahmoud El-Wardani, Saturday 25 Jun 2016
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Al-Tanzeem Al-Sirri li Gamal Abdel-Nasser (The Underground Organisation of Gamal Abdel-Nasser) by Amin Iskander, Mahrousa Center for Publishing,Press and Information, Cairo 2016. pp.615

The Free Officers organisation, which mounted the 23rd July 1952 Coup, wasn’t the only underground organisation that was formed by Gamal Abdel-Nasser, who established in the sixties of the last century a group called the Socialist Vanguard.

 If the Free Officers was an organisation among military officers aimed at overthrowing the former regime, the Socialist Vanguard was made up of a great number of ministers, statesmen and officials in different posts. Of course, it didn’t plan to topple the regime, but rather to support and defend it. Perhaps the irony lies in that the organisation was underground while Nasser was in power, even during the peak of Nasser’s glory and achieving victories both locally and internationally.   

The real value of the book comes from its historical and documentary perspective; for the Egyptian and Arab library does not have any books devoted solely to this wondrous organization; despite this organisation’s influence on Egyptian political life, there is not a single book tackling that jittery period of Egyptian contemporary history. 

The reason for this can be attributed to the organization’s underground work, and that most of its sources, sessions’ minutes and papers were destroyed as soon as they were distributed. Thus, the book’s author, Amin Iskander, embarked on putting on paper all what was discussed by Nasser’s men who participated in forming the organisation, in newspapers’ interviews, books, articles and testimonies.

The author also relied on what could be considered a real treasure trove; a great number of secret documents including the original minutes of some organisational meetings, organisation leaflets, and statements and directives to its members. It’s noticeable that the author was aware of this material’s historical worth, devoting two thirds of this lengthy book’s 600 pages to them.

The organisation was established in June 1963, after Gamal Abdel-Nasser met a small group of five persons: Ali Sabri, Kamal Refaat, Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, Sami Sharaf, Abbas Radwan and Ahmed Fouad. All of these men were occupying high ranking positions in the state’s apparatus. Nasser ordered them to form an organisational circle made up of persons whowere trustworthy, efficient and loyal to the revolution and its leader.

According to what was mentioned in testimonies of the organisation’s leaders, cited by the author verbatim, the reason for establishing the organisation was the presence of opportunists and corrupt members within the Arab Socialist Union. In addition, the Union was incapable of action and unable to influence the masses. Thus, the main reason for the creation of the group was the president’s mistrust in the public political union, which he himself established years ago as an extension of a series of organisations that ruled the country single-handedly since 1954.

A leadership committee was formed comprising of 250 members, including communists, some of which were released from the prison a short time before. The secret organisation’s headquarters was in one of the palaces owned by the state in the Zamalek district.

The organisation began its work throughout Egypt and its membership ranged, according to different sources, from between 30 thousand to 150 thousand. The political action of the members, who were distributed geographically and according to their various posts, focused on holding regular meetings to discuss the national political situation or discuss the organisation’s activity in different posts.

Perhaps one of the monumental flaws of this organisation was its well established ties with the security agencies and intelligence bodies. Promoting members to higher levels was done after reports made by the Ministry of the Interior on members in question and the Minister of the Interior was the Secretary General of the organisation.

The General Secretariat, the highest level within the organisation, comprised the head of the intelligence agency and those occupying leading positions in the Arab Socialist Union as well as governors, ministers and other high-ranking officials. One of the facets of the well established ties with the security agencies was writing reports about posts and governorates which led once to uncover the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood in one governorate. Following this, security agencies made widespread detention campaign among the MB ranks.

This unprecedented experience that that resulted from establishing an underground party amongst the highest levels of government was a matter full of risks. Finally, what proves the absurdity of the whole experience was that members of the organisation fell in their first confrontation with opposing forces; when President Sadat made his coup against Nasser’s regime and men, he threw all of them behind bars in May 1971. The rest of the organisation’s members escaped after Sadat dissolved the group and put most of its members on trial.

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