Book Review: from one June to the other – the making and remaking of the contemporary rule of Egypt

Dina Ezzat , Wednesday 19 Jun 2024

Al-Zahf Al-Mokadas (The Sacred March) of Sherif Younis is a concise and in-depth narrative on the creation of the republic in Egypt from 1952 and onwards.

from one June to the other

 

Al-Zahf Al-Mokadas – Mozaharat al-tanahi watashkeel ebadet Nasser (The Sacred March – The resignation demonstrations and the creation of Nasser’s worship), Sherif Younis, pp196 – Dar Al-Tanwir 2012

For Gamal Abdel-Nasser and the political regime created by the Free Officers in July 1952, June seems like a crucial month. First, every British Occupation soldier was evicted on 18 June 1956. Then, on 5 June 1967, Egypt suffered a crushing military defeat, following which millions of Egyptians took to the streets, on 8 and 9 June, to oppose Nasser’s declaration on TV that he would step down.

In his masterwork Al-Zahf Al-Mokadas (The Sacred March) political scientist Sherif Younis offers a unique and very detailed reading of Nasser’s leadership of Egypt, particularly from June 1956 to June 1967, with due explanation of Nasser’s role in both ‘Junes’, which was marked firstly by his unequivocal opposition to handing over power to civilians in March 1954, and secondly by his firm opposition to political plurality and the freedom of the press under the guise that either would open the door for the “enemies of the nation” to regain the country, and, lastly, by his success to position himself as the one and only hero that the nation needs.

Younis starts his book with a quote from Brecht’s “Life of Galileo” – “Unhappy is the land that needs heroes” – which he sets before the preface to his text in the second and updated edition of Al-Zahf Al-Mokadas, published by Dar Al-Tanwir in 2012, a year after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak by the January Revolution in 2011.

The book's first edition was published by Merit Publications in 2005 upon the rise of the protest movements against Mubarak’s regime.

In his introduction to the 2012 edition, Younis wrote that when he was finishing his book, in 2005, he had reason to believe that there was ‘something in the making’ that would end the ‘July Regime’ that Nasser and the Free Officers established in the 1950s and managed to save despite the shocking defeat of 1967.

In 2012, Younis wrote that despite the ouster of Mubarak, there was a reason for scepticism that this regime had gone or receded pending a new rise – similar, in a way, to Nasser’s new rise after the June 1967 defeat.

The pillars of this rule are, Younis argues, essentially the making of Nasser – out of conviction and political convenience. Nasser, Younis explained, would not have settled for the number two role, which he played briefly under the older and more established officer Mohamed Naguib, nor would he have ever agreed to have a civilian take over from the Free Officers.

Nasser’s firm line was that on 23 July 1952, the Free Officers acted to ouster King Farouk, Egypt’s last monarch, because these officers “heard the pain of the people and their yearning for change”.  Accordingly, Younis concludes that the army thus became the saviour and guardian of the political regime that Nasser had established.

Therefore, the new regime now spoke on behalf of the people, so that “everything that was done was done for the people and inspired by the people.” Consequently, “anyone who opposed [what the army was doing] was the enemy of the people,” Younis wrote.

The guardian had to assume direct control of everything to fulfil his obligations towards the people. This included the press syndicate, for example, and it also included the largest part of the bureaucratic establishment. Moreover, Younis further argued that culture, media, and the arts had to align with the concept of rule as designed and promoted by ‘the guardian’.

The army ( the guardian) consequently assumed an iconic status, according to Younis, which meant there had to be a specific hero that the entire nation looked up to and followed in “A Sacred March” towards liberty and against imperialism.

Therefore, it was not surprising to see millions of Egyptians “sincerely and genuinely” take to the streets, following the June defeat, to protest the stepping down of a hero, who had established that reputation, especially since the October 1956 Suez War.

Younis argues that the demonstrations in Cairo and across the country were “for the most part spontaneous,” even if there was a “partial mobilization” by the Socialist Union, Nasser’s para-executive arm.

However, he also argues that it would be naïve to overlook the wider and much longer state of mobilization that the state, along with some fully dedicated writers and artists, was involved in since June 1956 to glorify Nasser as the hero worthy of the nation’s worship.

In any case, Younis wrote, with or without the continued rule of Nasser, the ‘July regime was never really at risk” because in offering to step down, Nasser delegated power to another member of the Free Officers and one of his closest associates – Zakaria Moheiddine.

Moreover, Younis argued that despite his ‘line’ about taking responsibility for the defeat, Nasser was not offering to revise the style of rule that he had crafted slowly since 1954 and surely since 1956.

Al-Zahf Al-Mokadas is by no means an attempt to overlook Nasser’s genuine and astounding popularity. Nor does the book undermine the visionary part of Nasser’s rule or, for that matter, his unmistakable charisma. However, the book is a serious attempt to explain the full story of Nasser’s popularity and to put it within the context of local, regional, and international political dynamics.

Ultimately, it is a reminder that the leadership of even a beloved hero of a nation could have disastrous consequences similar to Egypt’s military defeat of June 1967. However, as Younis argued, it is always easier to understand the past than to forecast the future – even when the writing might be on the wall.

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