The 23 July and 25 January revolutions

Waheed Abdel-Meguid , Sunday 29 Jul 2012

Between 1952 and its aftermath and now, a number of powerful similarities exist, begging the question whether the final outcome will be any different than it was then

Almost everything has changed in Egypt and the world over the past six decades that separate the two revolutions of 23 July 1952 and 25 January 2011. Egypt’s political, social, economic, cultural scenes, and all other fronts, have changed, and the world too has witnessed root changes in power structures and relationship patterns.

But two basic facts did not change in Egypt over the past six decades, although much of their details have, namely the malaise of its political and social life and the influence of the armed forces and the Muslim Brotherhood on power. The disease of the political, social and cultural elite has multiplied in volume and type, and its chronic malady of division, fracture, disarray, and impotence in building a minimum level of consensus and inability to hold a serious objective dialogue has worsened.

Since the dissolution of the 1952 Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), the leading role of the armed forces retreated to behind the scenes while its political role receded and sharply declined. However, it remained at the helm of the most organised, disciplined, professional official institution and thus the military was the best qualified to take over power during the transitional period before it was abandoned by the wayside — unlike what the military leadership did in Tunisia, for example.

In return, the Muslim Brotherhood remained the largest, most cohesive and disciplined group during the six decades, despite dire conditions since October 1954 until the beginning of the 1970s, and a series of blows that followed the end of these difficult times and continued during the last three decades.

Despite many differences in detail, continued and compounded disorders among the political elite and the dominance of the armed forces and the Muslim Brotherhood as the two largest and strongest forces resulted in the remanufacture of some events and developments in the periods following each of the 23 July and 25 January revolutions.

Despite almost entirely different circumstances on the domestic and international scenes, and great discrepancies between the nature of both revolutions and the two conditions on all levels, it is not peculiar to compare some of the events and interactions that occurred — and continue — since 12 February 2011 with those that occurred between 24 July 1952 and 27 October 1954.

Although the Muslim Brotherhood transitioned from the role of opposition to power holder, after Mohamed Morsi was elected president and officially sworn in on 20 June, this does not diminish the importance of this comparison, because it is only a detail and also for the following three reasons. First, the Muslim Brotherhood partnered with the Free Officers in preparing for a military coup on 23 July 1952 which turned into a revolution led by Gamal Abdel Nasser. Second, despite the quick change in how the Muslim Brotherhood participated in government — which triggered a dispute that evolved into a horrific clash — the Muslim Brotherhood stood behind Mohamed Naguib when he became president of the republic that was declared in June 1953 and locked the fates of the two together. The dissolution and persecution of the Muslim Brotherhood was closely linked to Naguib’s resignation and house arrest.

The third reason is open to interpretation, namely that the Muslim Brotherhood president began his term during a period of duality of power because the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) remained at the heart of power. This created a conflict between the two sides since day one, which is not dissimilar in the overall notion, despite differences in details, of the relationship between Naguib, who was backed by the Muslim Brotherhood but not one of them, and the RCC. But this does not necessarily mean that the outcome of these conflicts will be the same.

In general, it may be beneficial to compare five developments that occurred after the 23 July revolution and ones that happened, and continue to occur, after the 25 January revolution. First, the appointment of Muslim Brotherhoodleader Rashad Al-Mehanna as one of three custodians of the crown after King Farouk was deposed; compared with the appointment of Muslim Brotherhood leader Sobhi Saleh as a member to the constitutional amendment committee, and picking Tarek Al-Bishri, who is known for his Islamist outlook, as chairman of that committee.

Second, Muslim Brotherhood support for the RCC against other parties and forces, and the dissolution of university student unions after the July revolution, compared to the Muslim Brotherhood distancing itself from revolutionary forces that realised early on that they must remain on the street. Also, change in the Muslim Brotherhood's support of the RCC in the face of other forces and the Muslim Brotherhood’s neutral stand in the dynamic between SCAF and the revolutionaries, is linked to the difference in relationships between the group and each of the military councils.

Third, the constitutional crisis in both cases: first, broad opposition to the RCC’s decision on 13 January 1953 to appoint a 50-member committee to draft a new constitution instead of the 1923 Constitution that was annulled by the RCC. A controversy over this committee erupted throughout 1953 because some groups refused to recognise it and demanded an elected committee. Although the RCC refused and insisted on the appointed committee, in the end it ignored the committee’s draft under the pretext that it did not achieve the goals of the revolution. This is compared to disputes over the Constituent Assembly that continue until today; there are intriguing details in both sagas that deserve closer scrutiny at a later time.

Fourth, the beginning of a struggle between the Muslim Brotherhood and the RCC and the harbingers that followed the RCC’s announcement on 23 January of the Liberation Commission, which the Muslim Brotherhood viewed as restricting its role. This is compared to early signs of discord between the Muslim Brotherhood and SCAF as demonstrated in their strongly-worded statement on 1 September entitled, “The critical period that revolutionary Egypt is living,” in which they criticised attempts to postpone parliamentary elections in order for SCAF to remain in power.

Last, but not least, is the support of some political parties, labour unions and judges for the RCC — or more accurately the faction led by Abdel-Nasser — and demanding that it should continue in power, compared to the support of some parties, bodies and judges for SCAF, albeit generally more indirectly and rarely publicly.

This comparison requires us to ponder the outcome of the ongoing power struggle that will continue well into next year if it remains in its current subtle form, and how will it end differently than the clash that occurred between 1952 and 1954.

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