Other than the fact that they both graduated from the Military Academy, it is hard to find any similarities between the late president Gamal Abdel Nasser and the future president Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. Although Abdel Nasser is ultimately like any other officer and reached power by means of a coup and held on to that power until his last breath, he belongs to the generation of the leaders resisting colonisation, such as Ahmed Ben Bella, Patrice Lumumba, Sukarno, and Castro, and comparing Al-Sisi to him is nothing but an early election campaign.
The first difference is that Abdel Nasser was a charismatic leader whose likeability went past Egypt. The Syrians sacrificed their democratic legacy for him and carried his car on their shoulders. If he made a speech, all the Arabs, from the Ocean to the Gulf listened to him. As for Al-Sisi, his popularity decreases with every speech he makes, even though his speeches are prepared beforehand, drawn with an audience, backgrounds, lighting, and music, and are not broadcast live, but instead, are edited.
The second difference is that Abdel Nasser is from a simple farmer family, and he re-distributed the ownership of agricultural lands in favour of smaller farmers. As for Al-Sisi, he is from the city of Cairo, and he has never seen the suburbs and countryside with his own eyes.
Thirdly, Abdel Nasser was a member of the Brotherhood and the Free Officers Movement, and had an intellectual vision that differed from that of the Brotherhood and the Communists. He saw himself as the opposite of the current government, not an extension of it. On the other hand, Al-Sisi is a product of the Mubarak environment, which bans all forms of politicisation in the Armed Forces, and his political character was formed in the context of intensive courses in the United States, not to mention the security meetings and arrangements with the Israelis given his position in the military intelligence.
The fourth difference between the two is that Abdel Nasser fought the Israelis with the Egyptian army who fought a Zionist enemy during the 1948 war, and he continued to fight this enemy in the Suez Crisis, the 1967 war, and the War of Attrition. However, Al-Sisi joined the Egyptian army at the end of the final war with the enemy that turned into an ally and partner during the end of Mubarak’s reign. Therefore, there army had no other role than “combatting terrorism”, i.e. the opposition against the political government in Egypt, Hamas, and other resistance movements abroad.
Fifthly, based on his upbringing and development, Abdel Nasser adopted social justice and socialism, while Al-Sisi adopted the worst forms of neo-liberalism that combines corrupt businessmen, the military, and security. This is Rami Makhlouf’s school of thought in Syria and Gamal Mubarak in Egypt.
Sixthly, Abdel Nasser saw the Arab identity as open to those in Africa and the third world, and he supported the revolutions in the Arab and African world. He was also one of the founders of the Non-Aligned Movement. On the other hand, Al-Sisi continues Mubarak’s contempt for all that is Arab and African, as Egypt has been totally absent from Africa’s problems, even the problems in bordering countries such as Darfur and Somalia.
The seventh difference is the fact that Abdel Nasser was known for his hostile position towards America and he fought their policies in the region and globally, while Al-Sisi did not hesitate to say, in a statement he made to the Washington Post that he is in constant contact with the American Secretary of Defence. He has also publically faulted President Obama for not calling him.
As for the eighth difference, Abdel Nasser refused any political role for the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar or the Coptic Pope, and he did not use them to bless his coup, unlike Al-Sisi, who recruited them both, as well as Al-Nour Party, to bless the coup.
The final and most important difference between the two men is that based on his military background, Abdel Nasser considered himself bigger than the military uniform, and saw the army as one of the state institutions, so he did not protect the Minister of Defence or the army in the constitutions he drew up. Moreover, he did not turn the army into the largest holding company in Egypt, controlling 40 per cent of the Egyptian economy, nor did he involve the officers in the “business” of pasta production and mean imports.
There are many more differences, but the only similarity I can find between them is their graduation from the Military Academy.
Yasser Abu Hilalah is the bureau chief of Al-Jazeera’s office Amman, Jordan. This is a translation of the Arabic text published by Al Ghad newspaper on 9 January, 2014
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.