Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Arab nationalist Egypt taught us the concepts of nation and citizenship; the concepts of political freedom; and that international companies exploited our petroleum and mineral resources, as well as our territorial waters, including the Suez Canal, Bab Al-Mandab, the Strait of Hormuz, the Gulf of Aqaba and the Strait of Gibraltar.
Nationalist Egypt recovered the Suez Canal from the hands of its holding international company and it became the property of the Egyptian people. The High Dam on the Nile was built with canal revenues, and agricultural reform was introduced, the Helwan Factory was opened and free education was the norm. In the Arabian Gulf, the oil and gas producing countries regained sovereignty over their petroleum resources.
Political, economic and cultural thought in Egypt during that period was at its height. We may differ in aspects of that thought and we may disagree over the objectives of the writers, but we cannot disagree over the fact that Egypt was the centre of Arab, African and South American intellectuals.
Egypt was the cradle of national liberation movements as colonialism pulled back all over the world; the nationalist government in Cairo was able to contribute money and its media to the liberation of the southern Arabian Peninsula from British colonialism, which had lasted for over a century in the region; it was finally defeated and pulled out in 1967. The Egyptians also contributed to the victory of the Algerian revolution and the defeat of French colonialism after more than 120 years. The revenge punishment for the former victory over colonialism was the 1967 Six-Day War and the defeat suffered by the Levantine Arab countries. The punishment for Egypt’s support for the Algerians was the 1956 Tripartite Aggression against Egypt by Israel, France and Britain, the so-called Suez Crisis.
This was defeated because Egypt was championed and backed by all of the Arabs and its nationalist government attracted the masses from the Atlantic to the Gulf. The country was teeming with intellectuals, artists and literary figures, such as Mahmoud Amin Al-Alem, Lutfi Kholi, Esmat Seif Al-Dawla, Mohamed Hassanein Heikal and Taha Hussein. Now, though, the Egyptian media is devoid of such characters; there are just a few left, like Fahmi Howeidi and Jamil Matar. In the arts, we had Mohamed Abdul Wahab, Umm Kulthum, Abdel Halim Hafez and Farid Al-Atrash, while in the armed forces we had Saad El-Shazly, Abdel Moneim Riad and Mohamed Fawzi. These are only examples and are by no means the only ones. As I mentioned before, Egypt has people who gave and built, and may God have mercy on those generations of people.
Gamal Abdel Nasser was, first and foremost, Egypt’s leader, but he was also one of the few leaders of the Arab nation. If he called for an Arab or Muslim summit, the Arab leaders would rush to Cairo in acceptance of the invitation. If a political conflict occurred in an Arab or African country, he would immediately lend his hand to contain the conflict; we saw this in Lebanon in 1958, Yemen in 1962, Jordan in 1979 and the Congo in 1961.
What has happened to Egypt as we see it today? It is in an unenviable situation, drowning in debt with raging inflation, unprecedented administrative turbulence and a judiciary that does not seem independent and is thus clouded by suspicion.
General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s Egypt is at odds with those who gave it financial, political and media support post-coup; the Arab Gulf states which established military rule in Cairo. Al-Sisi’s Egypt is not on good terms with Turkey, the strongest military force in the region after Israel and economically stronger than Egypt. Everyone knows that the political decisions in the Middle East today stem from the Gulf, centred on Saudi Arabia. However, Al-Sisi has not realised that he cannot move Egypt forward while he is not on good terms with the Gulf capitals.
Al-Sisi’s Egypt has not supported the Arab coalition forces in fighting the rebels in Yemen; they seized control by force and looted the Central Bank and the Yemeni army’s weapons. The president knows that Egypt’s security is linked to the security of the Red Sea, and Saudi Arabia owns the longest coastline. Al-Sisi did not back the Gulf countries in supporting the Syrian people who were plagued by an oppressive and hateful regime that resorted to using hateful gangs from Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon to keep them suppressed. The regime in Damascus has also relied on mercenaries to kill more than 600,000 Syrian people and displace at least 8 million beyond the Syrian borders; Russian and Iranian forces have helped in this directly. It is so sad that Egypt stands with such a government.
Nationalist Egypt was influential in the 1950s and 1960s, while today’s media in Al-Sisi’s Egypt has reached rock bottom in its superficiality and immorality. “The national Egyptian newspapers remained silent when the foreign minister visited Tel Aviv in a surprising and unprecedented move of a kind we haven’t seen in 9 years,” wrote Fahmi Huweidi. “At the same time, voices rose to condemn the Turkish call to build bridges with Egypt and the slogan ‘no reconciliation’ was used. In the eyes of such individuals, normalisation with Israel and disregarding the seas of Arab blood has become permissible, but normalisation of relations with our brothers is not.”
I have examples and quotations that prove my comments about the media and political behaviour, which has plunged our beloved Egypt to rock bottom. However, I am limited by space in what I can quote here.
I will end by asking God to have mercy on nationalist Egypt’s soul, and may He help its great people to withstand the era of Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, his weak media and turbulent foreign policy; and for them to know that all aggressors will meet their end.
Translated from Arabi21, 3 January 2017
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.