Sisi vs. Sabbahi

Nasserist presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi recently requested the chance to debate former defense minister Abdel Fattah El Sisi (whose propagandists have done quite a bit of Nasser-invoking themselves recently), prompting treasured local wit Sarah Carr to ask: "So will there be a public debate between Sisi and Sabahy. Will it just revolve around who loves Nasser harder?"

This sent contributor Paul Mutter down an imaginary wormhole from which -- courtesy this classic SNL sketch -- the following emerged: 

"I have a fever and only (more) Nasser can cure it."

"I have a fever and only (more) Nasser can cure it."

Et Tu Sonallah?

On the New Yorker's blog, Robyn Creswell lauds Sonallah Ibrahim (whose first novel That Smell he recently translated, to glowing reviews) as Egypt's "oracular novelist," arguing that his skepticism over the January 25 revolution's impact (he has preferred to call it an intifada, an uprising, rather than a thawra, a revolution) marks him as a "soothsayer." Creswell argues that Ibrahim's doubts echo his early skepticism of the Nasser regime, which "was seen as a harbinger of its collapse."

I am a great admirer of Ibrahim's sharp, troubling, original work -- and I was charmed by the man himself. But I think the argument above is more pertinent to his straight-forward opposition to the Sadat and the Mubarak regimes, whose shortcomings he satirized in his tour-de-force novel Zaat  and denounced publicly. Ibrahim has had a much more complicated and contradictory relationship to Nasser, like many Egyptian Communists (who voluntarily dissolved themselves in the 1960s to support the national cause) -- one in which anti-imperialism trumps anti-authorianism, and ideology overrides self-interest and otherwise excellent analytical powers. 

I say this in light of a recent interview in which Ibrahim, commenting on the current situation, says that "the military power is working on behalf of the people," and describes Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi as "a gain for political life in Egypt," a "patriotic personality" and someone who "for the first time since Gamal Abdel Nasser challenged America and the West." 

 (He also argues that "In the first place we have to understand that there is a plan, developed in research centers in Germany and the US after studying our political and social situation, to maintain their control over us. And this plan is executed by spreading a number of public figures among us to work in its interest, and one of these figures in Mohamed ElBaradei.")

I don't know when this interview was done and I don't know how reliable it is (El Youm El Sabaa isn't always a pinnacle of professionalism). Ibrahim is hardly alone among Egyptian  writers to be celebrating and defending the army after Morsi's ouster. 

But it suggests much less comforting thoughts, not about a lifetime of skepticism and prescience, but about the recurrence of a certain gullibility or delusion. 

In That Smell Ibrahim portrays a country that has turned into a prison, a place where people can't connect or tell the truth. Yet in the interview he describes Nasser as a "great leader." As Creswell himself notes in his introduction to That Smell, when Ibrahim and other Communists were jailed by Nasser in 1959, "The consistent support his faction had given Nasser ended up counting for nothing."  

 

Nasser, the Muslim Brothers and the veil

 

This is a wonderful video of a speech given by Gamal Abdel Nasser in which he recounts a meeting with the General Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood (at the time, probably Hassan al-Hudaibi) in which he tried to patch things up and, as he puts it, "set them in the right direction." He asks them what their demands are. The Guide replies that his first demand is that all women in Egypt be forced to wear the veil.

The interesting thing is that this line generates an uproar of laughter in the audience. One man shouts out, "why doesn't he veil himself."

With very dead-pan delivery Nasser continues. He says that he doesn't believe that this should be imposed on anyone, that it's a personal choice. The Guide insists, telling him that he should, as ruler, impose the veil. Nasser then relates that he replied: "Your daughter is studying medicine. She does not wear the veil. If you can't impose the veil on your daughter, what makes you think I can impose the veil on 10 million Egyptian women?"

The depressing thing is that, back then, you could mock the leader of an Islamist movement for wanting to impose an alleged religious duty. Today it seems it would trigger anti-blasphemy lawsuits.

Of course Nasser may be at least partly making this up. Although close to the Brothers before he assumed powers, and fully sharing their authoritarian streak, by the time he made this speech he was repressing them. It may have been convenient to ridicule them. But it's the audience reaction that is the most telling.

[Thanks, MG]

Links for 11.09.09 to 11.12.09

Report: Angelina Jolie planning to adopt child from Syria - Haaretz - Israel News | Jolie and Pitt thinking of adopting an Iraqi refugee baby in Syria. They also met with Bashar and his wife, apparently. United Colors of Adoption... this will cause a stir. ✪ Israel & Palestine: Can They Start Over? - The New York Review of Books | Malley & Agha's latest, in which they criticize the two-state solution, criticize alternatives to it (notably one-state), and sketch out the alternative: a hudna, a long-term interim truce while work on fundamental questions is carried out. Not entirely convincing, too vague at times, but there's something interesting there nonetheless. I wish they could be more straightforward. ✪ UN: Gaza needs construction material before winter - Yahoo! News | Even greater humanitarian crisis looming. ✪ Palestinian borders could solve settlements row: Fatah - Yahoo! News | Muhammad Dahlan picks up Daniel Levy's line about deciding on borders. Worrying. ✪ Israeli flights over Lebanon break resolution: UN - Yahoo! News | "UNITED NATIONS (AFP) – All Israeli military flights over Lebanon break a resolution aimed at ending the 2006 hostilities between the two neighbors, a UN envoy said Tuesday." So let's have the UN set up air defenses, then! ✪ Abbas slams Israel on settlements at mass Arafat rally - Yahoo! News | Funny pic of Abbas alongside this story. Well he's shown he can have some balls, at least, and highlight the dismal failure of the Israelis and Americans on the settlement question. ✪ Israel mulls draft refugee law - Yahoo! News | "JERUSALEM (AFP) – A draft law stipulating that any Middle East peace treaty must mention compensation for Jews forced to leave Arab states has passed a preliminary reading in the Israeli parliament, a spokesman said on Wednesday." ✪ Gaza, Gilad Shalit, Hamas, and Israel : The New Yorker | Somewhat flawed piece by Lawrence Wright, but nice descriptions of the misery of Gaza. Too much Gilad Shalit for my taste. ✪ Arab Reform Bulletin - Brotherhood Faces Leadership Challenge | Ibrahim al-Hudaiby about the MB's internal dispute and its need to institutionalize decision-making. ✪ Memo From Riyadh - Influence of Egypt and Saudi Arabia Fades - NYTimes.com | An interesting story on Egypt and Saudi Arabia's dwindling relative power to influence regional affairs. Except I would not put Cairo and Riyadh in the same basket: Egypt is in absolute decline, Saudi in relative decline. Also interesting stuff on differences between the two on how to handle Syria. ✪ 6 Guantanamo detainees resettle in Palau Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | The absurdities of the war on terror: "KOROR, Palau (AP) - Six Chinese Muslims released from Guantanamo Bay but still wanted at home as separatists arrived Sunday on their new tropical island home of Palau after the tiny Pacific nation agreed to a U.S. request to resettle the men." ✪ Géopolitique des médias arabes (1/2) : Rotana, mondialisation et normalisation | Culture et politique arabes | First post in a series of the geopolitics of Arab media. This one largely focuses on Kingdom Holdings and Saudi Prince al-Waleed bin Talal. ✪ الرئيس جمال عبد الناصر، الصفحة الرئيسية | Gamal Abdel Nasser archives at the Alexandria Library. ✪ In Turkey, fertile ground for creationism - washingtonpost.com | On Islamist creationists in Turkey. ✪ Al-Ahram Weekly | Egypt | Obituary Amin Howeidi (1921-2009) Vexed, not villainous | Gamal Nkrumah's obituary of former Egyptian spy chief Amin Howeidy.
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