Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Egypt: 'Pro-Assad Mood Marks Return of Arab Nationalism'

"...The prospect of U.S. strikes against Syria is further stoking a surge of militaristic nationalism that has gripped a large portion of Egyptian society since the armed forces removed Muslim Brotherhood–affiliated President Mohamed Morsi from power on July 3 following huge protests. Morsi, who owed his presidency to the wave of Arab uprisings that began in 2011, enthusiastically supported the Syrian opposition and called for international intervention in the crisis.
Since taking power, the military-backed government that supplanted Morsi has changed Egypt’s official stance with regard to Syria, sternly rejecting military intervention and arguing against international action at the Arab League......
Last week, with the U.S. edging closer to an attack on Syria, nationalist rhetoric inside Egypt reached an even higher pitch. Hamdeen Sabahi, the leader of the Popular Current who came in third in last year’s presidential election, told a television interviewer, “If Egypt is going to be attacked, it will come from the north, from Syria. An attack on Syria is an attack on Egypt.”
The youthful activists who launched the campaign to unseat Morsi joined in the posturing. Mahmoud Badr, the spokesman for the Tamarod (Rebellion) Campaign, released a statement calling on Egypt to close the Suez Canal to warships involved in a potential strike on Syria, saying he “supported the Syrian Arab army in the face of the upcoming U.S. military strike against Syria.” Anyone who supported foreign intervention, he said, is a “traitor.” The group’s Facebook page is emblazoned with an image of an American flag in flames.
Sabahi, the protesters in downtown Cairo and some of Tamarod’s founders have something in common: their nationalism is infused with nostalgia for Nasser, who as a charismatic young army lieutenant colonel led the Free Officers in deposing Egypt’s British-backed monarchy in 1952. As President, he transformed the Egyptian state and brought Egypt into a short-lived union with Syria (a fact to which Sabahi explicitly referred last week). Though distinct from the Assad family’s Baathism (another variant of Arab nationalism), Nasserism is a current that still runs deep in Egyptian politics and has made something of a comeback in recent months. Some have drawn a direct comparison between Nasser and General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, the 58-year-old army chief who, despite reportedly enjoying a good relationship with Morsi early in his term, carried out the July 3 coup against him. At Sunday’s demonstration against intervention in Syria, protesters held posters depicting al-Sisi and Nasser side by side.
Seeing more of Nasser’s portraits hanging from buildings in Cairo and hearing his name mentioned in the same breath as al-Sisi’s also casts a new light on the political crosscurrents that led to Morsi’s ouster. Standing among the crowd at Sunday’s demonstration was Mohamed Haikal, one of the five founders of Tamarod. By his reckoning, the impetus for the anti-Morsi campaign came not in May 2013 but in June 2012, when in a speech in Tahrir Square, the newly elected Morsi referred to the “long oppression” suffered by Egyptians in the several decades leading up to the 2011 revolution. “He said a sentence about the time of the ’60s, which was the years of Nasser,” Haikal said in an interview a week earlier. “We felt that we have been humiliated by the new President, that he is against our beloved leader and icon, Nasser.”.."

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