History Repeats Itself in Egypt

For decades, Egyptians have celebrated July 23 as a public holiday that commemorates the 1952 revolution. Led by a group of young army officers, named “the Free Officers,” this revolution removed Egypt’s monarchy and established the country as a republic.

After nearly 60 years of dictatorship, arguably the darkest in Egypt’s history, it is now evident that the 1952 revolution was not revolution at all, and is certainly nothing to celebrate.

On the morning of July 23, 1952, the Free Officers carried out a military coup, and at 7:30 a.m., the Egyptian population heard a broadcast station issue the first communiqué of the revolution. The statement was a justification of what they named the “Blessed Movement.”

What happened in 1952 was a coup d’etat, not a revolution. In its very definition, a revolution is a movement by the people. This was an affair the public did not know about, until it was over.

The young military group set out to cleanse Egypt from a regime that was corrupt, unrepresentative, and brutal in its repression of peaceful protest. Sound familiar? Those were among the causes of the January 25 revolution. That mass uprising set out to save the country from what was, in fact, the dreadful aftermath of the 1952 military coup.

Much of Egypt’s current woes can be blamed on that fateful day exactly 59 years ago. A large portion of the population has barely been able to put food on the table since the Free Officers took power. Under the weight of corruption and bureaucracy, the gap between rich and poor continued to widen and the economy continued to suffer. Cairo lost its status as the magnificent Arab capital of art, taste, and culture.

One of the first decisions taken by the new military rulers was banning all political parties, paving the way for decades of oppression. In response to the absence of political parties, the Muslim Brotherhood began to rise in power, eventually becoming the main alternative for those frustrated with the regime.

Immediately afterwards, most of the Italians, Greeks, and Armenians who had settled in Egypt left the country, along with the Egyptian Jews who were expelled in 1956. The country’s characteristic diversity began to slowly diminish. Inevitably, some years later, sectarian tensions between Muslims and Copts, Egypt’s Christian minority, started to emerge.

Today we should not recount the anguish and wrongdoings of the military regime created in 1952. Rather, we should learn from Egypt’s historical mistakes and acknowledge the urgent need to transfer power from a military rule to a civil administration.

Egypt is at a critical moment in its history. Many believe a compromise with the army is the best solution to guarantee stability, but it is crucial for them to remember that the same military establishment that began its rule in 1952 has repeatedly failed to manage a transition to a democratic and prosperous future.

Egypt finally has the opportunity to dislodge the military from their politics. If this generation of young Egyptians fails to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors and allows the military to continue to govern, they are destined to repeat the errors of the past.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons