The Egyptian revolution of 1952, which was a coup d’état made by young military soldiers who named themselves “The free officers”, it was initially aiming to over throw King Farouk. However, thing ran more smoothly than the free officers thought, they made more political change that just overthrowing the king, they abolished the monarchy and established the republic, and ended the British occupation of Egypt. The free officers, who were headed and founded by colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser, chose Mohamed Naguib to be the first president of the Egyptian Republic. However, his reign did not last long due to disagreements with Nasser which lead to his forced removal from office, and put in house arrest. Nasser took power in 1956, the people cherished Nasser, as they saw him as one of them; under his leadership he nationalized the Suez Canal, this even made him more charismatic and loved by the people.
After Nasser’s death in 1970, his vice president, Anwar El Sadat took over the power and became the third president of Egypt. Most of the people were disappointed by Nasser’s death, and did not think of anyone else who can rule them. So, in his first speech as a president, Sadat promised the people that he will continue what Nasser had started and that he will follow his path. However, later, Sadat took a different path than Nasser’s. Sadat is well known for launching the 1973 war against Israel, and for signing a peace treaty with them after the war, which lead to the return of all Egypt’s territories which were occupied by the Israelis under Nasser’s era. Nasser’s and Sadat’s regimes are one of the most important in the modern Egyptian history. Their different characters played a great role in shaping the Egyptian political structure, as both of them had absolute powers as presidents. The base of the political structure did not change from Nasser to Sadat, the regime was still authoritarian with absolute power to the president, and however, each one of them used his absolute power in a different way that resulted in a big difference in the political structure of the country. In this essay I will illustrate Nasser’s and Sadat’s structure of the political system and to what degree they differed from each other.
Gamal Abdel Nasser was the leader who was almost worshiped by his people. He was incredibly charismatic and had a direct relationship with the Egyptian people. He used to always give public speeches that were very emotive and touching. He succeeded to build a common ground between him and the people, in his speeches he always referred to them as his “fellow citizens”. Nasser managed to remove the gap between the ruler and the public; this improved his credibility and his legitimacy to the Egyptian nation. Moreover, Nasser was a down to earth, simple person. He did not live in a palace or in a luxurious villa; he had a modest small house. According to the movie Nasser 56, he refused to build a pool for his kids, as he declined to gain any benefits from his position. Nasser gave the low class jobs, houses, health insurance, free schools and land. In addition to, in the 1964 constitution he assigned half of the national assembly seats to peasants and workers. In his political decisions, Nasser used to consult and put into his consideration the opinions and comments of his cabinet; before taking the decision of nationalizing the Suez Canal, Nasser made numerous consults. The political system structure under Nasser was based on the socialist political ideology. Nasser was a socialist; he founded the country’s sole political party: The Arab Socialist Union. He was a pan Arab nationalist; he made a short lived union with Syria.
Under his reign, he reformed the economy and made an agrarian reform by distributing land to the peasants. He initiated a centrally planned economy; he had a major nationalizing program that nationalized all the chief sources of income to the country, making the state the largest employer. Although the revolution promised a democratic rule, Nasser was an authoritarian dictator. He attempted to lay the groundwork for democracy, however, democracy is still absent in Egypt till our present day. Nasser owned a monopoly of power, when Nasser noticed the amount of control Abdel Hakim Amer; the chief of the armed force, Nasser striped Amer of his position and appointed himself the chief of the armed force. When Nasser became president, he aimed to put an end to all oppositions, he got rid of all the parties and abolished the Muslim brotherhood, and he established the only party The Arab Socialist Union.
As a result of having absolute power, there was no any legal legitimacy, the president can change the constitution whenever he likes, he changed the constitution 5 times, Nasser made a legal constitutional frame work to maintain and increase his powers. The coercive apparatus had a great role in Nasser’s regime which was known for extreme torture for prisoners who might even be imprisoned for no charges. In his era, army soldiers were given the top policy management roles instead of politicians or diplomats. In 1956, after a lot of researches, reasoning and considering the risks, Nasser decided to nationalize the Suez Canal, this is one of the main decisions that people admire Nasser for. Nasser allied with the Soviet Union because he believed that in order to develop the country; it must have a proper army with good arms. Later in 1976, Israel attacked Egypt and took over territories, this incident led to the resignation of Gamal Abd El Nasser, soon after; people demonstrated and rejected the resignation, so Nasser decided to postpone his decision. Despite the Israeli victory in the 1976 war, Nasser succeeded to become a symbol of Arab victory and dignity, even though he could not do all what he promised but people were satisfied that he at least tried. In 1970 Nasser died in office and Anwar el Sadat became the President.
Anwar El Sadat, third president of the republic, was one of the free officers. Sadat’s presidency was considered widely among the people that it is going to be short lived, and they assumed that he is merely a puppet of the former president Nasser who is controlled by Nasser supporters. Sadat surprised everyone by taking serious political actions that retained his powers as a president and enabled him to emerge as an independent leader. Sadat was a cunning and clever person, many incidents show that he had a decisive character by which he can reach unattainable goals, and two of these incidents are: his escape from political prison before the revolution, and the tactics of 1973 war that has depended on deceiving the enemy. Unlike Nasser, Sadat initiated a gap between him and the people, he didn’t make public speeches, and he preferred talking to groups of people and especially the parliament.
Sadat didn’t care to justify his actions, while some actions really needed justifications because they were refuted and considered bizarre, to the people; he can occasionally justify it to individuals who have the capability of seeing and asking him. Another notable difference between Sadat and Nasser, Sadat addressed the nation as his sons, he was playing the role of the god father and he believed that he is more knowing than anyone else. This can be noticed in his decision taking, he was a sole decision taker, and he rarely took advice or a consultant from his cabinet, even in the most serious decisions. For example, everyone was surprised when he stated that he was ready to go and negotiate with the Israelis in the Knesset. Sadat was so full of himself and arrogant, he gained tremendous self confidence after the 1973 war, and the nation considered him a hero. Sadat’s ideologies were totally different than those of Nasser.
He was more western oriented he drifted away from the Nasserism by establishing a multiparty system and initiating a liberal economy and the open door policy (Infitah). He changed his political party from the Arab Socialist Union to the National Democratic Party. One of the focal differences between him and his Nasser is that Sadat is far less Arab Nationalist; he was more focused on the well being and the liberation of his own country that he signed a peace treaty with Israel after the 1973 war. Sadat was not in good terms with the Soviet Union, he expelled the soviet actors from Egypt before the 1973 war; however the soviet kept on equipping the Egyptian army with weapons and equipments throughout the war.
After the war Sadat was seen as a hero to the Arab world, but not for a long time, after he declared that he is ready to make peace with Israel, he was seen as a traitor by most Arab countries. Later, Sadat established relations between Egypt and the United States in order to negotiate for getting back Egypt’s occupied territories, and he succeeded, and one of his famous quotes were ” Russians can give you arms, but only the united states can give you a solution” (Simpsons Contemporary Quotations”, p.14).
Nasser established a base political structure during his regime that Sadat inherited. Both regimes were authoritarian and shared the same policies that give the president absolute power and control over the country. What has not changed in both regimes are the monopoly of power to the president, the lack of legal legitimacy, the dependence on the coercive apparatus to eliminate opposition, manipulating the constitution to suite their practice of powers and the one dominant party, even though Sadat reinstituted the multiparty system, other parties acted like pressure groups. However, since the president has absolute power, then the personality of the president is a big deal in shaping the political structure.
As noticed, Sadat was really different in character than Nasser, thus the political system. As Sadat took over the presidency, he started his “Correctional Revolution”, he started by purging Nasserites members in the government and security forces, and replaced them by professional diplomats and politicians. In addition to, changing the paths of foreign -domestic policies, economy and ideology; plus the imprisonment of many political forces including many Islamists. Nevertheless, there was more political freedom under Sadat; he took another step towards democracy. The multiparty system gave more space for opposition, which was extinct in Nasser’s era. Sadat also gave the press more freedom, unlike Nasser who nationalized and controlled the press.
After 1973 when Sadat launched the Infitah, which is the open door for private investment which encouraged domestic and foreign investment in the private sector and ended the domination of the economy by the public sector, created a wealthier more successful upper class and a smaller middle class, however, negative and violent protests happened after Sadat decided to cut subsidies over basic food supplies, these protests forced Sadat to go back on his decision and reinitiate the subsidies. The Egyptian foreign policy witnessed a dramatic change under Sadat, from the expulsion of soviet actors, to the alliance with the United States. The most important point of change is that Sadat shifted Egypt from the policy of confrontation towards Israel, to a peaceful accommodation through the negotiations that took place after the war of 1973. This change in policy had three critical influences over the modern Egyptian history:
(i) Egypt got back all occupied territories that were overtaken in 1976
(ii) Egypt declared the country of Israel
(iii) Most Arab countries cut relations with Egypt, and Egypt was dismissed from the Arab league.
Finally, the last notable change in the structure of the political system is the long term alliance with the United States, which is still present until today. One of the main benefits of this alliance is that Egypt became one of the top recipients of American aid.
In conclusion, Nasser created a base political structure that has not changed, but it enables the person in power to have full control over the state. The strong base that Nasser built makes the person in power able to build his views and ideologies over it. And that is what happened, Sadat shifted Egypt’s path, and we are still living the consequences, but what Sadat has fulfilled was founded on Nasser’s base. And what can be concluded is that Nasser built the base of dictatorship in Egypt, and Sadat relied on it. So I can argue that the political system has changed under Sadat, but the form of government remained the same.