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A thought-provoking and certainly probable explanation for the subsequent developments in the Arab world

Making the Arab World. Nasser, Qutb, and the Clash that Shaped the Middle East
Secularists and Islamists played on the same team before the powerless and vain President Nasser sowed animosity and strife, the new book claims.


The 23. July 1952 a group of young officers took power in Egypt. One of them was Gamal Abdel Nasser – later the president of the country – and the coup was in many ways going to shape the entire Arab world as we know it today. Nasser was perhaps more than someone to represent the secularism that has ever faced Islamic movements in various shadows in large parts of the Middle East and North Africa. In the case of Egypt, this is especially the Muslim Brotherhood.

The outcome, however, could have been quite another. According to Fawaz A. Gerges, professor of Middle Eastern studies at the London School of Economics, who has written a new and well-argued book on the TV game: Making the Arab World. Nasser, Qutb, and the Clash that Shaped the Middle East.

From the Brotherhood to Secularism

Gerges' view goes in many ways toward the flow. Secularism and Islamism were not so far apart when it all started. The young officers and the Brotherhood had the same motives for wanting a regime change, and their visions for the end result were also astonishingly similar. Therefore, there was no indication of a youthful barbecue that at an early stage Nasser was an even very activist member of the Brotherhood and very close to its leader and ideological origin Hassan el Banna. It was a well-considered trait which, in Gerges's view, is most reminiscent of opportunism.

At an early stage, Nasser was a very activist member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Muslim Brotherhood originated in 1928. At that time, Egypt was in a state of formal independence, yet under British administration, and the royal house was seen as the extended arm of European imperialism. The Brotherhood saw Islam as the means to restore Egypt's self-esteem, but the primary goal was the independence and economic reforms that would make life worth living for ordinary people. Nasser and his generation of young secular Egyptians read the situation the same way. Two world wars and the economic crisis of the 1930 had also given Egypt's opposition forces a common aversion to Western capitalism, and when the West trumpeted the creation of the State of Israel in the midst of the Arab world, the matter was settled.

Power for the sake of power

When the revolution therefore came, it was in many ways in the cards that one should give the country a fresh start together. Among the officers, the front figure was the slightly colorless Muhammed Naguib who was also appointed president. Nasser was the strategist behind it all. He was a man of action, but like Naguib,
he leads the great visions. This may have been the case with the Muslim Brotherhood, but the charismatic al Banna had died some years before, and in his place stood the pale technocrat Hassan Hudaybi.

In Gerges' interpretation of the sources, this led to a stalemate. Nobody was ready for the big reform plans, and therefore the negotiations as a revolutionary unity government ended in a battle over who was to sit behind the wheel and who should be a junior partner. Eventually, the officers pulled the long straw, but from the outset their rule was marked by an eternal mouthing with the Brotherhood that eventually evolved into open enmity.

The loss of Palestine settled in Nasser as a lifelong trauma.

The key character is Nasser, who sat in the presidential chair from 1956 until his death in 1970. Gerges describes him as a narcissist at his fingertips, and he was always ready to brutally clear any opposition. His rule was characterized by this will to power for the sake of power, and this is why his decisions often lacked grounding. The idea of ​​job securing any Egyptian with a higher education went well on paper, but led to a heavily oversized public sector that the country could not finance. The union with Syria, which should have been the start of pan-Arabism, became a flop. And when the expected strength test with Israel in the June war came in 1967, it ended in a humiliating defeat because Nasser had already weakened the country's army after a failed military adventure in Yemen.

The source of enmity

In this atmosphere, the Brotherhood transformed from potential partner to extremely potent opponent. And this was not least the case when Sayyid Qutb came on the field. He was of a secular background and a bit of a libertarian in his young years, and Gerges describes it as disappointed writer's ambitions, which led him to seek Islamism. This is where we found the bitter animosity between the Board and the Brotherhood that has become the reality today, and this is not least because Qutb was far less compromising than Hassan al Banna. But most of all, according to Gerges, it is related to Nasser's own vanity and inability to cooperate, and it was this that drove him to the fateful decision to execute Qutb in 1966.

Of course, there have been many other factors at play. We are thus told that Nasser was a soldier during the war against Israel in 1948, and that the disappointment over the loss of Palestine sat as a lifelong trauma. But it is only mentioned in passing, and the explanatory model beckons-
laughs strongly at the person Nasser, the psychology and the apparent arbitrariness that will be an important part of the events of 1952. This is hardly the whole historical truth, but in any case a thoughtful and absolutely plausible explanation for the subsequent development in the Arab world.

Hans Henrik Fafner
Hans Henrik Fafner
Fafner is a regular critic in Ny Tid. Residing in Tel Aviv.

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