Version classiqueVersion mobile
OpenEdition Books

Notes et articles sur l’Égypte

Maurice Martin

Partie 1 - Le pouvoir au défi des successions

The October Paper

Note de l’éditeur

Source : Journal Akhbar al-Hawadith, 19 avril 1974 et CEMAM Reports, 1974, p. 55-64.

Le 18 avril 1974, le Président Sadate présente au Comité central de l’Union arabe socialiste et à l’Assemblée du Peuple un projet intitulé « Document d’Octobre ». Le 15 mai 1974, le texte est soumis à un référendum. Défini comme un tournant politique majeur vis-à-vis du nassérisme, ce nouveau projet politique de Sadate rompt avec la Charte d’action nationale de Nasser et réoriente la politique égyptienne pour les vingt-cinq années à venir. Le père Maurice Martin commente ici le document, réagissant à une actualité immédiate. (N.D.R)

Texte intégral

1The analysis which follows is not a political one; that is, it does not deal with the changes in internal Egyptian, Arab or international policy implied in the October Paper (OP), or with the causes of these changes, their scope, or their chances of success in a given set of circumstances.

2The OP is taken here as a carefully worked out text, a sort of “manifesto”. Hence an analysis of the text, its structure, and its principal themes, as well as what it does not say, ought to “manifest” the ideology which underlies it, gives it its orientation and justifies the policy it expresses.

3However, it is not the political ideology, or the determination of its nature or its value in relation to other ideologies that is our concern here. Certainly the OP takes some clearly expressed political positions, which can be appraised according to how they fit the Egyptian reality or be criticized in relation to other different ideologies. We do not want to approach this appraisal or criticism directly; rather we will try to read the OP with the outlook of the Egyptian for whom it was intended. What basic elements in the OP would incline him to accept such a policy or ideological change?

4This brings us to focus on the new “self image” proposed to him, the appreciation of his recent past, the vision of his immediate future, and the tone of this manifesto, which is as significant as the proposals themselves. It is the very tone of the manifesto, which is important for attracting and holding the attention of the Egyptians, for moving and stirring them. It is perhaps the tone, more than the content, which can show precisely to which publics in the nation the text is particularly addressed.

5Since the OP refers several times to the Charter besides four verses of the Quran it is the only explicit reference invoked the Charter can serve as a starting point and basis of comparison in measuring the changes involved. This reference to the Charter is basic because the People’s Assembly decided after a referendum to consider the OP as a constitutional text equal to the Charter.

6The comparison with the Charter is the more imperative, as the structure of the two documents is identical. Essentially, in both documents a central event has taken place in the life of the nation on which attention is focused; that event has changed everything in the nation and around it. In its light one can reread the nation’s past and foresee its future. This interpretation of the meaning of history is then followed by a plan of action. Such is the identical structure of the two texts. This pattern implies that in the OP the October War has taken the place of the July 1952 Revolution and has assumed the role the latter had in the Charter.

“The day of 23 July 1952 marked the beginning of a new and glorious stage in the history of the continual struggle of the Arab people in Egypt (…). The Revolution of the Egyptian people set in motion all the revolutionary eventualities in all the Arab territories (...) This was a turning point whose repercussions have extended to the international level.” (Charter, Ch. l)

“There are in the life of a nation days which are not measured by their length but by the horizons they open up (…). The world after October 1973 is different from what was before (…). The image of the world has radically changed.” (Op, Ch. l)

7It is, then, the replacement of the central event, the key of history, which is to account for all the changes of content and of tone in the two texts, and of the public to whom they are addressed. The gap is enormous. To begin with, the Revolution of July 1952 is already an event of the past; the Revolution must be recalled lest it be forgotten, and it must be reinterpreted or reread in the light of the glorious actuality of October 1973. As to the leader of the Revolution and author of the Charter, his name is mentioned only once and that in connection with a speech given on the anniversary of his death by President Sadat. In a text as carefully worked out as the OP, this treatment of Nasser cannot have been anything but deliberate.

The rupture with Nasser’s Charter

8With the account of twenty years of this “revolutionary experience” closed, its final balance sheet can be drawn up. First of all, the Revolution has borne its principal fruit in making October 1973 possible in various ways. That is, national independence, economic and cultural development have produced the Egyptian fighter. The Revolution has been so successful that the young, who have not lived it, must be shown its historic importance. It should remain material for teaching and those who criticize the regime, which resulted from the revolution, must be reminded that they owe to it the very awareness of their needs.

9Certainly, there are on these balance sheet negative aspects, and any mention of the Revolution involves at least an allusion to them. Moreover, the defeat of 1967 has spotlighted them but fortunately they have been liquidated by the May 1971 “movement of rectification”. Finally and above all, is not the very goal of a revolution to transform itself into order and stability, to become a “way of life”, a whole set of values and principles having created Socialist Egypt, the Revolution has achieved its work.

10Nothing perhaps shows this better than to consider the image of the Egyptian people in the OP. The revolutionary impulse, revolutionary action, revolutionary will, revolutionary work, forward revolutionary movement, revolutionary spirit, the stirring of revolutionary awareness, popular revolutionary combat, revolutionary avant-gardes, popular struggle, popular revolutionary waves, etc. such are the expressions which give a rhythmic beat to the Charter. Of all these expressions there is only one that remains and it is mentioned in the OP only once: the revolutionary experience has led to rectifying the march of the Revolution and to liquidating its negative aspects.

11Another expression of the Charter now commands attention: the Egyptian people as “artisan of civilization”. There is insistence on the Egyptian people’s personality, its identity. It has built a civilization for its own well-being and for that of humanity. This people carries deep within itself the values of 7000 years of civilizations which succeeded one after the other without changing the authentic characteristics and intimate qualities of the people. It has been receptive, hospitable, but it has always refashioned the influences received according to its Egyptian character while safeguarding its distinct personality. It is a people of peace and of tolerance, absorbing its conquerors, rejecting those who do not become assimilated, proud of its long and worthy history. It is characterized by its continuity, a native essence, and distinct original traits. It has always been united. It has healthy desires and rallies around its leaders. The October War finally unified its ranks again in a unique and incomparable fashion.

12To sum up this image briefly: the people are the depositary and the sure guardian of the national identity and unity, but are no longer the moving force of revolutionary change. The forces of change are elsewhere. Perhaps an even more significant shift is perceptible: as soon as there is question of judging the present and envisaging the future, the OP appeals not so much to the Egyptian people as such as it does to each individual, to each citizen or to the body of citizens.

13This presentation of an Egyptian people essentially faithful to its past and to itself involves further considerable shifts in relation to the Charter. There, if the people were revolutionary, they were so, first of all, within the Arab nation. What happens, in the OP, to the unity of the Arab nation to which a whole chapter of the Charter is devoted? The expression “Arab unity” is employed scarcely once in the OP without a qualification to make it precise and limited. Essentially, the idea of Arab nationalism has matured, passing beyond the slogans to the practical measures, which are possible.

14After October 1973 the Arab nation changed: for the first time, Arabs have effectively closed their ranks and have taken a definite common action despite their constitutional or ideological differences. There are Arab countries, national Arab sentiments, Arab potentialities, Arab fies, an Arab role, Arab investments – but political unity is still far off, and the only way to it is Arab economic cooperation (just as economic cooperation leads Europe towards unity).

15In the Arab nation so understood, Egypt takes this position: she believes in the Arab nation, her enemies will not be able to isolate her from it, she replies to the challenge from well within the Arab nation and through her Arabism, for she carries the major burden of its defense, being the heart of the Arab nation. But the identification is no longer total nor final. Arabism is one type of tie among others: “Our Arab foes, our African relations, our affiliation with the non-aligned movement”, “our Arab, African and international role”. Mention is now made of “the Egyptian people” rather than of “the Arab people in Egypt”. Indeed, the heritage, which the fidelity of the Egyptian people protected, is not merely the Arab heritage. 7000 years of civilization have formed a profound national character whose distinguishing traits are unity and harmony, political and geographic cohesion, love of peace which makes it consecrate its talents to build and construct, and not to invade and destroy.

16The people have, then, embraced the values and the heritage of the Arab nation of which they are the support. That which characterizes them here is faith, a faith free from fanaticism and superstition, a faith which makes them responsible for their action and spurs them on to face with their God-given intelligence the renewed challenges of history. Those who have shown creativity during Egypt’s long history have always occupied a place of honor. This fidelity to national identity will protect the nation against the dangers of the opening imposed by technology, necessary to be sure, but involving the risk of propagating foreign traits. The Arab heritage and the Islamic faith, then, are only a part of the national identity. In fact, the explicitly religious references are even less numerous in the OP than in the Charter. In the state founded on science and faith – the slogan of the regime several times repeated – faith keeps the people loyal; above all modernized faith, without fanaticism or superstition, inviting to responsibility in action and to a search for knowledge, clears old avenues to make way for the new construction of science.

A new political project for Egypt

17As has already been said, the responsibility for action has been withdrawn from the people; it is no longer desirable that they continue to be animated by a revolutionary spirit. The constructive forces of history are elsewhere. It is necessary to come back to the event of October 1973 to grasp where these forces are situated, for “that which we were able to realize on the battlefield ought to be realized to the same degree in all others areas” of the life of the nation.

18The revelations of October 1973 indicate the way to be followed.

“The valiant combat has proved to the world the capacity of leaders to plan well and to make careful preparations, and the ability of the Egyptian soldier to handle modern armament and to use it with rare courage (...) It is a serious error to say that the success of the crossing of the Canal was a miracle, because we had in this regard nothing which surpassed ordinary human capacities, nothing which cannot be repeated. On the contrary we ought to regard it as the culminating point of a national action whose lessons ought to be considered with great care and to be regarded as a model.”

19The tone is set: “We are capable of calculating, of making plans, of taking the initiative...”

20People struggle for liberty, progress, peace and prosperity, to become nations worthy of progress and prosperity, for a happy future. It is necessary then to conduct a decisive war against the vestiges of backwardness, to wage the battle of progress – and for that to trace a global cultural strategy in view of a new state and of a modern society.

21The longest of the chapters, nearly half of the OP, is consecrated to this strategy, with economic development getting the lion’s share: economic opening for a more rapid industrialization; adaptation of education to work, “for we ought to enter into the age of science and technology”; construction of a new map of Egypt where the Canal Zone on the two banks will become a pilot project, economically open, industrialized, and a model of planned urbanization – such is the image of the future which the OP outlines. To realize it, there is only one way, only one means: planning, whose praise is sung for four pages.

22“The experience of the October War has proved that scientific planning is the basis of all successful action. The efficiency of planning as a scientific method (...) All nations trace their development according to long-term plans (...) The strategy of urbanism ought to be founded on scientific planning. We need to adopt the principles of planning in our lives (...) The economic opening reinforces the importance of planning, etc.”

23Certainly the appeal to science and to planning for the construction of the country is not something really new. Equally numerous and important pages of the Charter are consecrated to it, but they are entitled “On the necessity of a socialist solution”, while the title of the chapter of OP is much more modest: “The tasks of the present stage”. Here is how the Charter expressed itself:

“The solution brought by socialism to the economic and social underdevelopment of Egypt is a revolutionary step towards progress (...) Scientific socialism is the form which best agrees with the bringing forth into the light of day of a true plan to assure progress (...) The socialist solution is the only one which leads to economic and social progress.”

24One sees then, once again, that the method of shifting from one word to another is significant: “socialist planning” in the Charter, “scientific planning” in the OP. But still more striking is the change of tone: doctrinaire in the Charter, much more experimental in the OP. Moreover, the difference is deliberate and justified: “Doctrinal rigidity regresses everywhere while human progress continues its march forward with unprecedented speed.”

25The OP can, however, appeal to the Charter, and even fairly often, in order to affirm the continuity of the socialist regime and at the same time to justify new options – political liberty, economic openness, encouragement of the private sector, limitation on nationalizations. The significance, however, lies in the fact that these words will not be heard by the same audience that heard the Charter.

How the OP has been received?

26First of all, let us discuss the outside world, for the OP is certainly meant for international as well as domestic consumption. The OP sees that the attitude of the world towards Egypt has changed: “Those at whose doors we used to knock in vain now come to knock at our door.” For the OP, an end has come to the aggressive reception offered by a revolutionary Egyptian people to imperialism and colonialism during the course of this people’s long history. Imperialism and colonialism, which mark profoundly the interpretation of the history of Egypt in the Charter, disappear. They are mentioned only twice: 1) Egypt lived formerly under a “feudal and imperialist regime”, 2) but now “imperialism with its old forms has withdrawn”. The economic opening is made towards the West as well as towards the East, and it has its demands.

27As for the Egyptian home front, there is no longer much interest in the diverse social elements of the “workforce”. Rather there is a question of economic sectors. A special appeal is made to the young people as such, and without doubt this means the student body who are eager to defy authority. Youth ought to recognize the revolutionary past of the regime and know that the regime has a special interest in the future of youth, which is that of the nation. But the tone of the language appears even more adapted to two groups particularly close to one another. First of all, there is the political ruling class, which came out of the Revolution. For them the continuity of the regime is affirmed, since it has come to a stable and peaceful harbor. Next, the group of economic and technical authorities whose duty it is to elaborate and execute the Plan. These people, who are the guardians of authenticity, will remain united to their leader if these latter assure them of increasing employment.

28The welcome given to the OP was not exactly enthusiastic. Certainly, all the official bodies studied it and praised it, as was fitting. They also promised to apply it, each in his own sector. In the referendum, the approbation was overwhelming. It has already become the source of texts for school examinations, and there is talk of reforming the schoolbooks according to its spirit. In reality, however, public opinion treats the OP with as much skepticism as the first news, in October 1973 of the Crossing of the Canal: the victorious declarations of the first hours of the Six Day War in 1967 had made people mistrustful. All the same, what importance has one more document – one that, in relation to the Charter, is quite new and different – if it is not followed by action?

29Will the strong points of the Plan be more efficacious than invoking the revolutionary spirit? That is the question. The most of indifference, which the masses must be made to cross, is as large and deep as the Canal. To reassure the political group in power and to give satisfaction to those responsible for the economy – that is to say to those who have already crossed the most of modernization and profit from it rather well – will not push the people to the effort required nor make them persevere in the sacrifice demanded. They have scarcely tasted the first fruits of the modernization, which was available to them, and their hunger for it has grown. The planning, the calculating, the organization which prepared the crossing of the Canal by the Army – these are not the motivations of the soldier, nor of the Egyptian citizen.

30These motivations, the OP recognizes, can no longer be imposed from above but require a new climate of political liberty for their formation and expression. The Charter had tied together political and social democracy when it affirmed that political liberty cannot exist without social liberty. Alluding to the Charter in this matter, the OP states that the Revolution, which was devoted to social liberty, did not go as far in political liberty as the aspirations of the people and their “mature political awareness” permitted or requested. To say this is to directly call in question the political organization of the nation, the Arab Socialist Union. However, in the last paragraphs, the OP maintains the validity of the Union’s ideal of the alliance of the forces of the nation in rejecting the pluralism of parties, and affirms that the Union remains the true place of encounter for creating dialogue between the diverse tendencies. The practice of “national dialogues” opens the way for political democracy. It seems plausible, in fact, that on the success of these dialogues, on their authenticity, their liberty and their effectiveness will depend more and more the possibility of the nation understanding itself and recognizing itself in the plans which the authorities propose for it.

© CEDEJ - Égypte/Soudan, 2018

Conditions d’utilisation :


Volume papier

Place des libraires