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Notes et articles sur l’Égypte

Maurice Martin

Partie 1 - Le pouvoir au défi des successions

Nasserism today

Note de l’éditeur

Source : (avec S. Labib), Religion, State and Ideology, CEMAM Reports 1975, Beyrouth, vol. 3, 1976, p. 191-212.

À la mort de Gamal Abdel Nasser en 1970, les débats sur l’expérience nassériste agitent la classe politique et intellectuelle égyptienne. C’est particulièrement au sein de la gauche que l’on ressent le besoin de définir, d’évaluer et de dresser un bilan du nassérisme. Marxistes et communistes ont en effet un rapport complexe avec le régime de l’ancien Président. Si les forces de gauche ont soutenu activement la révolution de 1952 et, quelques années plus tard, le rapprochement avec l’URSS, Nasser interdit le Parti communiste égyptien en 1965 et de nombreux militants sont emprisonnés. Au-delà de cette relation complexe, les intellectuels de gauche examinent, à la mort de Nasser, toute sa politique avec cette question : l’expérience socialiste portée par Nasser pourra-t-elle inspirer l’avenir ? Maurice Martin et Samir Labib analysent les débats publiés dans deux revues, al-Tali‘a et Ruz al-Yusuf, afin de rendre compte de l’état d’une partie de la gauche. (N.D.R)

Texte intégral

  • 1 Awdat al-Ruh was published in 1933. Compare the following from the third part of Nasser’s Falsafat (...)

1There was a time when Tawfiq al-Hakim’s Return of the Spirit was one of the sources from which Nasser derived an understanding of his mission. Today Hakim’s Return of Awareness is one of the key pieces in the process brought against Nasserism1. Once again the “old master” has speeded up the movement toward liberation in his own country. During 1975, this “awareness rediscovered” manifested itself especially in an infectious “return of the word”, at least among those able to speak out, that is the writers.

2Five years after the death of Nasser it is possible to trace back the steps in that “return” and to single out the accompanying circumstance and the stipulated limits. It all began in May 1971 when the “Corrective Movement” confirming Sadat’s take over officially disclosed that the Nasser period of the Revolution had its “negative” aspects and laid the blame especially on the “centers of power” which Sadat had just dismantled. From then on the sluice was opened wide to a growing flood of revelations of the secrets of that period during which only one man had spoken, revelations stretching from Muhamad Hasanaein Haykal’s Cairo Documents (end of 1971) to the T.V. chats and press memoirs of President Sadat himself during Ramadan 1971. Obviously, the objectivity of this expose and the choice of revelations were not completely devoid of current political aims. In any case, the political tensions and oppositions, previously masked with care, have now reappeared publicly in Egyptian Society.

  • 2 On the suspension of journalists, see A. Asfour and J.J. Donohue, “National Unity and Dialogue”, CE (...)

3Certainly, the return of liberty of speech was not without some mishaps en route: journalists expelled from the Arab Socialist Union (ASU) in 1972, only to be taken back in 1973; national dialogues developed in unforeseen directions, not followed by the decisions expected; periodicals of the Ministry of Culture brought back into step2. Yet, the assurance, which the war of October 1973 gave to Sadat, has allowed him to appear aloof from the conflict and its seamy aspects, and at the same time has given his adversaries more elbowroom. The Amin brothers have assembled around themselves at al-Akhbar a group of rightists: aggressive, spiteful, anecdotal, opportunist and with an audience. Paradoxically, this allows the left, accused of responsibility for the misfortunes of the past and the present, to defend itself and thus to express its ideas with a certain freedom.

4It is clear, then, that the conditions for free expression are well defined. The topic for discussion is the Nasser-experience. The aim is to evaluate its essence, its accomplishments, and the possibilities of its furnishing the Egypt of today, which is very different, with a model for the future. On the topic of Egypt today a domain reserved to those presently in power one must be much more discreet. The Presidency itself is never criticized, though one can discuss the views of the Prime Minister. It is plain, however, that the evaluation of Nasserism and discussion on whether it should be continued, transformed, or even destroyed is finally an indirect way of criticizing the directions, which the present regime has set for Egyptian society and politics.

Opening the files

5The “return of the word” is tied presently to the opening of the file on Nasserism. The file is voluminous; everyone seems to be taking his turn at opening it, and journalists of all shades take particular delight in delving into it. Any attempt to trace all the reactions would lead to extremely circumstantial polemics and very subjective judgments; instead, we will limit ourselves here to the reaction of the intellectuals, the muthaqqafin. In Egypt as in most of the third world the majority of intellectuals line up with the progressives or even openly with the left. Here then, we see the left open the file on Nasserism, and because the left itself is called into question, it has to delve into its own files. We have singled out two sequences of the action, from two reviews in which the Egyptian intellectuals of the left express themselves more easily: al-Tali‘a and Ruz al-Yusuf.

  • 3 In all, the discussions fill about 220 pages of al-Tali‘a. References will be given in the form T.1 (...)

6Last year in a letter to Ruz al-Yusuf (21/10/74), Tawfiq al-Hakim accused the left of embellishing Nasserist socialism for tactical reasons to defend it better against the ill intentioned right. According to him that attitude is strategically bad. In falsifying what is historically clear it does disservice to socialism and once more covers up the problems of the society and democracy which the criticism of Nasserism was uncovering. Lutfi al-Khuli, director of al-Tali‘a, answered the letter in the December issue of his review saying that Tawfiq al-Hakim’s own attitude was equally exploited to the detriment of socialism by a right to whom he had no ties of affinity. He invited him to discuss the matter with a group of leftists in order to evaluate the past and define their respective positions in the fight for liberty and progress in Egypt. Nine discussion sessions were held, registered, and published in full in al-Tali‘a from January to September 1975, followed by reactions from readers in October and November3.

7About the same time, in Ruz al-Yusuf, three articles of Fu’ad Zakariyya (l4, 21, and 28/4) denied Nasserism the title of authentic socialism and tried to show the left that they had no reason to defend it; on the contrary, by doing so they paradoxically abandoned to the right the role of championing liberty. If the left defended Nasserism it was only because some of its eminent members were promoted, from the time of the Charter, to positions of responsibility in Culture and Information. For them, defending Nasserism was self-defense. These three articles provoked a long polemic, including an interview with Najib Mahfouz (26/5), and were brought to an end by the clarification of Fu’ad Zakariyya in al-Tali‘a for November.

  • 4 The word is from Louis ‘Awad, “La complainte d’Ayoub”, Esprit, 1975, no 7-8, p.77.

8This is the voluminous file, which we delve into here. We see little point in presenting this material as a simple inventory of the diverse positions. But first it is necessary to clarify the ambiguity caused by the stated aim of the discussion: the capacity of the Nasserite past to inspire the future. In fact, the principal aim of these intellectuals is to express what they think of present Egyptian society, which is the product of the Nasserite experience. What they express, then, is their opinion of what this society is searching for. But there is also a second ambiguity, more difficult to remove. We said above that the “return of the word” was noted among those who could express themselves in writing. We have to ask: are they really free and authentic spokesmen, these intellectuals who admit that their learning sometimes separates them from a society which is basically illiterate? What value has the word of these intellectuals who were scarcely able to lend their voice to the masses during the past twenty years of “Arab-Muslim titanism”4 when Nasser reduced them to silence while he attempted to remodel Egypt on his own? Is it not perhaps their dreams, silently caressed these past twenty years when they should have been spoken or acted, which they now offer us, rather than the actual lines of force in present society and culture? It is these lines of force, which we search for first and foremost in these discussions. Let us start with al-Tali‘a.

The actual situation in Egypt: debates in al-Tali‘a

9The series of themes discussed during the nine sessions of debate with Tawfiq al-Hakim are as follows:

  • The future of Egypt in all its dimensions, internal, Arab and international. (sessions 1-3.)

  • The essence of the Nasserite experience: its positive and negative aspects vis-à-vis that future. (sessions 4-7.)

  • The program to be promoted by progressive forces in Egypt (sessions 8-9.)

10On the surface that list omits any appreciation of the actual situation of the country. In fact, it is found everywhere as a sort of water-mark unobtrusively stamped on all the papers of the discussion, since it is the terminus of the Nasserite past as well as the point of departure for the projected image of the future. It is kept in sight all through the discussion, but in the sole manner of criticism permitted: when all the press sings praise, he who says nothing condemns.

  • 5 They were Muhammad Salima, counselor for the Student Review, and Hamad Yasin, representative for hi (...)

11Also, the one who suggests something else criticizes. Actually, the discourse is ideological first of all. It starts off from a conception of the future to arrive at a program, which will follow, or reform Nasserism. In response to an opportunistic right which gives priority to factual data, the left relegates the data to the background and insists on what ought to be, yet never was, or on what has since ceased to exist, and in this way they make clear what they do not accept in the present situation. We shall see the dangers of that ideological perspective; Tawfiq al-Hakim protests vigorously against it. But first one should be aware of the procedure and its import. It did not escape two of the persons invited to the discussion: they wished to speak of the present and to approach it from a perspective other than that of scientific socialism, which was that of the majority. The two withdrew at the end of the second session5.

  • 6 The expression is from Fu’ad Zakariyya, R.Y. 14/7.

12Since, the group assembled around Tawfiq al-Hakim was relatively homogeneous, there is no need to single out positions except when they are somewhat singular. However, it is necessary to treat the expositions of Tawfiq al-Hakim separately. He refuses all ideological labels, accepting only the title of liberal (in the sense that one accepts liberty of spirit as the supreme value). He most certainly is not a representative of the “professional left”6 as are his partners in the dialogue.

13The aspect of the present situation which most strikes these latter is the rise of the right and the accompanying menace this presents to the “achievements” of the Revolution: the public sector, agrarian reform, socialist laws. The ruling class is recruited from a new bourgeoisie. Reactionary as it is, that new “capitalist, parasitic, feudalist” bourgeoisie opposes popular participation in political power and the active presence of workers in administrative councils. Anxious to associate with foreign capitalism under the pretext of “openness”, it is abandoning the economic independence of the country, which is the base of its political independence. That “backward right”, that “under developed” capitalist class, produces only one useful product: a technocrat bourgeoisie who nevertheless need to be reminded that they live in Egypt and in the 20th century. The flood tide of the right sweeping up positions of leadership in the ASU, the press, the administrations, the national economy, is far and away the theme most frequently treated in the course of these discussions.

14There is no popular political institution to stand in opposition to this flood; that is the capital defeat of the Nasserite heritage. The “socio political superstructures” are narrow; everything is still under a regime of “decree from on high” (even if there is no longer talk of “government of an individual”, as during the Nasser period), which admits no “thrust from below.” There are no real democratic structures.

  • 7 The creation of platforms (minaber) for the expression of a plurality of views and of a certain com (...)

15These affirmations all converge in a unanimous criticism of the ASU whose very form is aimed at drowning the real socio-political tensions and the natural opposition of class interests. Vis-à-vis the introduction of “platforms” within the ASU7, opinion is divided depending whether one has more or less confidence in their evolving into parties where the left can regroup a “national front” of progressives. This evolution of platforms into parties is made problematic by the existence of a press, dominated by and subjected to a unique tendency, where the right alone can express itself clearly. The left has no newspaper (T.6.75, 7.67, 9.39). However, there is one observation repeated several times by Muhammad Sid Ahmad (T.2.52, 6.67-69): the changes on the international scene and on the Arab scene make it such that “the popular struggle” can no longer be nationalized or be made part of “statism” as in the time of Nasser. The state can no longer pretend to take in charge or monopolize the solution of the class struggle in the name of the fight for national independence and Arab unity. One can even talk of a potential liberation of the social struggle and consequently of the political struggle. Certainly, the observations we have just summarized mark a new climate in political expression.

16It is understandable that for a group like this, brought together to discuss in the circumstances we already mentioned, the picture of present day Egypt is first of all that of its political structure. For reinforcement, reference is made to an economic picture or more precisely to that of political economy (T.9.48). The national economy, thrashing around in a cul-de-sac for some time now (since 1965, as we shall see) is in full crisis, and the economic “openness” in the fashion it is conceived (“Mamduh Salim would like to transform Egypt into one vast free-Zone” T.9.37) can only aggravate the situation. While the investment in the heavy industry of “National Production” drops, the sectors consecrated to consumption rise. The “National Capital”, formerly integrated into the Plan, becomes “parasitic” and exploits more than ever the Public Sector, by subletting contracts or by turning it to consumer industries. The encouragement given private foreign investors, always in search of high and immediate profits, can only speed up the degradation (T.3.63-64). This policy has provoked inflation, which is evident in the rising cost of living, and the increasing gap between it and salary or income. (T.9.48). In addition the resort to Arab capital coming from reactionary religious states is a menace of a special kind to the socialist orientation of the economy; the reactionaries wish to use these sources as their end against a system built on the public sector  the main target of their attacks.

17That picture of the Egyptian economy is black, laid with a heavy brush on socialist canvas. There are very few precisions given other than the enumeration of the principal sectors of social exploitation and rapid wealth (which everyone knows), and two statistics: that of the global investment necessary for five years to obtain an annual growth rate of l0 billion Egyptian pounds according to Abdal ‘Azim Anis (T.3.53), and that of the actual scale of salaries (from 1 to 64 in 1970, with 424 Egyptian pounds for the highest, according to Abu Sayf Yusuf (T.9.42).

18At the socio-cultural level, Egypt ranks among the under developed countries for which a socialist solution is necessary. That is the most frequently repeated conviction. Egypt has experienced the beginnings of economic “take-off” notably in the development of industry and education. In both areas, however, one should compare the quantitative results with the quality, which is still lacking or not seriously enough sought. Thus the discussants, several of whom are university professors, generally admit that the spread of education, has been accompanied by a drop in the standard of studies and, of course, that illiteracy is still high. In the industrial sector, the labor force has been expanded through industrialization. The country has thus passed from an agricultural to an industrial society, although little attention is given to the social problems created by urbanization in an overpopulated nation (except in T.9.40). Over against this growth, however, one must set the weak output of the labor force, and the minimal advantages the working class continually squeezed in the economic vise has been able to draw from progressive labor laws. Moreover, the “worker consciousness”, though present, remains underdeveloped.

19One of the participants, however, (Muhammad Sid Ahmad, T.7.99), supported by Tawfiq al-Hakim, criticizes that opposition of quantitative/qualitative and underlines justly that at a certain moment, “a quantitative” increase effects a “qualitative” jump in society, truly changing its structure. However, the cultural features or the society have not been transformed. Values and comportment continue to be governed by tradition, and the superstructures have even “secreted their venom into the infrastructures” (Murad Wahba, T.7.94). What that means to say is that the dominant bourgeoisie hides behind religion as a defense of its interests and values, whereas laicism is the common starting point for developed societies both socialist and capitalist (T.2.7), and this group spreads everywhere the desire for a consumer society, its ideal.

20Egypt is part of the Arab world, less by title of history and culture than by the demands of the struggle against imperialism, Zionism and neo-colonialism. In that struggle the burden Egypt bears confers on it the role of leader. The old colonial domination has now become neocolonial exploitation. Accordingly, Arab unity is no longer expressed adequately in the slogan “National liberation;” the need now is to construct both the economic independence of Egypt and of the Arab world. Arab unity, “which actually has been emptied of its progressive meaning,” now has as its scaffolding the economic complementarity between Egypt and the Arab countries, especially the oil producers, for Egypt brings the technology of her engineers and the formation of her workers both necessary for recycling in the Arab world itself the “petro dollars” coveted by the capitalist world (T.8.63-64). The relaxing of tension between progressive and reactionary countries makes this possible, but the use of Arab capital in Egypt, if one wishes to preserve the society from capitalist exploitation, requires a power that is really progressive; but there is no such power here (T.8.66). In any case, the recycling of petro-dollars should be done through the public sector. It should be noted that in this sketch of Egypt’s place among the Arab countries, the interest is in the oil producing countries, and especially Algeria because its policy has been planed with a view to economic independence. If we are not mistaken, Ba’thist Iraq and Syria are never mentioned.

21By its fight against imperialism and neo-colonialism Egypt makes itself an integral part of the new third-world battle for a repricing of raw materials. Her interests tie her to the East and the growing socialist forces in the world. There may be detente between the capitalist world and the socialist bloc, but one should remember that detente does not change the nature of the forces facing each other. They have only rearranged their order of priorities (T.6.67-69, Muhammad Sid Ahmad). In these conditions, the practice of neutrality should not cause one to forget that friendly Russia has outfitted Egypt industrially and militarily, whereas the U.S.A. supports the Zionist enemy. If one must deal with the U.S.A. then let it be on the basis of equality and from a position of strength, otherwise entering the American camp will be a veritable surrender (T.7.66).

22The most salient feature in the picture of the situation in Egypt painted by the left is its politization. The discussion takes place among people of the political class and it structures itself in opposition to their political adversaries. Apparently it is not aimed at anyone outside this political game, nor does it concern itself especially with the public, which it should understand, reach, attract, and enlighten. This politization is compounded with rather abstract economies. The science of economies is hardly ever called in to interpret the factual data, rather economies establish ideological principles which are used to qualify certain situations without ever getting down to concrete details. In other words, economies furnish categories, rather than means of analysis or action. Thus the discussion of domestic policy summons up that of economic policy; this in turn brings up Arab policy, which is set in an economic perspective and based, in the last analysis, on the economic and ideological antagonisms of blocs. That sequence, which indicates clearly the ideological sources of the analysis, reveals the focus of interests of the discussants: an Egyptian policy centered on the Arab world and thus having weight in the arena of international politics. Obviously they are fully wrapped up in Egyptian politics, but they seem to think that in order to have influence they must first muster up and impose their own goals; they make little effort to adapt them and mint them in the mold of the realities that must be transformed.

  • 8 T. 2.43 and 3.67-8. Tawfiq al-Hakim gives the example of the National Society for Publication, whic (...)

23The interests of Tawfiq al-Hakim are entirely other. Not that his own outlook puts him in opposition to the group around him; he would have no problem recognizing himself in the portrait Lutfi al-Khuli sketches of his “patriotic, progressive, futurist character, enemy of under-development, backwardness, obscurantism and bondage” (T.12/1974, p. 8); he expects nothing from the right whom he judges severely and he thinks that change and progress can only come from the left (T.1.31). Many of his opinions echo those we have just met. In his view the new ruling class spawned by the revolution (T.4.33) piles up fortunes by exploitation (T.2.46 and 4.45) while the laboring classes have so little and are neither represented nor defended by the political institutions (T.8.76). But beneath those points of convergence which make the exchange possible, his analysis of the Egyptian situation takes its point of departure from a point of view radically different: factual and anti-ideological, limited to the country, and attentive, first of all, to the cultural data. “I seek the roots of my thoughts in my experience”, he declares (T.2.43).8

24In the first place he claims that it is up to the left to give birth to socialism and not for socialism, to give birth to the Egyptian left (T.1.32). By that he means that socialism does not consist in applying an ideology to Egypt “the people aren’t interested in Marx” (T.2.50) but in the transformation of Egyptian, society according to the needs felt by the people, who wish to defend very precise interests (idem). Thus, what difference does the existence of the public sector make if the state uses it as a façade “to eat away at our rights”: that is no longer socialism but “capital-socialism”. The peasants think that the application of agrarian reform or of the “comparative principle” are bad, that is the essential (T.3.68). Egypt is entering a new period with economic openness and it is useless to condemn it out of principle. Let us accept it as a fact and see to it that the workers profit from 60% or 70% of the capital that flows in (T.2.46, 3.69 and 8.75).

25Moreover, Tawfiq al-Hakim refuses to classify Egypt according to categories like “underdeveloped country of the third world where a socialist solution is obligatory”. Egypt has its own identity. The High Dam was not built on the Danube. The land, the river and the soul are the products of a unique historical experience. What is needed is a socialism adapted to this land and this people who, for example, are used to being governed by a man, and who have never known hatred, never! (T.3.58-59). Besides, Egyptian society is essentially composite, a tact which prohibits comparison with the underdeveloped countries of Africa or the countries of Europe. That is to say that even though its level of income is weak it possess developed national services and a large modern sector, which have been flourishing for a long period. On another level, religious teaching in Egypt has produced remarkable thinkers. In fact, different cultures overlay one another in an imbricate pattern from the most traditional religious culture to the most secular modern culture. This specific social reality must be the first consideration in any attempts to establish socialism (T.7.102-103), for it is this society, which must be transformed.

  • 9 In fact, al-Azhar has the role of religious censor. Plays are cheeked there and editors must submit (...)

26In short, “our analysis should be cultural, not political” (T.7.86). What is important is illiteracy, the low cultural level of the people (T.8.77), and that legacy of Nasser an Egypt where all Egyptians are poured into the same mold (T.4.40). There can be no liberation, no cultural revolution without freedom to think. It matters little that Nasserism produced no new ideology (fikr), but it matters much that Nasserism did not change our way of thinking (tafkir) (T.4.47), and, in tact, reinforced reactionary thinking. Here the main obstacle is the way in which religion is understood and used Tawfiq al-Hakim labels it tijaret al-din, trafficking with religion (T.1.31, 4.47, 7.98 and 8.77). In this respect, Egypt is still where Europe was at the beginning of the 19th century when the liberation of Voltaire and Rousseau was busy demolishing the obscurantism of religious authorities (T.7.98). Religious men exploit ignorance (T.2.48). So-called religious socialism is a way of breaking the neck of real socialism (T.8.75). Some want to push everyone backwards into superstition. Reactionaries hide behind religion, and the right uses religion as an irrefutable argument, which brooks no opposition. To allow thought to fall under al-Azhar control is dangerous9. Introduce an Islamic uniform in the university, what could be more ridiculous! There are still some who in the name of the Quran refuse to accept man’s voyage to the moon! It is not possible to go back to the time of Umar b. Khattab (T.2.56-57). Religion is presented, not as the social revolution, which it really is, but as the conservation of the past. Religious thought is guarded from all progress, and is pushed back, not to reformism, but to traditionalism, as if religion should be isolated from the problems of the age. One must stand up against “these hawkers of religion, these promoters of intellectual under-development”. The Egyptian people, since the Pharaohs are essentially religious, and therefore it is of primary importance to enlighten (tanwir) religion. The state has the duty of promoting an enlightened religious elite because the cultural danger facing the country is very serious. It demands a religious intellectual revolution (T.9.54-55) to knock down that thick wall of passivist, conservative, reactionary, anti-scientific religious debris.

27We have placed special emphasis on this cultural aspect of contemporary Egypt as seen by Tawfiq al-Hakim, and in his own terms, because this is the object of his most frequent and most extensive interventions. With the exception of Murad Wahba who also considers secularism as a necessary basis for social transformation (T.2.55), the other participants in the discussion are either silent on this point, or tactfully prudent, for the obvious reason that secularism must not be allowed to pass for hostility to religion, for this would allow confusion of socialism and atheism (thus Khalid Muhyi a1-Din, T.2.62).

28Tawfiq al-Hakim may appear to sort as a late survivor of the liberalism of the 30’s, a simple disciple of Lutfi al-Sayyid. We think that he shows himself here as being unusually close to the realities of the people, and conscious of their needs and the obstacles that hinder an interior liberation. In any case, to speak in this fashion of the cultural situation demands as much courage and freedom of thought as the reactionary right has manifested in exposing the dangers of Egypt’s progressive structures. And perhaps this train of thought, shocking for many ears, is really the most necessary, as well as that which best commands attention.

Evaluation of Nasserism

29When the detective traits of the Egypt shaped by 20 years of revolutionary experience are so deliberately underlined, it is impossible to avoid the question: what was the inherent weakness in Nasserism which prevented the radical transformation of the society once national independence was gained? Tawfiq al-Hakim repeats incessantly: “Open the files”. It is difficult to refuse his counsel. Since it is he who launched the movement, let us first hear him.

30Tawfiq al-Hakim was a faithful enthusiast for Nasser from 1952. What he blames himself for now is not so much his early enthusiasm but his fidelity, too long sustained. Was not everything for which the Egyptian people had hoped since 1919 rapidly achieved by the Revolution of 1952? In place of the empty shell of formal appearances, the Revolution brought real national independence: the country was put into the hands of its own people; authority became really popular, the wealth of the nation was recuperated; the land was divided among the fellahs. Tawfiq al-Hakim can go on for hours about the thirty humiliating years of hopes and frustrations, which preceded the Revolution. The others in the group get impatient: that is not the subject of the discussion; let’s get back to Nasserism. But the novelist has a profound advantage over the intellectuals listening, the advantage of historical depth and breadth, and he has to explain “his problem”: the approval of an enthusiastic people too unconditionally given to a man (T.2.41-42). The problem is that enthusiasm numbs reason when it turns into a cult a cult transformed into a popular liturgy of incantation in June 1967 just when national action foundered in disaster.

31Opening the files means first of all, demanding an amount from a Nasser demythologized and reduced to the dimensions of a man responsible for his actions. Following the same vein of indignant irony he used regarding “the commerce in religion”, Tawfiq al-Hakim denounces the sanctification (taqdis) of Nasser and the cult, which formed around him (T.1.22, 2.45, 4.40). He jests about the last act the extraordinary funeral of “Sheikh Abdal-Nasser”, the incredible manifestation of a chloroformed national conscience. That this conscience has awakened can it locate that deviation which spawned such an evil from such promising seed. The question is serious and pressing because the same error must not be allowed after October 1973. Tawfiq al-Hakim gives two answers.

32The matter and the form. Before Nasser, national political life was purely form with no matter ; independence and democracy had no reality. With the Revolution came the matter, but this time without form. That is to say, no structure for political control exists. This question of form, for Tawfiq al-Hakim is capital. Nasser enjoyed at one and the same time unlimited authority and a carefully maintained popularity to legitimize it (T.1.21-22). Nasser was absolute power surrounded by a group, “like a bunch of bananas”, who committed the excesses everyone knows. Did Nasser know? If he did know, did he tolerate them because of the calm the group maintained for him (T.2.44)? To answer these questions is to judge the responsibility of Nasser, but it is also to draw attention to what still is wanting in Egypt: a form for political life by which the people can exercise a control over power which hands down decrees from on high.

33The principle and the practice. Nasserism can be summed up in the tripartite slogan “liberty, socialism, and unity”. These principles are the demands of the people themselves a “simple, natural, honest” expression of their needs fate in a vague fashion but suddenly crystallized in a man and a movement. The principles are good but they were mutilated in being applied and this bad practice creates the risk of their being rejected (T.4.33-36, 8.60-61). It is necessary, then, to search out the cause of their progressive perversion. Here Tawfiq al-Hakim hesitates between two formulas: as a liberal he would say “no liberation without first having liberty of thought”; and as a revolutionary, “no popular revolution without a prophet who first preaches austerity and disinterestedness by his conduct” (T.2.48-50). Both were lacking. Nasser tolerated no thought other than his own, and he wished to build a socialism with a capitalist spirit a public sector without socialist spirit, or a socialist sector “given over to capitalist consciences” (T.3.67-68) so much so that fortunes were dissipated and everyone ended up poor (T.4.40, 5.107, and 118, 6.70). Finally, for those in the discussion group who search out ideological faults in the constitutions, documents and political speeches, Tawfiq al-Hakim retorts: the importation of socialism in 1962 led to dictatorship (T.3.59), and with the appearance of ideology deceptions began (T.4.34). It is clear that for him socialism is not so much an ensemble of coherent ideas as a search for the means for greater social justice for and with the people. At any rate, the problem remains how incarnate now in reality that triple demand of the people: “liberty, socialism, and unity”.

  • 10 Khalid Muhyi al-Din, the only one here you knew Nasser intimately, praises his character, his gener (...)

34As a liberal humanist, Tawfiq al-Hakim wants to establish the responsibility of Nasser the man, and he regrets that the discussion has made no progress in that direction (T.9.51). The Marxist discussants at his side have a very different goal.10 For them, the pragmatic evolution of Nasser’s thought ended in the Charter, by proclaiming the necessity of a socialist solution to the problem of national development, socialist but in an ori­ginal form suitable to the Arab countries. This pretension to originality hides the error and the failure of Nasserism which is at best a step toward a socialism whose nature and stages are yet to be determined. Finally, the positive and negative aspects of Nasserism are measured against the one model of scientific socialism.

35Only Tawfiq al-Hakim calls Nasserism a socialist experience (T.12.1974 p. 14, 1.117), his interlocutors, never. At no time, in their view, did Nasserism produce any new ideas, even in Egypt (T.6.60). In the beginning Nasser espoused a general nationalist ideology of Liberation, which antedates the Revolution (T.4.43). Even his progressive social ideas, like agrarian reform, had been set in motion earlier by the leftwing of the Wafd Party (T.4.46, 7.92-93). The triple slogan in which Tawfiq al-Hakim finds the special character of Nasserism comes from the Syrian Ba’th and was not adopted until 1961 (T.4.36 and 43). Moreover, the Charter of 1962 merits reproach principally for having imagined that between the capitalism of the West and the socialism of the East there exists a third model of society, a notion which is contradictory and illusory (T.5.108-109, 4.46, 5.56).

36Since Nasserism is no novelty in the universe of ideology, it can be classified; it is one of the branches of “the national liberation movement, anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist” which is so widespread in the third world (T.6.57). In itself Nasserism is favorable to the rise of socialist forces. Only one discussant, refusing to consider the documents of the Nasser regime separate from the facts, holds that “the principles of the liberation movement were little by little emptied of their social content” (Latifa al-Zayat, T.6.69-70). The others talk of progressivism: “a progressive social phenomenon” (T.6.57), “a pragmatic revolutionary movement which gradually arrived at theoretical concepts” (T.4.47).

37There is an attempt to mark out the stages in that movement or progressive experience in order to evaluate its positive and negative aspects. The name of course, is the approach to socialism. Some merely say “before the Charter, after the Charter” (Abdal ‘Azim Anis T.4.43, Ahmad Abbas Salih T.4.44); undoubtedly they are more concerned with the reasons for failure than with the stages of construction. But Khalid Muhyi al-Din (T.5.104) and Lutfi al-Khuli (T.6.64-67) break up the Nasser experience, both in similar fashion, into periods, which seem to be acceptable to all. The former tends to economic criteria, the latter to political:

  • From 1952 to 1956 Nasser wanted to “correct” the capitalist System by introducing more social justice; he brought to term the revolution of 1919 sold the reformist ideas of the Wafd left-center.

  • From 1957 to 1961, he tried to construct a mixed economy with planning, leaving the most important role to private capital; while repressing the left at home, he used the socialist camp for international support.

  • Beginning in 1961, facing a demand for enormous investments to pursue projected plans and seeing that private capital was incapable of providing it, Nasser resorted to nationalization and took a socialist orientation; he leaned towards the left whom he let out of prison so that they could express themselves in al-Ahram.

  • After the Charter of 1962, the crucial years of 64-65, end of the first five-year plan, mark the end of progress toward socialism. Nasser refused to squeeze out resources for a second plan from the only place they existed, the middle class, and to limit his supportive base to the popular forces ; reactionaries opposed the plan and the economy went into a skid (Muhammad Sid Ahmad T.1.33, Fu’ad Mursi T.3.61-63, Abdal ‘Azim Anis T.4.43-44).

  • Beginning June 1967 the Nasser experience was over. Imperialism chose to strike at the exact moment when development was at a low point. (T.5.119). Nasser thought of nothing other than getting back lost territory; social exploitation increased (T.5.114); there was even ideological retreat (T.4.47).

  • 11 The term comes from the Charter, chapter 2. Since Marxist scientific socialism was born in specific (...)

38It should be noted that the stages of Nasserism are marked by leaping the hurdles set up by imperialism and capitalism working in tandem. Nasser replies to their every challenge by a new step in the direction of socialism, except on one occasion and that was capital: in 1965, with the Charter in his hand, he stood before a purely domestic obstacle and hesitated. He failed to take the necessary step; defeat followed inevitably. Also from this analysis it is possible to extract an important theoretical notion, that of “experience” (tajriba),11 and the ideological reasons for defeat.

  • 12 This is the title given to the French translation of a collection of articles from al-Tali‘a, Voie (...)

39Because Nasserism does not set out from a normative ideology but rather goes in search of one, it is an “experimental” social experience; its method is trial and error. Opinion varies on the legitimacy and the breadth of this experimentation (tajrib). Lutfi al-Khuli admits that Nasserism presents “new forms of action and experimentation” in the passage of a third world country towards socialism it is the “Egyptian path to socialism”12 and he points out four areas in which that experimentation was progressive (T.6.60-62). Muhammad Sid Ahmad goes further: in the countries of the third world ideology is a blocked street; an experimental pragmatism is unavoidable, and the only problem is to know how to give oneself over to it as a socialist (T.7.99-100). At the opposite pole, Abu Sayf Yusuf and Murad Wahba condemn experience and experimentation as typical products of petit-bourgeois thought; there is no such thing as pure experimentation, and, underlying experience, is a hidden class ideology (T.7.101). Ahmad Abbas Salih equally holds that there is no third world ideology (T.5.67), and that a pragmatic search for a theory is condemned to fail because no class is able to renounce its ideology and give itself over to experiment (T.7.94 and 101).

40In either perspective, it is now possible to determine the motives which led Nasserism, after the Charter, about 1965, to turn its back on socialism as experimentation went definitively against it. Nasser lacked ideological clarity; he was given to a sort of pragmatism which even in the sphere of economies preferred on the spot decisions to planning and refused to make long term commitments (T.1.29-30, 5.114). He was particularly hostile to Marxism, which he identified with its Russian or Chinese applications. From this hostility comes the Charter’s original theory of the “third way” and the appeal to experience as a justification of it (T.5.109-110).

  • 13 After the publication of the Charter, there was an abortive attempt to establish an avant-garde org (...)

41On that precise point, Nasser’s principle illusion was to have thought that the state is a neutral arbiter aloof front the class struggle, and that development can be had without “social pain”, without demanding the sacrifice of a generation (T.5.110). Behind his unrealistic beliefs was hidden rejection of popular power, of an ideology, which went down into the street, of any thrust from below. Nasser wanted to be the sole incarnation of the Revolution, to direct it from on high. There was no question of his sharing power with a party representing popular forces hence he refused a possible cultural revolution in 1903 or 1966.13 A still more profound reason is that Nasser, even though he was more advanced than his social class, was still the product of it and could not avoid its socio-economic bias. That is why he could not demand the middle class, who alone had the resources in 1965 to make the contribution necessary for the second five-year plan. He refused to take the necessary socialist measures. The defeat, which followed, was not the defeat of socialism. On the contrary, after the Charter it was the refusal to really try socialism that caused the defeat of the experiment.

42This analysis of the stages of the Nasser period gives a precise notion of that “experience” and helps in the discernment of its positive and negative aspects. Positive gains: national independence supported by economic independence coming from industrialization, the integration of Egypt and the Arab world into the progressive struggle against imperialism and colonialism, the recognized necessity of a socialist solution to the problem of development, moving culture and political concern towards the people. Negative aspects: the “government of one man”, the “decree from on high” and bureaucratic administration in place of popular action and a politically structured “thrust from below”, the lack of ideological clarity in a socialist option which claims to have disarmed the class struggle.

43Enough for the presentation of these long discussions going on Marxist intellectuals. This resume has been drastic, yet it has not falsified the structure, which is all too evident. These discussions approach Nasserism from the angle of ideology: it is a question of defining, classifying and evaluating the development of Nasser’s political thought. It is evident, of course, that such undertakings normally run the risk of reconstructing ideally an experience, which lacks internal logic, at least in the view of the analyst. Consequently, it risks magnifying the conditions favorable to development desired and minimizing the obstacles to be overcome, in short, it risks transforming the real and ambivalent conditions of the experience into perfect ideological forms. For example, Abu Sayf Yusuf immediately accuses Fu’ad Zakariyya of taking a reactionary position by speaking of “the expansion of Soviet presence in Egypt” because the USSR is the champion of the anti-imperialist struggle. Fu’ad Zakariyya retorts that the Russian authorities must have forgotten to submit the aims of their Egyptian policy to Abu Say Yusuf (T.11.90). It is possible to give other examples of this formalism, but rather than multiply examples let us try to see precisely the type of shift that occurs and the area in which it is most likely to take place.

  • 14 See, for example, Alain Touraine, “Les classes sociales dans une société dépendante,” in Revue Tier (...)

44The shift can, no doubt, be put precisely in the following way. “The Nasser experience” is an ambiguous term. It signifies both an attempt to transform Egyptian society and an attempt to construct an ideology. To continually read the first attempt in terms of the second by attributing the failure of the first to the defects of the second only is formalism. The defense against that critique is well known: the defects of the attempt to form an ideology (a superstructure) come from the tact it failed to appreciate fully the real forces (the infrastructure) available for the social transformation. Well then, one should be sure that the ideological attempt to set Nasserism straight does not commit the same error. In this vein, it is no less than stupefying to hear it said that free elections in Egypt would give birth to two parties only, capitalists on one side and workers and peasants on the other (T.3.65-66). To speak thus is to carelessly confound the political forces, which ought to be with those that are, the superstructures and the infrastructures, to give oneself over to formally ideal elections. Here is the domain where the confusion is the most apparent. Certainly, the conditions favorable to a socialist solution to the problems of Egyptian society are the socio-economic conditions the infrastructures. But to abstract them from the socio-cultural superstructures in which they live is to consider them formally. One hears ad nauseam that the socio-cultural superstructure is backward, traditional, conservative, and that a cultural revolution is necessary. But to give them this political description does not necessarily mean that one has grasped the extension, the weight and the content of this superstructure. In fact this facile description allows one to think that a political shock treatment like the ideological formation of an avant-garde in the Party (T.4.43-44) will neutralize its influence. Whereas anyone familiar with the deep roots of affiliation and cultural ties and the difficult problems they present for development14 will think like Murad Wahba that the properly cultural obstacle facing the socialist transformation desired is not only considerable but primordial (T.5.115-116).

45Perhaps there is no clearer sign of the theoretical aspect of the discussions of Nasserism by Egyptian Marxists than the lines of their own socialist options in the program they have elaborated for the progressive left. For them there is no question of advocating the setting up of a socialist System; they even reject this explicitly. The reasons are, principally and primarily, tactical: it would only divide the forces, which should be united (T.8.78). Even though it is claimed that the Egyptian road to socialism should by-pass certain stages through which the developed, industrial societies passed, they nonetheless recognize that the feudal, tribal and under developed Arab society of which Egypt is a part must be transformed into a type of enlightened, industrial, capitalist society where the working class and the revolutionary intellectuals can promote socialism (T.8.80). There is no question of proposing socialism without that necessary industrial base. Likewise, not to proclaim that the capitalist sector is always necessary, or to propose a maximum limit for private property would put one off from too large a part of public opinion (T.9.42-44). The wind is blowing to the right; with an Arab capitalist society in construction, progressivism must maintain a coexistence and at the same time continue the ideological struggle. Socialism is a strategic goal, it is no longer a present need which the conditions of Egyptian society are ready to receive.

The file “Egypt” and the intellectuals

  • 15 Professor of philosophy, he directed the review al-Fikr al-Mu‘asir until its disappearance in 1971. (...)

46A question surfaces many times in the course of the discussions only to be finally excluded explicitly: how is it that economic and political transformations of the country did not bring in their wake more cultural changes? Why were “the ideas not followed”? Some ideas are the field of the intellectuals, to ask such questions is to put them on the spot. Tawfiq al-Hakim admits it: we have not been the active agents of transformation, and there is a good chance that we will not be in the future. Many among us kept silent when we should have spoken. Let no one tell us that the liberty of the intellectual is limited by his class background, because liberty is indivisible. Every intellectual has the duty to enlighten opinion, to tell what he sees, to reveal the contents of the closed files (T.6.73-76). This problem of the attitude of intellectuals under and opposite Nasserism is frankly broached by Fu’ad Zakariyya;15 he blames the Marxist left for refusing to take a clear position on two points: the suppression of liberties and social exploitation. Let us hear both on the subject.

47For the Marxists this suppression of thought was mainly political in nature. A sole person governed; around him there were groups who, as in every authoritarian and police regime, gave themselves over to abuses for which the Marxist intellectuals often were the first to pay. But these avatars of dictatorship, which are mentioned discretely as if they were practically personal nuisances, finally had little weight when compared with the main structural fault: the popular masses were not called on to express themselves or to act. In the political struggle the head of the Revolution monopolized their voice and assumed alone the burden of action. But for the independent left with Fu’ad Zakariyya there is much more than a “fault” involved in the criticism of Nasserism: it was a positive action which put the national conscience to sleep and even destroyed the Egyptian soul from within (R.Y.21/4). The Egyptians were all poured into the same mould by the propaganda to become slaves of the personality cult, says Tawfiq al-Hakim. Fu’ad Zakariyya goes further a deliberate, planned policy was followed to achieve general passivity, non-resistance to oppression, and fear in the hearts of all. People were condemned to forced labor for private conversations. Hence the hypocrisy and double talk. Everyone became used to applauding officially a decision taken without consulting him, a decision he might have criticized were he not finally persuaded that all personal opinion was useless. Egypt: a country of spectators who applaud with one hand.

48Vis-à-vis social exploitation, the Marxist left recognizes also the structural defects of Nasserism, the “shortcomings to be supplied for”, the public sector did not become a truly socialist sector, it was preyed upon by parasites from the bureaucracy and private capital; the working class did not profit sufficiently from the socialist laws; development was more quantitative than qualitative. But Fu’ad Zakariyya and Tawfiq al-Hakim go further still in analyzing and denouncing the cause of these half measures. If the socialist laws did not increase the buying power of the popular classes and did not diminish class difference, if they only served to increase the upper class and add to the number of masters, it was because the state’s taking control of the means of production gave the masters the opportunity to use it for themselves. While public goods disappeared through unknown channels an administration marked by risk and favoritism, enormous fortunes suddenly appeared from nowhere (R.Y.14/4). The building of a strong army was used to justify the sacrifice of some of the regime’s social goals; the goods and the effort of the nation were swallowed up in the process. Then in a few days the army was annihilated because it was corrupt and its chiefs were incapable and divided. These are not faults, they are real crimes against an impoverished people (R.Y.21/4).

49What the Marxist left should admit concerning the Nasser experience is that it was for the people neither democratic, nor progressive, nor socialist. If the left refuses that admission by passing over these crimes in silence and talking about other things, it is because Nasser late on called some of their key spokesmen and gave them important posts in Culture and Information. Without changing a thing in the nature of his regime, but solely by taking on a few ideas of the left emptied of their content, Nasser received unparalleled publicity. Honoring the left, proved to be more efficacious than the concentration camps from which he had called them; by tying themselves to an abusive power, they lost the ear of the people. The maneuver had long range effects, since the Marxist intellectuals today are still defending a shameful past and giving the right the advantage of hypocritically pushing for the demands of the people: liberty and change (R.Y.28/4).

50No doubt it is possible to give another explanation for the defense of the Nasser experience by the Marxist left a defense by the way, which is conditional and full of reserve. The file itself suggests an explanation less polemical than that of Fu’ad Zakariyya and Tawfiq al-Hakim. Does not the left regret the opportunity missed? Having come so close to scientific socialism, that unique solution for the problems of Egyptian and Arab society, Nasser could have taken the decisive step; because of his popularity he was the only one who could have brought the people to take that step with him. This explains the ideological effervescence concerning the Charter and the obstinate search for any interpretation of the Nasser experiment, which can help fill in the void between it and socialism. It was in vain, for Nasser did not take the step and now the occasion is not about to repeat itself. In retrospect, the analysis of that moment gives the opportunity to say more openly what was kept hushed up for ten years. Still more, in the present situation it is perhaps only this accepted criticism of the Nasser experience, which allows Marxist thought to express itself freely on problems, which are still current.

51The explicit purpose we had in mind in analyzing that long debate was to see precisely the situation of some of the forces at work in the evolution of Egyptian society. Here then, in conclusion, are some of the points, which emerge.

52On the level of freedom of thought, progress is tangible and liberalization is clear, but it always comes up against two obstacles: authority and religion. The person of the President may be more liberal, good-natured and smiling but where his power is concerned he brooks no declared opposition. That power is tied in to many areas. He may not demand to be praised, but at least a certain type of silence is necessary when one is not in accord with the positions he takes. To overcome that obstacle, it is possible to recall the recent past, which was quite analogous, or to speak “ideologically” of the present in the perspective of the great theoretical options. Thus, ambiguity in language has not completely disappeared. It often gives the statements of the most committed intellectuals an allure of retrospection, or preoccupation with generalities or with irrelevant details, whenever prudence cautions against encroaching on reserved domains. In short, the decisions taken by authority can meet with a sullen press, but there is no press for an explicit and deliberate opposition.

  • 16 Undoubtedly, the faith to which the regime appeals as guarantee of social continuity is neither dog (...)
  • 17 Thus, in R.Y. of 11, 18, and 25 August 1975, Abdal-Rahman al-Shirqawi wrote a series of articles ag (...)

53Religion is not in power, but the country is massively religious and the official ideology holds that society is built on “faith and science”. That says much more for faith which is the lot-of all, than for science which is the possession of an elite.16 This gives men of religion and those who appeal to religion for support considerable informal power. But there are appeals to religion in every area; one can say that it enters everywhere in social and cultural life as the first or last justification or at least as a support for positions taken. Since the period of modernism, religion has taken its place in Egypt on the basis of a victorious apologetic. It is amply demonstrated that the principles of Islam are in accord with sound modernity; in fact they require it and anticipate it. It is no longer necessary to examine the facts. Conformity and repetition suffice. Once a theme is stated one knows already how it will be treated; whatever the case, religion will always discern what is sound and what is unsound in modernity, and that according to an infallible and indisputable norm. It would be too long to examine here why many religious men saw Nasserism as a reprehensible form of secularism, but the fact must be admitted. This is why all progression, which seems to come close to the Nasserite past meets with a religious reaction, from a reactionary religion. A progressive may say no to Shaikh al-Azhar once, but he cannot carry on any long polemic against him, neither public opinion nor the government will tolerate it.17 The progressive will finally walk off the field. Thus the area widens where socio-religious conformity holds sway and exercises its diffuse but over-powering censorship.

54The environment, then, is hostile or at least unfavorable to independent intellectuals whether liberal or progressive. Undoubtedly that is the reason why they go to great lengths to justify the goals and principles of their thought. At times one regrets that they are not more present on the scene and more engaged with reality. There where social tensions manifest themselves, in the transformations in process, the intellectuals should help, because the claims for justice today or the contentious demands of public opinion often lack a solid analysis to support the position taken. Tawfiq al-Hakim demands that the left defend the actual, concrete needs of the people. Sayyid Yasin retorts that the left cannot present a true program because it has not made the necessary analyses of the situation (T.9.47-48). Actually, apart from the refutation of the false hopes placed in the economic opening, preoccupations of this sort are practically absent from the debate. Nor is there any recurring allusion to attest that at least one is conscious of changes taking place in the social forces of the country. We will give two striking examples of this absence.

55There was a complaint that youth was not represented in the discussions (T.11.51). Better to say that it was not even present in spirit except in a remote form when there was criticism of the quality of education. When one applies one-self to a project for society and searches for its living roots in the past, one should not forget that half the population is under 20 years of age. For that half of the country, which is the material of the future, the Revolution of 1952 and its progress were not a consciously lived experience; at the very best the Revolution for them is a slogan. The student world at least should be the first concern of intellectuals looking for a model for the future, since this world is the closest to them and the first to listen. For the students, the discussions about the Charter of 1962 no longer are pertinent. Their nationalist ideas, their experience of the Arab world and international politics begin apparently in October 1973. But that will not last long, for unless an event of similar proportions comes along to shake their universe, their political ideas will be formed more and more by student struggles and even more by that principle occupation of theirs: finding a remunerative employment the door to that society of men which is the subject of politics. The first characteristic of a society of rapid demographic growth is its rapid renewal; history picks up its pace and old symbols wear out quickly.

56Many times in the course of the discussions the Nasser experience is credited with having made Egypt pass from an agricultural society to an industrial society, a necessary step on the road to socialism. It is very doubtful, however, that it was industrialization which uprooted the peasants from their over populated countryside and their agricultural society to throw them into the city. One should speak of urbanization rather than industrial society. Cairo, the principal refuge of uprooted agricultural masses arid the most important industrial center of the country, is far from presenting the image of an “industrial society” which would crystallize the mass of workers. Already conscious of their unity. What one sees is rather a population extremely segmented according to place of origin, the quarter where one lives, the type of occupation. In that population the modern industrial worker is privileged and is no doubt more concerned with defending and bettering his state than with leading the masses. In Egyptian society there is something taking place, which is extremely important a displacement of social forces with the transformation that implies. But to read that change in the perspective of the history of industrialization in Europe, the classic model for the left, seems as erroneous as to interpret it according to schemas of modernization so dear to enlightened liberals.

  • 18 To describe it as a service surpassed by reality, too simple or not flexible enough for a complex, (...)

57An accelerated rejuvenated scene of the population, disordered urbanization: if we have been quick to underline these two factors of social change in Egypt, it is because they represent a demographic reality which is not immediately docile to ideological treatment as is economic mutation, for example. However, they add intensity to the social needs, which are felt most immediately and with a new urgency because for the majority these needs form the very consciousness of their individual and social existence. The demand is far beyond the possibility of supply, and the gap between the two will continually increase. It seems that the structures for receiving and satisfying the needs of the growing population are condemned to be forever short of demands: schools, housing, heath care, transportation, food, all the social services in general, to say nothing of employment! Every one taxes his ingenuity in every field to find means and resources on the side, and the public administration for satisfying these needs has never caught up on back work and has never straightened out its own disorder. To regulate a social situation on the political level is no longer to develop a structure but to try first of all to dominate the destructuring proliferation, which is so difficult to get a grip on. Of course, that cannot be done without an ideological choice and, one concedes easily, without a progressive choice. But the immediacy of the practical problems to be resolved reveals the remoteness, the slowness, and the inadaptation of the ideological apparatus to mediate reflection and action. It also is a “service” in short supply and, the intellectual should be the first to be conscious of this.18 Irreversible mutations are produced in the living forces of the society well below the elevated level common to their analyses. These mutations are not controlled economically, politically or culturally. Are they even expressed? They mix together putting into immediate contact in the cities a multiplicity of modes of work, life and thought, which are incompatible. A great deal of good will or faith is required to see there in profile the well known order of two classes finally confronting each other. With Tawfiq al-Hakim (T.9.53) one is tempted to reject the role of prophet and the attempt to see a long term solution to these conflicts because one wishes vividly with him that the discussion descend to reality, that the present file on Egyptian society be opened and treated.


1 Awdat al-Ruh was published in 1933. Compare the following from the third part of Nasser’s Falsafat al-Thawra: “The periods of history are fun of great roles which did not find a hero to fill them. In the region in which we live there is an important role awaiting its hero, with this passage of the novelist: “This people lacks the man who personifies its soul and its hopes and who would be its symbol and ideal. Would that man come, then you should not be astonished if this tightly knit people one day accomplishes another miracle like that of the pyramids” (Awdat al-Ruh, chap.32). Awdat al-Wa‘y appeared in Beirut in June 1974. A partial translation had appeared earlier in Esprit, April 1974 p. 812-835. In 1975, Tawfiq al-Hakim published a series of documents on his various positions, Watha’iq Tariq Awdat al-Wa‘y.

2 On the suspension of journalists, see A. Asfour and J.J. Donohue, “National Unity and Dialogue”, CEMAM Reports, 1974, p. 73 ff. For the national dialogue on the ASU, see J.P.O’Kane, “Parties and Platforms”, CEMAM Reports, 1974, p. 65 ff. The rearrangement of the directorship of al-Katib took place in Sept. 1974; till then Ahmad Abbas Salih had been director.

3 In all, the discussions fill about 220 pages of al-Tali‘a. References will be given in the form T.1.56, where the first number indicates the number of the review (monthly) and the second, the page. Dar al-Qadaya, Beirut, edited the ensemble of the discussions under the title Malaff Abdel-Nasir bayn al-Yasar al-Misriyya Wa Tawfiq al-Hakim, 498 pages. The initials R.Y. followed by a date indicate Ruz al-Yusuf, a weekly, for the year 1975.

4 The word is from Louis ‘Awad, “La complainte d’Ayoub”, Esprit, 1975, no 7-8, p.77.

5 They were Muhammad Salima, counselor for the Student Review, and Hamad Yasin, representative for higher studies at Ayn Shams University. An explanation of their reason for withdrawing and their position (they hold to the Charter) is given in T.11.45-50. Besides Tawfiq al-Hakim who needs no presentation, there were:

Khalid Muhyi al-Din, a member of the Revolutionary Council, and at present secretary of the Movement of Peace Partisans in Egypt.

Fu’ad Mursi, professor of economy, imprisoned in 1959 on the charge of leading the Egyptian Communist Party, Minister of supply in 1972-3.

Abdal ‘Azim Anis, professor of mathematics at Ayn Shams U., imprisoned in 1959.

Lutfi al-Khuli, director of al-Tali‘a.

Murad Wahba, professor of philosophy at Ayn Shams U.

Muhammad Sid Ahmad, imprisoned in 1959, editor at al-Ahram and a well-known joumalist. His ideas were recently put forward in his book Ba‘d an Taskut al-Madâfi‘ (Beirut 1974).

Abu Sayf Yusuf, editor in chief of al-Tali‘a, imprisoned in 1960.

Ahmad Abbas Salih, former director of the monthly review al-Katib, also imprisoned in 1959.

In the final meeting Sayyid Yasin appeared. He is director of the department of social research in the Center of Strategic and Political Studies at al-Ahram.

Notice the number of professors from Ayn Shams U., and the number who spent time in prison. In 1959-60 Nasser conducted an anti-Marxist purge; most of those imprisoned were released four years later at the time Krushchev inaugurated the High Dam at Aswan.

6 The expression is from Fu’ad Zakariyya, R.Y. 14/7.

7 The creation of platforms (minaber) for the expression of a plurality of views and of a certain competition of tendencies within the ASU was decided on at the end of a National dialogue in 1973 (see note 2 above). In October 1975 began the demands to establish given platforms. They increased rapidly offering a spectrum ranging from Islamic thought to Marxism (represented by Khalid Muhyi-al-Din and Abdal-Rahman al-Sharqawi.) Faced with this multiplication (there were 40 at the end of December 1975), President Sadat gave a firm reminder in December that the plat­forms should not accentuate tensions but rather aid national union and social harmony.

8 T. 2.43 and 3.67-8. Tawfiq al-Hakim gives the example of the National Society for Publication, which sold his rights as author for 30,000 Egyptian pounds; he received only 450.

9 In fact, al-Azhar has the role of religious censor. Plays are cheeked there and editors must submit all articles or books, which treat Islam even in passing. A Christian editor notes that the articles he sent there for censorship never came back.

10 Khalid Muhyi al-Din, the only one here you knew Nasser intimately, praises his character, his generosity, and his sincere commitment, in a social and progressive sense (T.5.109). Comments like that he gives in T.1.26-30 undoubtedly contain information useful for the history of the beginning of the Revolution.

11 The term comes from the Charter, chapter 2. Since Marxist scientific socialism was born in specific conditions, which have now changed (in four essential points), there are ways other the Russian and the Chinese to arrive at a socialist society. In particular, there is an “Arab revolutionary experience” or way has become a third model. Falling between capitalism and Marxist socialism, Arab socialism can be an original model for socialist society. Its differential characteristics consist in its offering a peaceful solution to the class struggle through the state, a neutral arbiter, which promotes the popular classes and disarms national-capitalism by integrating the people’s property into a scientific plan of production dominated by the public sector. The “open” Marxist left accepts that there is an Egyptian way – non-Arab – an experience specific to every underdeveloped country, to reach socialism. This left accepts a “Nasser experience” but rejects a third model for society, Arab Socialism. For this group Nasserism is not socialism but an experience, marked by trial and error, in search of socialism. The “orthodox” Marxist left refuses all accommodation in the class struggle. On these lively discussions about the Charter, see A. el-Kosheiri-Mahfouz, Socialisme et Pouvoir en Égypte, (Paris 1972), especially p.135.

12 This is the title given to the French translation of a collection of articles from al-Tali‘a, Voie Égyptienne vers le Socialisme (Dar al-Ma’aref, Le Caire 1966). It contains articles by Fu’ad Mursi, Lutfi al-Khuli, and Muhammad Sid Ahmad. The latter in discussing “La Révolution de Juillet et les intellectuels,” opposes dogmatic Marxism and affirms that “the method of trial and error remains the most realistic if one wants to limit the need of revolutionary action and separate out the possibilities still accessible.” (p. 440 ff).

13 After the publication of the Charter, there was an abortive attempt to establish an avant-garde organization within the ASU, with a Socialist Institute to form the cadres for it. See in Voie Égyptienne vers le Socialisme the article by Lutfi al-Khuli, “L’édification de l’organisation politique et ses problèmes,” p. 265; he expresses the great hope put in that creation at the time. In 1966 a commission against Feudalism was created, but its presidency was given to Moushir Amir... (T.6.56).

14 See, for example, Alain Touraine, “Les classes sociales dans une société dépendante,” in Revue Tiers-Monde no 62, avril-juin 1975 (p. 235) for it is not possible to use the same instru­ment (concept of class) in the synchronic analysis of modes of production and in the diachronic analysis of social change.

15 Professor of philosophy, he directed the review al-Fikr al-Mu‘asir until its disappearance in 1971. He now teaches at the University of Kuwait.

16 Undoubtedly, the faith to which the regime appeals as guarantee of social continuity is neither dogma nor piety but rather an ensemble of principles which represent the values of Egyptian society marked by Islam. But it is not in this sense that it is understood in the Azhar circles where faith is indissolubly dogma, cult and law. In these conditions, to call on faith or religion, in a global sense, permits an apparent unanimity to appear, but at the same time causes an inextricable confusion.

17 Thus, in R.Y. of 11, 18, and 25 August 1975, Abdal-Rahman al-Shirqawi wrote a series of articles against the Shaikh al-Azhar, blaming him for identifying Marxism and atheism, reac­tion and Islam. The polemic was stopped by order of the ASU.

18 To describe it as a service surpassed by reality, too simple or not flexible enough for a complex, changing situation, is not to say that it is not useful. The analyses of Egyptian Marxists certainly maintain the sense of socialism and of rigorous analysis in the face of general political opportunism, and provide a steady support for awareness of social exp­loitation. However it is possible that the presence of an “un­derground” left, less intellectual and less structured but more up to date in its denunciations, which is already evident in the student milieu and among artists, will in the long run be more effective.

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