Nasser, Symbol of the Arab World
After post-colonial rule and the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Middle Eastern countries began to form themselves into independent states solidifying their identities. The region united together against their colonial repressers. The years between 1952 and 1970 saw the drive for Arab unity at its strongest. It was an age of solidarity and the pursuit of unity through mass political movements. And it was an era dominated by a leader the likes of whom the Arabs had not seen in a long time. (1)
Gamal Abdel Nasser was a part of the Free Officers movement that took power in a bloodless coup who set about changing Egypt in 1952. He had his own vision for both a new nation and the Arab World; he was the first Egyptian to rule in over 2,500 years. (1) Politically, he transformed Egypt into a republic, introducing a centralized parliamentary rule and creating social programs. He was ambitious, charismatic, but came from the working class allowing me to relate with the every-day Egyptian.
Nasser’ s goal was to improve the conditions of the lowest working class by establishing land reforms, free educational programs for boys and girls and developing the country’s medical infrastructure hoping to provide long-needed social and civil services.
Not only did the Arab world take notice of Nasser’s Ambition, but the rest of the world realized that he was a force to be reckoned with. Nasser’s deep belief in socialism was rooted in the idea that if the people felt like they had real equality they would feel more united and act as one entity, rather than act on their own personal interests.
Through his notable actions of regaining control of the Suez Canal from the British and the French, governing both Syria and Egypt, as well as acting a as a man of the people, his “Nasserism” and his push for a strong, unified Arab identity leaves him as one of the most important political figures in the history of the MENA region, Egypt, and the world.
A new Revolution?
Recently, Egypt made an agreement with Saudi Arabia to give two of its Red Sea islands, under a secretly negotiated border agreement. The citizens were angered because they viewed these islands as long belonging to Egypt. “Despite a draconian anti-protest law, several thousand protesters took to the streets of central Cairo to demonstrate against the border agreement, reviving revolutionary chants of “the people want the downfall of the regime”. (2) El-Sisi was mostly welcomed into the government in 2013, as Egyptians wanted the Muslim Brotherhood-backed Morsi out, even though he was democratically elected. However over two years have gone by, and if El-Sisi doesn’t deliver on his economic reforms, another popular uprising or political-military coup may be in store illustrating Egypt’s political volatility and instability.
However a revolution is unlikely as the government is fairly authoritative, is military-backed, and is viewed mostly as a better government than Morsi because it is non-Islamist though it is oppressive, squashing dissidence consistently.
Egypt’s Future and Economic Integration
According to The Political Economy of Reform in Egypt: Understanding the Role of Institutions, Carnegie Middle East Center’s Sufyan Alissa explains how economic reform is failing in Egypt for three reasons: “it lacks public support, Egypt has failed to foster a competitive business environment and the lack of dynamic and transparent institutions.” (3)
Egypt doesn’t have a reliance on producing oil like many of the gulf OPEC countries, which makes it a poor country but may help it in the future. Economic reform in Egypt is still failing as corruption runs rampant, and many of the citizens go to other countries to work elsewhere having a huge labor migration, as there are few economic opportunities within the country. Egypt relies on outside funds to support its economy, rather than creating real economic development, mostly from the United States and from the United Arab Emirates. Tourism is down after the Russian flight crashed over Sharm-Al-Sheik, and there is little investment in public infrastructure.
In conclusion, after writing about Egypt for an entire semester, I believe that Egypt has so many resources to capitalize on, but it fails to implement long-lasting reform, as the government has been changing so frequently. The Egyptian people are so passionate, but are unorganized in their causes and are quick to overthrow the government. Egypt is unable to address the socio-economic needs of the country, which includes poverty, high unemployment, increasing public debt, and high inflation. Major reform is needed to improve Egypt’s governance, including holding the bureaucracy accountable, and demanding transparency of the politicians. The military has a huge role in the government, but Egypt needs to allow for more political participation from the citizens.
Egypt is iconic, and I believe will never truly diminish as a country, but in order to flourish the Egyptian people must put more pressure on their government, and must demand a fair and just political process. The people must push for education for all, and for creating public works that can support the people and their aspirations.