Sisi says hello to Reza Shah
© Wiki Commons / Your Middle East
Sisi says hello to Reza Shah
Last updated: September 8, 2014

Sisi has a lot in common with Reza Shah. How do Egyptian and Iranian intellectuals feel about that?

Banner Icon "Egypt is now experiencing circumstances similar to that of the rise of Reza Shah", writes Nozhan Etezadosaltaneh in a comparison of the two eras. Question here is; how are the countries' intellectuals viewing that situation?

Prominent Egyptian journalist Mohamed Hassanein Heikal believes that Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is a fit choice for Egypt. He has considered Sisi’s military background a privilege for the Egyptian Commander-in-Chief of Armed Forces’ upcoming presidential campaign, giving the Field Marshal the title of “The Ideal Man”. Heikal used to be one of the most intimate figures with the former Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser and is still of great influence in the country’s politics. He believes that Sisi, along with the military, are the only forces that can put an end to Egypt’s current crisis.

Support for Sisi is, however, not limited to Heikal and Egypt’s oldest generation of journalists. Hamdeen Sabahi, journalist and leading figure of the Nasserist current who ran the previous presidential campaign against Morsi and Shafik, drawing a dazzling lot of votes from suburbans, less privileged strata, and largely jobless youth to become the third most popular candidate, said last August that in case Sisi ran for president he would endorse him. Sabahi called Sisi a “public hero”, adding that he trusted him.

"Support for Sisi is, however, not limited to Heikal and Egypt’s oldest generation of journalists"

Yet another Egyptian intellectual who believes that Sisi must be given time to implement his plans is the well-known leftist Samir Amin. In an interview with the Turkish newspaper Aydınlık he recently stated that the Egyptian civil society was pressing Sisi toward social reforms such as wage increase and the gratification of the rights of women and the youth.

This was only part of the extended support shown by a lot of Egyptian intellectuals for Sisi in the presidential elections. Besides the fact that a large number of Egyptian intellectuals endorse the candidacy of a military general in the presidential race, many of them avoid calling the June 30 events a coup.

Among them is the prominent Egyptian feminist Nawal El Saadawi who has a record of eight decades of fighting for gender equality, having endured numerous instances of incarceration in the days of different Egyptian rulers from Anwar Sadat to Mubarak. She believes that the overthrow of Morsi was not a coup, but rather a “public revolution”. El Saadawi adds, “I would hear terrified women and children screaming and asking where the officers and the soldiers were.”

Saadawi’s statements are a sign of will by certain public leaders for the army to intervene in order to put an end to the solipsistic ways of the Brotherhood fans and their related armed forces. Saadawi believes that with the former president Morsi gone, Egyptians find a new opportunity to form civil organizations which will grant equality before the law regardless of religion, gender, and social rank.

In contrast to a lot of Egyptian intellectuals who show favourable regards for the candidacy of a military general like Sisi, a wide spectrum of Iranian intellectuals not only hold a negative outlook toward it, they rather show strong opposition to the idea. This may trace back to the bitter memory of an Iranian military official’s intervention in the country’s political affairs in the 1953 coup d'état, making Iranian intellectuals resist any sort of intervention by army officials in politics.

In fact, we can compare the June 30 event in Egypt, ending the rein of the Morsi administration and the accession of an army-backed interim government, with the 1921 Persian coup d'etat. Currently the majority of Egyptians favour a government with enough might to offer centrality, efficient rule, and substantial reform. In the Iranian 1921 coup also, as a Cossack military figure, Reza Shah empowered the armed forces and used them to subdue the riots stirred by self-rule-seekers across the country. The fact is that the lack of security in the Middle East, which results in a constant state of anarchy, has always driven calls for freedom into a corner.

"Many socialist activists favoured the nationalization of industries"

Egypt is now experiencing circumstances similar to that of the rise of Reza Shah; as with most coup leaders it has been a priority to improve public life by sharing fiefdoms among vassals, building schools and housing, stretching roads and railroads, and seeing to security on roads. At the beginning of Reza Shah’s reign many socialist activists favoured the nationalization of industries and production means and supported public education and health initiatives, as well as endorsed his modernist push on women’s, workers’, and vassals’ rights. Similarly, a large number of Egyptian leftist intellectuals who have, like their predecessors, supported Nasser’s egalitarian cries, have now stood behind Sisi as they have discerned a new Nasser in his countenance.

All in all it can be said that like Iran at the time of Reza Shah, today’s Egypt has gathered a lot of intellectuals behind a military leader who has promised a centralist, nationalist, and modernist government. In the same way that Iran’s military leaders in that time would stress such notions as a reaction against the Qajar’s aristocratic traditionalism, an Egyptian military general’s urge to go back to a time similar to that of Nasser can also be interpreted as a conspicuous opposition to the Brotherhood’s conservative, traditional outlook toward society and politics.

There are signs indicating that Egypt is once more standing at the old Middle Eastern crossroads; entering a path to enlightenment or following the trend toward reaction and cultural-social backwardness, a dilemma which the prominent Egyptian author Taha Hussein has addressed in his novels. Now the hero of the story is a general who has to show whether he, like Nasser, is the hero of hardships or is going to disappoint expectations by failing a national try.

The views expressed are the author's own.

Nozhan Etezadosaltaneh
Nozhan is an author and political analyst. He has written a book entitled, “Islamic Parties and the laicist perspective of Turkey”, as well as several articles about the Middle East and Iran in Iranian newspapers, including Shargh, Etemaad, Roozegar, and Bahar.
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