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International Socialism, Winter 1962



Egypt’s Military Regime


From International Socialism, No.11, Winter 1962, pp.30-31.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Egyptian Army in Politics – Pattern for New Nations?
P.I. Vatikiotis
Indiana University Press. $7.95.

This book is perhaps the first serious attempt at an over-all evaluation of the military regime in Egypt. Its essence may be summarized as follows: politics in the Arab countries so far have consisted largely of the struggle of emerging groups, such as teachers, lawyers, journalists, intellectuals, professionals, and students – commonly regarded as elements of a new ‘middle class’ – to invade the ranks of the ruling elite, which until recently had consisted mainly of an alliance between landowners, rich bourgeois merchants and entrepreneurs, tribal chiefs, and religious hierarchs. The inability of the new classes to crack the elite edifice made it possible for the army group to attain political power. (p.121) But the ‘Society of Free Officers’ in Egypt did not become an active political group until the safety of its members was in question, grave doubt had been cast on the competence and loyalty of Army Command, and conditions in the country had deteriorated to the point where revolution was not unlikely. The views of the revolutionary army leaders ranged from extreme rightist, Islamic fundamentalist to radical socialist and communist. What happened, then, when the Free Officers attained power? The failure of parliamentary systems before the military came to power indicated to them that genuine representative government in the Arab countries was not yet feasible. At the same time they were not unaware of the necessity for a strong, broadly based organization which would provide continuity and stability to any new order they might establish. But lacking a tradition of and an infrastructure for representative government, the UAR and other Arab states have suffered from an institutional weakness which cannot be remedied easily. The ultimate question for the army in politics, therefore, is whether the army junta will be able to consolidate its power through the army alone.

This is, of course, only a very short summary of a book full of facts on Nasser’s Egypt and their analysis. Since the book is written by an outsider with an analytic attitude and based on a large amount of original material (see extensive bibliographical note on pp.262-280) combined with personal acquaintance with the country, it could have been an excellent book.

It is not, for the following reasons. Firstly, because of bad organization, the book suffers from tedious repetition. Secondly, large parts of the book are devoted to Syria (including a completely superfluous survey of its political development before union with Egypt). Much of this was out of date a few months after its publication and the author would have done better had he concentrated on Egypt. Thirdly, the historical parts are weak. For instance, the comparison between Nasser and Orabi (p.58) is incomplete, and it is absurd to call Orabi ‘Bedouin’ (p.21). Equally misleading is the statement that ‘by 1936 the Wafd had developed into a mass movement embracing all classes of the population’ (p.24). In fact, the Wafd as a mass movement rather deteriorated between the 1919 revolt and 1936. Fourthly, there are few statements on labour and trade unions (pp.132-3) which are not either wrong or at least very strangely formulated.

However, the main shortcoming of the book is its almost complete neglect of economics. Except for data on plans, the only thing Mr Vatikiotis has to say on Egypt’s economy today is that no economic revolution has occurred and that economic planning ‘is still faced with serious problems of labour, capital, and other facilities’. (pp.135-137) It would seem that even a very gifted ‘political scientist’ should be incapable of making an over-all evaluation of a certain regime without an analysis of its economic structure.

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Last updated on 19 March 2010