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Egyptians Celebrate 50th Anniversary of Nasser's Revolution - 2002-07-22

Egyptians are commemorating the 50th anniversary of the July 23 revolution that toppled the monarchy and eventually brought Lt. Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser to power.

In the early hours of July 23, 1952 Gamal Abdel Nasser's confidante, Anwar Sadat, gave the first official word of the coup d'etat against King Farouk. Egypt, he said, has now passed beyond the era of corruption and incompetent rule.

The little-known lieutenant colonel and a small group of nationalist army men known as the Free Officers had taken control of the country. The monarchy was dead. Nasser's vision of socialism and Arab nationalism quickly replaced it.

Veteran newsman and author Ahmed Hamrouche was the Free Officer in charge of Alexandria in July of 1952. He recalls how Nasser advanced the timing of the coup d'etat after receiving word that King Farouk was ready to move against them. "The moment sticking in my mind was the meeting with Nasser on 22 July at noon in front of his home and hearing from him that we are going to move this night against the king," he said.

The coup was swift and bloodless. It heralded a new political and social era for Egypt.

Former Free Officer Ahmed Hamrouche lists some early achievements. "Free education, free [health] treatments," he said. "We started to have industry. We made the high dam and electricity in all the villages. We made a treaty with the British to evacuate Egypt in 1956. We had also the social justice. The revolution was keen for that and from this point it was popular and we put an end to the corrupt royal regime."

But 80-year-old Socialist politician Khalid Mohieddin, who was a member of Mr. Nasser's Revolutionary Council, says the revolution fell short of its promised democratic reforms. Nasser, he says, did not want to share authority.

A spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, Maamoun El-Hodeibi, says Nasser turned the country into an autocratic police state that persecuted his Islamic party.

Anwar Sadat, who took power after Nasser's death in 1970, intensified the crackdown, fearing a resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism. The Muslim Brotherhood remains outlawed even today.

Political analyst Hassan Nafae says Nasser's legacy is mixed. The country, he says, still suffers from the effects of a bloated state economy, incomplete economic and social reforms and continuing charges of corruption.

But the Cairo University professor considers the Nasser revolution a major turning point for ordinary Egyptians. "The whole society was ruled before the revolution by a real minority, composed of landowners and a very limited elite," said Hassan Nafae. "The Egyptian society has been transformed in such a way that we should consider that the bulk of the elite now is composed of the middle class."

Nasser's bold decision to nationalize the Suez Canal, bringing an end to British control of the canal, transformed the charismatic army officer into a national hero and his country into a model for other liberation movements across the region.

But Nasser's call for a pan-Arab nationalism put him on a collision course with the West and one of Egypt's neighbors, Israel. Mr. Nafae says even though Israel defeated several Arab armies in the 1967 war, Nasser is popular today as an Egyptian who stood up to the West.

"I do believe that despite the defeat of 1967, which really modified the image of Nasser, in my own opinion, Nasser's image is coming back now in the light of what is happening as far as the Arab-Israeli conflict is concerned," he said. "Many people will perceive now that Nasser was really right in having a hard-line policy vis-a-vis Israel and the United States because of what the Israelis are doing now in the occupied territories."

In his speech Monday marking the revolution's 50th anniversary, President Hosni Mubarak warned Israel that occupation only fuels Arab anger and will not bring Israel security or peace.

Many Egyptians who still idolize Nasser complain that Egypt's 1979 peace deal with Israel and its close ties with Washington betray the colonel's legacy.

But Ahmed Hamrouche, the former Free Officer, says much has changed since the revolution. He says Egypt has to adapt to a new world order and should be judged within the context of today's political realities, not those of 50 years ago.