News / Middle East

History Weighs Heavily With Egypt's Generals in Charge

 A supporter of Egypt's ousted President Mohammed Morsi chants slogans during a protest outside Rabaah al-Adawiya mosque, where protesters have installed a camp and hold daily rallies at Nasr City in Cairo, Egypt, Aug. 4, 2013.
A supporter of Egypt's ousted President Mohammed Morsi chants slogans during a protest outside Rabaah al-Adawiya mosque, where protesters have installed a camp and hold daily rallies at Nasr City in Cairo, Egypt, Aug. 4, 2013.
Reuters
Nubar Keropian was in his late teens when the Egyptian army last took power by force of arms, overthrowing King Farouk and casting him off from Alexandria to exile and an early death in Italy.

Still working in the portrait studio his photographer father opened 80 years ago, Keropian recalls the events of 1952 as if it were yesterday, leafing through black-and-white photographs of quiet, clean Cairo streets and the bare banks of the Nile.

“They said it was a bloodless revolution,” he muses, with no small dose of irony given events in Egypt 60 years on.

At least 300 people have been killed since the military deposed elected Islamist President Mohamed Morsi on July 3 following mass protests against him.

Keropian's father was one of thousands of Armenians who fled killings in Turkey to Egypt during World War I, becoming a photographer at Cairo's opulent Shepheard's Hotel - high society's sanctuary of choice from stifling North African heat.

Egypt was then under British military occupation although it became a notionally independent constitutional monarchy under Farouk, whom Keropian, 76, recalls as a “playboy and a womanizer.”

What passed at the time for a nascent democracy, with a parliament and political parties, was snuffed out in 1952 by soldiers known as the Free Officers, among them Gamal Abdel Nasser, the man who would later take power and hold it until his death in 1970. British military advisers were expelled.

Revered by Egyptians as the revolution that gave birth to modern Egypt, it began in Cairo with a day of anti-British riots that razed hundreds of buildings, landmarks of the elite and Western influence.

Nightclubs frequented by Farouk, the Opera House, the Shepheard's Hotel and the Rivoli cinema, where Keropian recalls an organist who “came up from the stage during the interval and played some very nice tunes”, went up in flames.

In a written ultimatum after months of political upheaval, the Free Officers told Farouk the army represented “the power of the people” and demanded that he step aside.

“Nasser let the king take all his fortune,” said Keropian. “They say there were lots of boxes of jewels, and he was saluted when he left the port of Alexandria.”

The Arab world's most populous nation would be ruled by military men for the next six decades, until Hosni Mubarak was toppled by the masses in Tahrir Square in 2011 and Morsi, a devout Muslim, was freely elected in 2012 after another interim period of military rule.

'Not yet ready for democracy'

A year on, Morsi is in detention, ousted by a general who said he, too, was acting on the will of a people who took to the streets in their millions to protest against Morsi's perceived incompetence and autocratic, Islamist bent.

Army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sissi is the poster-boy of what the military and Egyptian liberals insist was a popular uprising, backed by military intervention to prevent civil war. He promises a return to civilian rule and democracy.

But history is against him.

“When the revolution stopped,” Keropian recalled of 1952, “[coup leader] General Mohammed Naguib said to Gamal Abdel Nasser, 'Let's go back to our barracks and leave the people to democracy.' Nasser refused and said, 'Egyptians are not yet ready for democracy.' And he abolished all the parties.”

There are echoes of this narrative in Egypt today.

Egyptians “don't know how democracy works”, Mohamed ElBaradei, vice president in a transitional cabinet appointed by the army, told The Washington Post last week. “They don't know the ingredients of a democracy. It takes time.”

ElBaradei described as “esoteric” the debate over whether or not Morsi's overthrow constituted a coup.

“When you have 20 million people calling on Mr. Morsi to leave, and the army had to step in to avoid a civil war, does that make it a coup d'etat? Of course not,” he said. “It's not your classical army intervention. It's really the army providing support to a popular uprising.”

Those words were supported by the United States on Thursday, when Secretary of State John Kerry said the Egyptian army - which receives $1.3 billion in U.S. aid every year - was “restoring democracy” when it ousted Morsi.

“And the military did not take over, to the best of our judgment - so far,” he said.

Powerful, but dangerous

The army, which enjoys popular support and considerable control over the economy, has promised elections within six months. Most analysts agree that is optimistic.

They also say Sissi would win a presidential poll hands-down if he were to run today.

But the general, who denies any such ambition, must first deal with Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, and its thousands of supporters, who refuse to leave the streets until their president is reinstated.

Cairo is not burning, this time, but the impasse already has cost some 300 lives. Its denouement could have far-reaching consequences across North Africa and the Middle East for Islamists who won a first whiff of power in 2011 in ballots that followed a wave of uprisings against autocratic rulers.

“Elections can lead to dictatorship but a military coup is rarely the foundation of democracy,” former French U.N. diplomat Jean-Marie Guehenno wrote in The New York Times.

At the studio Keropian opens each morning, a coat of dust covers the giant German view camera that his father once used.

Boxes of negatives sit stacked against the walls and faded portraits of politicians, writers and movie stars speak to a thriving photography business in the 1940s and 1950s that was dominated by Armenian DemigrDes.

The digital age made Keropian, faithful to film, redundant.

He says he has not taken a portrait at the studio in five or six years, and lives off the sale of old prints taken by his father and the man who taught him the trade, a court photographer of Jewish origin known by the name 'W. Hanselman.'

He pulls from the drawer a picture taken by Hanselman of a reception to mark the drafting of Egypt's 1923 constitution that created a parliament and parties albeit hostage to the whim of the British-backed king.

Nasser scrapped that constitution on taking power. Morsi wrote a new version last year. Sisi suspended it and has commissioned his own amended draft, outraging the Islamists.

Egypt has a long history of militancy and political assassination. Morsi's supporters are now encamped at a protest sit-in close to the military parade ground where Anwar Sadat, Nasser's former military successor, was gunned down by radical Islamist assassins in 1981.

Hanselman's photograph of the constitution celebration is well-lit, showing dozens of sharp, mustachioed faces.

Keropian believes his father set up the lighting, igniting a mixture of nitrate and magnesium not dissimilar to gun powder.

“It's formidable,” he said. “It's very powerful, but very dangerous.”

  • People perform Ramadan night prayers in Cairo, celebrating Lailat al-Qadr (the Night of Power), August 4, 2013.
  • A supporter of Egypt's ousted President Mohamed Morsi prays outside Rabaah al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo, August 4, 2013.
  • The area around the Rabaa Adiweya mosque has been packed with Muslim Brotherhood supporters sleeping in tents for over a month. Families bring children to protect them from the police forcibly dismantling the sit-in. (H. Elrasam for VOA)
  • A supporter of Egypt's ousted President Mohamed Morsi prays outside Rabaah al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo, August 4, 2013.
  • Children have been participating in protests in Egypt since the became widespread and near-constant in 2011. (H. Elrasam for VOA)
  • A supporter of Egypt's ousted President Mohamed Morsi gets relief from the afternoon heat with the help of water sprayers in front of a poster of Morsi, Cairo University,Giza, Egypt.
  • A supporter of Egypt's ousted President Mohamed Morsi cries while saluting the Egyptian flag at Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque, Nasr City, Cairo, Egypt.
  • An Egyptian woman feeds her ducks in front of a barrier recently set up by supporters of Egypt's ousted President Mohamed Morsi in their camp in Giza, southwest of Cairo, Egypt, Aug. 1, 2013. 
  • An Egyptian child attends prayers with his father at a protest near Cairo University in Giza, Egypt, August 1, 2013. 
  • Egyptian children wear head bands with Arabic writing: "No god but Allah and Mohammed is the prophet." They attend a protest outside Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque, Cairo, Egypt.
  • Supporters of Egypt's ousted President Mohamed Morsi pray at Rabaah al-Adawiya mosque, where Morsi supporters have installed a camp and hold daily rallies at Nasr City, Cairo, July 31, 2013.
  • "Third Square" actvists, who promote a middle way in the rift between the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of the army's overthrow of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, gather at Sphinx Square in Cairo, July 30, 2013.
  • "Third Square" actvists gather at Sphinx Square in Cairo, July 30, 2013.
  • Supporters of Mohamed Morsi during a march from Al-Fath Mosque to the defense ministry in Cairo, July 30, 2013.
  • Flares illuminate the gathering of several hundred activists the "Third Square" in Cairo. (Hamada Elrasam for VOA)
  • A young girl at the Third Square rally in Cairo. (Hamada Elrasam for VOA)
  • A young girl at the Third Square rally in Cairo. (Hamada Elrasam for VOA)
  • A young girl at the Third Square rally in Cairo. (Hamada Elrasam for VOA)

You May Like

Elusive Deal With Iran Could Yield Foreign Policy Legacy for Obama

A new Iranian leader -- and a strategic shift by the United States -- opens narrow window for nuclear agreement with Tehran More

Column: Saudi-Iran Meeting Could Boost Fight Against Islamic State

The fact that Iranians and Saudis are talking again does not guarantee a breakthrough, but it could make it easier to build a broad coalition against IS More

Thai Ruler Gives Top Cabinet Posts to Junta Inner Circle

Thailand's army chief has kept an iron grip on power as he extends the government, hand-picking an interim parliament that subsequently nominated him prime minister More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Yousef from: Egypt
August 05, 2013 4:45 PM
Terrorists have more say and all countries are scared of them instead to get rid of them. They pop up with their different faces and promises to fool people. World should appreciate SIssi who dared to confront such an atrocious group of people who are exploiting innocent people on name of religion.


by: Azza Radwan Sedky from: Vancouver, BC
August 05, 2013 2:18 PM
Interesting start--the comparison between the exits.
In the last few decades, there's been three exits of leaders from Egypt. Wonder which is more honourable? Read "The honourable exit" http://azzasedky.typepad.com/egypt/2013/07/the-making-of-an-honourable-exiting-leader.html

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid