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

Obama: I Will Do 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Ebola Burials

Also, country is improving at rapid response to isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Religion Aside, Christmas Gains Popularity in Communist Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace holiday due to its non-religious glamor, commercial appeal 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.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid