By Arab News
By Mohammed Nosseir*
Arguing with an Egyptian “Nasserist” about late President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s legacy is a true waste of time and energy. Nasser ruled Egypt from 1956 to 1970 and his legacy lies in the strong admirers he left behind, who tend to blindly defend all his decisions, disregarding the damage his policies wreaked on many fundamental Egyptian socioeconomic issues and the deterioration of the political status of the entire Arab region (where he was, nevertheless, truly loved) during his rule.
Being an admired leader is completely different to being a capable president. Nasser, a genuinely patriotic leader, wanted to reinforce Egypt’s sovereignty, but his regional ambitions caused unintentional damage, from which we still suffer today. Although Nasser’s successors were substantially less charismatic, they added more value to Egypt than he did. Nevertheless, none of them managed to leave the emotional fingerprint that Nasser left on Egyptians.
Nasser’s “macho” ruling style was extremely well regarded by large numbers of Egyptians and Arabs, who felt that his bold attitude compensated for their suffering. Nasser temporarily raised the living standard of a segment of Egyptian laborers and farmers, but he did so at the expense of our economy, which continues to be distressed due to the state enterprises’ accumulated losses and the unproductive workforce that continues to expect to be fed by the state, as it was during Nasser’s era.
Nasser’s bullying political attitude toward many Arab and Western leaders led to our engagement in many regional political conflicts that were of no value to Egypt (other than advancing Nasser’s aspirations for heroism), as well as to the occupation of the Sinai Peninsula. If Nasser had been more of a politician and less of an intimidator, his legacy would have been of much greater value. Nonetheless, many Western politicians would love to be in Nasser’s shoes (to be adored blindly by a vast majority that works on finding plausible excuses for their faults) — but this is not feasible in light of the spread of political awareness today.
Still, Nasser’s charisma served to advance his power. Having a single state media channel through which the president could communicate with citizens, conveying whatever he liked to his people, certainly strengthened Nasser’s power significantly. Nowadays, the Egyptian state is struggling with how to deal with the multiple channels of communication over which it has no power and that wield greater influence than its own costly media channels.
Not having been exposed to his political charm, Egyptians who were born after Nasser’s era tend to judge him more rationally. Nasser’s loyal admirers are people who value loquacious bragging and pay little attention to true progress on the ground. President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has, on occasion, mentioned that he envies Nasser’s exclusive style of rule, including media manipulation. However, if he was to apply Nasser’s ruling philosophy, El-Sisi would distance himself from young Egyptians, whose youthful dynamism is at odds with the state’s static ruling approach.
In essence, it is almost impossible to inspire today’s youth with a single leader’s ideas. The wide exposure provided by social media offers young people a variety of rich ideas that the state is not equipped to compete with. Additionally, the state’s desire to control the youth (who naturally resist being controlled) is making life more difficult for it. The present Egyptian ruling regime still hasn’t understood the mindset of today’s youth and continues to be unable to capitalize on present-day communication tools.
Nasser was quite talented in tapping into Egyptians’ emotions and expanding their feelings of patriotism and by redistributing the wealth of the rich among the less fortunate. This ruling philosophy was applied at the expense of harming our economy by nationalizing many successful private enterprises, in addition to depoliticizing the entire society. If the present-day Egyptian state wants to strengthen its ties with the youth, it needs to address them using today’s political instruments — and to completely discard Nasser’s legacy.
*Mohammed Nosseir, a liberal politician from Egypt, is a strong advocate of political participation and economic freedom. Twitter: @MohammedNosseir