Egypt revolt revives pride of Nasser era

CAIRO, Anna Cuenca- The revolt that toppled Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak has restored a pride that many here have not felt since the days when charismatic nationalist Gamal Abdel Nasser inspired the Arab world.
Throughout the 18 days of demonstrations that put an end to the 82-year-old Mubarak's autocratic rule, Egyptians have insisted it was the indignity of living under his overbearing regime that fuelled their anger.

Egypt revolt revives pride of Nasser era
Now, after their oppressor has slunk off, his tail between legs and the new military rulers having promised to ensure free elections, pride is returning.
"We have rediscovered our dignity and we will never again let our heads go down. We have broken the fear barrier," declared 62-year-old Ahmed al-Nashar, one of the older protesters who occupied Cairo's Tahrir Square.
Many demonstrators were young, tech-savvy middle class kids using the online campaign to seek political and economic freedoms denied them under Mubarak, but the result of their revolt -- an army takeover -- recalled less modern times.
With the government in disgrace and the brutal police widely hated, Egyptians rallied to the military as a symbol of pride and unity, entrusting them the task of protecting their "revolution", and recalling Nasser's era.
Nasser was a leader in the movement of "free officers" which overthrew the Egyptian monarchy in 1952. He himself took power in June 1956, installing an authoritarian regime with a pan-Arab nationalist ideology.
As a pioneer of the non-aligned movement in the Cold War, he gave the West jitters when he nationalised the British and French-run Suez Canal.
Britain, France and Israel invaded to regain control of the lucrative and strategic trade route, but Washington failed to back them and the mission ended in a debacle -- boosting Nasser's status in the anti-colonial movement.
A shocking defeat by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War and the gradual installation of a police state at home tarnished Nasser's reputation but did not dim his legend permanently, and today nostalgia is rife in Cairo.
On Saturday, street parties broke out across the capital in the wake of Mubarak's downfall, but one of the most intense was outside the Nasserist party's historic headquarters downtown, near Tahrir Square.
Thousands of young Egyptians packed into the narrow street under a sea of national flags, flashing laser pointers, firing blasts of flame into the air from burning hair-spray cans and dancing to patriotic pop music.
The last time Nasser's memory evoked such passions was at his 1970 funeral, when millions lined the street in scenes of near hysteria.
Nasser's successors have never inspired such devotion.
While they maintained his national security state, they made compromises that undermined the national pride of many Egyptians: signing a peace treaty with Israel and anchoring Egypt firmly in the US Cold War camp.
Neither Anwar Sadat, who was assassinated in 1981 by radical Islamists, nor fellow military officer Hosni Mubarak, ousted on Friday by a popular revolt, were fully able to don Nasser's mantle and win over the people.
Nashar still carries a torch for the former leader despite the fact that Nasser's regime jailed his father, a communist militant.
"In Nasser's era there was no democracy, but the authorities didn't loot the people and the people loved Nasser. There was no corruption and we were proud to be Egyptians," he recalled, through rose-tinted spectacles of nostalgia.
Most of Egypt's population was born after Nasser's death and many of the young people behind the revolt did not make the same connection, but all the protesters linked their "revolution" to a restoration of national pride.
"At last, they are speaking about our democracy, not just Eastern Europe or Lula's Brazil!" boasted Amr al-Shobaki of the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and International Studies in Cairo.

Sunday, February 13th 2011
Anna Cuenca

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