Friday,16 November, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1363, (5 - 11 October 2017)
Friday,16 November, 2018
Issue 1363, (5 - 11 October 2017)

Ahram Weekly

The diplomat and Nasser

If one foreign minister embodied Nasserist ideals after Nasser’s death it is Amr Moussa, writes Mohamed Salmawy

اقرأ باللغة العربية

Amr Moussa recently invited me to a signing ceremony for his recently published memoirs, Kitabiyah (In Writing), and honoured me be asking me to be one of the speakers at the event. Unfortunately, as I was abroad at the time, I could not accept the invitation, as much as I would have liked to. I was among those who had frequently urged him to write his testimony to an important period in our modern history. For 10 years, during that period, he was the architect of Egyptian foreign policy. In the following 10 years, he was the captain of the ship of Arab solidarity (or lack thereof). Then, after the 25 January Revolution he took the plunge into domestic politics, becoming a head of the National Salvation Front, then founder of the Conference Party and then a presidential candidate in the first elections after the revolution. He crowned this period by serving as chairman of the 50-member committee that laid the foundations for a system of government intended to meet the principles and aspirations that inspired the revolution.

After he actually began to write his memoirs, Moussa occasionally spoke to me about them. For example, one evening last summer, at his house on the North Coast, he asked me about the dates, circumstances and certain specifics concerning president Anwar Al-Sadat’s announcement of his intention to visit Israel and the subsequent resignation of foreign minister Ismail Fahmi. I had spoken to him about my memoirs, which are due to appear next month but which I was still in the process of writing at the time. That visit is one of the subjects that concerned us both, he in his capacity as a diplomat at the time and me in my capacity as a journalist. On another occasion, I joined our common friend Ibrahim Al-Muallem in urging Moussa to finalise his text as quickly as possible so that his memoirs could be published well in advance of the next Cairo International Book Fair so that by the time of that event it will have already garnered readers’ attention. I held that if publication were delayed until the book fair itself, public opinion would be inevitably focussed on the presidential elections, not on memoirs speaking about the past. 

I was therefore delighted when Moussa told me that the book was now in print and kindly invited me to the book signing event which  — not to my surprise — was a great success. What did come as a surprise, as I continued to follow his news from abroad, were some remarks to the effect that his memoirs contained a vicious attack against Gamal Abdel-Nasser. I could not believe my ears. Moussa’s political stances, for which he won a popularity unmatched by any other foreign minister in the history of Egypt ever since the creation of the “Divan of Foreign Affairs” under Mohamed Ali Pasha over 200 years ago, were overwhelmingly and consummately Nasserist. The role he played in the confrontation against Israel and its policies, and his rejection of Tel Aviv’s notorious practice of imposing de facto realities were core Nasserist foreign policies. The same applies to his advocacy of the Palestinian cause and his opposition to any compromise on the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people which, moreover, led him to be accused — because of his influence on Yasser Arafat — of undermining the agreement that Israel had wanted to force on the Palestinians in the 1980s. His insistence on interacting with international powers and the US in particular on the basis of equality, and his rejection of all forms of big power mandates were also straight out of the Nasserist book. 

I have beside me, as I write this, an article by the Lebanese journalist Samir Atallah that appeared first in Asharq Al-Awsat and then in Al-Masry Al-Youm. It speaks of the role Moussa played in bringing about Egypt’s return to the Arab fold after the rupture caused by Sadat’s foreign policy shift in the 1970s. Moussa’s promotion of Egypt’s role as the linchpin of the Arab world was also a cornerstone of Nasserist policy. If it is true, as Moussa writes in his memoirs, that Egypt’s pan-Arab policy began before the era of Nasser with the creation of the Arab League, it is simultaneously true that Nasser took this policy to unprecedented horizons. As for Egypt’s pioneering role as a leader of the countries of the Third World, this is an authentically Nasserist product. According to Atallah, it was Moussa who prevented the dismissal of Egypt from the Non-Aligned Movement at the famous Havana Summit.

Moussa’s foreign policy had a popular dimension that was unparalleled in our Foreign Ministry before and after his time. In an article entitled, “Amr Moussa’s school of diplomacy,” which appeared in Al-Ahram the same week he left the Foreign Ministry, I wrote that his style of conducting Egyptian foreign policy relied on inspiration derived from a sense of the popular pulse. I cited as an example his battle against Israel over the latter’s refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Moussa transformed into a public opinion issue even though the question involves certain technical aspects that may be beyond the grasp of laypersons. Where would Amr Moussa derive this new populist thrust in the world of diplomacy if not from Nasser who, as Moussa mentions in his memoirs, exerted a powerful influence over him in his youth as was the case with an entire generation of Arabs from the Atlantic to the Gulf.

Yet we have some commentators who suggest to anyone who has not read his memoirs that Moussa attacked Nasser, saying that he had his food flown in from Switzerland, that the mass demonstrations calling on him to retract his decision to resign after the 1967 defeat were orchestrated, and that he was a dictator whose autocratic rule excluded the participation of other branches of government. Therefore, as soon as I returned from abroad, I searched for a copy of the memoirs in order to ascertain whether there was any truth to such claims. Unfortunately, I found it sold out at all the bookstores. So I called up Moussa and asked, “Where’s this book in which you attack Abdel-Nasser?” 

“It doesn’t exist,” he answered. “But I do have your copy of my memoirs right here.” 

That gift came with a very kind dedication, as well. It is an important and valuable book and enjoyable to read. It contains some analyses and opinions with which I might not agree. I also found some passages that were inaccurately cited. But I could find nothing that might be construed as an attack against Nasser.

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