Saturday,23 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1394, (17 - 23 May 2018)
Saturday,23 February, 2019
Issue 1394, (17 - 23 May 2018)

Ahram Weekly

In focus: Khaled Mohieddin: Prudent opposition

In political action, it’s always essential to know what the people want, and put these aspirations first, writes Galal Nassar


March 2004 marked the 50th anniversary of the 1954 crisis, which gave me an opportunity to conduct a long interview with one of the key figures in the crisis, Khaled Mohieddin, or the Red Major as he was known among the Free Officers who revolted against King Farouk on 23 July 1952.

To briefly recap, in March 1954 president Mohamed Naguib along with Mohieddin and others were calling for the army to return to its barracks and restore civilian parliamentary and party life, while on the other side president Gamal Abdel- Nasser and the rest of the Free Officers on the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) decided this would be a coup against the revolution, its principles and causes, restore corrupt political life and would divide the street and the army, and throw the revolution off course and lose public support for it. This clash resulted in:

— Naguib being deposed as president.

— Political parties were dissolved and their leaders thrown in jail.

— Al-Masry newspaper was shut down after it played a key role in the March crisis.

— The Muslim Brotherhood was dissolved, its leaders executed and thousands of members jailed.

— Military coup attempts failed and it was the end of independent military organisations or affiliation to outside political forces inside the army.

— The Press Syndicate and Bar Association were dissolved and temporary pro-RCC committees were installed in their place.

The March crisis was preceded in January 1954 by a serious political crisis once the honeymoon between the RCC and the Muslim Brotherhood was over. On 14 January, the RCC ordered the dissolution of the Muslim Brotherhood under the pretext of conspiring with British diplomats, and the Muslim Brotherhood was treated the same way as political parties and more than 400 of its members were arrested.

In February 1954, the dispute between Naguib and young RCC members surfaced and escalated on 23 February culminating in an announcement on 25 February that Naguib had resigned from all his posts and Abdel-Nasser was appointed chairman of the RCC and prime minister. However, before the short month was over, Naguib was reinstated as president on 27 February 1954.

But the dispute had to be settled to end the obvious state of division, which was not the actual reality, as Mohieddin told me in interview. He said people on the street and his closest family members did not support Naguib’s position and wanted a strongman to lead the country and repair the damage done by pre-revolution governments.

“I imagined that since I had raised the slogan of democracy and plurality, standing for the principle that people should govern themselves, that the vast majority of Egyptians would fight for a government by the majority, by free elections. [I imagined] that this was the main demand of the nation, and that the call for democracy would resonate among the people, but what happened, as I discovered through the comments of my wife, was otherwise... During the crisis, she told me: ‘By the way, Khaled, I have been meeting with members of your family and mine for the past few days... and I found out that most people do not support you. They keep saying: ‘What is the story of the elections and parties that your husband wants to restore to us... we are happy to find a strong man to rule the country and reform it.’”

The truth is, Mohieddin’s political presence, ideology and principles was a unique phenomenon in the history of Egyptian opposition even though he led and belonged to a broad and diverse leftist current, with many key figures. Nonetheless, he remained a romantic revolutionary fighting for the simple folk who dream of change based on patriotism and upholding the principles of the homeland and its highest interests.

Mohieddin represented what can be described as “prudent opposition”. He always engaged in the people’s issues and problems, travelling among them in villages, hamlets and alleyways. This is the true role of the opposition; listening and processing the information then announcing it as an action plan directed as demands on the regime. That is how opposition can be prudent and genuinely part of the state and general order. Its wise approach is capable of guiding the government and political discourse, and this wisdom and awareness can change the reality that the opposition and people disagree with.

The lesson Mohieddin underlined during our interview, and elsewhere in his writings, is the need to stay close to the people and work on achieving their goals and aspirations. Also, to understand these dreams and visions and never disengage from reality.

He told me: “Knowing what the public wants is the key to the success of any political effort. It is not what you want that you work on, but what the people want. It was supposed that the mere call for ‘democracy, pluralism and proper parliamentary life’ would win the masses, but it appeared that the people had other considerations in mind. The peasants had no longer to dismount when they saw the mayor coming, and they liked that. What the people think is what matters. The Egyptian people, back then, were hungry for justice, and they sensed the tendency of the July Revolution [for justice] and they weren’t willing to risk a reversal of this tendency. The masses were comparing the July Revolution with the ousted regime. My main focus was that the revolution comes first, and then be reinforced by democracy, but the people thought otherwise.”

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