The Years Of Hope And DespairPosted: December 31, 2013
Rushdi Said labeled the years 1968-1981 as “years of hope and despair”. The well-known geologist and occasional government minister described the following:
After the 1967 defeat the political leadership ended its dependency on the army and the intelligence apparatus because of their failure to defend the regime, and instead reached out for the support of the people. This shift was reflected in the measures that the leadership took to help modernize and democratize government administration. It streamlined the work of the government and made it accountable. It made sure that the government and public sector appointments were made in accordance with the merit system. These reforms of the government administration were strictly adhered to until the war of October 1973, a war that would have had no chance of success without these reforms. The reforms were abandoned after the 1973 war. (Science & Politics in Egypt, P 171)
The post-1967 years are often described as years of defeat and breakdown. There was that. The daily bread was often corrupted with saw dust. Staples were hard to come by. Oranges, for example, once plentiful, were in short supply, as they were used to pay the Soviet Union for weapons. The country suffered the effects of Israeli raids and occasional forays. But the years had a certain luminosity, as Said noted. Something felt very different in Egypt. There was an air of anticipation and possibilities. Economic growth, for the first time in several years, picked up. Students, some as young as 8 or 9, could demonstrate and even criticize the government openly. Al Azhar admitted women to its schools for the first time, and many came wearing short skirts. There was attention to merit; the commander of a major army was a Copt, for example. Government contracts were bid out fairly. Even the notorious Cairo traffic flowed smoothly, aided by newly constructed tunnels and bridges. How do we square these undeniable feelings and observations with the reality of defeat and the ever-present anxiety of failure?
Egypt between the wars, 1967 to 1973, was free of two influences that haunted it for nearly two decades prior to 1967. Nasser smashed the Muslim Brotherhood to bits. Israel smashed the army. Free from both the Brotherhood and the army, Egyptians glimpsed a vision of Egypt unchained by these two authoritarian and hectoring groups. After 1973 things changed rapidly, and not for the better. Sadat empowered the Brotherhood, initially on university campuses to counter the liberals and the left, but ultimately throughout society, and the army had its honor restored, although the best and most successful of its generals were booted out. Six days of war were followed by six years of hope and forty years of despair.
The fading year of 2013 has been one of despair in Egypt. Every week brought fresh horrors and searing images of pain. Who can forget the Port Said deaths, the lynching of Shi’a citizens, the attack on St Mark’s Cathedral, the horror of death at Rab’a, and the daily demonstrations often accompanied by injuries and deaths. The polarized country is left feeling that it must choose between one of two tormentors. That would be a false feeling. There is luminosity in Egypt, which only a third way will uncover, and chart a path forward unchained by the forces that gave the land forty years of despair.
— Maged Atiya