Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Two revolutions, two transitional periods: 

How much has Egypt changed?

A 1954 beauty pageant is a simple, but important, example of the absence of religious fanaticism. 
A sizable portion of Egypt’s intelligentsia tends to compare the years 1954 and 2011, both being transitional stages following revolutions that deposed a regime and changed the history of the country. 

The protagonists of the two periods are always at the center of the comparison. Both Maj. Gen. Mohamed Naguib, Egypt’s first president, and Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the Higher Council for the Armed Forces, showed support for a democratic state and a multi-party system and advocated the army’s return to its barracks to give way to a civilian rule.
Comparisons focus on one power that exercised non-negligible influence in both years – the Muslim Brotherhood, under the leadership of its Supreme Leader Hassan al-Hodeibi in 1954, and its political wing the Freedom and Justice Party, headed by the group’s prominent members Mohamed Mursi and Essam el-Erian.

Despite the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood as a player in the Egyptian political scene following the 1952 Revolution, a remarkable difference can be detected between the way religion was dealt with now and then.

More tolerance prevailed, linking religion to state never seemed that necessary, and the Muslim Brotherhood were the only Islamist group in 1954, whereas in 2011 moderation is quickly diminishing, fanatical interpretations of Islam are gaining ground, and another religious faction emerged as the Brotherhood’s rival and has become more popular in the Egyptian street: the Salafis. 
A 1954 beauty pageant is a simple, but important, example of the absence of religious fanaticism at the time. In that year, Egyptians chose Antigone Costanda, an Alexandrian of Greek origin, to be Miss Egypt, and in the same year she was crowned Miss World and appeared on stage dressed in a bathing suit in the ceremony held in London.
That year witnessed a conflict between the Muslim Brotherhood and a group in the army led by Naguib, which called for ending military rule and holding elections, and another group led by then Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser and which demanded prolonging the transitional period and the postponement of elections.

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