After communism and capitalism, there is asterism.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Iraq's "Mubarak"

Iraq's "Mubarak" was not Saddam but Nuri asSaid, the Iraqi Prime Minister from the creation of the "Independent Kingdom" in 1932 up to the revolution of 1958. Reading through the the archives of the Time magazine, I noticed many similarities between General Nuri Pasha (as he was known) and Mubarak.

Like Mubarak, he was a military man having trained as an officer in the Ottoman Empire. In the 50's Time, regularly promoted him as "Iraq's 70-year old Strongman". Not without reason:

In Iraq, Western diplomats reported that 50 of Premier Nuri es-Said's police were injured putting down the latest of a series of almost daily pro-Nasser riots in Baghdad. The government replied by ordering high schools and universities closed indefinitely.(THE ARABS: New Alignments
Monday, Dec. 03, 1956

Nice move - close down the whole education system because the students disagree with you! If there was Internet, Nuri would have not hesitated to pull the plug.

Also, like Mubarak he clung on to power for almost 30 years - a revolution rather rudely unseating him. And even more like Mubarak he was not too worried about pushing votes in his favour regardless of the interests of the Iraqi people. On British orders he planned to dissolve the state of Iraq and form a new union with Jordan as counterweight to Egypt. Time wrote:
Circumstances demanded an election ... Nuri asSaid needed a mandate from his Iraqi voters. They had no more choice in the matter of candidates than Nasser gave the Egyptians in the plebiscite he ran off last February. Nuri was not even so insistent as Nasser that everyone get out and vote. Last week about 25% of the voters turned out peaceably at the polls, and Nuri Pasha's candidates, being unopposed, won all 145 seats. Most Baghdad newspapers reported the results next day on inside pages.

The new Parliament ... duly ratified the federation (IRAQ: The Pasha's Poll
Monday, May. 19, 1958

This proved the last straw for Iraq's nationalists. And two months later a small group of officers in his army instigated a rebellion leaving Nuri asSaid to the mercy of the Iraqi people. His fate does not bode well for Mubarak and his cronies:
Nuri asSaid ... escaped from his house disguised as a woman—only to be hunted to death and dragged dead through the streets the next day.(IRAQ: The Dissembler
Monday, Apr. 13, 1959

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Saturday, February 05, 2011

Mubarak and the Shadow of Iraq 1958

Cairo's million man march is not the only million-strong demonstration in recent Arab history but certainly the best publicised and will be the most influential in world history. The other has been all but forgotten by today's youth but its effect is a strong influence on the way that Mubarak and his gang of medieval thugs are thinking as well as an important lesson for the current revolution. I do not mean medieval as a baseless insult but if you think of any time in history when there was another regime that matches Mubarak, King Henry VIII comes to mind.

In 1958 a small group of mid-ranking officers (about the same rank as the ones that assassinated Sadat) siezed control of the military and overthrew the British-backed monarchy. What happened after created one of the major fears that guide Mubarak's actions now. Several of the monarchy were killed by the Iraqi people including the prime minister Nuri As-Said. The phrase killed is somewhat of an understatement. The Iraqi people tore Nuri As-Said apart limb from limb. My mother remembered seeing a procession through the streets carrying his foot.

I used to find it hard explaining the violent hatred that drives to people to this until Mubarak recently gave the world the perfect example. Mubarak would have been a young man at the time and would have remembered the events well. He can only wonder at the fate that awaits him if he ever loses control and the military abandons him to the anger of the Egyptian people.

The other event was the rise of the Communist party. From being a fairly small organisation before the revolution it grew to a point where, in 1959, it was able to call for a demonstration and a million iraqis turned up. People I know who witnessed the event describe a march that started in the morning and people were still filtering through to late evening. The Communists has everything in their hands - popular support, the intelligentsia, the unions, even large sections of the military. Everything to seize power - but they hesitated.

At the time the grip of Soviet Russia on the world's communist movements was strong and the order came from on high that the Communist party should not take control but support the generals that were currently in power and the Iraqi communist leadership slavishly obeyed.

The result was that Qassim took fright of the communists's power and purged them from controlling positions in the country. Qassim became isolated and bit by bit the Baathists took power and Iraq ended up with Saddam.

The moral

How a small party could rise from nowhere and threaten a military establish that had been ruling since the early days of the Ottoman Empire must have made all the military elites of the region take fright. All it took was one year of freedom and the whole people rallied behind an alternative. One can see that since '58 never again has the Arab military classes allowed such a period of free expression.

When Mubarak and the heads of the armed forces in Egypt weigh their options the spectre of July 1958 haunts them. Mubarak knows his fate if he left to the people and his generals worry about what will happen if the Egyptian people are given even three months of freedom.

Mubarak and the Egyptian military are dinosaurs left over from the Middle Ages but their time has long passed. It used to be the text-book destination of any revolution to take over the TV station - those days have passed. Now all one has to do is sit in the centre of town and tweet. And the government response is to send in peasants on camels.

But Mubarak and the military are more frightened of the people than each other. Mubarak will not go and the army will do nothing to make him. If the military are to force Mubarak out they have to be pushed first and, if the people hesitate, bit by bit, Egypt will get another Saddam.

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