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.
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.