In 1952, the “free officers” had no clear political platform (see Nasser). Their program basically included:
- Discarding British troops in the country, the very symbol of national dependence, a claim that had wide popular appeal.
- Land reforms intended to reduce the political power of large landowners but did not affect the wealthy peasants. The division of land into several small properties was aimed at curbing the strong unrest among the petty bourgeoisie in the villages. For the lowest strata of the population, the reform had only limited significance. It only affected about 10% of the arable land and it was just a small part of the landless masses affected by it.
- Encourage and protect industry investment. This was necessary to build the economy and was in tune with the expansive national part of the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie.
Since the new regime lacked a solid class basis, it had to balance different interests, let politics be determined by the changing power relations between the upper class and the masses, between the local upper class and imperialism, and between the different layers within the upper class. An important prerequisite for the regime’s ability to consolidate its power was that it provided a kind of monopoly on the political initiative: it dissolved the existing political parties, the most active elements on the right and left, and imprisoned everything similar mass organizations became subordinate or incorporated into the newly formed “Liberation Association” – an organization “for the entire people”. The organization changed its name a number of times. From 1962 it was called: The Arab Socialist Union (ASU). It was the only political party organization and had local branches throughout the country. ASU asked the candidates for the election to the National Assembly. Its composition was, in principle, dominated (at least 51%) by workers and farmers, but as these groups were defined as all those working in industry or agriculture, the real representation of workers was much lower. The main thing was that the regime had control over ASU and thus with all legal political activity. The police and intelligence services were expanded to oversee what fell outside this framework.
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In the first period, the regime cooperated with both national and foreign capital, and was actively supported by the United States. But around 1955, the situation deteriorated, and as the United States threatened to withdraw the loan commitment for the giant Aswan Dam project, Nasser responded by nationalizing the Suez Canal in 1956. The Western great powers launched an economic blockade against Egypt, and Nasser turned to the east bloc. The Soviet Union took over the financing of the Aswan Dam, the very backbone of the new regime’s industrialization plans. In October 56, British, French and Israeli forces invaded Egypt. The government responded by handing out weapons to the people. Diplomatically, the invasion was condemned by both the UN, the Soviet Union and the United States. It ultimately forced the three countries to withdraw, and Egypt was able to regain control of the channel, there was the pretext for the invasion. (See:Suez Canals.)
The invasion gave Nasser a pretext for the nationalization of all foreign companies in the country. These anti-imperialist measures aroused enormous enthusiasm among the Egyptian masses. The contradictions between the Nasser regime and the Egyptian bourgeoisie were sharpened following the rapprochement with the Eastern bloc. Therefore, with broad popular support, the regime was able to intervene against the national large capital. First around the dissolution of the union with Syria in 1961, when Nasser felt threatened by the Syrian and Egyptian reaction, came the economic and political outposts that would “break the bourgeoisie” and “introduce socialism” into Egypt. The government took over the import and a large part of the export sector. Banks and insurance companies were nationalized and approx. 300 major industrial and commercial companies were taken over in whole or in part by the state. A system of progressive taxation, reduction of equity shares, 7 hours of working day and minimum wage in industry was introduced. A new five-year plan provided up to 80% public participation in the economic activity. By the end of 1961, 600 of the most affluent families’ property had been seized and they themselves were admitted to political life. In agriculture, production cooperation was encouraged.
Egypt flag source: Countryaah.com
The nationalizations in 1956 and the comprehensive assistance provided by the Soviet to industrialization formed the basis for the dominant state sector. The state takeover of the major parts of the Egyptian economy in 1961-62 expanded it. The management of the companies was taken over by former officers and academics. The administration of capital came into new hands, but the political structure remained largely unchanged. The new leaders continued the bureaucratic and authoritarian tradition. A lack of bottom-up control and a poor overview of the various stages of production opened for a channeling of substantial public sector funds for own consumption and private sector investment. This got such a scope, that there was a community of interest between the new elite and the traditional Egyptian bourgeoisie, which had probably been affected by restrictions but had retained a secure economic and social basis in agriculture. The different attitudes and class interests were expressed in power struggles within the Nazi leadership.