By Ehsan Faqih
03 August 2015
The date was 24 March, 1954; the place, the Presidential Palace in Cairo. General Mohamed Naguib, President of the Republic of Egypt, was trying to disperse angry crowds which had gathered because the Revolutionary Command Council had dissolved the Muslim Brotherhood and ousted Naguib himself. The masses achieved their goals; the Muslim Brotherhood was saved and Naguib was back, but the angry crowds refused to leave.
In the face of the crowds' refusal, Naguib asked a particular man to speak to the people. He did so; the crowds listened to him and then left. The man was martyr Abdel Qader Awda, a deputy of the Muslim Brotherhood and one of Egypt's honourable judges.
Gamal Abdel Nasser witnessed this incident after he and his Revolutionary Command Council had been subject to public pressure. He saw the influence that Awda had and he became convinced of the necessity to get rid of the Islamic movement. Months later, he executed Abdel Qader Awda and some of his colleagues from the Brotherhood. The popularity of the movement and its ability to influence people was feared by the Egyptian military, and was the main motive for harassing the Brotherhood and attempting to get rid of it.
This popularity did not come out of nowhere. The Muslim Brotherhood, which has become an international movement, had fused with society and provided a holistic approach that touched (and continues to touch) the reality of all aspects of life. It taught the principles of Islam. Its members fought in jihad and defended national causes. It encouraged its supporters to get and stay fit, through sports in clubs, camps and even prisons. The Brotherhood opened theatres that provided meaningful work and communicated with conservative artists who were touched by the call of founder and martyr Hassan Al-Banna, such as Hussein Sidqi.
So what could Nasser do to pave the way for public opinion to accept the campaign of oppression that he intended to wage against the Muslim Brotherhood to erode its popularity?
What added to Gamal Abdel Nasser's resentment against the Muslim Brotherhood was its rejection of the terms of the British withdrawal from Egypt; in this the movement was joined by Mohamed Naguib. In an academic study about the Brotherhood, American writer Richard Mitchell said of this rejection, "Muslim Brotherhood leader Al-Hudaybi refused the agreement, stressing that any opinion or agreement between Egypt and a foreign government needs to be presented to an elected parliament with free will so it would represent the people, and also to a free press that has no censorship and that has the freedom to debate."
The Manshiya incident, which was orchestrated by Nasser, who was Prime Minister at the time, was the bridge he crossed in order to remove the Brotherhood and justified his campaign of harassment. This desire by Nasser was met with American ambitions, which found that the world stage had been prepared for it to replace England and France, and Britain had handed Israel over to US control. America also wanted to control oil resources in the region, but the nascent Islamic awakening was on the lookout for such neo-colonial ambitions.
In his book "Brotherhood Massacre in Lehman Torah", Egyptian author Gaber Rizk wrote: "The American New York Times published an article in its issue on Thursday April 28, 1966, in which it said: 'Gamal Abdel Nasser must be thanked for his relations with the CIA before he took power in Egypt which enabled this agency to have strong deals with the government of Nasser before the United States got him angry when it withdrew its promised help to build the Aswan Dam'."
On 26 October, 1954, Nasser was giving a speech in Manshiya Square in Alexandria when a man fired 8 shots at him from 40 feet away. Glass pieces flew all over and a dark spot appeared on Nasser's chest.
According to the late Abbas Al-Sisi, writing in his book "Gamal Abdel Nasser and the Manshiya incident", "Nasser remained standing, pushing away friendly hands that tried to pull him down, away from danger's way. He then walked back to the microphone and said in a clear, hoarse voice in enthusiasm and while trembling: 'Dear liberals, please stay where you are'," and amid conversations of horror emerging around him, he raised his voice louder and said: 'I would sacrifice my blood and my life for you'."
The crowds apprehended the person suspected of being the would-be assassin and beat him up badly. An hour later, Nasser, who was not harmed, sat in the Lawyers' Club in Alexandria drinking lemonade. Apparently the spot that showed on his jacket was not blood, but ink leaking from a ballpoint pen.
Mahmoud Abdel Latif Al-Samkari was arrested and confessed to being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and that a secret group had recruited him to kill Gamal Abdel Nasser. Evidence showed that Al-Samkari was lured to the scene and was not the one who fired the gun. Government statements and ballistics tests made it clear that the shots were blanks and were not fired by the gun carried by Al-Samkari.
Hassan Tuhami, a close associate of Nasser at the time, said in the Rose El Youssef magazine while talking about a US expert in advertising who most likely was an intelligence agent: "He was the most famous world expert at the time in advertising and he had come to Egypt. One of his unusual proposals, which was not in line with our ideas at the time it was presented, was to fabricate the shooting of Gamal Abdel Nasser, where he would survive the incident and emotions and popular feelings would increase his popularity."
It is most likely that Mahmoud Abdel Latif Al-Samkari acted individually, especially because the Muslim Brotherhood leader had given strict orders not to target anyone and insisted that he would not be held responsible for any bloodshed.
The plan worked, and voices started saying that the Muslim Brotherhood had attempted to assassinate the president. But how did they know the details so quickly?
It was clear that the security services were directing the masses to take out their anger against the Muslim Brotherhood; the people responded immediately and marched towards the movement's main centre in order to burn down it. Hours later, the government launched a fierce campaign of arrests against leaders of the group without any investigations; this more than suggests that they had been planned well in advance.
Six members of the Muslim Brotherhood were executed in the wake of the Manshiya incident, including Abdel Qader Awda; thousands were sentenced to long prison terms. Then the Lehman Tora (a well-known Egyptian prison) massacre took place, when prison officers fired on Muslim Brotherhood detainees in their cells, and the Nasser regime thought at that point that the movement was finished, but it was mistaken.
Fifty-nine years after the Manshiya performance, and as the Muslim Brotherhood rose to power after decades in the political wilderness, the only way that the forces of darkness had available to dislodge the Brotherhood was to undermine its popularity yet again. The masses were supported by the military in order to stop the movement from ruling the country and put an end to political Islam once and for all.
Preparations were made to cause chaos around the Brotherhood and to block any chance it had of running the country following the 2012 free and fair election, which the movement's Freedom and Justice Party won. Serious accusations were made against the Brotherhood, reinforced by dishonest media outlets. The so-called 30 June 2013 Revolution was a coup manufactured by the military under Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi.
He took advantage of his increased popularity at the expense of the Muslim Brotherhood, asking the electorate for a mandate to face "terrorism". In reality, there was no terrorism, so why did he ask for the people's blessing to counter potential terrorism? The victims of the government's terrorism were those killed by security forces in Rabaa Al-Adawiyya Square, Nahda Square and other massacres.
And just as Umm Kulthum sang after the Manshiya incident, "Gamal, you are the example of patriotism, and our national holiday is when you survived Al-Manshiya incident", contemporary artists sang for Al-Sisi with a musical "Thank you" and praise.
The military will continue to fear the Muslim Brotherhood despite all of the adversity that befalls the movement. They know that it will not die, because it is not isolated from society, but is an integral part of it; the Muslim Brotherhood is not just a party or a group, it is an ideology and ideologies do not die.
Talk to me about the Brotherhood's mistakes; its members' fanaticism for their movement; their administrative errors; their tendency to exclude others; and their occasional pragmatism. Talk to me about all of that, but it will not make me deny that this ancient movement has made sacrifices and lost lives and blood for this nation, and that's enough.