The “De-” and the “-ation” are not new to the history of politics all over the globe and I am totally clueless why they should be in Egypt now.
True, giving the process a name, let alone legalizing it, is relatively new to our part of the world and may never have been heard until Saddam Hussein’s regime fell and we saw the introduction of “De-Baathifiation,” the word coined in 2003 to denote the purification of Iraqi politics from all members of the formerly ruling Baath Party. The purge not only stipulated banning Baathist politicians from taking part in the “democracy” the newly “liberated” country was about to become, but all civil servants affiliated to the party were to be dismissed from their jobs never to join any public sector institutions ever again. According to the declaration issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority, the policy was initiated for a reason that makes a lot of sense to anyone, Iraqi or not, familiar with Saddam Hussein’s regime: “Recognizing that the Iraqi people have suffered large scale human rights abuses and depravations over many years at the hands of the Baath Party.”
Born and raised in a culture where a ruler and his clique, be that party or family, only leave power at the very moment they leave life, Arabs were fascinated by the notion that they could be rid of an entity as formidable as Baath. Very few knew that the United States was just recycling its good old feats through an almost identical reenactment of the De-Nazification project that followed the Allied Forces’ victory in World War Two and which, as it becomes obvious from the name, initiated an out-and-out campaign to erase all traces of the Nazi ideology in all areas that fell under Hitler’s control, basically Germany and Austria. In addition to banning party members from participation in political life and disbanding all party organizations, De-Nazification also involved the removal of all physical signs of Nazism down to the tiniest swastika on the least conspicuous of statues.
A little less than a decade after, the Soviets embarked on a similar campaign that came to be called De-Stalinzation which set out erase Joseph Stalin from national memory whether through repealing his policies, forced labor and the Gulag topping the list, or removing his name from the countless places that allegedly paid him tribute, the city Stalingrad being the most memorable example. To make sure the tyrant would not get more than what he deserved even after death, it was no longer seen fit to have him buried next to the venerated leader of the Bolshevik Revolution and his body was actually removed from Vladimir Lenin’s mausoleum in Moscow’s famous Red Square.
Like they taught us in school, Egyptians are the world’s oldest and greatest pioneers and this was no exception. Horemheb spared no effort in defacing any signs of Akhenaten that he could get hold of and before him Thutmose III did pretty much the same with Hatshepsut. Egypt’s contemporary history is not much different — only it was no longer done through defacing statues or ripping off obelisks — for since the July 23 Revolution staged by the army 1952, it had been a relentless battle of legacies with Nasser eliminating everything monarchical and Sadat discarding everything socialist and Mubarak posing as the one and only hero of the October 1973 War let alone the accompanying changes in names of places and the number of allocated pages in school books as well as the marginalization, if not necessarily outright ostracization, of figures seen as representatives of a past era.
A quick look at the above makes it easy to realize that the practice of obliterating representations of a former ruler/regime can fall under two categories based on the initiator: First, an occupying force as in the case of Iraq and Germany and second, a subsequent holder of power as in the case of the Soviet Union and pre-January 25 Egypt. A third category came into being with the ouster of the Egyptian dictatorship and the subsequent call for banning members of the National Democratic Party from political life: the people.
The stark contrast between the first two categories on one hand and the third one on the other hand makes establishing similarities between them as far as procedures and consequences as irrational as comparing the change of regime in Egypt to that in any of the previously mentioned countries or in Egypt itself before the revolution. The anti-Baathist project was not confined to holders of influential positions or former officials known for abuse of power or proven to have been involved in acts of financial corruption or to have taken part in the regime’s repressive practices against its people nor was it limited to a ban on political activities, but rather extended to include each and every single person who belonged to the party and each and every single job they occupied. You didn’t need to be a clairvoyant to foresee the disastrous economic and security aftermath. As for Germany, there is no need to go through the repercussions of the guilt campaign on which the United States embarked in order to make every German citizen suffer for the rest of his or her life for being directly responsible for the atrocities carried out by one single mad person exactly as there is no need for contemplating the effect of this on the way Germany and all Europe handled the Palestinian cause and the creation of Israel. How horrible the Baath Party and the Nazi regime were and how necessary their elimination was for the good of the countries they ruled is beside the point now, for the implementation, how it was done and who did it, was faulty enough to turn a nation’s salvation into its eternal damnation.
In the case of individual rulers taking control of the history of their predecessors —and again how tyrannical they were is also beside the point at the moment — it is not very different from a colonizer that decides to shape the destiny of the colonized in a way which best suits its interests, only this time the perpetrator is the compatriot of the people whose destiny he decides to manipulate.
I am not sure any of this compares to the case of a revolution made by the people and for the people and of those same people demanding that the democracy for which they sacrificed their lives be totally devoid of any of the elements that hampered its existence and encouraged the violation of all its aspects. I am also not sure how enforcing a law that bans members of the National Democratic Party — anyone who enjoys the least degree of sanity knows what the party’s chairman, officials, business tycoons, and henchmen did to make Egypt the mock country it had become before the revolution — from inflicting further damage on a public scene struggling for a clean slate and only doing so following a court ruling that proves them guilty of political misdemeanor in anyway unfair or abusive.
Let us stir away from enumerating the catastrophes this party brought upon the country and its people before the revolution and let us instead focus on two little incidents: One, two months after Mubarak was ousted, the Supreme Administrative Court issued a ruling to dissolve the party and confiscate its property. Two, soon after calls to put into effect a law that gives the Egyptian prosecution and Egyptian citizens the right to take to court any former NDP member against whom they possess evidence of corruption started gaining ground, those “remnants” of Mubarak’s regime announced stocking up on weapons and threatened to stage massive violent protests, block roads and railway lines and even to “occupy” or “declare the independence of,” and I am obviously quoting, the provinces they come from not if they are banned from running in parliamentary elections or holding official positions, but the moment the law is declared effective. If we skip all the crimes the party committed before the revolution and just focus on those two incidents, we can ask ourselves: What will a party that was rendered illegal and whose former members are set to stage a civil war to cover up their shameful past do in a country that is currently in the process of cleaning house? What fate awaits a revolution if the forces determined to crush it are back in power?
It is now time for embarking on a wide-scale process that I have decided to call “De-Bastardization,” one that can finally bestow on Egypt the legitimacy that will never be possible as long as those who robbed it are still around. As long as they are, we will always be those little foundlings in search of a parentage they can count on and take pride in, the helpless babies left at mosque doors and next to trash bins by disgraced mothers who find no other way to pretend they have never sinned.
Not sure anyone enjoys having an orphanage for a home forever.
(Sonia Farid, Ph.D., of Al Arabiya also teaches English Literature at Cairo University. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)