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Behind the Headlines the Father Figure of Egypt’s Revolution Against Farouk

Gen. Mohammed Naguib, first president of Egypt after the overthrow of King Farouk in 1952, died Tuesday after a long illness at Cairo’s Kubbeh military hospital. Naguib was the father figure of the Egyptian revolution which was masterminded by Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser, then head of the young officers conspiracy in the Egyptian army.

Naguib was a hero of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war who rebelled against Farouk after Egypt’s defeat on the battlefield. His heroism on the battlefield as second in command of the Egyptian troops and his anti-British outlook made him the rallying center of junior officers led by Nasser. After the revolution, Naguib was for over a year the figurehead of the army junta, but Nasser easily outsmarted him in a prolonged power struggle and put him under house arrest.

In his autobiography, “Egypt’s Destiny” (1955), Naguib claimed the Egyptian army had been supplied with faulty weapons and that he had been opposed to “a formal war in Palestine and said so at every opportunity.”

He said nothing was to be gained by demonstrating Egypt’s weakness and he would have preferred Egypt to have confined itself to guerrilla operations in support of the internal Arab resistance movement.

ASSESSMENT OF THE 1948 WAR

“Jewish immigration would have been discouragaged, and there would have been no excuse, in the absence of formal intervention, for either recognizing Israel or imposing an embargo on the sale of arms to the various Arab states.

“We might not have won the war, but at least we would not have lost it as decisively as we did. All we achieved by intervening openly in Palestine was to make it possible for the Zionists to assume the fictional but effective role of a persecuted minority fighting for its life.”

Although involved in a bitter and unsuccessful power struggle with Nasser, the real leader of the 1952 revolution, Naguib’s memoirs showed that there was little difference between them over Israel, and in their wish to see the Arab world united under Egyptian leadership.

REFUSED TO RECOGNIZE ISRAEL

Like Nasser, Naguib refused to recognize Israel within the 1949 armistice lines and demanded the repatriation of the Palestinian refugees displaced by the war. He wrote in his book: “We cannot accept the fact of Israel until its government agrees to revise its frontiers and settle the problem of the Arab refugees in accordance with the resolutions passed by the United Nations.”

Claiming that the greater part of the 886,000 refugees could be resettled inside Israel, Naguib added that “the remainder can and must be resettled elsewhere.” Israel must compensate those whose property had been seized and must contribute a fair share to the cost of the resettlement elsewhere of those who were either unable or unwilling to be resettled in Israel, Naguib wrote.

Like Nasser, too, Naguib hoped to force Israel to give up the southern part of the Negev and its coastal outlet on the Gulf of Aqaba. The port of Eilat, he argued, was too far from the economic heart of Israel to justify its existence and, in any case, Egypt would keep the Gulf closed to Israeli shipping until Israel had reached “equitable terms” with its Arab neighbors.

ISSUE OF TACTICS

Of his domestic differences with Nasser, Naguib said they were ones of tactics rather than of strategy. Their common belief in the Egyptian revolution had never been an issue between them, he said. Naguib wrote:

“Nasser believed … that we could afford to alienate every segment of Egyptian public opinion, if necessary, in order to achieve our goals. I believed….that we would need as much popular support as we could possibly retain …. I believed, in short, that half a loaf was better than none. Nasser believed in taking greater risks than I thought were wise in an effort to obtain the whole loaf. It remains for the course of history to determine which of us was right.”

SOUGHT TO RESTORE DEMOCRACY

As an invited outsider the putative leader of a young officer’s successful coup, Naguib had been lent the official role of authority without the power to go with it.

Nevertheless, Naguib entertained the ambition to lead the Egyptians back to a better democratic government and almost succeeded for when the clash with Nasser occurred, Naguib had acquired formidable popular support as well as that of the armored corps.

While the Moslem brotherhood and the left saw Naguib as a possible ticket to power against Nasser’s autocracy, the man the officers handpicked as their affable docile leader was now in a position to challenge their authority and force the army back to the barracks.

A POSTHUMOUS HONOR

Middle East watchers in London said yesterday that the presence of Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak at Naguib’s military funeral on Thuesday meant that the country’s first President was being posthumously given back some of the popularity he enjoyed before being deposed by Nasser in November 1954.

Outmaneuvered by Nasser, Naguib was placed under house arrest in Marg, 30 miles north of Cairo, where he lived for many years in a large country house bereft of servants or domestic help.

He was allowed to settle in Cairo only in 1970 following Nasser’s death. But President Anwar Sadat still continued to back Nasser’s version of the power struggle in the early years of the junta. Although he wrote another volume of memoirs, Naguib continued to remain in the twilight.

It was only under Mubarak that a more favorable light was focussed on the aged Naguib, with controversial extracts from his memoirs appearing in leading Egyptian newspapers.

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