The nationalist revival during the period of British occupation revealed a public awareness among a segment of Cairo's population, but this seldom was transacted into positive achievements. Instead, the Egypt of 1952 was a stagnant country. Beset by political strife, successive national governments did little to foster the country's development. An archaic structure of land ownership, abysmal living conditions among the great majority of the population, an economy geared to benefit a privileged few, and political instability--this was the legacy after thirty years of independence (Frederick, 268).
The existing political parties abdicated their right to govern. In their struggle with the King and their quest for power and office, they treaded ruthlessly on the welfare of their country. Egypt's political structure blocked progress, rooted as it was in the status quo. No parliament controlled by wealthy landowners and Cairo's privileged social elite would support sweeping reform programs to the detriment of the vested interests.
Few groups were untainted by the corruption which permeated Cairo. Many ranking civil servants owed their positions to partisan politics; landowners gained protection from the Wafd; businessmen were dependent upon the government for favors; and high ranking military officers often owed their posts to the King's personal support. Only the middle-class military--the captains, majors, and colonels, and, perhaps, a few generals--had the moral credentials for a bona fide movement of reform. And, after the sordid manipulation of the Alexandria cotton market and the collapse of national government in 1952, only the military was prepared to take action in the name of the people.
Humiliated in the 1948 Palestine War, the Egyptian army generally had done little to distinguish itself. In its ranks, however, was a cadre of sincere and talented, though inexperienced, officers, and it was they who toppled the government in 1952. Initially, a junta sought to establish a nonpartisan civilian government, but this body proved unwilling to initiate the reforms desired by the young officers. Thus, the job of governing fell to the Free Officers by default. Governing had not been their initial purpose, and they were ill prepared for the task; but they alone were in a position to raze the "old order." And the destruction of the "old order" was a prerequisite for the implementation of profound reforms (Frederick 269).
Role in Modernizing Egypt
Rapid development in Egypt required an authoritarian government, and it became increasingly obvious that the Revolutionary Command Council could not measure up to the task. Instead, a single leader, a man with dictatorial powers, was needed. Gamal Abdel Nasser became dictator of Egypt in April, 1954. His was a difficult task. The country had not rallied to the military movement. Moreover, there was no panacea for Egypt's problems, and his every move drew the sniping attacks of those without the responsibilities for government. To his credit, he approached his mission boldly. Easy as it was to be irresolute, he determined what was best for