Cuba and Egypt, Similarities and Differences / Dimas Castellanos

The overthrow of Mubarak in Egypt has encouraged the idea that a similar event could occur in Cuba. That conclusion, based on similarities, doesn’t take into account the differences between the two scenarios.

The governments of both countries emerged in the 50’s of last century, formed one-party systems, nationalized economies, and lacked or limited civil liberties. Both, in the midst of the Cold War, played a game of strategic interests alien to their own peoples. In Egypt, the withdrawal of Western economic aid for the construction of the Aswan Dam and then the adverse outcome of the war with Israel in 1967, led them to turn for aid to the Soviet Union. In Cuba, the rupture of relations with the United States, and later the failure of the 1970 sugar harvest, conditioned dependence on the Soviet Union and Cuba’s entry into Comecon. Despite these similarities, other political, historical and cultural factors led the two countries in different directions.

In Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser, at the head of a group of soldiers, overthrew the Egyptian monarchy of King Farouk I in 1952, created the Arab Republic of Egypt where he held the post of prime minister and then president. At his death in 1970 he was replaced by Anwar al-Sadat, who, without abandoning the totalitarian model, gave a twist to the previous policy, establishing a government with the head of state as President of the Republic and a regime of economic liberalization and policies to attract the capital of the West. Egypt recognized the State of Israel and, on the failure of its peace project, allied with the Soviet Union and launched the war against Israel in 1973. Though negotiations it regained the Suez Canal and the Sinai oil fields. Then, at Camp David, Sadat signed an agreement to resolve the conflict, for which he received the Nobel Peace Prize.

On the death of Sadat in 1981, Muhammad Hosni Mubarak came to power and introduced some political reforms that allowed the Muslim Brotherhood greater participation. However, due to its support for sanctions imposed on Iraq for the invasion of Kuwait, and his military contribution to the coalition that confronted that country in the Persian Gulf War, his enemies initiated violent actions that led to hundreds of victims and, in response, the Government executed dozens of opponents. In this situation, in 2005, Mubarak presented a new proposal for constitutional reform which, among other things, changed the form for presidential elections, but the protests continued, demanding deeper civic and political freedoms.

In the 56 years that transpired between Nasser’s becoming president and Mubarak’s overthrow, power was held by three governments, that without renouncing to totalitarianism, introduced changes that allowed certain legal and public participation in important sectors of civil society, without which the current outcome would have been much more difficult if not impossible.

In Cuba, Fidel Castro led the insurrection that attacked the Moncada Barracks in 1953, landed on the island in 1956 and took power in 1959. From that moment began a process that nationalized the economy, formed a single party system, dismantled the existing civil society, established absolute control over the media, and controlled citizens through the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution. Thanks to grants from ideological allies, he could ensure systems for health, education and sports, and the sale of subsidized products through the rationing system which, along with the dispute with the United States, served to attenuate the inconsistencies between state and society.

If changes Egypt began in the 1970s, in Cuba they did not begin to materialize until 2008, after the appointment of General Raul Castro as President of the State Council. Those changes, limited and conflicting, are taken shape since December last year, when Raul affirmed that 2011 would see the beginning of a gradual and progressive implementation of structural and conceptual changes in the Cuban economic model.

These differences in conditions explain why the events in Egypt are not manifested equally in Cuba. However, what occurred in that country could become a lesson of global scope for the present-future, depending on how Egypt’s process evolves to the establishment of democracy, freedoms and civil rights.

Egypt’s lesson is that in the history of social changes that emerge from revolutions led by elites or charismatic figures, which take up the demands of their time and place to move the “masses” to overthrow the existing order, once they assume power they ive themselves the right to generate regimes that are similar to or even worse than the ones they overthrew. However, recent events break this trend, because the subject of the changes has not been a single figure, the elite, a movement or a political party, but rather the people, The consolidation of this process depends on the capacity of citizens to put pressure on the Army, which has the responsibility to establish a democratic regime.

If the objectives sought by the Egyptians are achieved, then, to the thesis that history is made by men, we must add two observations: one, that so far some men have participated in their condition as “the masses,” or the objects of other men — drivers, leaders, strong men, chiefs — who in reality have become subjects; another, that what happens with many revolutionary processes must be considered proto-historic, because even the Egyptian lesson, the people of those counties have not been true subjects, but objects. Then, the thesis that history makes men assume their full value only when people participate in their condition as subjects.

(Printed in Diario de Cuba, , 18 February 2011)

February 21 2011