RUE 89 (France), YOUTUBE
Hiding for months in plain view on YouTube, a grainy video has begun to circulate of longtime Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser laughing off the Muslim Brotherhood demands that the state uphold Islamic traditions.
The clip is charged with historical significance in light of the Brotherhood's rise to power earlier this year in Egypt -- and broader questions about Islam and society in the Arab world. The 1966 video has gone viral with French subtitles after being posted by Paris-based news website Rue 89.
(See the video below with English subtitles)
A clearly bemused Nasser describes negotiations more than a decade earlier with the head of the Muslim Brotherhood, who have demanded the imposition of headscarves for all women to wear. “The first thing he said was, you have to impose the hijab in Egypt. Every woman walking in the street must wear her tarha (Egyptian Muslim headscarf).”
The audience starts laughing, and a man shouts, “let him wear it.”
Nasser goes on, “I answered that if I did that, it would like going back to the days of Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah (11th century), when women weren’t allowed to go out during the day. For me every one must be free to do what they choose."
Nasser, a colonel in the Egyptian army, led the 1952 military coup that overthrew Egypt’s monarchy. He ruled from 1956 until his death in 1970.
When Nasser was named prime minister in 1952, the Muslim Brotherhood tried to negotiate with him to obtain ministerial portfolios.
In the video Nasser says, “In 1953 we wanted to work with the Muslim Brotherhood, to see if they could be reasonable. I met their leader. We sat down and he presented his demands.”
The Brotherhood leader couldn't understand why he couldn't impose the headscarf by law. “You're the governor, you can decide," Nasser remembers the Brotherhood leader telling him. "And I said, well your daughter, who is in medical school, does not wear the tarha. If you can’t make your own daughter wear the headscarf, how can you expect me to make 10 million women wear one.”
In 1954, a Brotherhood member tried to assassinate Nasser during a speech. In the aftermath of the attempt, the Brotherhood was dissolved, with many of its members subsequently arrested or fleeing overseas.
They were banned from politics in Egypt for much of the half-century to follow before Muslim Brotherhood member Mohammed Morsi was elected President in June.