Nasserism and the Impossibility of Innocence

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One of the central strengths of Salem's analysis of Nasserism is that she recognizes both its world-historical significance as a progressive nationalist movement, and its severe limitations. In the first section of this paper, I discuss Salem's notion of the "afterlives" of the Nasserist project by drawing attention to one of the most debilitating legacies of that project, namely the transformation of Egyptian politics into petty bourgeois politics. In the second section, I argue that while Salem does not explicitly draw on Hegel's understanding of tragedy in her account of Nasserism, her analysis of Nasserism essentially amounts to depicting it as a Hegelian tragedy. By placing Salem's book in conversation with Hegel (and his philosophy of action), we can make explicit what I take to be one of the central claims made by Salem, namely that when passing judgment on past and present national liberation movements we should remember that innocence is "only non-action, like the mere being of a stone" [nur das Nichttun wie das Sein eines Steines] (Hegel 1986, 346). In the third section of this paper, I raise some critical points about Salem's characterization of the nationalism that was associated with the Nasserist project, as well as about the deployment of the concept of modernity in her analysis. I argue that her account of modernity in the book does not distinguish between the concept of modernity as it refers to a certain kind of normative philosophical discourse, and modernization theory qua theory of development. Finally, I draw on Salem's use of the concept of hegemony in order to pose a question regarding the political significance of the contemporary cultural hegemony of Islamist movements in Egypt.
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Archival date: 2021-03-30
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