Obituary: Kamal el-Din Hussein

THE STATE funeral on Sunday of Kamal el-Din Hussein, former Vice President of Egypt - attended by President Hosni Mubarak - generated nostalgia and mixed emotion in a nation obsessed with death and with the figures who helped change the course of history.

Egyptians remembered different pictures of Hussein in different decades. Traditionalists and Islamists lamented a true child of the right who opposed Lt-Col Gamal Abdel Nasser's national socialism and a faithful Muslim who "fought against the Jews in Palestine" during the 1948 war with Israel.

Nasserites dusted off pictures of Major Hussein as a faithful member of Lt-Col Nasser's Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), which ruled Egypt after the 1952 coup that toppled King Farouk, thus ending 103 years of civilian monarchy.

Hussein was also recalled as an active artillery commander during the Second World War, at the end of which he became a founder member of Nasser's Free Officers Movement (FOM). He won the praise of democrats and liberals for having had the moral courage to change his ideas and beliefs, opposing Nasser's dictatorship and later challenging President Anwar Sadat to restore pluralist democracy.

Hussein's first public office was as Minister of Social Affairs in 1954, after Nasser ousted Egypt's President, General Mohammed Neguib (Nasser had also been been responsible for his coming to power), who wanted to hand power back to civilian politicians.

Hussein left his controversial mark as Secretary of General Education from 1956. Unfortunately for the 35-year-old major he had to follow the act of Dr Taha Hussein, a legendary French-educated philosopher who not only reshaped the scholarly interpretation of Egyptian and Islamic historic literature, but also left a popular legacy by halving the illiteracy rate when, as a Secre-tary of Education in 1948, he made pre-university education free for all.

Hussein, by contrast, infuriated thousands of nationalists, education specialists and parents by brain-washing schoolchildren to replace their pharaonic African-Nilotic-Mediterranean culture - one peculiar to Egypt for millennia - with a new ideology to erect Nasser as a regional anti- Western populist leader in the Levant and the Middle East.

School curricula were altered to fit the military junta's Orwellian rewriting of Egyptian history. Text books compressed events of six millennia into a few pages; the achievements of the founder of modern Egypt, the Albanian-born Mehemet Ali, who ruled 1805-49, and who built the nation's modern and democratic institutions, were belittled as "exploitation of the people", while the pluralist Westminster-style parliamentarian system of the previous 120 years was tarnished as "a source of corruption and injustice that was only put right by 1952 military take-over".

Under Hussein there was widespread nepotism and political purges in the education system, while schools churned out one generation after another of young people who were ignorant of their rich history, confused about their national identity and lacking the basic skills of independent research and analytical faculties.

In 1958 Hussein threatened to resign when the National Assembly voted to force Egypt's universities to admit all students who passed Al-Tawgihiyeh (the equivalent of GCSEs). He was backed by Nasser who argued that such a move was not economically possible. Two years later, Nasser made Hussein Vice President and head of the Executive Council - the de facto prime minister of Egypt during an ill-advised, short-lived and unpopular three years' confederation with Syria (the United Arab Republic, 1958-61).

Kamal el-Din Hussein was born to a lower-middle-class family in Banha, 29 miles north of Cairo, in 1921. Like Nasser, he was among the first group of non-aristocrats to be admitted to the military college in 1937 on the orders of King Farouk who wanted to popularise the elitist, British- influenced army. During the Second World War he served as an artillery officer in the Western Desert when the Egyptian army was fighting alongside the British against Rommel.

Little was known then of his political sympathies, but many right-wing Egyptian officers like Hussein harboured pro-Nazi and anti-British feelings. He was also close to the Muslim Brothers, an organisation which launched a terror campaign against the British, against King Farouk, against trade unions and the left. He helped to recruit members to FOM as a tutor at the Staff College from 1948 and also during the campaign in Palestine, when the British encouraged Arab armies to prevent the independence of the Jewish State in 1948.

Eight years later in the ever-shifting sands of alliance in Africa and the Middle East, Egypt faced a joint Anglo-French-Israeli attack when the British Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, ordered an invasion of the canal zone after Nasser nationalised the water way in 1956. Major Hussein led the National Guard - which he had helped found in 1953 - in their defence of the Canal city of Ismailia. The FOM-controlled media created a popular myth of his role during this episode.

Hussein remained faithful to Nasser, siding with him against the Muslim Brothers during the bloody purges after the Muslims' unsuccessful attempt on Nasser's life in Alexandria in 1954. He went on to become Secretary General of the National Union of Teachers in 1959 as part of Nasser's drive to control all the organs of a civil society that had flourished for 200 years; Hussein occupied the post until 1963.

He resigned as Vice President and minister of local governments in 1964 because he objected to Nasser's military intervention in Yemen and he then formed a committee that criticised the National Charter published by Nasser in 1960 as a manifesto for National Socialism and a prelude to establishing a one-party (Arab Socialist Union, ASU) dictatorship, which he did the following year, although Hussein had headed the 1958 National Union that was the basis of the ASU. His objection to the nationalisation drive as "furthering anti-Islamic Communist ideals" caused Nasser to criticise him as "reformist but not revolutionary", during the heydays of revolutionary zeal.

He kept a low profile for the rest of the decade, though he occasionally represented Egypt in low-key international conferences and was well received in Islamic countries. Following Nasser's death in September 1970, Hussein publicly criticised his legacy and backed President Anwar Sadat in May 1971 when he purged Nasser's men. He was elected to Parliament with a massive majority in 1972 and encouraged Sadat's reforms to end the one-party monopoly.

Liberals see this period as Hussein's rebirth as a genuine democrat who wanted Sadat to re-establish the political pluralism that existed back in 1954. In 1977, Hussein criticised Sadat's "legalisation of injustice and autocratic rule". Sadat hastily used his National Party's overwhelming majority to issue the "act of political isolation" to dismiss Hussein, who was physically carried out of the chamber by an NP mob.

The act prevented Hussein from contesting the 1978 and subsequent elections. He re-emerged briefly on the pubic stage in 1983 when he made a tour of Arab countries with the PLO leader Yasser Arafat, in order to end a bloody civil war among the different Palestinian factions in various Arab regimes'.

For the last 13 years of his life he was afflicted by liver cancer and made several trips to America in order to be treated. One of his sons is a general in the Egyptian Army.

Kamal el-Din Hussein, army officer and politician: born Banha, Egypt 2 January 1921; Minister of Social Affairs 1954-56; Secretary of General Education 1956-60; Vice President of Egypt 1960-64; Head of Executive Council of the United Arab Republic 1960-61; Head, Olympic Committee 1960-63; married first Soraya Ramadan (deceased; one son), second Fauqia Ali (three sons); died Cairo 19 June 1999.

Arts and Entertainment
Howard Mollison, as played by Michael Gambon
tvReview: Too often The Casual Vacancy resembled a jumble of deleted scenes from Hot Fuzz
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David performs in his play ‘Fish in the Dark'
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Jemima West in Channel 4's Indian Summers (Joss Barratt/Channel 4)
tvReview: More questions and plot twists keep viewers guessing
Arts and Entertainment
Kristin Scott Thomas outside the Royal Opera House before the ceremony (Getty)
film
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Channel 4's Indian Summers
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003