This article was originally published here on ForeignPolicy.com on Tuesday, July 16.
It was October 26, 1954, and Gamal Abdel Nasser was regaling a crowd gathered in Alexandria’s Manshiya Square. A Muslim Brother named Mahmoud Abdel Latif squeezed through the crowd and fired eight shots at the Egyptian leader, all of them missing. Perhaps Abdel Latif was a poor marksman or perhaps, as many have since wondered, the assassination attempt was staged — whatever the case, Nasser went on to finish his speech to the thunderous approval of his audience. The extraordinary boost in popularity that the failed assassination attempt gave Nasser and his military comrades provided the regime with wide latitude to crush the Muslim Brotherhood: In Cairo, activists soon destroyed the Brotherhood’s headquarters, while near the Suez Canal, regime supporters sacked Brotherhood-affiliated businesses.
Nasser used the “Manshiya incident,” as it came to be known, to justify repression of the Brotherhood. Three days after Abdel Latif missed him, Nasser denounced Supreme Guide Hassan al-Hudaybi; the press, meanwhile, warned darkly that the Brotherhood’s paramilitary organization — al-jihaz al-sirri (“the secret apparatus”) — sought to topple the regime.
For the remainder of the Nasser era, the Brothers were either underground or imprisoned. This rendered the Islamists a non-factor in Egyptian politics for the next two decades — but the showdown in 1954 between Egypt’s generals and the Muslim Brotherhood would have a profound impact on Egyptian politics for decades to come.
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