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Gamal Abdel Nasser

 

Gamal Abdel Nasser also transliterated Jamal Abd an-Nasr and other variants) (January 15, 1918 September 28, 1970) was the second President of Egypt after Muhammad Naguib and is considered one of the most important Arab leaders in history. He was the foremost exponent of Arab Nationalism during the 1950s and 1960s and creator of a new ideology called Nasserism.

Early life

Nasser was born in Alexandria, the eldest of eleven children, and grew up a rebellious boy, spending part of his childhood living with a revolutionary uncle in Cairo. He also battled his strict father, a postal official, and failed six times during his first nine years of schooling. At the age of 16, he was taken to jail following a street fight between members of an independence movement called El Fatat (Young Egypt) and the police. Nasser soon became a member of the group.

Serving with a major's commission after attending the Royal Military Academy, Nasser fought in the 1948 war against Israel. During this period, he was wounded in the shoulder by a sniper and for several months near the war's end, was trapped in the so called "Faluja pocket", together with his men. When a cease-fire was reached, he was allowed to return to Egypt.

Nasser was married to Tahia el-Nasser and he had five children (three sons and two daughters).

Rise to Power

Nasser, a lieutenant colonel in the Egyptian army; founded and served as leader of the Free Officers Movement, a group of young members of the military all under thirty-five and all from low or lower middle-class backgrounds, dedicated to overthrowing the British-backed King Farouk I of Egypt. On July 23, 1952, Nasser led the military coup against King Farouk, which nominally brought to power General Muhammad Naguib, as a figurehead in order to keep the armed forces favorable to the coup organized by such junior officers. The country was taken over by a Revolutionary Command Council of 11 officers controlled by Nasser. However, Nasser, the minister of the interior at the time, was considered as the real force behind the coup.

In November 1954 Nasser removed Naguib and placed him under house arrest, accusing him of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and of knowing of the attempt on his life in October 1954. On February 25 he became the Egyptian premier. He won a brief struggle for control of the military and of Egypt. Two years later, he was the only candidate in presidential elections and subsequently became the second President of Egypt on 23 June 1956.

Nasser centralized the Egyptian state under his rule, aggrandizing the power of the president, nationalizing industry, pursuing land reform, and committing himself to building large public works projects, such as the Aswan Dam.

Nasser's tendency towards dramatic manipulation of politics is highlighted by his handling of the October 26, 1954 attempt on his life. While delivering a speech to a crowd, Nasser was shot at eight times by Mahmoud Abd al-Latif, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Though the shooter was at close range, all of the shots missed. Nasser continued speaking without pause, delivering a fiery and instantly legendary oration: "Let them kill Nasser. What is Nasser but one among many? My fellow countrymen, stay where you are. I am not dead, I am alive, and even if I die all of you is Gamal Abdel Nasser." (The complete address is available in RealAudio from the government of Egypt.[1])

Nasser's perfect execution of this speech and his bodyguards' lack of protective action in response to the shots led to speculation that the entire event had been staged. Whether or not it was, Nasser used the resulting national anger towards the Muslim Brotherhood to launch his program to eradicate the group.

Suez Crisis

In spite of initially good relations with the Western powers, Nasser gradually began to lose their favor and inclined more and more towards the Soviet bloc. On January 16, 1956, Nasser vowed to liberate Palestine and, in summer 1956, after the U.S. and Britain pulled out of an agreement to help finance the Aswan Dam he announced the nationalization of the Suez Canal to finance the Dam's construction. This angered the United Kingdom and France, who had shares in the Canal. With the help of Israel, the United Kingdom and France waged war upon Egypt. They eventually overran the Sinai and much of Port Said, sending the Egyptian military into retreat.

But, due to pressure from the United States and the Soviet Union, the British and the French had to withdraw, their demands unanswered. Though Israel achieved the cessation of raids across its borders, the end of the blockade on the Straits of Tiran and the stationing of its border with Egypt, it was forced to withdraw completely from the Sinai peninsula, and Nasser was hailed as having achieved a victory for the Arab world.

After Suez, Nasser emerged as a force in the Middle East and served as inspiration for a generation of nationalists throughout the region. After the Suez Crisis Nasser inclined closer to the Soviet Union but continued to play the Soviets and the West off of each other in order to win power for Egypt.

Arab Leader

With his rhetoric and the Suez success, Nasser developed a following throughout the Arab world, inspiring "Nasserist" political parties dedicated to Arab unity. Many saw Nasser as the leader of the Arab world, representing a new, defiant era in Arabic politics. Nasser's policies became associated with Pan-Arabism, which promoted aggressive action by Arab states to confront the "imperialist" West, and urged that the resources of the Arab states should be used for the benefit of the Arab people and not the West. In a 1967 speech, Nasser declared, "We can achieve much by Arab action, which is a main part of our battle. We must develop and build our countries to face the challenge of our enemies."

In 1958, Syrian military and civilian leaders requested a merger of Syria and Egypt. Somewhat surprised by the sudden request and unsure as to whether the time was ripe, Nasser nevertheless agreed and the United Arab Republic came into being. Many saw it as the first step towards the establishment of a pan-Arab state. Attempts were also made to include Yemen. However, the UAR was not a success; In Syria, Egyptian bureaucrats and officers were seen as acting dictatorially, and the rapidly expanded secret police harshly repressed opposition groups including the Muslim Brotherhood and the Syrian Communist Party. Meanwhile, the Syrian bourgeoisie did not gain the access to Egyptian markets that it had hoped for. Discontent among the Syrian bourgeoisie and officer corps led to secessionists taking control in Damascus, and the UAR was dissolved in 1961, although Egypt continued to use the name until 1971. Egyptian intervention in Yemen involved the UAR in a bloody civil war in that country.

During the 17-day official visit of Egypt by Nikita Khrushchev that began on May 9, 1964, Nasser was awarded (May 13) the title of the Hero of the Soviet Union, the Order of Lenin and the Soviet Golden Star (number 11224) [2].

Six Day War

Nasser, who had long urged the destruction of Israel, was a leading actor in provoking the Six Day War in 1967. Nasser sought the remilitarization of the Sinai peninsula and demanded that UNEF evacuate the Sinai, a request with which UN Secretary-General U Thant complied. Nasser then began to re-militarize the Sinai. On May 23, he closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, blockading the Israeli port of Eilat, at the northern end of the Gulf of Aqaba, Israel's only access to the Indian Ocean. The closure was considered by Israel to be a casus belli. Nasser convinced Jordan and Syria to join him in united Arab action against Israel and declared in a speech, "The battle will be a general one and our basic objective will be to destroy Israel." However, Israel's offensive in the Six Day War routed the Arab states. Israel temporarily took the Sinai from Egypt. The humiliating defeat in the Six-Day War compelled Nasser to resign, but widespread calls from the Egyptian people convinced him to remain in power.

He consequently led Egypt through the War of Attrition in 1969-1970.

Death and Funeral

Nasser died of a heart attack a few weeks after the war ended, on September 28, 1970. His death came just hours after the closing ceremonies of the Arab leadership conference that reached an agreement to end fighting between Jordan and Palestinian guerillas. Nasser, who had also battled diabetes in his final years, first began showing signs of the attack during his farewell to the Emir of Kuwait, Sabah al-Sabah.

At 6:15 local time, he passed away with five doctors attending him, but his death was not announced until nearly five hours had passed. Vice President Anwar Sadat, speaking before the nation on television and radio for approximately 50 minutes, said that Nasser, "was a leader whose memory will remain immortal in the hearts of the Arab nation and all mankind." One hour before Sadat's speech, regular programming had been suspended in favor of chanting of verses from the Koran.

His death was the result of an excessive work ethic that often saw him put in 18-hour days, as well as a five-pack a day smoking habit. Just one year earlier, he had been bedridden for six weeks for what was described at the time as influenza. After his death, officials admitted he had suffered a heart attack.

His funeral on October 1 was the largest in history, attended by an estimated five million people. The six-mile procession to his burial site began at the Revolutionary Command Council with MIG-21 jet fighters flying overhead. Emotions, which included telecasters crying on the air, boiled over in the 80-degree heat as thousands swarmed the soldiers who were carrying the coffin and began what was described as "the people's procession".

Sadat, who had been interim President following Nasser's death, was officially selected to succeed him on October 5.

Legacy

Nasserism

Nasser's legacy is much debated even today in the Arab World. For many people, he was a leader who reformed his country and re-established Arab pride both inside and outside it. But others see his policy as one of forceful militarism that led Egypt to grave defeats and losses rather than peace and prosperity. In addition, Nasser's suppression of the political opposition and the massive expansion of the police and security apparatuses left a legacy of political repression exploited by his successors until the present. Nasser's role in inciting the Six Day War, which led to tremendous losses for the Arab states, tarnished his legacy and reduced his power in the Middle East. In the last years of his rule, Nasser came to rely increasingly on aid from the Soviet Union. His role in modernising Egypt's education system - making education freely available to the poorer masses, and his avid support of the arts, such as the theater, the film and music industries, as well as literature, had a positive impact on Egypt and the Arab world as a whole.

Aswan Dam

One of the most controversial of Nasser's achievements is the creation of the Aswan Dam and the lake that bears his name in southern Egypt. Built to provide electricity for heavy industry and reduce the risk of flooding along the Nile River, the dam submerged most of Nubia's archeological remains (except the ones saved by UNESCO). It also created major ecological problems. The lake's huge surface lets a significant part of the Nile's water evaporate in vain, while the dam prevents sediment from enriching the delta soil. According to some agronomists, the Nile valley's agricultural productivity subsequently decreased. Still, the dam helped provide electric power to Egypt's then growing economy, and was essential in modernizing rural Egypt through the introduction of electricity. The Dam also spared Egypt from many floods that plagued the countries through which the Nile flowed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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