|Gamal Abdel Nasser
| January 15,
|Sep 28, 1970 (age 52)
Gamal Abdel Nasser
Does Gamal Abdel Nasser Dead or Alive?
As per our current Database, Gamal Abdel Nasser died on Sep 28, 1970 (age 52).
A colonel in the Egyptian army, he helped plan and carry out the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, overthrowing the monarchy.
Nasser was born on 15 January 1918 in Bakos, Alexandria, Egypt. Nasser’s father was Abdel Nasser Hussein and his mother was Fahima Nasser. Nasser’s father was a postal worker born in Beni Mur in Upper Egypt, and raised in Alexandria, and his mother’s family came from Mallawi, el-Minya. His parents married in 1917. Nasser had two brothers, Izz al-Arab and al-Leithi. Nasser’s biographers Robert Stephens and Said Aburish wrote that Nasser’s family believed strongly in the “Arab notion of glory”, since the name of Nasser’s brother, Izz al-Arab, translates to “Glory of the Arabs”.
Nasser’s family traveled frequently due to his father’s work. In 1921, they moved to Asyut and, in 1923, to Khatatba, where Nasser’s father ran a post office. Nasser attended a primary school for the children of railway employees until 1924, when he was sent to live with his paternal uncle in Cairo, and to attend the Nahhasin elementary school.
In 1928, Nasser went to Alexandria to live with his maternal grandfather and attend the city’s Attarin elementary school. He left in 1929 for a private boarding school in Helwan, and later returned to Alexandria to enter the Ras el-Tin secondary school and to join his father, who was working for the city’s postal service. It was in Alexandria that Nasser became involved in political activism. After witnessing clashes between protesters and police in Manshia Square, he joined the demonstration without being aware of its purpose. The protest, organized by the ultranationalist Young Egypt Society, called for the end of colonialism in Egypt in the wake of the 1923 Egyptian constitution’s annulment by Prime Minister Isma’il Sidqi. Nasser was arrested and detained for a night before his father bailed him out. Nasser joined the paramilitary wing of the group, known as the Green Shirts, for a brief period in 1934. His association with the group and active role in student demonstrations during this period “imbued him with a fierce Egyptian nationalism”, according to the historian James Jankowski.
When his father was transferred to Cairo in 1933, Nasser joined him and attended al-Nahda al-Masria school. He took up acting in school plays for a brief period and wrote articles for the school’s paper, including a piece on French philosopher Voltaire titled “Voltaire, the Man of Freedom”. On 13 November 1935, Nasser led a student demonstration against British rule, protesting against a statement made four days prior by UK foreign minister Samuel Hoare that rejected prospects for the 1923 Constitution’s restoration. Two protesters were killed and Nasser received a graze to the head from a policeman’s bullet. The incident garnered his first mention in the press: the nationalist newspaper Al Gihad reported that Nasser led the protest and was among the wounded. On 12 December, the new king, Farouk, issued a decree restoring the constitution.
Aburish asserts that Nasser was not distressed by his frequent relocations, which broadened his horizons and showed him Egyptian society’s class divisions. His own social status was well below the wealthy Egyptian elite, and his discontent with those born into wealth and power grew throughout his lifetime. Nasser spent most of his spare time reading, particularly in 1933 when he lived near the National Library of Egypt. He read the Qur’an, the sayings of Muhammad, the lives of the Sahaba (Muhammad’s companions), and the biographies of nationalist leaders Napoleon, Atatürk, Otto von Bismarck, and Garibaldi and the autobiography of Winston Churchill.
In 1937, Nasser applied to the Royal Military Academy for army officer training, but his police record of anti-government protest initially blocked his entry. Disappointed, he enrolled in the law school at King Fuad University, but quit after one semester to reapply to the Military Academy. From his readings, Nasser, who frequently spoke of “dignity, glory, and freedom” in his youth, became enchanted with the stories of national liberators and heroic conquerors; a military career became his chief priority.
Convinced that he needed a wasta, or an influential intermediary to promote his application above the others, Nasser managed to secure a meeting with Under-Secretary of War Ibrahim Khairy Pasha, the person responsible for the academy’s selection board, and requested his help. Khairy Pasha agreed and sponsored Nasser’s second application, which was accepted in late 1937. Nasser focused on his military career from then on, and had little contact with his family. At the academy, he met Abdel Hakim Amer and Anwar Sadat, both of whom became important aides during his presidency. After graduating from the academy in July 1938, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the infantry, and posted to Mankabad. It was here that Nasser and his closest comrades, including Sadat and Amer, first discussed their dissatisfaction at widespread corruption in the country and their desire to topple the monarchy. Sadat would later write that because of his “energy, clear-thinking, and balanced judgement”, Nasser emerged as the group’s natural leader.
In 1941, Nasser was posted to Khartoum, Sudan, which was part of Egypt at the time. Nasser returned to Egypt in September 1942 after a brief stay in Sudan, then secured a position as an instructor in the Cairo Royal Military Academy in May 1943. In 1942, the British Ambassador Miles Lampson marched into King Farouk’s palace and ordered him to dismiss Prime Minister Hussein Sirri Pasha for having pro-Axis sympathies. Nasser saw the incident as a blatant violation of Egyptian sovereignty and wrote, “I am ashamed that our army has not reacted against this attack”, and wished for “calamity” to overtake the British. Nasser was accepted into the General Staff College later that year. He began to form a group of young military officers with strong nationalist sentiments who supported some form of revolution. Nasser stayed in touch with the group’s members primarily through Amer, who continued to seek out interested officers within the Egyptian Armed Force’s various branches and presented Nasser with a complete file on each of them.
Sirri Amer was close to King Farouk, and was nominated for the presidency of the Officer’s Club—normally a ceremonial office—with the king’s backing. Nasser was determined to establish the independence of the army from the monarchy, and with Amer as the intercessor, resolved to field a nominee for the Free Officers. They selected Mohamed Naguib, a popular general who had offered his resignation to Farouk in 1942 over British high-handedness and was wounded three times in the Palestine War. Naguib won overwhelmingly and the Free Officers, through their connection with a leading Egyptian daily, al-Misri, publicized his victory while praising the nationalistic spirit of the army.
In 1944, Nasser married Tahia Kazem, the 22-year-old daughter of a wealthy Iranian father and an Egyptian mother, both of whom died when she was young. She was introduced to Nasser through her brother, Abdel Hamid Kazim, a merchant friend of Nasser’s, in 1943. After their wedding, the couple moved into a house in Manshiyat al-Bakri, a suburb of Cairo, where they would live for the rest of their lives. Nasser’s entry into the officer corps in 1937 secured him relatively well-paid employment in a society where most people lived in poverty.
In May 1948, following the British withdrawal, King Farouk sent the Egyptian army into Israel, with Nasser serving as a staff officer of the 6th Infantry Battalion. During the war, he wrote of the Egyptian army’s unpreparedness, saying “our soldiers were dashed against fortifications”. Nasser was deputy commander of the Egyptian forces that secured the Faluja pocket (commanded by Said Taha Bey nicknamed the “Sudanese tiger” by the Israelis). On 12 July, he was lightly wounded in the fighting. By August, his brigade was surrounded by the Israeli Army. Appeals for help from Jordan’s Arab Legion went unheeded, but the brigade refused to surrender. Negotiations between Israel and Egypt finally resulted in the ceding of Faluja to Israel. According to veteran journalist Eric Margolis, the defenders of Faluja, “including young army officer Gamal Abdel Nasser, became national heroes” for enduring Israeli bombardment while isolated from their command.
After the war, Nasser returned to his role as an instructor at the Royal Military Academy. He sent emissaries to forge an alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood in October 1948, but soon concluded that the religious agenda of the Brotherhood was not compatible with his nationalism. From then on, Nasser prevented the Brotherhood’s influence over his cadres’ activities without severing ties with the organization. Nasser was sent as a member of the Egyptian delegation to Rhodes in February 1949 to negotiate a formal armistice with Israel, and reportedly considered the terms to be humiliating, particularly because the Israelis were able to easily occupy the Eilat region while negotiating with the Arabs in March.
After 1949, the group adopted the name “Association of Free Officers” and advocated “little else but freedom and the restoration of their country’s dignity”. Nasser organized the Free Officers’ founding committee, which eventually comprised fourteen men from different social and political backgrounds, including representation from Young Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian Communist Party, and the aristocracy. Nasser was unanimously elected chairman of the organization.
In the 1950 parliamentary elections, the Wafd Party of el-Nahhas gained a victory—mostly due to the absence of the Muslim Brotherhood, which boycotted the elections—and was perceived as a threat by the Free Officers as the Wafd had campaigned on demands similar to their own. Accusations of corruption against Wafd politicians began to surface, however, breeding an atmosphere of rumor and suspicion that consequently brought the Free Officers to the forefront of Egyptian politics. By then, the organization had expanded to around ninety members; according to Khaled Mohieddin, “nobody knew all of them and where they belonged in the hierarchy except Nasser”. Nasser felt that the Free Officers were not ready to move against the government and, for nearly two years, he did little beyond officer recruitment and underground news bulletins.
On 11 October 1951, the Wafd government abrogated the 1936 Anglo-Egyptian Treaty, which had given the British control over the Suez Canal until 1956. The popularity of this move, as well as that of government-sponsored guerrilla attacks against the British, put pressure on Nasser to act. According to Sadat, Nasser decided to wage “a large scale assassination campaign”. In January 1952, he and Hassan Ibrahim attempted to kill the royalist general Hussein Sirri Amer by firing their submachine guns at his car as he drove through the streets of Cairo. Instead of killing the general, the attackers wounded an innocent female passerby. Nasser recalled that her wails “haunted” him and firmly dissuaded him from undertaking similar actions in the future.
On 25 January 1952, a confrontation between British forces and police at Ismailia caused 40 Egyptian policemen to die, provoking riots in Cairo the next day which left 76 people dead. Afterwards, Nasser published a simple six-point program in Rose al-Yūsuf to dismantle feudalism and British influence in Egypt. In May, Nasser received word that Farouk knew the names of the Free Officers and intended to arrest them; he immediately entrusted Free Officer Zakaria Mohieddin with the task of planning the government takeover by army units loyal to the association.
Preceding the reform law, in August 1952, communist-led riots broke out at textile factories in Kafr el-Dawwar, leading to a clash with the army that left nine people dead. While most of the RCC insisted on executing the riot’s two ringleaders, Nasser opposed this. Nonetheless, the sentences were carried out. The Muslim Brotherhood supported the RCC, and after Naguib’s assumption of power, demanded four ministerial portfolios in the new cabinet. Nasser turned down their demands and instead hoped to co-opt the Brotherhood by giving two of its members, who were willing to serve officially as independents, minor ministerial posts.
On 18 June 1953, the monarchy was abolished and the Republic of Egypt declared, with Naguib as its first president. According to Aburish, after assuming power, Nasser and the Free Officers expected to become the “guardians of the people’s interests” against the monarchy and the pasha class while leaving the day-to-day tasks of government to civilians. They asked former prime minister Ali Maher to accept reappointment to his previous position, and to form an all-civilian cabinet. The Free Officers then governed as the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) with Naguib as chairman and Nasser as vice-chairman. Relations between the RCC and Maher grew tense, however, as the latter viewed many of Nasser’s schemes—agrarian reform, abolition of the monarchy, reorganization of political parties—as too radical, culminating in Maher’s resignation on 7 September. Naguib assumed the additional role of prime minister, and Nasser that of deputy prime minister. In September, the Agrarian Reform Law was put into effect. In Nasser’s eyes, this law gave the RCC its own identity and transformed the coup into a revolution.
In January 1953, Nasser overcame opposition from Naguib and banned all political parties, creating a one-party system under the Liberation Rally, a loosely structured movement whose chief task was to organize pro-RCC rallies and lectures, with Nasser its secretary-general. Despite the dissolution order, Nasser was the only RCC member who still favored holding parliamentary elections, according to his fellow officer Abdel Latif Boghdadi. Although outvoted, he still advocated holding elections by 1956. In March 1953, Nasser led the Egyptian delegation negotiating a British withdrawal from the Suez Canal.
On 25 February 1954, Naguib announced his resignation after the RCC held an official meeting without his presence two days prior. On 26 February, Nasser accepted the resignation, put Naguib under house arrest, and the RCC proclaimed Nasser as both RCC chairman and prime minister. As Naguib intended, a mutiny immediately followed, demanding Naguib’s reinstatement and the RCC’s dissolution. While visiting the striking officers at Military Headquarters (GHQ) to call for the mutiny’s end, Nasser was initially intimidated into accepting their demands. However, on 27 February, Nasser’s supporters in the army launched a raid on the GHQ, ending the mutiny. Later that day, hundreds of thousands of protesters, mainly belonging to the Brotherhood, called for Naguib’s return and Nasser’s imprisonment. In response, a sizable group within the RCC, led by Khaled Mohieddin, demanded Naguib’s release and return to the presidency. Nasser acquiesced, but delayed Naguib’s reinstatement until 4 March, allowing him to promote Amer to Commander of the Armed Forces—a position formerly occupied by Naguib.
On 26 October 1954, Muslim Brotherhood member Mahmoud Abdel-Latif attempted to assassinate Nasser while he was delivering a speech in Alexandria, broadcast to the Arab world by radio, to celebrate the British military withdrawal. The gunman was 25 feet (7.6 m) away from him and fired eight shots, but all missed Nasser. Panic broke out in the mass audience, but Nasser maintained his posture and raised his voice to appeal for calm. With great emotion he exclaimed the following:
Nasser was informed of the British–American withdrawal in a news statement while aboard a plane returning to Cairo from Belgrade, and took great offense. Although ideas for nationalizing the Suez Canal were in the offing after the UK agreed to withdraw its military from Egypt in 1954 (the last British troops left on 13 June 1956), journalist Mohamed Hassanein Heikal asserts that Nasser made the final decision to nationalize the waterway between 19 and 20 July. Nasser himself would later state that he decided on 23 July, after studying the issue and deliberating with some of his advisers from the dissolved RCC, namely Boghdadi and technical specialist Mahmoud Younis, beginning on 21 July. The rest of the RCC’s former members were informed of the decision on 24 July, while the bulk of the cabinet was unaware of the nationalization scheme until hours before Nasser publicly announced it. According to Ramadan, Nasser’s decision to nationalize the canal was a solitary decision, taken without consultation.
Although he was a proponent of secular politics, Nasser was an observant Muslim who made the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in 1954 and 1965. He was known to be personally incorruptible, a characteristic which further enhanced his reputation among the citizens of Egypt and the Arab world. Nasser’s personal hobbies included playing chess, American films, reading Arabic, English, and French magazines, and listening to classical music.
Nasser’s street following was still too small to sustain his plans for reform and to secure him in office. To promote himself and the Liberation Rally, he gave speeches in a cross-country tour, and imposed controls over the country’s press by decreeing that all publications had to be approved by the party to prevent “sedition”. Both Umm Kulthum and Abdel Halim Hafez, the leading Arab singers of the era, performed songs praising Nasser’s nationalism. Others produced plays denigrating his political opponents. According to his associates, Nasser orchestrated the campaign himself. Arab nationalist terms such “Arab homeland” and “Arab nation” frequently began appearing in his speeches in 1954–55, whereas prior he would refer to the Arab “peoples” or the “Arab region”. In January 1955, the RCC appointed him as their president, pending national elections.
Nasser made secret contacts with Israel in 1954–55, but determined that peace with Israel would be impossible, considering it an “expansionist state that viewed the Arabs with disdain”. On 28 February 1955, Israeli troops attacked the Egyptian-held Gaza Strip with the stated aim of suppressing Palestinian fedayeen raids. Nasser did not feel that the Egyptian Army was ready for a confrontation and did not retaliate militarily. His failure to respond to Israeli military action demonstrated the ineffectiveness of his armed forces and constituted a blow to his growing popularity. Nasser subsequently ordered the tightening of the blockade on Israeli shipping through the Straits of Tiran and restricted the use of airspace over the Gulf of Aqaba by Israeli aircraft in early September. The Israelis re-militarized the al-Auja Demilitarized Zone on the Egyptian border on 21 September.
In January 1956, the new Constitution of Egypt was drafted, entailing the establishment of a single-party system under the National Union (NU), a movement Nasser described as the “cadre through which we will realize our revolution”. The NU was a reconfiguration of the Liberation Rally, which Nasser determined had failed in generating mass public participation. In the new movement, Nasser attempted to incorporate more citizens, approved by local-level party committees, in order to solidify popular backing for his government. The NU would select a nominee for the presidential election whose name would be provided for public approval.
After the three-year transition period ended with Nasser’s official assumption of power, his domestic and independent foreign policies increasingly collided with the regional interests of the UK and France. The latter condemned his strong support for Algerian independence, and the UK’s Eden government was agitated by Nasser’s campaign against the Baghdad Pact. In addition, Nasser’s adherence to neutralism regarding the Cold War, recognition of communist China, and arms deal with the Eastern bloc alienated the United States. On 19 July 1956, the US and UK abruptly withdrew their offer to finance construction of the Aswan Dam, citing concerns that Egypt’s economy would be overwhelmed by the project.
On 26 July 1956, Nasser gave a speech in Alexandria announcing the nationalization of the Suez Canal Company as a means to fund the Aswan Dam project in light of the British–American withdrawal. In the speech, he denounced British imperialism in Egypt and British control over the canal company’s profits, and upheld that the Egyptian people had a right to sovereignty over the waterway, especially since “120,000 Egyptians had died building it”. The motion was technically in breach of the international agreement he had signed with the UK on 19 October 1954, although he ensured that all existing stockholders would be paid off.
On 29 October 1956, Israeli forces crossed the Sinai Peninsula, overwhelmed Egyptian army posts, and quickly advanced to their objectives. Two days later, British and French planes bombarded Egyptian airfields in the canal zone. Nasser ordered the military’s high command to withdraw the Egyptian Army from Sinai to bolster the canal’s defenses. Moreover, he feared that if the armored corps was dispatched to confront the Israeli invading force and the British and French subsequently landed in the canal city of Port Said, Egyptian armor in the Sinai would be cut off from the canal and destroyed by the combined tripartite forces. Amer strongly disagreed, insisting that Egyptian tanks meet the Israelis in battle. The two had a heated exchange on 3 November, and Amer conceded. Nasser also ordered blockage of the canal by sinking or otherwise disabling forty-nine ships at its entrance.
Relations between Nasser and Qasim grew increasingly bitter on 9 March, after Qasim’s forces suppressed a rebellion in Mosul, launched a day earlier by a pro-Nasser Iraqi RCC officer backed by UAR authorities. Nasser had considered dispatching troops to aid his Iraqi sympathizers, but decided against it. He clamped down on Egyptian communist activity due to the key backing Iraqi communists provided Qasim. Several influential communists were arrested, including Nasser’s old comrade Khaled Mohieddin, who had been allowed to re-enter Egypt in 1956.
However, these advances came at the expense of civil liberties. In Nasser’s Egypt, the media were tightly controlled, mail was opened, and telephones were wiretapped. He was elected in 1956, 1958 and 1965 in plebiscites in which he was the sole candidate, each time claiming unanimous or near-unanimous support. With few exceptions, the legislature did little more than approve Nasser’s policies. As the legislature was made up almost entirely of government supporters, Nasser effectively held all governing power in the nation.
Nasser’s nomination for the post and the new constitution were put to public referendum on 23 June and each was approved by an overwhelming majority. A 350-member National Assembly was established, elections for which were held in July 1957. Nasser had ultimate approval over all the candidates. The constitution granted women’s suffrage, prohibited gender-based discrimination, and entailed special protection for women in the workplace. Coinciding with the new constitution and Nasser’s presidency, the RCC dissolved itself and its members resigned their military commissions as part of the transition to civilian rule. During the deliberations surrounding the establishment of a new government, Nasser began a process of sidelining his rivals among the original Free Officers, while elevating his closest allies to high-ranking positions in the cabinet.
The US Eisenhower administration condemned the tripartite invasion, and supported UN resolutions demanding withdrawal and a United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) to be stationed in Sinai. Nasser commended Eisenhower, stating he played the “greatest and most decisive role” in stopping the “tripartite conspiracy”. By the end of December, British and French forces had totally withdrawn from Egyptian territory, while Israel completed its withdrawal in March 1957 and released all Egyptian prisoners of war. As a result of the Suez Crisis, Nasser brought in a set of regulations imposing rigorous requirements for residency and citizenship as well as forced expulsions, mostly affecting British and French nationals and Jews with foreign nationality, as well as many Egyptian Jews. Some 25,000 Jews, almost half of the Jewish community, left in 1956, mainly for Israel, Europe, the United States and South America.
By 1957, pan-Arabism had become the dominant ideology in the Arab world, and the average Arab citizen considered Nasser his undisputed leader. Historian Adeed Dawisha credited Nasser’s status to his “charisma, bolstered by his perceived victory in the Suez Crisis”. The Cairo-based Voice of the Arabs radio station spread Nasser’s ideas of united Arab action throughout the Arabic-speaking world, so much so that historian Eugene Rogan wrote, “Nasser conquered the Arab world by radio.” Lebanese sympathizers of Nasser and the Egyptian embassy in Beirut—the press center of the Arab world—bought out Lebanese media outlets to further disseminate Nasser’s ideals. Egypt also expanded its policy of secondment, dispatching thousands of high-skilled Egyptian professionals (usually politically-active teachers) across the region. Nasser also enjoyed the support of Arab nationalist civilian and paramilitary organizations throughout the region. His followers were numerous and well-funded, but lacked any permanent structure and organization. They called themselves “Nasserites”, despite Nasser’s objection to the label (he preferred the term “Arab nationalists”).
In January 1957, the US adopted the Eisenhower Doctrine and pledged to prevent the spread of communism and its perceived agents in the Middle East. Although Nasser was an opponent of communism in the region, his promotion of pan-Arabism was viewed as a threat by pro-Western states in the region. Eisenhower tried to isolate Nasser and reduce his regional influence by attempting to transform King Saud into a counterweight. Also in January, the elected Jordanian prime minister and Nasser supporter Sulayman al-Nabulsi brought Jordan into a military pact with Egypt, Syria, and Saudi Arabia.
As political instability grew in Syria, delegations from the country were sent to Nasser demanding immediate unification with Egypt. Nasser initially turned down the request, citing the two countries’ incompatible political and economic systems, lack of contiguity, the Syrian military’s record of intervention in politics, and the deep factionalism among Syria’s political forces. However, in January 1958, a second Syrian delegation managed to convince Nasser of an impending communist takeover and a consequent slide to civil strife. Nasser subsequently opted for union, albeit on the condition that it would be a total political merger with him as its president, to which the delegates and Syrian president Shukri al-Quwatli agreed. On 1 February, the United Arab Republic (UAR) was proclaimed and, according to Dawisha, the Arab world reacted in “stunned amazement, which quickly turned into uncontrolled euphoria.” Nasser ordered a crackdown against Syrian communists, dismissing many of them from their governmental posts.
On 14 July 1958, Iraqi army officers Abdel Karim Qasim and Abdel Salam Aref overthrew the Iraqi monarchy and, the next day, Iraqi prime minister and Nasser’s chief Arab antagonist, Nuri al-Said, was killed. The entire Iraqi royal family was killed, and Al-Said’s and Iraqi crown prince ‘Abd al-Ilah’s bodies were mutilated and dragged across Baghdad. Nasser recognized the new government and stated that “any attack on Iraq was tantamount to an attack on the UAR”. On 15 July, US marines landed in Lebanon, and British special forces in Jordan, upon the request of those countries’ governments to prevent them from falling to pro-Nasser forces. Nasser felt that the revolution in Iraq left the road for pan-Arab unity unblocked. On 19 July, for the first time, he declared that he was opting for full Arab union, although he had no plan to merge Iraq with the UAR. While most members of the Iraqi Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) favored Iraqi-UAR unity, Qasim sought to keep Iraq independent and resented Nasser’s large popular base in the country.
In the fall of 1958, Nasser formed a tripartite committee consisting of Zakaria Mohieddin, al-Hawrani, and Salah Bitar to oversee developments in Syria. By moving the latter two, who were Ba’athists, to Cairo, he neutralized important political figures who had their own ideas about how Syria should be run. He put Syria under Sarraj, who effectively reduced the province to a police state by imprisoning and exiling landholders who objected to the introduction of Egyptian agricultural reform in Syria, as well as communists. Following the Lebanese election of Fuad Chehab in September 1958, relations between Lebanon and the UAR improved considerably. On 25 March 1959, Chehab and Nasser met at the Lebanese–Syrian border and compromised on an end to the Lebanese crisis.
Nasser played a significant part in the strengthening of African solidarity in the late 1950s and early 1960s, although his continental leadership role had increasingly passed to Algeria since 1962. During this period, Nasser made Egypt a refuge for anti-colonial leaders from several African countries and allowed the broadcast of anti-colonial propaganda from Cairo. Beginning in 1958, Nasser had a key role in the discussions among African leaders that led to the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1963.
To varying degrees, Nasser’s statist system of government was continued in Egypt and emulated by virtually all Arab republics, namely Algeria, Syria, Iraq, Tunisia, Yemen, Sudan, and Libya. Ahmed Ben Bella, Algeria’s first president, was a staunch Nasserist. Abdullah al-Sallal drove out the king of North Yemen in the name of Nasser’s pan-Arabism. Other coups influenced by Nasser included those that occurred in Iraq in July 1958 and Syria in 1963. Muammar Gaddafi, who overthrew the Libyan monarchy in 1969, considered Nasser his hero and sought to succeed him as “leader of the Arabs”. Also in 1969, Colonel Gaafar Nimeiry, a supporter of Nasser, took power in Sudan. The Arab Nationalist Movement (ANM) helped spread Nasser’s pan-Arabist ideas throughout the Arab world, particularly among the Palestinians, Syrians, and Lebanese, and in South Yemen, the Persian Gulf, and Iraq. While many regional heads of state tried to emulate Nasser, Podeh opined that the “parochialism” of successive Arab leaders “transformed imitation [of Nasser] into parody”.
Nasser was greatly influenced by Egyptian nationalism, as espoused by politician Mustafa Kamel, poet Ahmed Shawqi, and his anti-colonialist instructor at the Royal Military Academy, Aziz al-Masri, to whom Nasser expressed his gratitude in a 1961 newspaper interview. He was especially influenced by Egyptian writer Tawfiq al-Hakim’s novel Return of the Spirit, in which al-Hakim wrote that the Egyptian people were only in need of a “man in whom all their feelings and desires will be represented, and who will be for them a symbol of their objective”. Nasser later credited the novel as his inspiration to launch the 1952 coup d’état.
Opposition to the union mounted among some of Syria’s key elements, namely the socioeconomic, political, and military elites. In response to Syria’s worsening economy, which Nasser attributed to its control by the bourgeoisie, in July 1961, Nasser decreed socialist measures that nationalized wide-ranging sectors of the Syrian economy. He also dismissed Sarraj in September to curb the growing political crisis. Aburish states that Nasser was not fully capable of addressing Syrian problems because they were “foreign to him”. In Egypt, the economic situation was more positive, with a GNP growth of 4.5 percent and a rapid growth of industry. In 1960, Nasser nationalized the Egyptian press, which had already been cooperating with his government, in order to steer coverage towards the country’s socioeconomic issues and galvanize public support for his socialist measures.
On 28 September 1961, secessionist army units launched a coup in Damascus, declaring Syria’s secession from the UAR. In response, pro-union army units in northern Syria revolted and pro-Nasser protests occurred in major Syrian cities. Nasser sent Egyptian special forces to Latakia to bolster his allies, but withdrew them two days later, citing a refusal to allow inter-Arab fighting. Addressing the UAR’s breakup on 5 October, Nasser accepted personal responsibility and declared that Egypt would recognize an elected Syrian government. He privately blamed interference by hostile Arab governments. According to Heikal, Nasser suffered something resembling a nervous breakdown after the dissolution of the union; he began to smoke more heavily and his health began to deteriorate.
After years of foreign policy coordination and developing ties, Nasser, President Sukarno of Indonesia, President Tito of Yugoslavia, and Prime Minister Nehru of India founded the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in 1961. Its declared purpose was to solidify international non-alignment and promote world peace amid the Cold War, end colonization, and increase economic cooperation among developing countries. In 1964, Nasser was made president of the NAM and held the second conference of the organization in Cairo.
In 1961, Nasser sought to firmly establish Egypt as the leader of the Arab world and to promote a second revolution in Egypt with the purpose of merging Islamic and socialist thinking. To achieve this, he initiated several reforms to modernize al-Azhar, which serves as the de facto leading authority in Sunni Islam, and to ensure its prominence over the Muslim Brotherhood and the more conservative Wahhabism promoted by Saudi Arabia. Nasser had used al-Azhar’s most willing ulema (scholars) as a counterweight to the Brotherhood’s Islamic influence, starting in 1953.
Following Syria’s secession, Nasser grew concerned with Amer’s inability to train and modernize the army, and with the state within a state Amer had created in the military command and intelligence apparatus. In late 1961, Nasser established the Presidential Council and decreed it the authority to approve all senior military appointments, instead of leaving this responsibility solely to Amer. Moreover, he instructed that the primary criterion for promotion should be merit and not personal loyalties. Nasser retracted the initiative after Amer’s allies in the officers corps threatened to mobilize against him.
In October 1961, Nasser embarked on a major nationalization program for Egypt, believing the total adoption of socialism was the answer to his country’s problems and would have prevented Syria’s secession. In order to organize and solidify his popular base with Egypt’s citizens and counter the army’s influence, Nasser introduced the National Charter in 1962 and a new constitution. The charter called for universal health care, affordable housing, vocational schools, greater women’s rights and a family planning program, as well as widening the Suez Canal.
Nasser’s regional position changed unexpectedly when Yemeni officers led by Nasser supporter Abdullah al-Sallal overthrew Imam Badr of North Yemen on 27 September 1962. Al-Badr and his tribal partisans began receiving increasing support from Saudi Arabia to help reinstate the kingdom, while Nasser subsequently accepted a request by Sallal to militarily aid the new government on 30 September. Consequently, Egypt became increasingly embroiled in the drawn-out civil war until it withdrew its forces in 1967. Most of Nasser’s old colleagues had questioned the wisdom of continuing the war, but Amer reassured Nasser of their coming victory. Nasser later remarked in 1968 that intervention in Yemen was a “miscalculation”.
In July 1962, Algeria became independent of France. As a staunch political and financial supporter of the Algerian independence movement, Nasser considered the country’s independence to be a personal victory. Amid these developments, a pro-Nasser clique in the Saudi royal family led by Prince Talal defected to Egypt, along with the Jordanian chief of staff, in early 1963.
In early 1962 Nasser again attempted to wrest control of the military command from Amer. Amer responded by directly confronting Nasser for the first time and secretly rallying his loyalist officers. Nasser ultimately backed down, wary of a possible violent confrontation between the military and his civilian government. According to Boghdadi, the stress caused by the UAR’s collapse and Amer’s increasing autonomy forced Nasser, who already had diabetes, to practically live on painkillers from then on.
On 8 February 1963, a military coup in Iraq led by a Ba’athist–Nasserist alliance toppled Qasim, who was subsequently shot dead. Abdel Salam Aref, a Nasserist, was chosen to be the new president. A similar alliance toppled the Syrian government on 8 March. On 14 March, the new Iraqi and Syrian governments sent Nasser delegations to push for a new Arab union. At the meeting, Nasser lambasted the Ba’athists for “facilitating” Syria’s split from the UAR, and asserted that he was the “leader of the Arabs”. A transitional unity agreement stipulating a federal system was signed by the parties on 17 April and the new union was set to be established in May 1965. However, the agreement fell apart weeks later when Syria’s Ba’athists purged Nasser’s supporters from the officers corps. A failed counter-coup by a Nasserist colonel followed, after which Nasser condemned the Ba’athists as “fascists”.
In 1963, Egyptian director Youssef Chahine produced the film El Nasser Salah El Dine (“Saladin The Victorious”), which intentionally drew parallels between Saladin, considered a hero in the Arab world, and Nasser and his pan-Arabist policies. Nasser is played by Ahmed Zaki in Mohamed Fadel’s 1996 Nasser 56. The film set the Egyptian box office record at the time, and focused on Nasser during the Suez Crisis. It is also considered a milestone in Egyptian and Arab cinema as the first film to dramatize the role of a modern-day Arab leader. Together with the 1999 Syrian biopic Gamal Abdel Nasser, the films marked the first biographical movies about contemporary public figures produced in the Arab world. He is portrayed by Amir Boutrous in the Netflix television series The Crown.
In January 1964, Nasser called for an Arab League summit in Cairo to establish a unified Arab response against Israel’s plans to divert the Jordan River’s waters for economic purposes, which Syria and Jordan deemed an act of war. Nasser blamed Arab divisions for what he deemed “the disastrous situation”. He discouraged Syria and Palestinian guerrillas from provoking the Israelis, conceding that he had no plans for war with Israel. During the summit, Nasser developed cordial relations with King Hussein, and ties were mended with the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Morocco. In May, Nasser moved to formally share his leadership position over the Palestine issue by initiating the creation of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). In practice, Nasser used the PLO to wield control over the Palestinian fedayeen. Its head was to be Ahmad Shukeiri, Nasser’s personal nominee.
Nasser told an East German newspaper in 1964 that “no person, not even the most simple one, takes seriously the lie of the six million Jews that were murdered [in the Holocaust].” However he is not known to have ever again publicly called the figure of six million into question, perhaps because his advisors and East German contacts had advised him on the subject.
During the presidential referendum in Egypt, Nasser was re-elected to a second term as UAR president and took his oath on 25 March 1965. He was the only candidate for the position, with virtually all of his political opponents forbidden by law from running for office, and his fellow party members reduced to mere followers. That same year, Nasser had the Muslim Brotherhood chief ideologue Sayyed Qutb imprisoned. Qutb was charged and found guilty by the court of plotting to assassinate Nasser, and was executed in 1966. Beginning in 1966, as Egypt’s economy slowed and government debt became increasingly burdensome, Nasser began to ease state control over the private sector, encouraging state-owned bank loans to private business and introducing incentives to increase exports. During the ’60s, the Egyptian economy went from sluggishness to the verge of collapse, the society became less free, and Nasser’s appeal waned considerably.
Nasser appointed himself the additional roles of prime minister and supreme commander of the armed forces on 19 June 1967. Angry at the military court’s perceived leniency with air force officers charged with negligence during the 1967 war, workers and students launched protests calling for major political reforms in late February 1968. Nasser responded to the demonstrations, the most significant public challenge to his rule since workers’ protests in March 1954, by removing most military figures from his cabinet and appointing eight civilians in place of several high-ranking members of the Arab Socialist Union (ASU). By 3 March, Nasser directed Egypt’s intelligence apparatus to focus on external rather than domestic espionage, and declared the “fall of the mukhabarat state”.
Zakaria Mohieddin, who was Nasser’s vice president, said that Nasser gradually changed during his reign. He ceased consulting his colleagues and made more and more of the decisions himself. Although Nasser repeatedly said that a war with Israel will start at a time of his, or Arab, choosing, in 1967 he started a bluffing game “but a successful bluff means your opponent must not know which cards you are holding. In this case Nasser’s opponent could see his hand in the mirror and knew he was only holding a pair of deuces” and Nasser knew that his army is not prepared yet. “All of this was out of character…His tendencies in this regard may have been accentuated by diabetes… That was the only rational explanation for his actions in 1967”.
Meanwhile, in January 1968, Nasser commenced the War of Attrition to reclaim territory captured by Israel, ordering attacks against Israeli positions east of the then-blockaded Suez Canal. In March, Nasser offered Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement arms and funds after their performance against Israeli forces in the Battle of Karameh that month. He also advised Arafat to think of peace with Israel and the establishment of a Palestinian state comprising the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Nasser effectively ceded his leadership of the “Palestine issue” to Arafat.
Nasser appointed Sadat and Hussein el-Shafei as his vice presidents in December 1969. By then, relations with his other original military comrades, namely Khaled and Zakaria Mohieddin and former vice president Sabri, had become strained. By mid-1970, Nasser pondered replacing Sadat with Boghdadi after reconciling with the latter.
Israel retaliated against Egyptian shelling with commando raids, artillery shelling and air strikes. This resulted in an exodus of civilians from Egyptian cities along the Suez Canal’s western bank. Nasser ceased all military activities and began a program to build a network of internal defenses, while receiving the financial backing of various Arab states. The war resumed in March 1969. In November, Nasser brokered an agreement between the PLO and the Lebanese military that granted Palestinian guerrillas the right to use Lebanese territory to attack Israel.
In June 1970, Nasser accepted the US-sponsored Rogers Plan, which called for an end to hostilities and an Israeli withdrawal from Egyptian territory, but it was rejected by Israel, the PLO, and most Arab states except Jordan. Nasser had initially rejected the plan, but conceded under pressure from the Soviet Union, which feared that escalating regional conflict could drag it into a war with the US. He also determined that a ceasefire could serve as a tactical step toward the strategic goal of recapturing the Suez Canal. Nasser forestalled any movement toward direct negotiations with Israel. In dozens of speeches and statements, Nasser posited the equation that any direct peace talks with Israel were tantamount to surrender. Following Nasser’s acceptance, Israel agreed to a ceasefire and Nasser used the lull in fighting to move surface-to-air missiles towards the canal zone.
As the Arab League summit closed on 28 September 1970, hours after escorting the last Arab leader to leave, Nasser suffered a heart attack. He was immediately transported to his house, where his physicians tended to him. Nasser died several hours later, around 6 p.m. at age 52. Heikal, Sadat, and Nasser’s wife Tahia were at his deathbed. According to his doctor, al-Sawi Habibi, Nasser’s likely cause of death was arteriosclerosis, varicose veins, and complications from long-standing diabetes. Nasser was also a heavy smoker with a family history of heart disease—two of his brothers died in their fifties from the same condition. The state of Nasser’s health was not known to the public prior to his death. He had previously suffered heart attacks in 1966 and September 1969.
The national economy grew significantly through agrarian reform, major modernization projects such as the Helwan steel works and the Aswan Dam, and nationalization schemes such as that of the Suez Canal. However, the marked economic growth of the early 1960s took a downturn for the remainder of the decade, only recovering in 1970. Egypt experienced a “golden age” of culture during Nasser’s presidency, according to historian Joel Gordon, particularly in film, television, theater, radio, literature, fine arts, comedy, poetry, and music. Egypt under Nasser dominated the Arab world in these fields, producing cultural icons.
While Nasser was increasingly criticized by Egyptian intellectuals following the Six-Day War and his death in 1970, the general public was persistently sympathetic both during and after Nasser’s life. According to political scientist Mahmoud Hamad, writing in 2008, “nostalgia for Nasser is easily sensed in Egypt and all Arab countries today”. General malaise in Egyptian society, particularly during the Mubarak era, augmented nostalgia for Nasser’s presidency, which increasingly became associated with the ideals of national purpose, hope, social cohesion, and vibrant culture.
Nasser was a chain smoker. He maintained 18-hour workdays and rarely took time off for vacations. The combination of smoking and working long hours contributed to his poor health. He was diagnosed with diabetes in the early 1960s and by the time of his death in 1970, he also had arteriosclerosis, heart disease, and high blood pressure. He suffered two major heart attacks (in 1966 and 1969), and was on bed rest for six weeks after the second episode. State media reported that Nasser’s absence from the public view at that time was a result of influenza.
Still stationed after the war in the Faluja enclave, Nasser agreed to an Israeli request to identify 67 killed soldiers of the “religious platoon”. The expedition was led by Rabbi Shlomo Goren and Nasser personally accompanied him, ordering the Egyptian soldiers to stand at attention. They spoke briefly, and according to Goren, after learning what the square phylacteries found with the soldiers were, Nasser told him that he “now understands their courageous stand”. During an interview on Israeli TV in 1971, Rabbi Goren claimed the two agreed to meet again when the time of peace comes.
During Mubarak’s presidency, Nasserist political parties began to emerge in Egypt, the first being the Arab Democratic Nasserist Party (ADNP). The party carried minor political influence, and splits between its members beginning in 1995 resulted in the gradual establishment of splinter parties, including Hamdeen Sabahi’s 1997 founding of Al-Karama. Sabahi came in third place during the 2012 presidential election. Nasserist activists were among the founders of Kefaya, a major opposition force during Mubarak’s rule. On 19 September 2012, four Nasserist parties (the ADNP, Karama, the National Conciliation Party, and the Popular Nasserist Congress Party) merged to form the United Nasserist Party.
Historian Steven A. Cook wrote in July 2013, “Nasser’s heyday still represents, for many, the last time that Egypt felt united under leaders whose espoused principles met the needs of ordinary Egyptians.” During the Arab Spring, which resulted in a revolution in Egypt, photographs of Nasser were raised in Cairo and Arab capitals during anti-government demonstrations. According to journalist Lamis Andoni, Nasser had become a “symbol of Arab dignity” during the mass demonstrations.
Currently, Gamal Abdel Nasser is 103 years, 9 months and 5 days old. Gamal Abdel Nasser will celebrate 104th birthday on a Saturday 15th of January 2022.
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