Skip to main content
Select Source:

Nasser, Gamal Abdel

Nasser, Gamal Abdel 1918-1970

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Gamal Abdel Nasser, who served as president of Egypt from 1956 to 1970, was born on January 15, 1918, in the small village of Bani Mor in the Egyptian province of Assiut, where he lived for eight years. He came from a humble and poor background to become one of the most prominent and influential leaders in the Middle East and the third world. His father worked as a mail carrier in the Egyptian Ministry of Communication, a position that required him to move with his family from Bani Mor to Alexandria and finally Cairo, where Nasser lived for ten years. In his memoirs, Nasser spoke proudly of his humble origin. His poor background might have been behind his socialist tendencies and his commitment to improve the living conditions of Egyptian peasants and workers.

During his high school years, Nasser participated in student demonstrations against the British occupying forces. After receiving his high school diploma in 1937, Nasser entered the Egyptian Royal Military Academy, which started admitting sons of lower-income families in 1936. A year later, he joined the Egyptian army, where he met several of his future colleagues, including Anwar el-Sadat (19181981) and Zakaria Mohyi El Deen, both of whom served as his vice presidents, and Abdul Hakeem Amer, who became a minister of defense. In 1942 Nasser was transferred to Sudan, where he and other officers founded the Free Officers, a secret revolutionary organization. The Free Officers was a secular nationalist movement that was opposed to the British occupation of Egypt, the corrupt royal family, and the domination of Egypts economy and parliament by a small landowning class. In 1948 Nasser was a member of the Egyptian army that along with other Arab armies was sent to Palestine to thwart the establishment of Israel. The humiliating defeat of the Arab armies in the 1948 war raised his awareness of the Palestinian problem and the inefficacy of the existing Arab governments.

On July 23, 1952, Nasser and his Free Officers seized power and deposed the king. A year later, the Revolutionary Command Council of the Free Officers promulgated a new constitution, abolished the monarchy, and declared Egypt a republic. Though General Mohammad Naguib (19011984) served as the head of the government from 1952 to 1954, Nasser held the real power through his control of the Revolutionary Command Council. In November 1954 Nasser placed Naguib under house arrest, accusing him of knowing about an attempt by a member of the Muslim Brotherhood to assassinate Nasser.

In 1956 Nasser was elected president of Egypt, a position he held until his death in 1970. As president, Nasser created an authoritarian police state, banning political parties and suppressing political opposition, including the local communists and members of the Muslim Brotherhood. He ruled the country through the Arab Socialist Union, a government-controlled party.

Between 1956 and 1966, Nasser introduced several socialist measures, including the nationalization of various industries, private companies, and banks, and he expanded the public sector significantly. He also introduced agrarian reform, including the confiscation of 2,000 square miles of cultivable land from wealthy landowners, which he distributed to Egypts poor peasants. The aim of these socialist measures was to improve the living conditions of the countrys peasants and workers. Nasser contended in his book The Philosophy of the Revolution (1955) that Arab socialism was a prerequisite for Arab unity and freedom and for surmounting the social and economic legacy of colonialism.

In addition to his domestic socialist reforms, Nasser adopted an anti-Western and anticolonial foreign policy. Initially however, he tried to secure arms from Britain and the United States, and it was only after the two countries declined his request that he acquired such weapons from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Along with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru (18891964) of India and President Sukarno (19011970) of Indonesia, Nasser also founded the nonaligned movement.

Nasser tried to obtain Western funding to build a dam on the Nile (the Aswân Dam) that would provide electricity to neighboring villages and towns and increase the amount of cultivable land available to peasant farmers. Though at first the administration of U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower (18901969) expressed an interest in financing the construction of the Aswân Dam, it rescinded its offer to protest Nassers anti-Western policies and his rapprochement with the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and Communist China, as well as his nonalignment policy. In reaction, Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal Company with the hope of using the income generated from tolls levied on ships crossing the canal to finance the construction of the dam. The Suez Canal Company was seen as a symbol of Western colonialism and hegemony.

In response to the nationalization of the Suez Canal Company, Britain, France, and Israel invaded Egypt and occupied Sinai in late 1956. Under pressure from the United Nations and the United States, however, the invading armies were forced to withdraw and UN peacekeeping troops were deployed into the Sinai. The invasion of Egypt intensified Nassers opposition to Western influence and military alliances in the Middle East, and made him a strong advocate of Arab nationalism and freedom from colonial control. The Suez crisis also significantly increased Nassers popularity in the Arab world. Likewise, his message of social justice at home and anticolonialism abroad inspired millions of Arabs, who formed political parties to bring about Arab unity and socialism.

In response to a request from the Syrian military and civilian leaders for a merging of Syria and Egypt, Nasser created in 1958 the United Arab Republic as the first step toward Arab unity. The union ended in 1961; Syrian military officers and civilians resented Egyptian domination of Syrian politics, the secret polices harsh repression of Syrian opposition, and nationalization of the Syrian private sector. In 1962 Nasser sent his army to Yemen in support of the military coup that overthrew the monarchy. Egyptian military intervention in Yemen, which lasted for five years, was costly.

In May 1967 Nasser incited the June War (the Six-Day War) when he requested the withdrawal of the UN Emergency Force from Sinai and closed the Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli ships. In reaction, Israel launched a surprise attack on Egypt and occupied the Sinai Peninsula. In the aftermath of the humiliating defeat of his army, Nasser resigned from office, but he rescinded his decision in the wake of massive popular support for his rule. However, Nasser never regained his previous stature, and his government became increasingly dependent on military and economic aid from the Soviet Union.

Nasser died of a heart attack on September 28, 1970. Five million Egyptians attended his funeral, making it the largest funeral in history. His legacy has been the subject of intense debate. Some criticize his autocratic rule and his suppression of political opposition. Others criticize his aggressive and militaristic foreign policies, including his incitement of the 1967 June War and his military involvement in Yemen. Such military ventures tainted his legacy and caused severe difficulties for Egypt and the Arab countries. In contrast, others commend his struggle against Western colonialism, his restoration of Arab dignity, and his embodiment of the dream of Arab unity and nationalism. Still others commend Nassers role in modernizing Egypts educational system and making it free to the poor, as well as his strong support of the arts, theater, film, music, and literature.

SEE ALSO Arab League, The; Arab-Israeli War of 1967; Arabs; Nationalism and Nationality; Pan-Arabism; Suez Crisis; United Arab Republic

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Gordon, Joel. 1992. Nassers Blessed Movement: Egypts Free Officers and the July Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press.

Mikdadi, Faysal. 1991. Gamal Abdel Nasser: A Bibliography. Westport, CT: Greenwood.

Nasser, Gamal Abdel. 1959. The Philosophy of the Revolution. Intro. John S. Badeau and bio. John Gunther. Buffalo, NY: Smith, Keynes & Marshall.

Emile Sahliyeh

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Nasser, Gamal Abdel." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. 28 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Nasser, Gamal Abdel." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 28, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/nasser-gamal-abdel

"Nasser, Gamal Abdel." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved June 28, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/nasser-gamal-abdel

Gamal Abdel Nasser

Gamal Abdel Nasser

Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918-1970) was an Egyptian political leader and hero of much of the Arab world. His devotion to Arab unity and a strongly anti-imperialist ideology came to be called "Nasserism."

The family of Gamal Abdel Nasser were well-to-do Moslem peasants who lived in Beni Morr near Asyût (Upper Egypt). His father was a post-office employee. Gamal was born on Jan. 15, 1918, in Alexandria. As early as his grammar school years, he participated in demonstrations against the English occupation of Egypt. In 1937 he entered the military academy at Cairo; he left the following year with the rank of second lieutenant.

In 1943, after several years of service in Upper Egypt and the Sudan, he became an instructor at the military academy and then at the army staff college. During 1948-1949 he took part in the unsuccessful campaign against the new state of Israel. In this conflict he commanded a position from the "pocket of Faludja," south-west of Jerusalem, where three Egyptian battalions were surrounded for more than 2 months by Israeli forces. Nasser resisted gallantly with his troops until the cease-fire was declared. This was the only comparatively successful Arab exploit of the war.

Overthrow of King Farouk

For many years Nasser had been in contact with some of the army officers who were indignant over the corruption in the royal Egyptian government. These young radicals were strongly nationalistic, but they could not agree on an ideology or on an alliance with other forces. However, under the impact of the defeat by Israel in Palestine, the secret "movement of free officers" was organized (1949), with Nasser as one of the principal founders. This group overthrew King Farouk on July 23, 1952.

Behind the new government, nominally headed by Gen. Mohamed Neguib, Nasser was chairman of the Revolution Command Council (which held the actual power), headed the new "Liberation Rally," and then was deputy premier and minister of the interior. Meanwhile, Neguib had begun to alienate most of the officers by his involvement in efforts to reestablish parliamentary rule. Early in 1954 Nasser displaced Neguib, taking the title of prime minister in April (and in 1956 he was elected first president of the Egyptian republic).

The regime was at first pro-Western and respected the free-enterprise system. It obtained an agreement for the English to surrender control of the Suez Canal in July 1954. However, the Nasser government reacted strongly to the West's attempting to organize Egypt into an anti-Soviet bloc and yet refusing to support Egypt against Israel (Israeli troops raided into Gaza in February 1955). Then, in the face of the West's refusal to supply arms unless Egypt entered into a coalition under the direction of Turkey and Iraq (Baghdad Pact, February-April 1955), Nasser moved toward neutralism.

Nasser became friends with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India and President Tito of Yugoslavia, participated in the "Third World" Conference at Bandoeng in Java (April 1955), and purchased arms from Czechoslovakia. America's unwillingness to finance the High Dam of Aswan, a project essential for the development of Egypt, led Nasser to nationalize the Suez Canal in July 1956. A combined Anglo-Franco-Israeli expedition (October-November 1956) tried to reestablish control over the canal, but it failed, thanks largely to American and Soviet pressures to withdraw.

United Arab Republic

Nasser then began to strengthen his neutralist position. Under request from the Syrian Baath party, which was fearful of a Communist seizure, he presided over the incorporation of Egypt and Syria into the United Arab Republic (Feb. 1, 1958). But on Sept. 28, 1961, Syria seceded from the union. Nasser, convinced that this was a reactionary move, instituted several socialistic measures in Egypt, free enterprise being deemed unable to promote a self-directed development.

The accomplishments of the Nasser regime (agrarian reform, mobilization of the people, industrialization, vast social measures) were carried out despite both internal and external opposition. The leftist elements were integrated into the regime; the rightists were put under control. Abroad, support was obtained from the Soviet bloc of nations without breaking all ties with the West. The crisis of the third war with Israel, in June 1967, reaffirmed Nasser's popular support and led to a certain amount of internal liberalization.

Nasser was a pragmatic politician, faithful above all to Egyptian patriotism. He disliked violence and extreme revolutionary activities. Although he was attracted for a time by the dream of political hegemony over the Arab world, his desires were nevertheless tempered by the needs and circumstances of the moment. His primary goal was always the development of Egypt into a modern nation with no sacrifice of complete independence. He died on Sept. 28, 1970.

Further Reading

Nasser's political views are presented in his own work, The Philosophy of the Revolution (1959). Joachim Joesten, Nasser: The Rise to Power (1960), contains useful details but has many errors and is incomplete. A fine book is Robert Stephens, Nasser: A Political Biography (1971). Miles Copland, The Game of Nations (1969), is very useful.

Solid studies of Nasser's Egypt are available. They include Jean and Simonne Lacouture, Egypt in Transition (1956; trans. 1958), an excellent account of the early phases of the revolution; Tom Little, Modern Egypt (1967; originally published as Egypt in 1958); and P. J. Vatikiotis, The Modern History of Egypt (1969), with a useful bibliography. Anouar Abdel-Malek, Egypt, Military Society: The Army Regime, the Left and Social Change under Nasser (1962; trans. 1968), is a notable sociohistorical analysis. Peter Mansfield, Nasser's Egypt (1966), is a readable general survey. For background on foreign affairs, particularly Arab affairs, see Malcolm H. Kerr, The Arab Cold War, 1958-1964: A Study of Ideology in Politics (1965), and Maxime Rodinson, Israel and the Arabs (1967; trans. 1968). For further background see P. J. Vatikiotis, ed., Egypt since the Revolution (1968), and the chapter in Jean Lacouture, The Demigods: Charismatic Leadership in the Third World (1969; trans. 1970). □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Gamal Abdel Nasser." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 28 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Gamal Abdel Nasser." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 28, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gamal-abdel-nasser

"Gamal Abdel Nasser." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved June 28, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gamal-abdel-nasser

Nasser, Gamal Abdal

Gamal Abdal Nasser (gəmäl´ ăb´dəl nä´sər), 1918–70, Egyptian army officer and political leader, first president of the republic of Egypt (1956–70). A revolutionary since youth, he was wounded by the police and expelled (1935) from secondary school in Cairo for leading an anti-British student demonstration. He attended (1937) law school and graduated from the Royal Military Academy in 1938. In 1942, Nasser founded the secret Society of Free Officers, which fought against political corruption and foreign domination of Egypt. A major in the first Arab-Israeli war (1948), he was wounded in action.

In July, 1952, Nasser led the army coup that deposed King Farouk. Gen. Muhammad Naguib became the nominal head of the government, but Nasser held power through his control of the Revolutionary Command Committee. In 1954, he became premier of Egypt, and following an attempt on his life, he arrested Naguib. In 1956 he was, unopposed, elected president of the republic of Egypt. His nationalization of the Suez Canal precipitated (1956) a short-lived, abortive invasion by Great Britain, France, and Israel (see Arab-Israeli Wars).

When Egypt and Syria merged (1958–61) to form the United Arab Republic, Nasser served as its president. An opponent of monarchical governments in the Middle East, he sent troops to assist (1962–67) Yemenite revolutionaries in their civil war with Saudi Arabian-backed royalists. In 1967, Nasser precipitated war with Israel by dissolving UN peacekeeping forces in the Sinai and blockading the Israeli port of Elat. He resigned from office following Egypt's disastrous defeat, but massive demonstrations of support led to his return.

During his period of rule, Nasser instituted a program of land reform and economic and social development known as Arab socialism; the completion (1970) of the Aswan Dam (see under Aswan) was the crowning achievement of his regime. More than for his material accomplishments, however, Nasser achieved fame for leading the reestablishment of Arab national pride, seriously wounded by many decades of Western domination. In foreign affairs, he originally assumed a neutralist position, seeking support from both the East and the West to bolster his position in the Middle East. After his nation's military defeat in 1967, however, Nasser became increasingly dependent on the Soviet Union for military and economic aid. A pan-Arabist and advocate of Third-World unity, Nasser was one of the most important Arab leaders of the 20th cent.

See biographies by M. Shivanandan (1973) and J. Josten (1960, repr. 1974); P. J. Vatikiotis, Nasser and His Generation (1978); T. Hasou, The Struggle for the Arab World: Egypt's Nasser and the Arab League (1985).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Nasser, Gamal Abdal." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 28 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Nasser, Gamal Abdal." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 28, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/nasser-gamal-abdal

"Nasser, Gamal Abdal." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved June 28, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/nasser-gamal-abdal

Nasser, Gamal Abdel

Nasser, Gamal Abdel (1918–70) Egyptian soldier and statesman, prime minister (1954–56) and first president of the Republic of Egypt (1956–70). In 1942 Nasser founded the Society of Free Officers, which secretly campaigned against British imperialism and domestic corruption. He led the 1952 army coup against King Farouk. He quickly ousted the nominal prime minister General Muhammad Neguib and assumed presidential powers. Nasser's nationalization of the Suez Canal (1956) prompted an abortive Anglo-French and Israeli invasion. Nasser emerged as champion of the Arab world. He formed the short-lived United Arab Republic (1958–61) with Syria. He briefly resigned after Israel won the Six-Day War (1967). The crowning achievement of his brand of Arab socialism was the completion of the Aswan Dam (1970).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Nasser, Gamal Abdel." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 28 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Nasser, Gamal Abdel." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 28, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/nasser-gamal-abdel

"Nasser, Gamal Abdel." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved June 28, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/nasser-gamal-abdel