Nasir, Gamal Abd al

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Nasir, Gamal Abd al

Of an Upper Egyptian family and the son of a postal clerk, Abd al Nasir was educated in Cairo and graduated as an officer from the military academy in 1938. He served in Sudan and later with distinction in the Palestine War in 1948–1949. In late 1949 Nasir formed a group calling itself the Free Officers who seized power in the early hours of July 23, 1952. Composed of young officers with a broad nationalist program, the new regime, although fronted by General Muhammad Naguib (1901–1984), was effectively led by Colonel Nasir. A contest with Naguib for power in March 1954 saw Nasir consolidate his position, serving as prime minister from 1954–1956 and president from 1956, a position he effectively held until his death.

Under Nasir's leadership the revolution sought to transform Egyptian society. In 1953 political parties were dissolved and a republic established. Thereafter, political life was restricted to a series of government parties, the most important being the Arab Socialist Union set up in 1962. Nasir tolerated little political opposition and particularly repressed Communists and Muslim Brothers, many of whom served long terms in prison. Committed early to land reform, the regime went on to embrace an economic program of state-sponsored industrialization, nationalization, and public employment. Initially successful, these policies produced substantial inefficiencies by the late 1960s.

On the international stage, Nasir played a leading role in the non-aligned movement formed at the Bandung Conference in April 1955. His decision to nationalize the Suez Canal on July 26, 1956 led to the Suez crisis and war with Britain, France, and Israel. A Czech arms deal in 1955 had already signaled Nasir's move away from the West, and the Soviet decision to finance the dam reinforced this trend. After the diplomatic triumph of Suez, Nasir adopted a strong Arab nationalist and pro-African foreign policy.

In 1958 Egypt and Syria merged to form the United Arab Republic, although the union lasted only three years. Nasir's revolutionary call to the Arab world led him into conflict with both conservative Arab monarchies and progressive republics, but he continued to be an inspiring figure to the Arab masses during the 1960s. Following a game of diplomatic brinkmanship in June 1967, Israel launched a surprise attack and inflicted a stunning defeat on Egypt. Nasir immediately offered his resignation but, after massive public demonstrations, resumed office and pursued less radical policies. He died suddenly on September 28, 1970.

A charismatic, inspiring third world leader, personally charming if somewhat reserved, Nasir spoke in the language of the people and was passionately committed to the welfare of ordinary Egyptians and the cause of Arab unity on his terms. Many of his policies were repudiated by his successor, Anwar Sadat (1918–1981), but Nasir's memory remains revered by many in the Arab world. His legacy has been kept alive by journalist and personal confidant Mohamed Hassanein Heikal (b. 1923) and a Nasserist Party operates in Egypt based on his political ideals. Nasir's Philosophy of the Revolution provides an important statement of his early political thought.

see also Egypt.


Heikal, Mohamed Hassanein. The Cairo Documents; the Inside Story of Nasser and His Relationships with World Leaders, Rebels, and Statesmen. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1973.

Lacouture, Jean. Nasser: A Biography. Translated by Daniel Hofstadter. New York: Knopf, 1973.

Nasser, Gamal Abdel (or Nasir, Gamal Abd al). Philosophy of the Revolution. Buffalo, NY: Smith, Keynes and Marshall, 1959.