Arab Socialist Union

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egypt's sole legal political organization, 19621977.

The Arab Socialist Union (ASU) was preceded by the Liberation Rally (19531956) and the National Union (19561962). All three organizations served President Gamal Abdel Nasser's regime as instruments of mass mobilization as Egypt shifted from capitalism to socialism and from a laissez-faire policy to a planned economy.

In May 1962 Nasser presented to the National Council of Popular Forces his Charter for National Action, an ideological document outlining a plan for the socialist transformation. It called for the creation of the ASU, which was to symbolize "the working forces of the people," defined as workers, peasants, intellectuals, national capitalists, and the armed forces. Because workers and peasants were to be the main beneficiaries of socialism, they were to occupy at least 50 percent of all elected posts in parliament and the ASU. Egyptians whose property had been nationalized or sequestered were declared "enemies of the people" and denied political rights. The National Council accepted the charter, with a few modifications, in July 1962.

The ASU's basic law was issued on 7 December 1962. Its organization was based on place of residence and profession, and branches (basic units) were established in villages, city quarters, schools, universities, and factories. They were organized on district, provincial, and national levels; the latter included a general committee, a supreme executive committee, a secretary-general, and a president.

In theory, the ASU was supposed to serve as the supreme authority of the state. Both parliament and the cabinet were to implement its policy decisions. In practice, however, the ASU's institutional development was confused and episodic. Its elections were not conducted on time, leaders were both elected and appointed, and for a while elected and appointed committees coexisted. In 1965 Nasser decided to establish a more radical "vanguard" organization consisting of cells whose members were appointed and whose activities were secret. In addition, the ASU created a Youth Organization as a means of recruiting and indoctrinating students and workers between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five (some of the leaders were as old as thirty-five) and set up an academic center called the Higher Institute for Socialist Studies to train future Youth Organization leaders in Nasser's doctrines and socialism.

As in many developing countries, the single party was an organization that claimed to represent the people's will. It was not intended to be an active institution with decision-making powers. Indeed, it was viewed more as a means of mobilizing political support than as a vehicle for popular participation. Lacking any real authority, the ASU served as an appendage of the executive.

Following Egypt's defeat in the 1967 ArabIsrael War, student and worker demonstrations revealed popular discontent with the organization. Nasser agreed on 30 March 1968 to hold new ASU elections, but no drastic changes took place. After Nasser died in 1970, his successor, Anwar al-Sadat, called for a reexamination of the ASU, which both Egypt's leaders and people had come to view as ineffective. In 1971 Sayyid Marʿi, who became the ASU secretary-general after the "Corrective Revolution" had purged the leftist elements from the Egyptian government, issued a "guide for political action" that hinted at some political liberalization for the organization.

After the 1973 ArabIsrael War, Sadat spear-headed a critique of the ASU by issuing a paper on the need to reform its structure and introduce diversity into Egypt's political life. Between 1974 and 1976, politically articulate Egyptians debated the ASU's future, leading to the regime's creation of three platforms (manabir) within the organization: the right (under Mustafa Kamal Murad), the center (headed by Mahmud Abu Wafiyya, acting for Sadat, his brother-in-law), and the left (led by Khalid Muhyi al-Din). Satisfied with their performance in the November 1976 parliamentary elections, Sadat announced that the platforms would become political parties. Once the Parties Law was issued in May 1977, the ASU faded away. It has never been revived.

While the ASU served the Egyptian government as a means of indoctrinating the people, it did not enable Egyptian citizens to influence their leaders. It failed to promote a rigorous analysis of Egypt's society or to solve any of the country's problems.

see also arabisrael war (1967); arabisrael war (1973); liberation rally; nasser, gamal abdel; national union (egypt); sadat, anwar al-.


Baker, Raymond. Egypt's Uncertain Revolution under Nasser and Sadat. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978.

Beattie, Kirk J. Egypt during the Nasser Years: Ideology, Politics, and Civil Society. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1994.

Choueiri, Youssef M. Arab Nationalism: A History: Nation and State in the Arab World. Oxford and Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2000.

Hinnebusch, Raymond A., Jr. Egyptian Politics under Sadat: The Post-Populist Development of an Authoritarian-Modernizing State, revised edition. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1988.

Said, Abdel Moghny. Arab Socialism. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1972.

Waterbury, John. The Egypt of Nasser and Sadat: The Political Economy of Two Regimes. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983.

Ali E. Hillal Dessouki

Updated by Arthur Goldschmidt

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Arab Socialist Union

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