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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

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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). □

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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).

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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).

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Nasser, Gamal Abdel

Gamal Abdel Nasser

Born on January 15, 1918 (Beni Morr, Egypt)

Died on September 28, 1970 (Cairo, Egypt)

President of Egypt
Military leader

Gamal Abdel Nasser was one of the most revered and charismatic Arab leaders of the twentieth century. A political revolutionary, he played a central role in driving the British from Egypt after a seventy-two-year occupation. He attempted to raise the standard of living for all Egyptians and was not willing to bow to pressures from powerful Western countries (such as Britain, France, and the United States) at Egypt's expense, or to those of the Arab world. He was a committed socialist who presided over the rebirth of Egypt's cultural, military, political, and economic power. His devotion to Arab unity and anti-imperialist ideology came to be called "Nasserism," and there are monuments dedicated to his name throughout Egypt.

"The genius of you Americans is that you never make clear-cut stupid moves, only complicated stupid moves... . We're a sentimental people. We like a few kind words better than millions of dollars given in a humiliating way."

A modest childhood

Nasser was born on January 15, 1918, in Beni Morr, near Asyout in Egypt, where he spent the first seven years of his life. He then moved to a relatively poor suburb of Alexandria called Bacos, because his father was an inspector in the postal ministry and was often required to move around the country. Nasser always maintained that he was proud to belong to the small village of Beni Morr, and proud to be a member of a poor family. He spent ten years at a high school in Cairo and left in 1937 after receiving his diploma. Demonstrating his patriotism when he was just a young teenager, Nasser protested in the streets against the British occupation of Egypt that had begun in 1882. He would often be involved in brawls and once was injured so badly that he received a permanent scar on his face.

In 1937 he joined the Egyptian military academy and twelve months later graduated with the rank of second lieutenant. He then joined a platoon where he met Anwar Sadat (1918–1981; see entry) and Zakaria Mohyi el-Deen. These two men were to be instrumental in his later life.

Free Officers Organization

In the early twentieth century Egypt was ruled by the British, who had placed a king on the throne who would carry out their wishes. King Farouk (1921–1965; reigned 1936–52) enjoyed the protection of thousands of British soldiers who were stationed around the country. The British government believed it was important to build up a skilled Egyptian army so that the people could be controlled in the event of civil unrest. Corruption was widespread in the government, and the gap between poor Egyptians and the rich elite, who enjoyed a luxurious life, was widening. A group of young army officers joined forces to fight against this corruption, against the occupation, and towards building Egypt's economic and political infrastructure. Nasser knew these young men and was impressed by their nationalism (pride in one's country and heritage), but was disappointed with their lack of organization. After the state of Israel was created in 1948 and several Arab countries lost their land to the Israelis in the war of independence, the young officers' cause became more urgent. Many of the men were sent to the Israeli border to fight. This war gave Nasser his appetite for revolution. He became well known during the fighting after he was wounded while successfully challenging the Israeli military with no backup troops.

In 1939 Nasser became one of the founding members of the Free Officers Organization, a group formed for the purpose of expelling the British government from Egypt. Nasser was elected president of the Free Officers in 1950. Being a member of such an organization was very dangerous. King Farouk's police were aware of the group's threat, and spent hours tracking down Free Officers' meetings and trying to figure out who the group's members were. Recruiting new supporters into the organization was very difficult, as the men did not know whom to trust, and willing members were scared of being discovered. By 1951 the group had become more sophisticated and had started its own newspaper. The king attempted to disband the Free Officers, but was unsuccessful, and by 1952 the group included hundreds of officers.

Overthrowing the king

The Free Officers published their manifesto, or goals and beliefs, and pushed it under the doors of thousands of homes across Egypt. They demanded that the Egyptian army be strengthened and run by Egyptians alone, so that the country could defend itself and not rely on Western powers. They demanded that the price of bread, which was state-regulated, be reduced so that people would not starve. They also demanded an end to corruption within the Egyptian government. King Farouk tried to appease his people by lowering the prices of necessary food items and working to make the country more independent from the British, but it was too late.

Despite knowing who most of the members of the Free Officers were, the king's men could not locate them to arrest them. A week before July 22, 1952, the Free Officers huddled in their secret meeting place and planned to overthrow the monarchy. The plan was that on the evening of July 22 they would storm the main army stations and take control of the army units. Then they would be able to take control of the whole army. Once this was achieved, Nasser thought, the king would have no way to defend himself and his court. The next stage of the plan involved controlling the country's communication systems so that the king could not appeal to foreign powers for help. They would do this by storming the airport, train stations, and radio stations, and by taking control of the telephone exchange.

If the Free Officers could manage all of this, they could trick the palace into believing that nothing was happening. A week later, their plans were successfully carried out. By the evening of July 22, Anwar Sadat triumphantly declared to the Egyptian public over the radio that the revolution had begun, and that Egypt had entered into a new phase of development and modernization. Corruption and excess, he promised, were in the past. The Free Officers exiled King Farouk, allowing him to leave the country with only one suitcase. A year later a new constitution was drawn up, and Egypt was declared a republic. The system of monarchy was officially abolished. The republic was established with a council and a prime minister. The first prime minister to assume power after the coup was a man named General Muhammad Naguib, but Nasser, who had high ambitions, remained in control of the Revolutionary Command Council, the name of the council created for the new government, made up of mainly Free Officers' members. Even though the prime minister was to work with the council to make new policies, it was the Revolutionary Command Council that held most of the power in the government.

In time, Nasser grew increasingly dissatisfied with Naguib's administration, for Naguib began to publicly side against many of the council's proposals. Only two years after the revolution, there was an assassination attempt on Nasser. Believing the prime minister, who feared Nasser's support among the army, was behind the attempt, Nasser had Naguib arrested and proclaimed himself prime minister of Egypt without a public vote. Two years later nationwide elections were held and Nasser became the first president of the Egyptian Republic.

Leading the republic

Nasser was a committed socialist. He worked to develop a system of social organization in which the major means of production and distribution are owned, managed, and controlled by the government. Egyptian landowners, who had prospered greatly under King Farouk, found their land confiscated and distributed equally to the Egyptian masses. Nasser also began a program of nationalization, or governmental ownership and control of industries and individual companies, involving the banks and such industries as telecommunications and the railroads. His efforts created an entirely new political system in Egypt based on Arab socialism. Islam also became the official religion of the country.

Nations in the West, however, including the United States and those in Europe, worried that the revolution had jeopardized their economic interests in the region. Accomplishments of the Nasser regime, such as farming reform, industrialization, social welfare, and job creation, were carried out despite both internal opposition from Muslim and royalist groups and external opposition from the West.

Nasser introduced a one-party system, outlawing all opposition parties. People on the left of the political spectrum (those who are more liberal) were integrated into the regime, and those on the right (more conservative) were tightly controlled, especially those of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic fundamentalist group organized in opposition to Western influence and power.

Nasser made several attempts to create a political party that would represent the Egyptian masses. The Liberation Rally existed from 1953 to 1956, the National Union from 1958 to 1962, and the Socialist Union was created in 1962. Nasser's tight control on politics and the Egyptian economy provoked several attempts on his life, all of which he survived.

Nasserism

Gamal Abdel Nasser's political ideas came to be known as "Nasserism." At the center of his philosophy was the idea of Pan-Arabism, or a movement for the unification of Arab peoples into one Arab state. Pan-Arabism has been promoted at various times in the Middle East as a way of uniting Arab countries against Israel and the West. Also central to Nasserism was the modernization and economic development of Egypt, to be carried out by a highly centralized government and a strong army. Whenever there has been a significant crisis in the Middle East, support for Pan-Arabism receives much more support by the people in the region than at other times. Nasser was an Arab nationalist before he was an Egyptian. Arab nationalists believed that Arabs are united by a shared history, culture, and language.

Managing the Suez Canal

Built in 1869, the Suez Canal is a man-made waterway that connects the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, allowing for easier trade and travel between Europe and the Middle East. The 171-kilometer-long canal was constructed by European engineers and was controlled by the British for decades. It was the Suez Canal that led the British to occupy Egypt in the late 1800s and early 1900s for the government wanted to protect the waterway and the trade and profit it brought to Britain. In July 1956, shortly after Britain pulled out of Egypt, Nasser announced on public radio that he was nationalizing the Suez Canal and setting up a company called the Egyptian Canal Authority to manage it. No sooner had Nasser announced the canal's nationalization than he received congratulatory phone calls from most of the leaders of the developing world, who were overjoyed that Western, colonial control of this important gateway had ceased. To them it was the symbol of a new era and an end to Western domination. But the West, particularly Great Britain and the United States, was furious and refused to support any further development within the Egypt or to give Nasser the money to buy arms. France, Britain, and the United States believed Nasser was going to use these arms in a war against Israel. No longer able to buy arms from these countries, Nasser turned to the Soviet Union to provide him with the materials needed to build his weapons stockpile.

The Suez Canal had provided important access to the sea for Israel, and Egyptian control of the Canal would limit Israel's use of the waterway. Israel, with support from Great Britain and France, responded to the Egyptian nationalization of the Suez Canal by invading the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, where the canal was built. In 1956 Israeli soldiers crossed over into the Egyptian-controlled Gaza Strip and took control of the land. Although Egyptian soldiers fought bravely, they were not highly trained and lost most of the battles. Pressure from the United Nations and the United States brought an end to the fighting and resulted in Egypt retaining full control of the Suez Canal. The United States, angry at the actions of Britain, France, and Israel, and worried about Egypt turning to the Soviet Union for support, helped Egypt repair the damage from the war. The canal reopened in 1957, and was guarded until 1967 by a United Nations Emergency Force to ensure peaceful operations.

In addition to the money from the operation of the canal, Egypt improved its economy by making agreements with the Soviet Union in the 1950s for money and other assistance. Due to Nasser's forward-looking economic policies, Egypt was transformed from a poor country into a prosperous one.

Humiliated in the Six-Day War

Nasser's vision for Pan-Arabism took a small step forward in 1958, when Egypt united with Syria and parts of Saudi Arabia to become the United Arab Republic. Nasser served as president of the new country, and the move excited those interested in integrating Arab nations into one Arab state. Citizens within the union were called Arabs, not Egyptians or Syrians. Yemen joined the union later in 1958. The vision of one Arab state was dashed in 1961, however, when Syria pulled out of the union after a military coup. Yemen soon followed. The dissolution of the union hurt Nasser's political standing.

By 1967 the relationship between the Arabs and Israelis had completely broken down. As hostilities mounted, Israeli ships entered the Gulf of Aqaba, a body of water shared by Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, ready for a war. Facing them were hundreds of Egyptian guns onshore. Israel attacked Egypt and occupied the whole of the Sinai Peninsula, right up to the Suez Canal. The war lasted for six days and has come to be known as the Six-Day War. Despite the small numbers of Israeli troops and the large numbers of Arab soldiers, the Israelis were victorious. Nasser, who felt responsible for the humiliating and devastating blow, handed in his resignation, but was so highly regarded by his people that they took to the streets demanding that he stay in office.

Though he turned his attentions to modernizing the country and building up relationships with foreign powers—especially the rest of the Arab world—after the Six-Day War, Nasser never recovered from the humiliation of Egypt's defeat in 1967. He launched the War of Attrition in 1969, a series of attacks on Israel designed to win back Egyptian honor, if not its lost land, which included the Gaza Strip. A ceasefire agreement between the countries was signed in 1970, with Egypt having regained neither its honor nor its land.

Despite his military defeat, Nasser ended his rule with one of his greatest accomplishments: the construction of the Aswan Dam. Completed in 1970, the dam provided water to previously unirrigated land all over the country and allowed farmers to make better livelihoods.

A sudden death

On September 28, 1970, Nasser was found dead in his bed. He had died suddenly of a heart attack. The unexpected loss sent shock waves through the Arab world. The whole of Egypt went into a prolonged mourning period, and millions of Egyptians followed his funeral procession in Cairo. Nasser was hailed as a hero in Egypt and by Arabs all over the Middle East. Arabs continue to revere Nasser as the man who challenged the West and freed his country from a kind of Western "slavery." Despite receiving criticism for creating a quasi-police state and controlling the media through censorship, Nasser is remembered as a brilliant politician and patriot, and for bringing Egypt into the twentieth century as a prosperous nation with an emerging middle class. He brought dignity back to Arabs after seventy-two years of occupation under British rule.

For More Information

Books

Aburish, Said K. Nasser: The Last Arab. New York: St. Martin's, 2004.

Mansfield, Peter. Nasser's Egypt. New York: Penguin, 1969.

Nutting, Anthony. Nasser. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1972.

Paparchontis, Kathleen. 100 Leaders Who Changed the World. Milwaukee, WI: World Almanac, 2003.

Stephens, Robert Henry. Nasser. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972.

Periodicals

Black, Ian. "The Suez War." The Guardian (October 30, 1986).

"Egypt's Crisis, America's Dilemma." Foreign Affairs (Summer 1986): p. 960.

Web Sites

Robson, Victoria. "Gamal Abdel Nasser." Contemporary Africa Database.http://people.africadatabase.org/en/profile/3140.html (accessed on January 25, 2005).

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