Nasser, Gamal Abdel (Jamal Abd Al-Nasir; 1918–1970)

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NASSER, GAMAL ABDEL (Jamal Abd al-Nasir; 1918–1970)

Egyptian military and political figure, born in Upper Egypt. Starting in 1935, Gamal Abdel Nasser criticized the monarchy and demonstrated in favor of applying the constitution of 1923. In 1937 he entered the military academy of Cairo, where he became friends with Anwar al-Sadat. An earnest nationalist, in 1942 he founded, along with Zakariya Muhyi al-Din, the clandestine Free Officers group to combat British intrusion in Egyptian affairs. In May 1948, with the Egyptian army, he participated in the first Arab war with Israel. On 23 July 1952, as the head of the Free Officers, he took part in the coup d'état, supported by the Muslim Brotherhood, which brought General Muhammad Naguib to power. The Council of the Revolution exiled King Farouk.

In January 1953, after the abolition of political parties, Nasser became secretary general of the only authorized group, the Assembly of the Liberation. On 18 June the Republic of Egypt was proclaimed. In November 1954 Nasser became prime minister, and then president in June 1956, after shunting aside General Naguib. In his Philosophy of the Revolution he expounded his doctrines, which were based on pan-Arabism and support for movements of national liberation.

The Lavon Affair in 1954 and Israeli attacks on Gaza in 1954 and 1955 convinced Nasser that the Egyptian armed forces had to be built up. His refusal to join the Baghdad Pact or take sides in the Cold War—in 1955 Egypt joined the Nonaligned Movement, of which Nasser became a leader, along with India's prime minister Jawaharal Nehru and Yugoslavia's president Josip Broz Tito—as well as Egyptian aid to the Algerian nationalists then rebelling against French rule, made it impossible to obtain Western arms and prevented an agreement in ongoing negotiations with Britain over its occupation of the Suez Canal zone, which continued under a 1936 treaty. Nasser concluded an arms deal with Czechoslovakia, then part of the Soviet bloc; the United States withdrew its offer to finance the Aswan High Dam, an important economic project. Nasser's response was to seize and nationalize the Suez Canal. Although he offered financial compensation, the British and French attempted to break him militarily and colluded with Israel to provoke the Suez War, which ended, mostly because of American pressure, in the humiliation and withdrawal of the British and French and the increased Egypt status in the world, and especially among Arabs. Also under American pressure, the Israelis withdrew from the Sinai, destroying roads and military installations as they left.

In 1958, partly as a result of the popularity of Nasser's Arab nationalism, Syria and Egypt created the United Arab Republic (UAR), with Nasser at its head. Political differences with the Syrians (there was a coup d'état in Syria) led to the dissolution of the UAR in 1961. In 1962 Egypt became involved in a civil war in North Yemen, where a coup d'état had overthrown the Saudi-supported monarchy. The conflict was a drain on Egyptian resources for several years.

Internally the constitution of the charter of May 1962, as well as the agrarian reform and social measures Nasser undertook, assured him great popularity among the Egyptians. To consolidate his position, he created a single party, the Arab Socialist Union in December 1962. 0n 9 March 1962 he proclaimed the independence of the Gaza Strip, over which Egypt had exercised administrative control since the Israeli-Egyptian armistice of 1949. In April 1963 he failed in his project of a tripartite union of Syria, Iraq, and Egypt. In 1964 Egypt, with Syria and Iraq, sponsored the Arab League's creation of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as a means to channel—and keep under control—the activities of Palestinian nationalists. It was largely beholden to Egypt for material support, although its leader, Ahmad Shuqayri, indulged in belligerent rhetoric, to the detriment of Palestinian as well as Egyptian interests, particularly in the months before the 1967 War.

On 18 December 1964 Nasser named Anwar al-Sadat vice president. In autumn 1966 he was severely criticized by Arab countries, who reproached him for a lack of determination toward Israel; that year Egypt entered into a mutual defense treaty with Syria. In the spring of 1967 the Israelis began massing troops along the Egyptian border. In mid-May the tension between Egypt and Israel was at its peak. After an Israeli raid on a Syrian unit in the Golan, Nasser mobilized the Egyptian army, moving troops to the border. He requested the removal of the United Nations Emergency Force, which had guarded the border since 1956, and on 21 May blockaded the Straits of Tiran. Egypt and Jordan then signed a mutual defense treaty.

These acts were the culmination of the long period of tension and provocation that led to the 1967 War. Israel began the hostilities on the morning of 5 June by destroying the Egyptian air force on the ground. The war was a disaster for Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and the Palestinians: The Arab armies were routed and Israel was left in possession of the Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula as well as the Gaza Strip and the West Bank; hundreds of thousands of new Palestinian refugees were created. Nasser's government and international prestige were undermined, and the PLO began to distance itself from Egypt, beginning with the resignation of Shuqayri. Nasser resigned, but his resignation was refused by the National Assembly. Nevertheless, in his weakened position he was constrained to reconcile with King Faysal of Saudi Arabia, who had been supporting the other side in the North Yemen dispute. Nasser also accepted massive aid from the Soviet Union.

Gradually Nasser's stature as leader of the Arab world diminished. On 8 January 1969 his party obtained the quasi-totality of the seats in the Assembly. In April he began the War of Attrition against Israel in the Sinai, although later that year he accepted the Rogers Plan providing for a cease-fire, which went into effect on 7 August 1970 along the Suez Canal. His last action was to negotiate a cease-fire in the Black September conflict between Jordan and the PLO in September 1970. On 28 September 1970 Nasser died of a heart attack. He was replaced at the head of the Egyptian state by his vice president and army colleague Anwar al-Sadat.

SEE ALSO Arab-Israel War (1948);Arab-Israel War (1967);Baghdad Pact;Black September;Gaza Strip;Golan Heights;Lavon Affair;League of Arab States;Muslim Brotherhood;Palestine Liberation Organization;Rogers Plan;Sadat, Anwar al-;Suez Crisis;United Arab Republic;United Nations Emergency Force;West Bank.