?Abd Al-Nasser, Jamal (1918–1970)

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˓ABD AL-NASSER, JAMAL (1918–1970)

The Egyptian leader who dominated two decades of Arab history, Jamal ˓Abd al-Nasser was born 15 January 1918, the son of a postal official. Raised in Alexandria and Cairo, he entered the military academy and was commissioned in 1938. Thereafter, he joined a secret Muslim Brotherhood cell, where he met fellow dissidents with whom he later founded the Free Officers. On 23 July 1952 the Free Officers seized power; within a year they outlawed political parties and established a republic. In 1954, they dismissed the figurehead president Muhammad Najib (Naguib) and repressed all opposition. Elected president in June 1956, Nasser ruled until his death. Under his leadership Egypt remained a one-party state. The ruling party changed names several times; the Arab Socialist Union, formed in 1962, survived until 1978 when Nasser's successor, Anwar al-Sadat, abolished it.

A charismatic leader, Nasser drew regional acclaim and international notoriety for his championship of pan-Arabism and his leadership role in the Non-Aligned Movement. His popularity soared during the 1956 Suez Crisis, sparked by Egypt's nationalization of the Suez Canal Company. The tripartite British-French-Israeli invasion failed to topple his regime and solidified his reputation. Frustrated with the pace of social and economic reform, in the early 1960s Nasser promoted a series of socialist decrees nationalizing key sectors of industry, agriculture, finance, and the arts. Egypt's relations with the Soviet bloc improved, but Nasser never turned entirely away from the West. In regional affairs the years after Suez were marked by a series of setbacks. The United Arab Republic (1958–1961) ended with Syria's cessation, and the Yemeni civil war (1962–1967) entangled Egyptian troops in a quagmire.

Many contend that Nasser never recovered from the disastrous defeat by Israel in June 1967. Yet he changed the face of Egypt, erasing class privileges, narrowing social gaps, and ushering in an era of optimism. If Egyptians fault his failure to democratize and debate the wisdom of Arab socialism or the state's secular orientation, many still recall his populist intentions. When he died suddenly of a heart attack on 28 September 1970, millions accompanied his coffin to the grave.

See alsoNationalism: Arab ; Pan-Arabism .


Gordon, Joel. Nasser's Blessed Movement: Egypt's Free Officers and the July Revolution. 2d ed. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1996.

Jankowski, James. Nasser's Egypt, Arab Nationalism, and theUnited Arab Republic. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 2002.

Joel Gordon