Nasser, Gamal Abdul°

views updated


NASSER, GAMAL ABDUL ° (1918–1970), president of the United Arab Republic (Egypt) and spokesman of the Pan-Arab movement. As a leading member of the revolutionary group of "free officers," in 1952 Nasser participated in overthrowing the Egyptian monarchy and establishing a republican regime. Quickly becoming the political leader of the "new" Egypt, he tried, with considerable success, not only to introduce economic and social reforms into his own country (including an agrarian reform and efforts at industrialization), but also to place Egypt and himself in the forefront of the nonaligned nations, the so-called Third World, together with Nehru's India and Tito's Yugoslavia. During this process, his extremely belligerent attitude toward Israel, as well as his interventions in the internal affairs of other Arab states, served as the main instruments of his policy. His anti-Israel policy included the organization of an economic boycott, armed infiltration and sabotage, closing of the Suez Canal to Israel shipping, and open belligerency.

Nasser participated as an officer in Egypt's invasion of the newly established State of Israel in 1948 and was a commander of the regiment besieged at the Faluja pocket. Upon his return to Egypt, he was decisively instrumental in the bloodless military coup, led by General Mohammad Naguib, which overthrew King Farouk. By 1954 he had succeeded in ousting Naguib, assuming full power, and overcoming the opposition of the Muslim Brotherhood and remnants of the previous ruling Wafd Party and the Communists. To reinforce his leadership, he created a political framework that became the only legal party in Egypt. At that time he wrote his book The Philosophy of the Revolution (1955). In the first years of his rule Nasser decisively changed the political course of events in Egypt and the Middle East by several drastic steps. His arms deal with the Soviet Union (ostensibly with Czechoslovakia) overturned the delicate balance of forces between Israel and her Arab neighbors, maintained by the Western powers, and inaugurated the Israel-Egyptian arms race, which from then on dominated the Middle Eastern scene and almost evolved into a confrontation of the super powers in the late 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s. By evicting the last remnant of British forces from the Suez Canal zone and nationalizing the Suez Canal Company (1956), thus removing a barrier between Egypt and Israel, and by his deliberate policy of actively supporting the murderous fedayeen raids deep into Israel territory, from the *Gaza Strip and from Sinai, Nasser exacerbated the situation until it exploded in the *Sinai Campaign. In spite of Egypt's total military defeat, Nasser, mainly with Soviet support, succeeded in converting it, at least in the eyes of his devoted followers, into a political victory that enhanced his prestige.

In 1956 and 1965 Nasser was the only candidate for presidential election. In the course of his reforms, Nasser nationalized the Egyptian press and removed his enemies and critics from influential positions. Over the years his anti-imperialist policy became more and more pro-Soviet, until Egypt became so dependent on the U.S.S.R. in military and economic spheres (heavy armament deliveries, military advisers, the construction of the Aswan Dam and of individual industrial plants, etc.) that in May 1967 Moscow was able to lead Nasser into the adventurous steps that provoked the *Six-Day War. After the defeat, Nasser resigned (on June 9) for a few hours, but reassumed power in response to mass demonstrations in the streets of Cairo demanding the continuation of his leadership. He tried to place the blame for the defeat on the senior military echelons, including his vice president, Marshal Abdel Ḥakīm 'Amer, who committed suicide. Other military leaders were convicted in show trials, and Nasser held a new election to the Arab Socialist Union.

After 1967 Nasser visited the U.S.S.R. several times. In his public pronouncements about Israel, he was careful to formulate the aim of Israel's destruction in non-explicit terms, though from time to time, particularly just before the Six-Day War, he left no doubt that this was the real aim of his policy. This again became clear at the Arab Summit Conference in Khartoum (Aug. 29–Sept. 2, 1967), when he initiated the policy of pledging the Arabs not to recognize Israel, not to negotiate with her, and not to conclude peace agreements with her. Nasser maintained that Egypt's acceptance of the Nov. 22, 1967 Security Council resolution was compatible with the "three noes" of Khartoum, but he interpreted the resolution as demanding an Israeli withdrawal from all occupied territories without negotiations and a peace treaty. When his policy failed to achieve any effective pressure on Israel, he renewed military attacks along the Suez Canal zone. When this failed to achieve its aim and ultimately turned into military setbacks for Egypt, in August 1970 Nasser accepted a U.S. initiative for a limited cease-fire period and indirect negotiations with Israel, under the Security Council resolution, in exchange for an Israeli acceptance of the principle of withdrawal from occupied territories. Nasser died suddenly in September 1970 before the new stage of his policy bore any fruit.

Nasser was adept at adjusting his personal image and tone to whomever he addressed, so that while in Arab eyes he was the incarnation of the fight against Israel and for Arab glory, many Western circles and media were impressed by his reasonableness and moderation. This diversity became particularly evident when, on the one hand, he gave an Indian newspaper editor a copy of the Protocols of the *Elders of Zion as an explanation of the Jewish "world conspiracy," while on the other, with Western people, he continuously stressed that he clearly distinguished between Jewry and Zionism. These declarations notwithstanding, Egypt's Jews suffered persecution and humiliation during his rule, chiefly after Egypt's defeat in 1967.


P. Mansfield, Nasser (Eng., 1969), incl. bibl.: M.H. Kerr, Egypt under Nasser (1968), incl. bibl.; R. St. John, The Boss (1960); J. Joesten, Nasser: The Rise to Power (1960); W. Wynn, Nasser of Egypt (1959); K. Wheelock, Nasser's New Egypt (1960), incl. bibl.; E. Be'eri, Army Officers in Arab Politics and Society (1969).