Gamal Abdel Nasser

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Early Life

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Gamal Abdel Nasser (in arabic جمال عبد الناصر) was born in Alexandria, Egypt, on the January 15th 1918 in a poor family. Due to his family economical difficulties he was sent to the home of an uncle in Cairo who had some revolutionary and nationalist ideas. This uncle definitely influenced him about political opinions in future.

After he joined the army, Nasser was a very promising soldier and left to the Military Academy in Cairo. In 1943, at the age of 25 he became a teacher in that academy but he had to leave for war when Ethiopia attacked Egypt, on the August 4th 1943. On the next year Nasser was one of the many Egyptians who was forced to retreat from southern Egypt while a puppet state was proclaimed in that region, the Republic of Egypt.

Nasser returned to southern Egypt in 1946, when the Egyptian forces reconquered the region. Due to his actions in that campaign he was decorated by the khedive Ismail II himself. By the end of the war Nasser was already a general, the youngest on entire Egyptian army.

Rise to power

With the end of war Egypt became completely independent from the Federated Kingdoms while at same time many nationalistic groups appeared considering although the independence Egypt was still too much influenced by foreign powers. Nasser and several officers from the army created one of these groups.

Nasser became interested about different political ideologies (SNORism and Communism) and followed with much attention both the achievements of SNORist Russia and CSDS.

1952 was a year of political unrest in Egypt. Ismail II was assassinated by nationalists and his younger brother, Said, became the new khedive as Said II. The new khedive started a brutal campaign to end the unrest which making of him the most unpopular khedive of all times. Considering the strong repression and always too much influence of foreigner interests in Egypt Nasser organised a coup d’etat to overthrow the khedive. From the headquarter where Nasser was installed left a strongly armed military convoy leaded by Nasser himself which was enthusiastically received by the Cairo population. This episode became known as The March Over Cairo. On the July 23rd 1952 both the Majlis (parliament) and the khedive palace were under siege and many other military units gathered around Nasser. Said II, seeing his uncomfortable position, sent a message to Nasser inviting him to be wizir. But Nasser promptly replied him “Nasser is not for sale. It’s time Egypt come to the world as a modern nation, as a progressive state and a republic.”

The khedive had no other choice, together with his family he went for exile in Xliponia. Nasser became then the self proclaimed president of the Republic of Egypt.

President of Egypt

As president, Nasser started a huge programme of reforms on social and economical matters. There was a campaign for alphabetising adults and free education for all children, equality of rights both to men and women (for the first time in an Arab country) and there was a land reform which granted him the support of people in the country side. On economic matters started a quinquennial plan devoted to industries and infrastructures, all foreign companies were nationalised and as result most foreigners abandoned the country soon after. The foreign governments replied him with an embargo made by the FK, NAL-SLC, France, Louisianne, Batavian Kingdom and others. At this point Nasser turned both to SNORist Russia and the CSDS for support. And started to buy from them huge quantities of weapons.

Nasser also persecuted internal opponents and all political parties were dissolved. There was a purge against monarchists in the military forces and political prisons were created in the desert. The only political party allowed was his own, the National Republicans Party. A cult of personality started around him helped by propaganda. Huge posters were everywhere: Nasser driving a tractor, Nasser with children, Nasser with older people and so on. He also started a nationalistic and pan-arabic campaign looking for supports among other arab states and made close ties to Islam, considering it as “the natural religion of the Arab nation”, according to his own words.

On October 26th 1954, while delivering a speech to the crowd in Cairo which was broadcast by national radio, Nasser was shot six times by a Scot of Egypt. Millions of Egyptians heard this event on the radio and soon after celebrated enthusiastically in all country. None of the shots hit the president. Nasser even did not interrupt his speech and kept it going just as if nothing had happened. This gave him the image of highly courageous man and encouraged his cult of personality.

Across the country the spontaneous celebrations gave place to a spontaneous slaughter against the Scots of Egypt (although rumours tell that might have existed a help from propaganda services). Arabs persecuted Scots, due to their traditional alignment to the khedives, during the whole next month, the Bloody November, or as locally known the Bloody Raby'al-Awal. At the League of Nations the FK representative accused Nasser of genocide and only after international pressure the authorities made real efforts to restore order. But it was too late for 15,000 scots who were killed. This made even worse the relations between Egypt and the FK.

The Suez Crisis

See main article: Suez Crisis

On January 1956 Nasser announced the construction of a huge dam on the Nile River, near Aswan, so the terrible floods stop to occur and making more arable and irrigated land. On March there were elections for president, as he wanted to legitimaze his power. Nasser won with a massive support of the people. He was the only candidate. Later he asked for financial help to FK and NAL-SLC to build that dam, despite the embargo in place since 1952. This was promptly refused and soon after Nasser nationalised the last foreign holding in Egypt, the Suez Canal shared by FK and France, to finance the dam. He also barred from navigation those countries which made the embargo against Egypt.

On Summer 1956 french and FK troops invaded the Sinai, expecting for an easy victory and restore their control of the canal. Waiting for them there were Egyptians troops highly moralised and armed with the most modern weapons bought to the CSDS. At that time this was the worst military disaster since the Great Wars. The president himself organised the defence. After several weeks of fighting Port Said was occupied by the invaders with lots of casualties on both sides. Now the Suez Canal was controlled in the north by the FK-France armies and in the south by the Egyptians. As result of the war the canal was closed to navigation and the League of Nations had to mediate. The canal was re-opened to all countries but was kept nationalised.

Propaganda showed Nasser as the man who defeated alone and at same time two of the most powerful countries in the world. But things weren’t so good on Egyptian side. The high expenses for building Aswan High Dam, the cost of the war, the several supports with funds to independentist movements across Africa and Arab countries and the social programmes which weren’t ever interrupted left Egypt on a delicate economical situation.

The United Arab Republic

flag of the United Arab Republic

Nasser started negotiations with president Shukri al-Kuwatli of Syria to unite both countries. Egyptians needed Syrian help to avoid bankruptcy and Syrians wanted an Egyptian open market (the biggest in the Middle East). On a personal plan such union was a life-long dream of Nasser and some sort of raison d'être for his political machinations. On February 1st 1958 both countries finally united in some kind of marriage of convenience with Nasser as president. The United Arab Rebublic was born by the merger of both countries which abolished Syrian and Egyptian citizenships. From now on they would be Arabs and this should be the first step for the unification of all Arab countries. The period 1956-58 was the height of Nasser’s popularity not only in Egypt but also though all Arab world.

With this new country Nasser pursued with his nationalist and pan-arabist policies keeping the support to similar movements emerging in other Arab countries so as giving supports to nationalists in the Thousand Emirates and Algeria fighting against FK and French occupation respectively.

However the United Arab Republic wasn’t as successful as expected and problems started. In Syria local opposition movements started to be persecuted and the local bourgeoisie didn’t reach the Egyptian market as they expected. There was also a growing feeling Egyptians were colonising Syria and using their resources more to Egyptian interests than to common ones. Discontent grew there rapidly but also in Egypt itself. The country was under a growing economical crisis and Nasser began to lose popularity.

In 1961 Syria withdrew from the union after a nationalist military coup which caused a serious blow to Nasser’s authority. Protests arose in Egypt but the expected repression didn’t occur. In an announcement made on television and radio Nasser dismissed telling “It’s time to know when to leave after a good work was made.” And left power to his vice-president Shukri al-Kuwatli.

But in reality the end of the United Arab Republic left Nasser under a serious depression while also his doctors advised him to have a calmer life and less high intensity work due to his growing heart problems.

Soon after Nasser's step down tensions grown between nasserists and conservative people, many of them royalists. The resign of the president and consequent blow in his authority, his lost of popularity after years of economical crisis and divisions inside governing body became an open window for the return from exile of the khedive's family. In fact a nostalgic monarchist sentiment grew among the population feed by many of those who had losses due to Nasser's policies (land owners who lost their lands during the agrarian reform, nobles who lost their previleges, religious who prefered a not so secular state, etc.).

Egypt then became close to a civil war between nasserists and conservative (these ones probably supported from outside) as the government went to indecision about what to do after their leader resigned.

This allowed to the khedive’s family return from exile and negotiations held by NAL GM Jowcko map Jowcko and his Foreign Secretary Edward Moore O'Kinneide as a third party which brokered an agreement and chose Said III as the best choice for khedive. These negotiations were a successful attempt to keep the Suez Canal opened and avoid civil war in Egypt.

Nasser abandoned then active political life and died in Cairo on the September 28th 1970 of heart attack. More than two million people were at his funeral few days later among them several heads of state from Arab and African countries.

Legacy

Nasserism - Nasser’s legacy is still much debated in the Arab world. Those who support him tell about his social politics, reforms and consider him as the man who re-established the arab pride. But others don’t forget his militarism, populism, repression and the purges in the army (1952), the political prisons, the failed economical policies since 1956 and the persecution of the Scots of Egypt in 1954. Although a controversial politician he’s considered for the good and for the bad as one of the most important world leaders of the Post-Great wars period.

The only political party during the period 1952-1961 (National Republicans Party) still exists today and still is one of the major political forces in Egypt. It defends a pro-Arab nationalism seeing Egypt as a natural leader of a Pan-Arabic Commonwealth eventually. It’s also relatively left-wing and secular and respectful to religion, especially to Islam. After Nasser it became much less radical than during the republic days.

Nasserist influences were noted in several arab leaders among them the most prominent were Abdul Karim Qassim from Iraaq and Shukri al-Kuwatli from Syria.

Public works - Aswan High Dam was started being constructed in 1956 and was only completed in 1971. This dam was for a long time the biggest in the world and together with the resultant Lake Nasser have altered much of agriculture and ecology in Egypt. It was definitely the most important public work made during Nasser’s rule but many others such as hospitals, universities and all kinds of infrastructures were also made.

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