Gamal Abdul Nasser 1918-70

Born on Jan 15 1918 in Bacos, Alexandria, Gamal Abdul Nasser came from modest beginnings, having been the son of a postman. In Alexandria, he acquired enough education to gain admission to the Egyptian Military Academy and graduated as an officer by 1938. Having fought in the first Arab-Israeli War in 1948 he witnessed the defeat of the Arabs at the hands of an incompetent government.  As a result, he led the coup that overthrew the King in 1952 and in three years he had risen from an obscure army officer to become Egpyt’s Prime Minister. As Prime Minister, his commitment to nationalism was expressed in two ways: through achieving true Egyptian national independence and through the promotion of national liberation movements throughout the Arab nations and the Third World.

–  “We [the army] have been the ghost used by the king to give people nightmares, but now it’s time for the ghost to turn into a tyrant and tyrannize his sleep.” – Nasser to his comrades before the coup.

An Indian journalist asked Nasser during the first year of the “revolution” about his ideological leanings: “Are you a leftist or a rightist?” Nasser laughed deeply and responded, “I’m a conspirator.”

“I will give democracy to Egypt after 30 years”

Nasser once stated that he was “leader of the Arabs and without me you are nothing. Either take what I have to offer you or leave and never return”

Nasser’s Rise to Power

  • The day after Israel was created, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Transjordan and Egypt invaded (war from 1948-49)
  • The Arab states “were stung by their defeat against Israel”, showing their actual weakness due to their division
  • Egypt felt bitter about the loss, being the largest and oldest Arab state (long proud history), along with millions of Arabs
  • Saw British possession of Suez Canal and its 70,000 troops on Egyptian soil as humiliating
  • They blamed the Egyptian King Farouk for this subservience to the English and his ineffective government for the loss
  • Gamal Abdul Nasser, one of the young officers in the war was “appalled by the incompetence of King Farouk’s government”, along with the rest of the nation
  • Formed Free Officers Movement in 1949 and overthrew gov. in a military coup in 1952
  • Enacted Agrarian reform to start a revolution in Egypt
  • January 1953, country becomes one party state, with Nasser having much influence in new government
  • Became president in 1954, was in full control of the nation, Sudan gains independance
  • Increased support by portraying himself as an Arab Nationalist to the people, fuelling the popularity of the idea, during 1954-55 country wide speeches
  • Arab Socialism, where he made the land ownership limited to 100 acres, redistributed confiscated land in the early 1950’s, while he nationalized the cotton industry, Egypt’s largest sector, in 1961 as well as the banks;
  • There was also the introduction of a expanded education and medical system
  • The result in Egypt had been, “most Egyptians were considerably better off, certainly healthier and better off, than  they had been when Nasser came”

Growth of Nationalism

  • In early 20th century, many Arabs began to exhibit Arab nationalism
  • the idea of Arab unity, as they all spoke one language and had one religion, that there should be a single Arab state
  • Arab revolt of 1916, a rebellion against Turks
  • after war, British and French mandates in Middle East (1919) continued
  • major factor for nationalism was influx of Jewish immigration during the 1930’s from Europe,
  • “opposition to Zionism was the one issue on which all the Arabs of the middle east could agree”
  • 1945, Arab League created to promote unity between nations
  • Independence gained by states: Egypt (1922), Turkey (1923), Saudi Arabia (1932), Iraq (1932), Lebanon (1941), Jordan (1946), Syria (1961)
  • May 14th, 1948, Israel is proclaimed
  • This unified Arab states against what they saw as an enemy/outsider that was invading their home, West was held responsible for the creation of Israel, animosity began…

Rise of Arab Nationalism

  • Negotiated deal with British to remove 70,000 troops at canal, but Britain would retain operation of canal(1954)
  • Nasser had decided to keep Egypt neutral in the Cold War, although pressured by the west to join them
  • British formed anti-soviet pact in Middle East, 1955 Baghdad Pact with Turkey and Iran, trying to convince Iraq to join as well
  • Iraq being an Arab state, Nasser refused to let it join because he saw it as an instrument of western intervention, seducing other Arab nations join, thus isolating Egypt
  • He began his “Voice of the Arabs” campaign against it, using Cairo radio, the Arab world’s biggest radio, as a medium
  • Nasser aimed to preserve the power of Egypt and strengthen his leadership in the Arab world, he used the radio to dominate other Arab nations and their polices, to defy the west
  • “The ‘Voice of the Arabs’ appealed to Arabs of all classes and across national borders. It went to the heart of Arab politics”
  • Arab nationalism, the unity of the Arab states, became a very strong movement ,“Nasser was its champion”.
  • Nasser’s opposition to the Pact had so much Arab support that only Iraq was able to join it, as public opinion was by Nasser’s oratory skills and made it impossible for their governments to do
Suez Crisis: Historical Significance

Confrontation with West

  • In February of 1955, 35 Egyptian soldiers were killed when Israeli troops attacked the Gaga strip in retaliation for raids on Israel from the region
  • In April 1955, Nasser attended the Bandung conference in Indonesia
  • In September 1955, Nasser announced that he had secured arms from the Czech government, in defiance of the West’s arms embargo and retaliation to the Israeli attack
  • “Nasser was seen as a saviour, throwing off the domination of the west and securing the defence of the Arab world”
  • This accumulated into a further move to alienate the west when Nasser recognized communism China in May 1956

Peacetime and Wartime Objectives

Nasser outlined his fundamental goals in what he called the ‘six principles of the revolution’: an end to imperialist control, an end to feudalism, the end of capitalist monopoly, strengthening of the national defense, greater social justice, and a return to parliamentary rule. Nasser intended that Egypt, under military transitional authoritarian rule, should fulfil these principles in order to foster the “political” and “social” revolutions discussed by Nasser in his treatise The Philosophy of the Revolution, which appeared in 1953.

  • 80,000 British troops stationed along the Suez Canal. For the Egyptian regime, all major decisions were constrained by a fear of British military intervention.
  • The Heads of State Agreement was initialed in late July and formally completed on October 19,1954. A phased evacuation began, and the last British soldier departed on June 19, 1956.
  • Nasser abolished the Anglo-Egyptian accords of 1954 on January 1, 1957, freeing Egypt of obligations to any Western power.
  • On January 15, presidential decrees were issued for the “Egyptianization” (nationalization) of seven commercial banks, several credit institutions, and five major insurance companies, which together represented one-half of the banking sector and two-thirds of the insurance sector.
  • Direct defiance to any Western control; Egypt was her own government. Popularity amongst people grew as they took delight in Nasser’s telling off the Western imperialists.
  • Nasser’s newfound popularity enabled him to influence politics in many Arab countries. He assisted liberation movements, undermined Western efforts to create a regional defense pact, and weakened inimical regimes. Arab nationalism soon blossomed into a key ideal of the Nasser regime

Lasting Legacy to World History

Due to Nasser’s popularity, Egypt’s Arab character was then glorified in the January 1956 constitution, which asserted that the Egyptian people “consciously perceives of its existence as a part of the great Arab whole, and correctly acknowledges its responsibility and duty within the common Arab struggle for the victory and glory of the Arab nation.” Nasser actively endorsed the ideals of Arab nationalism and Arab unity from the mid-1950s onward. By lending his prestige and the efforts of his regime to the realization of such ideals, he elevated them to a position of ideological prominence in the Arab world. He inspired (and covertly assisted in) the creation of Arab nationalist and Nasserite parties in the region, he planted the seeds for political unions like the United Arab Republic (UAR), formed by Egypt and Syria in 1958. The possibility of the formation of a grand Arab nation was evident: when Nasser made a triumphal visit to Damascus in February 1958, members of the jubilant crowd picked him up and carried him on their shoulders. (What made this unique was that Nasser was still seated in the parade car!)

The Arab-Israeli Conflict of 1948

  • Israel achieved its independence on May 14, 1948.
  • On that day, the country was invaded by the military forces of Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria.
  • Nearly all able-bodied men, plus many women, were recruited; thousands of foreign volunteers, mostly veterans of World War II, also came to the aid of Israel. The newly independent state rapidly mobilized to meet the Arab invaders.
  • Victories came in rapid succession on all three fronts.
  • The Arab states negotiated separate armistice agreements. Egypt was the first to sign (February 1949), followed by Lebanon (March), Transjordan (April), and finally Syria (July). Iraq simply withdrew its forces without signing an agreement.
  • As a result of the war, Israel considerably expanded its territory beyond the United Nations (UN) partition plan for Palestine at the expense of its Arab neighbors. It was the expansion of Israeli territory that would drive all Arab nations to unite in a common cause over the next 15 years, led under Nasser’s leadership.
The Arab League: Founding & History

Suez Crisis

  • The US and Britain cut funding for the Aswan High Dam in July 1956, in response to the Czech arms deal
  • Nasser responded by calling for the nationalization of the Suez Canal on July 26th, “We dug the Canal with our lives, our skulls, our bones, our blood… We shall defend it with our blood and strength and shall meet aggression with aggression and evil with evil”
  • Its profits would be used to fund the Dam
  • 29th October 1956, Israeli forces invaded Egypt, advancing towards the Canal, while the British and French bombed Egyptian airfields on the 30th, landing on November 5th
  • The Arab states united to oppose the invasion and cut oil to the aggressors, while the US and U.S.S.R both backed Egypt (UN ceasefire on November 6th, withdrawal on same day)
  • Although outside intervention had saved Egypt, through the radio, “it was Egyptian resistance that was portrayed as to have won the day”, as Arabs chanted Nasser’s name with praise and rioted against the West
  • Other Arab states thus fell under pressure to adopt the Egyptian policy, as their masses demanded it, in full influence of Arab Nationalism
  • January 1957, Treaty of Arab Solidarity between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Jordan

United Arab Republic

  • Syria accepted economic aid from the U.S.S.R,  so the US had Turkey place troops on its borders with Syria in late 1957
  • Nasser sent 4,000 troops to Syria to defend the country and display his leadership, as well unleashing much propaganda against the US actions in the Middle East
  • The Syrian parliament voted to form an immediate union with Egypt, and the United Arab Republic was formed on February 1st, 1958
  • Syria, with a population of 4million, would only feel secure if they joined Egypt’s 26 million
  • in July 1958, the Iraqi army killed their king and declared a republic
  • Its creation marked the highest point of Arab Nationalism, with the creation of a Pan-Arab state
  • Syria became disillusioned at the dominance the Egyptians had on the new nation, feeling inferior, while the landlords and businessmen disliked Nasser’s economic reforms in Syria
  • Nasser began to break up large estates in Syria and redistributed land to peasants, nationalized all major industry and the banks, as he had done in Egypt
  • In Syria, this failed and a military coup in September 1961 broke up the UAR
  • Nasser’s reputation as the unifying symbol of all Arabs was tarnished by this event


  • The Yemeni civil war began September 26, 1962, between the Royalists and the Republicans.
  • The Royalists were supported by Saudi Arabia and by October, Egypt’s military had intervened massively on the side of the rebel forces with as many as 70,000 troops.
  • Despite several military moves and peace conferences, the war sank into a stalemate.
  • Egypt’s commitment to the war is considered to have been detrimental to its performance in the Six-Day War of June 1967, after which Nasser found it increasingly difficult to maintain his army’s involvement and began to pull his forces out of Yemen.,

Six Day War and Death of Nasser

  • In 1963, Nasser saw the need for a new unified opposition to Israel, who was in the process of diverting 75% of the Jordan rivers water for their irrigation and industrial development, at the rest of the area’s expense
  • This was used by Nasser as an act of aggression to unify the whole Arab world against Israel, cumulating the in the 1964 Conference of Arab Leaders in Cairo
  • the Palestine Liberation Organization was set up in this meeting to represent the people of Palestine
  • In August 1966, Egypt announced, “Damascus does not stand alone against imperialist plots”
  • Egypt and Syria signed a defence agreement, where an attack on one would be an attack on the other also (1966)
  • Israel attacked Egypt on June 5th, 1967 and destroyed the Arab forces in practically 1 day, the war lasted for only 6
  • Nasser resigned on the 3rd day of the 1967 6-day war, but was forced due to public opinion in the Arab world
  • The loss in the war was humiliating for Egypt and the Arab world, hurting the unity of the nations and Nasser’s prestige
  • After his death in 1970, “the underlying divisions amongst the Arab states came to the surface and revealed how fragmented the Arab world had become”, he was mourned by millions across the Middle East

1 Comment

  1. have we forgotten Mohamed Nagib the leader of the revolution and not Nasser.
    Lets give credit where credit is due.

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