Gamal Abdel Nasser (جمال عبد الناصر; Gamāl ‘Abd an-Nāṣir; - January 15 1918 September 28 1970) was the second President of Egypt from 1956 until his death in 1970. Along with Muhammad Naguib, he led the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, which removed King Farouk I and heralded a new period of industrialization in Egypt, together with a profound advancement of Arab nationalism, including a short-lived union with Syria. Nasser inspired anti-colonial and pan-Arab revolutions in Algeria, Libya, Iraq and Yemen, and played a major role in founding the Palestine Liberation Organization, in 1964, and the international Non-Aligned Movement.
Nasser is seen as one of the most important political figures in both modern Arab history and Developing World politics of the Twentieth Century. He is well-known for his nationalist policies and version of pan-Arabism, also referred to as Nasserism, which won a great following in the Arab World during the 1950s and 1960s. Although his status as "leader of the Arabs" was severely tarnished by the Israeli victory over the Arab armies in the Six Day War, many in the general Arab populace still view Nasser as a symbol of Arab dignity and freedom.
Gamal Abdel Nasser was born in Alexandria, the son of Abdel Nasser Hussein, a postal worker from the fellahin town of Beni Mur near the city of Asyut in southern Egypt. Nasser's mother, Fahima Hamad, died in 1926 when Nasser was eight years of age. At the time of his mother's death, Nasser was living with his paternal uncle, Khalil Hussein, in Cairo and was unaware that she had died and did not attend her funeral. It is unknown why Nasser was in Cairo. According to biographer Said Aburish, Nasser's parents "saw a special spark in him and decided to send him to the big city and a better school". Nasser's father remarried and had seven more children. After finishing three years in Beni Mur's Qur'anic school, Nasser, now eleven years of age, attended the Ras-al-Tin, Nahaseen and an al-Nahda secondary schools in Alexandria.
While a student, Nasser was wounded during a demonstration, in which several students tried to cross the al-Roda Bridge in Cairo. Afterwards, he was arrested and detained for two days.
As Egypt remained officially neutral until long after the Axis defeat at the Battle of El Alamein, the Egyptian military did not participate in the war. Nasser's first experience on the battlefield was in Palestine during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, when Egyptian forces secured the area known as the Falluja Pocket. After the war, Nasser gained a post as an instructor at the Royal Military Academy in Cairo. For the next several years, he worked to organize his group of other reform minded officers and recruit new members. After 1949, this group adopted the name “Free Officers”, and “talked of... freedom and the restoration of their country’s dignity”.
By 1952, "Egypt was ripe for revolution. Nasser and the Free Officers seized on this situation to launch the revolution they had long sought on July 23, 1952. That day the Free Officers seized control of all government buildings, radio stations, police stations, and the army headquarters in Cairo. The coup installed General Muhammad Naguib, a hero from the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, as President. In an important move, the newly installed government immediately assured Britain that it would respect British citizens and property in Egypt, greatly diminishing the possibility of intervention against the coup. Nasser and his fellow revolutionaries also gave in to American pressure by allowing the deposed King Farouk and his family to “leave Egypt unharmed and ‘with honour’”.
After assuming power, Nasser and the Free Officers were not interested in undertaking the day to day administration of the Egyptian government. Thus, the Free Officers passed power to Ali Maher, a long-time political insider, whom they appointed as Prime Minister. The Free Officers then formed the Egyptian Revolutionary Command Council, which constituted the real power in Egypt, with Naguib as chairman and Nasser as vice-chairman. However, the Revolutionary Council actually had strong ideological notions, and Maher was forced to resign on September 7, 1952 because he refused to support agrarian reform laws proposed by the Council. At that time, Naguib assumed full leadership as the new Prime Minister.
The Revolutionary Command Council had overstepped its popular support in dealing with Naguib, and large numbers of citizens joined protests demanding that he be reinstated. As a result of these demonstrations, a sizable group within the Revolutionary Command Council demanded that Nasser allow Naguib to return to the Presidency and then hold free elections to select a new President and Prime Minister. Nasser was forced to agree and Naguib reassumed the Presidency. Several days later, Nasser was forced to resign as Prime Minister in favor of Naguib, effectively destroying all progress that Nasser had made towards leadership.
Although it gave him no permanent position, Nasser did use his brief time as Prime Minister to “purge... pro-Naguib elements in the army”, and over the next eight months he gradually forced Naguib from power. Finally, in October 1954, Nasser formally removed Naguib from power and established himself as the effective leader of Egypt. Nasser remained in power over Egypt for the next fifteen years with no major domestic challenges to his power.
Nasser's place in the Egyptian national consciousness was secured following the failed assassination attempt of October 26, 1954 and his own defiant response in the immediate aftermath. During a speech in Manshia Square, Alexandria, a volley of shots rang out. Unharmed, Nasser was heard shouting his defiance over the screams of the crowd. This event provided the final pretext for the removal of Naguib on the grounds of his supposed collaboration with the Muslim Brotherhood who were accused of the failed attempt. In the immediate aftermath numerous members of the Brotherhood were rounded up, Mahmoud Abdul Latif was found guilty of the attempt and the Brotherhood was, to all intents and purposes, crushed. There have subsequently been claims that the whole event was stage managed by Nasser and his supporters. Claims say that Nasser put Naguib under house arrest for years as he doubted Naguib's loyalty to him and his supporters. As he also had doubts about Naguib taking sides with the British military and against Nasser, Naguib continued under house arrest through the first years of Sadat's rule but was released by the end of Sadat's rule.
The new constitution envisages free democratic elections. However, the old political parties have been dissolved and the formation of new ones is prohibited. Candidates for the first five-year term of the National Assembly were chosen exclusively from the lists of the single party, the Liberation Rally, now called the National Union, which is controlled by President Nasser's men. The constitution nominally protects the citizen from arbitrary arrest, but in 1956 the Minister of the Interior was given the power for a 10-year period to arrest anybody charged with counter-revolutionary activity and to order his confinement at administrative discretion. The rights of free speech and free press are guaranteed under the new charter and, on June 19, Nasser announced that the state of martial law which had been imposed at the beginning of the revolution was ended and that press censorship would be lifted. However, Egyptian publications continue to be tightly controlled by the government. Press cables sent abroad must pass the censorship office and are screened for unfavorable news. The new Egyptian constitution in its preamble proclaims as its objectives "the eradication of imperialism, the extinction of feudalism, the destruction of capitalistic influence, and the establishment of a strong national army, of social justice, and of a sound democratic society." It declares Egypt to be a sovereign Arab state with Islam as its religion and Arabic as the official language of the country.
On June 24, a plebiscite was held to ratify the new constitution and was overwhelmingly approved. Of a population of almost 22,000,000, a total of 5,697,467 persons registered and 5,488,225 or 99.8 per cent voted in favor of the new charter. Only 10,045 voted "No." At the same time, Premier Nasser was elected president by a still greater majority. He received 5,496,965 ballots or 99.9 per cent of the total vote. Those who marked their ballots with a red circle approved Premier Nasser's election to the Presidency of the Republic. A new election law, promulgated in March, made voting compulsory for all men and gave to the Egyptian women their option of voting. However, only 150,000 Egyptian women voted.
A few days later, after his election as president, Nasser reshuffled his cabinet and replaced several military members with civilians. On this occasion, he bestowed on eight of his military associates the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Nile, Egypt's highest decoration.
In 1969, after a group of reformers and critics of the regime’s authoritarianism won an election for the board of the Egyptian Judges Club, the direct challenge posed by the vocal judicial leadership proved intolerable to the Nasser regime. Nasser responded with a series of measures subsequently referred to as the “massacre of the judiciary,” including the dismissal of over a hundred sitting judges .
The Egyptian economy was dominated by private capital until the revolution of 1952, which replaced the monarchy with a republic. The new government began to reorganize the economy along socialist lines in the late 1950s. The state played an increasing role in economic development through its management of the agricultural sector after the land reforms of 1952 and 1961. These reforms limited the amount of land an individual or family could own. In the early 1960s the government nationalized much of the industrial, financial, and commercial sectors of the economy.
Egyptian industry progressed very much during Nasser's rule. Capital Investment in industry and mining increased considerably. The National Production Council allocated the equivalent of $36,700,000 in 1954-1955 and $55,100,000 in 1955-1956 for developing electric power, industry, and mining. Private local investment, as reported by the Federation of Egyptian Industries, rose from $8,500,000 in 1953 to $18,000,000 in 1954. Foreign investment amounted to $2,000,000 in 1954, including $1,800,000 in the petroleum industry.
There was also considerable growth in industrial production. Electricity consumption increased from 978,000,000 kW in 1952 to 1,339,000,000 kW in 1954. The cotton yarn output increased from 49,200 to 64,400 tons, and cotton fabric output increased from 157,800,000 meters to 240,900,000 meters. Cement production reached a new high of almost 1,500,000 tons.
In the 1950s, Several important power projects were under construction. Their total ultimate cost had been estimated at $166,000,000. The Talkha station had a capacity of 42,500 kW and supplied electricity to the Northern Nile region. The Northern Cairo station operated at a capacity of 60,000 kW. The Southern Cairo station, was planned to have a capacity of 120,000 kW. A thermal plant at El Tabinne was also planned, with a capacity of 45,000 kW used gases released from the projected steel factory of Helwan. Ongoing construction on the proposed Aswan Dam hydroelectric project aiming at a capacity of 345,000 kW which would supply energy to a nitrogen fertilizer plant. This plant, was to be a major source of artificial fertilizer for Egyptian agriculture and was supposed to produce 370,000 tons of nitrate annually by 1960.
On the other hand, construction of the giant steel mill at Helwan, south of Cairo, was proceeding very slowly. It was supposed to have an initial output capacity of 220,000 tons of steel. The plant was scheduled to start operation in 1957, but construction work had been lagging behind considerably because of engineering difficulties in the location chosen.
Egypt's petroleum refining industry produced approximately 2,203,000 tons in refined products in 1956, but Egyptian domestic consumption amounted to 3,410,000 tons. There had been reports of new petroleum reserves discovered in the Sinai Peninsula and in the Suez desert at that period.
In 1955, the country had a large deficit in its foreign trade balance, amounting to $126,000,000 as compared to $63,000,000 in the preceding year. As a result of this unfavorable trade balance, Egypt's gold and currency reserves dwindled rapidly, falling from $732,000,000 in 1954 to $594,000,000 in August 1956. The blocking of Egypt's sterling accounts abroad, after Nasser's seizure of the Suez Canal, aggravated the currency situation. In 1955, Egypt's balance of payments showed a deficit of $95,200,000. However, during the first half of 1956, Egypt increased its exports to $255,000,000 as compared to $186,000,000 during the corresponding period of 1955 and accordingly reduced its deficit to $40,880,000 as compared with $51,530,000 in 1955.
Egypt continued to spend lavishly on the modernization of its armed forces. The Egyptian budget for the year 1955-1956 foresaw an outlay of £75,400,000 ($216,000,000) for defense as compared to £53,000,000 ($152,000,000) in 1954-1955. The Egyptian army of 200,000 had 50,000 first class combat troops.
By the end of 1955, of the total of 567,000 feddâns subject to sequestration, 415,000 feddâns had been expropriated by the government. However, only a part of this land has been distributed among the small landholders, and the government held most of the expropriated land. By the end of the year 1955, 261,000 feddâns had been reallocated from the government reserve. In addition, 92,000 feddâns had been sold by large to small landowners just prior to the requisition. The government was attempting to organize the beneficiaries of this plan in cooperatives and also to continue the maintenance of the existing irrigation and drainage systems. The land reform of the revolutionary government had undoubtedly benefited the Egyptian peasantry. An Egyptian government source estimated that the new farmers had doubled their incomes, and that setting a limit on rents has reduced the total amount of land rent by $196,000,000.".
The Suez Crisis also drove Egypt into a closer relationship with the Soviet Union. As a part of this new relationship, the Soviets agreed to provide approximately one-third of the cost of the Aswan High Dam and provided four hundred technicians to aid in the construction. Construction of the dam began on January 1, 1960 and was completed in 1970. Its reservoir was named Lake Nasser, honoring Nasser. As it was hoped, the dam was able to produce substantial electric power, 2.1 gigawatts, and is still standing today. During his official visit to Egypt on May 9-26, 1964, Nikita Khrushchev awarded Nasser the title of the Hero of the Soviet Union and the Order of Lenin.
Like many other Arab nationalist leaders, Nasser was a strong proponent of Arab Socialism, and his economic policies were characterized by a centrally planned economy, state subsidies, and state ownership of businesses. By 1962, this had led to a minimum 51% government ownership of virtually all Egyptian business. However, despite his close relationship with the Soviet Union, Nasser was a fierce opponent of Communism within the Arab World itself. He saw atheistic Communism as a threat to the traditional Arab and Christian values of the Arab World and jailed thousands of Egyptian Communists during his presidency. Nasser's campaign against Arab Communists periodically caused tensions with the Soviet Union, yet even after Egypt's defeat in the Six Day War of 1967, after which thousands of Soviet military advisors were stationed in Egypt at Nasser's request, he never relented on his stance, a policy actively continued by his successor Anwar Al-Sadat.
The next year, 1955, the United States promised fifty-six million dollars, along with two-hundred million dollars through the World Bank, to aid in financing the construction of the Aswan High Dam , which Nasser and his allies had begun planning shortly after the revolution. The planned dam would create the largest man-made lake in the world, generate electric power for much of Egypt, provide water for irrigation, and control flooding along the Nile River. In September 1955 Nasser shocked the West by signing an arms deal with the Eastern bloc country Czechoslovakia. Consequently, in July 1956, the Western Powers retracted their financial offers, forcing Nasser to search for alternate methods to finance the dam. On July 26, as part of a plan to raise money for the dam, Nasser announced the nationalization of the Suez Canal.
Nasser realized that the nationalization of the canal would provoke a strong reaction from the West, especially Britain and France that had major shareholdings of the Suez Canal. However, Nasser believed that Britain would not be able to intervene militarily for at least two months after the announcement, and dismissed Israeli action as “impossible”. In early October, the United Nations Security Council met on the matter of the Suez Canal and adopted a resolution recognizing Egypt’s right to control the canal as long as it continued to allow passage through it for foreign ships. After this agreement, “Nasser estimated that the danger of invasion had dropped to 10 per cent”.
France approached Israel and Britain secretly with a plan to gain control over the Suez canal. The plan was that Israel would finally counter attack the daily attacks on her from the Egyptian controlled Gaza strip. The Israelis were to seize the Sinai Peninsula and when they reached the Suez Canal British and French forces would enter as a buffer zone between the two countries and thus retake control over the Suez Canal. On October 29, Israeli forces moved into the Sinai Peninsula, and on October 31, a joint force from Britain and France entered the Canal Zone. U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, however, was enraged by this secret plan he was not aware of, and the American government urged the three nations to withdraw their forces. On November 5, 1956, the Soviet Union issued an ultimatum demanding the withdrawal of all-foreign forces from Egypt. Britain, France, and Israel complied, after Britain was forced "into a corner" by the United States threat of destabilizing the British economy and gradually removed their forces, ending what became known as the Suez Crisis. Nasser was perceived as the hero and winner, this heightened his status as the leader of the Arab world.
Nasser's policies became associated with Pan-Arabism, which promoted aggressive action by Arab states to confront the "imperialist" West, and urged that the resources of the Arab states should be used for the benefit of the Arab people and not the West. In a 1967 speech, Nasser declared, "We can achieve much by Arab action, which is a main part of our battle. We must develop and build our countries to face the challenge of our enemies."
In 1958, Syrian military and civilian leaders requested a merger of Syria and Egypt. Somewhat surprised by the sudden request and unsure as to whether the time was ripe, Nasser nevertheless agreed and the United Arab Republic came into being. Many saw it as the first step towards the establishment of a pan-Arab state. Attempts were also made to include Yemen. However, the UAR was not a success; In Syria, Egyptian bureaucrats and officers were seen as acting dictatorially, and the rapidly expanded secret police harshly repressed opposition groups including the Muslim Brotherhood and the Syrian Communist Party. Meanwhile, the Syrian bourgeoisie did not gain the access to Egyptian markets that it had hoped for. Discontent among the Syrian bourgeoisie and officer corps led to secessionists taking control in Damascus, and the UAR was dissolved in 1961, although Egypt continued to use the name until 1971. Egyptian intervention in Yemen involved the UAR in a bloody civil war in that country.
Nasser was convinced that a regiment of Egyptian Special Forces and a wing of fighter-bombers would be able to secure the Yemeni Republican coup d'état. Within three months of sending troops to Yemen, Nasser realized that this would require a larger commitment than anticipated. By early 1963, he would begin a four-year quest to extricate Egyptian forces from Yemen, using an unsuccessful face-saving mechanism, only to find himself committing more troops. A little less than 5,000 troops were sent in October 1962. Two months later, Egypt had 15,000 regular troops deployed. By late 1963, the number was increased to 36,000; and in late 1964, the number rose to 50,000 Egyptian troops in Yemen. Late 1965 represented the high-water mark of Egyptian troop commitment in Yemen at 55,000 troops, which were divided into 13 infantry regiments of one artillery division, one tank division and several Special Forces as well as paratroop regiments. Egypt paid a very high price in the Yemen war and the Egyptian army sustained high losses during this war.
After the USSR informed Nasser of Israeli plans to attack Syria, Nasser sought the re-militarization of the Sinai peninsula and demanded that United Nations Emergency Force evacuate the Sinai, a request with which UN Secretary-General U Thant complied. Nasser then began to re-militarize the Sinai. On May 23, he closed the Straits of Tiran, through which Israel had gained access after the 1956 war, to Israeli shipping, blockading the Israeli port of Eilat at the northern end of the Gulf of Aqaba, Israel's only access to the Indian Ocean. The closure was considered by Israel to be a casus belli.
During this period, Nasser continually stated his intention to attack Israel, and declared that other Arab nations should support him. Israel responded preemptively to the imminent attack in what became known as the Six Day War. The first wave of attacks by the Israeli air force destroyed most of the Egyptian (and other allied Arab) air forces on the ground. A withdrawal order was issued by the defense minister Abdel Hakim Amer which was a disaster to the Egyptian troops. Most of the Egyptian losses were during this withdrawal. The loss in the Six Day War was one of the most disastrous political blows in Egyptian history and a humiliation to the leaders and people of Egypt.
"I have taken a decision with which I need your help. I have decided to withdraw totally and for good from any official post or political role, and to return to the ranks of the masses, performing my duty in their midst, like any other citizen. This is a time for action, not grief.... My whole heart is with you, and let your hearts be with me. May God be with us
No sooner was the statement broadcast, however, than millions were pouring into the streets in mass demonstrations not only in Egypt but in streets across the Arab World. Their rejection of Abdel-Nasser's speech was expressed in a battle cry: "We shall fight". As a consequence, Nasser led Egypt through the War of Attrition in 1969-1970.
In 1969, after a group of reformers and critics of the regime’s authoritarianism won an election for the board of the Egyptian Judges' Club, the direct challenge posed by the vocal judicial leadership proved intolerable to the Nasser regime. Nasser responded with a series of measures subsequently referred to as the “massacre of the judiciary,” including the dismissal of over a hundred sitting judges .
Death and funeralNasser died of a heart attack on September 28, 1970 at the conclusion of a meeting in Cairo of leaders of Arab countries regarding Israel and of the Black September in Jordan. He suffered from hemochromatosis, or Bronze diabetes, a hereditary disease related to excessive iron in the body.
Because of his ability to motivate nationalistic passions, as a testament to what one would call the future of his influence, "men, women and children wept and wailed in the streets after hearing of his death. His funeral on October 1 was one of the largest in history, attended by an estimated seven million people. The six-mile (10 km) procession to his burial site began at the Revolutionary Command Council with MIG-21 jet fighters flying overhead. Emotions, which included telecasters crying on the air, boiled over in the 40-degree heat as thousands swarmed the soldiers who were carrying the coffin and began what was described as "the people's procession." Sadat, who had been interim President following Nasser's death, was officially selected to succeed him on October 5.
NasserismNasser's legacy is much debated even today in the Arab World. For many people, he was a leader who reformed his country and re-established Arab pride both inside and outside it. Thus, many argue that Nasser freed Egypt from European domination and reformed its economy through his agrarian reform, projects such as the Aswan High Dam, and his moves towards greater government economic involvement. But others see his administration as one of forceful militarism that led Egypt to grave defeats and losses rather than peace and prosperity. In addition, Nasser's suppression of the political opposition and the massive expansion of the police and security apparatuses left a legacy of political repression exploited by his successors until the present. Nasser's role in the Six Day War, which led to tremendous losses for the Arab states, tarnished his legacy and reduced his power in the Arab World. In the last years of his rule, Nasser came to rely increasingly on aid from the Soviet Union.
On the other hand, Nasser's role in modernizing Egypt's education system - making education freely available to the poorer masses, and his avid support of the arts, such as the theater, the film and music industries, as well as literature, is seen as having a positive impact on Egypt and the Arab World as a whole.
Aswan DamOne of the most controversial of Nasser's achievements is the creation of the Aswan Dam and the eponymous lake in southern Egypt. Built to provide electricity for heavy industry and reduce the risk of flooding along the Nile River, the dam submerged most of Nubia's archeological remains (except the ones saved by UNESCO). It also created major ecological problems. The lake's huge surface lets a significant part of the Nile's water evaporate in vain, while the dam prevents sediment from enriching the delta soil. According to some agronomists, the Nile valley's agricultural productivity subsequently decreased. Still, the dam helped provide electric power to Egypt's then growing economy, and was essential in modernizing rural Egypt through the introduction of electricity. The dam also spared Egypt from many floods that plagued the countries through which the Nile flowed.
Nasser was married to Tahia Kazem (born 1920), the daughter of a humble clerk of Iranian origin. They had five children (three sons and two daughters): Khalid, Abdel Hakeem, Abdel Hameed, Hoda and Mona.
The couple's eldest daughter, Hoda Abd El Nasser, became a researcher in politics and a professor of Political Science in Cairo University. With her help, various rare documents have been gathered, documented and displayed at Bibliotheca Alexandrina as well as on the internet.
Mona, the couple's other daughter, was married to Egyptian billionaire Ashraf Marwan until his death in 2007. Ashraf had long been suspected of being involved in military sales and espionage as either a spy for Israel or as a double agent. However, he was seen being greeted warmly by current Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2004, while attending Gamal Mubarak's wedding in 2007 and was hailed as a national hero by Mubarak after Marwan's death. Ashraf Marwan's son, Ahmed, was married to Hania Moussa, daughter of Amr Moussa, Egypt's former Minister of Foreign Affairs and current Secretary-General of the Arab League.
-  Abdel-Malekh, Anouar. Egypt: Military Society. New York: Random House, 1968.
-  “Aswan High Dam”. Encyclopaedia of the Orient. 1996-2006. 25 March 2005
-  Copeland, Miles. The Game of Nations. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1969.
-  Heikal, Mohamed. The Cairo Documents: The Inside Story of Nasser and His Relationship with World Leaders, Rebels, and Statesmen. New York: Doubleday, 1973.
-  Egypt’s Judges Step Forward
-  Nutting, Anthony. Nasser. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1972.
-  Stephens, Robert Henry. Nasser; A Political Biography. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972.
President Nasser authored several books during his life.
- "Gamal Abdel Nasser Memoires on the 1948 Palestine war" (published 1955)
- "Towards freedom" (published 1959)
- "Egypt's Liberation The Philosophy of the Revolution" (published 1955) link:http://nasser.bibalex.org/nasserBooks/BookView.aspx?BID=1 (Arabic)
- Video Clip analysing why Nasser ordered UN out of Sinai in 1967
- Video Clip analysing [[unintended consequence]s of Nasser's action]
- Nasser's Challenge by Professor Martin Gilbert
- Video of scenes in Nasser's life