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Text Box: Gamal Addel-Nasser
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Gamal Abdel Nasser (January 15, 1918 – September 28, 1970; Arabic: جمال عبد الناصر name also transliterated as Jamal Abd al-Naser , "Jamal Abd An-Nasser", and other variants) was the leader of Egypt from 1954 until his death in 1970. He is considered one of the most important Arab politicians in modern times, and is especially well-known for his Arab nationalist and anti-colonial foreign policy. The pan-Arabist ideology named after him, Nasserism, won a large following throughout the Arab world in the 1950s and 1960s, and though its importance declined after his death, he is still seen throughout the Arab World as a symbol for Arab dignity and freedom.
Early life
On January 15, 1918, Gamal Abdel Nasser was born in the Egyptian city of Alexandria, the son of a postal worker [1]. He first became interested in politics at the age of eleven when he began attending the Ras el Tin secondary school in Alexandria. He attended his first political demonstration while still a “schoolboy”. At that protest, Nasser “was hit in the face by a police baton”. He was then arrested and placed in jail. [2]
Nasser’s political involvement lasted throughout his school career, and became such a dominant part of his life that during his last year of secondary school, Nasser “spent only forty-five days actually in school” [3]. During that same period, 1935-1936, Nasser was elected chairman of a committee of Cairo secondary school students interested in Egyptian political reform [4]. Then, in March 1937, Nasser was admitted to the Egyptian Military Academy and, temporarily, abandoned his political activities in favor of studying to become an army officer World War II
In 1939, shortly after graduating and being commissioned in the army, Nasser and friend volunteered to serve in Sudan where they arrived shortly before the outbreak of World War Two [5]. During the war, Nasser and Anwar Sadat, another friend and political ally, established contact with agents of the Axis powers, particularly several Italian ones and planned a coup to coincide with an Italian offensive that would expel the British forces from Egypt; however, the plan was never put into execution [6]. During the war, Nasser also began forming a group of other young military officers with strong Egyptian nationalist feelings who supported some form of revolution [7].
At the end of the war, Nasser had no combat experience, having never been stationed on an actual battlefield. Nevertheless he secured a post as an instructor at the Military Academy in Cairo [8]. For the next several years, Nasser worked to organize his group of other reform minded officers and recruit new members. After 1949, this group adopted the name “Free Officers” [9], and “talked of ... freedom and the restoration of their country’s dignity” [10]. [edit]
By 1952, “Egypt was ripe for revolution”. [11] Nasser and the Free Officers seized on this situation to launch a coup on July 23, 1952. That night, 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 [12]. Nasser and his fellow revolutionaries also bowed to American pressure by allowing the deposed King Farouk and his family to “leave Egypt unharmed and ‘with honour’” [13].
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 Revolutionary Command Council, which constituted the real power in Egypt, with Neguib as chairman and Nasser as vice-chairman [14]. 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, Neguib assumed full leadership as the new Prime Minister [15]. [edit]
Conflict with Naguib
In June 1953, with land reform fully underway, Naguib announced the official abolition of the Egyptian monarchy and proclaimed himself President of the Republic of Egypt. After the establishment of the republic, Naguib and Nasser began to come into conflict with each other. These troubles culminated in Naguib’s resignation on February 23, 1954 from his posts as both President and Prime Minister [16]. The Revolutionary Command Council then “joyfully...proclaimed Nasser as Prime Minister” [17]; however, they selected no President at that time. Next, the Revolutionary Command Council placed Naguib under house arrest, hoping to prevent any chance that he would return to power [18].
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 [19]. As a result of these demonstrations, a sizable group within the Revolutionary Command Council, demanded that Nasser allow Neguib 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 [20].
Although it gave him no permanent position, Nasser did use his brief time as Prime Minister to “purge... pro-Naguib elements in the army” [21], 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 military ruler of Egypt. Nasser remained in power over Egypt for the next fifteen years with no major domestic challenges to his power [22].
Suez Canal
Shortly before his full assumption of power, Nasser signed an agreement with Britain that provided for the withdrawal of all British uniformed military personnel from the Suez Canal Zone, although a small civilian force was allowed to temporarily remain. This agreement finally gave Egypt true full independence and ended tensions between Britain and Egypt [23]. Shortly after the treaty with the British, Nasser won forty million dollars in combined financial aid for economic development from the British and Americans [24].
The next year, 1955, Nasser received additional promises for fifty-six million in western money to aid in financing the construction of the Aswan High Dam [25] 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 [26]. In September 1955 Nasser shocked the West by signing an arms deal with East Block country Czechoslovakia. Consequently, in July 1956, the Western Powers retracted their financial offers, forcing Nasser to search for alternate methods to finance the dam [27]. On July 26, as part of a plan to raise money for the dam, and as a powerful reminder to the west that Egypt would do as it pleased, Nasser announced the nationalization of the Suez Canal [28].
Nasser realized that the nationalization of the canal would provoke a strong reaction from the West, especially Britain. However, Nasser believed that Britain would not be able to intervene militarily for at least two months after the announcement, and dismissed the possibility of Israeli action as “impossible” [29]. 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 [30]. After this agreement, “Nasser estimated that the danger of invasion had dropped to 10 per cent” [31].
Nonetheless, 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. However, President Eisenhower and the American government urged the three nations to withdraw their forces, and on November 5, 1956, the Soviet Union issued an ultimatum demanding the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Egypt. Britain, France, and Israel complied, and gradually removed their forces, ending what became known as the Suez Crisis [32]. [edit]
Relationship with the Soviet Union
At the end of the crisis, Egypt was finally freed of all western imperialist pressures [33]. The crisis also drove Egypt into a closer relationship with the Soviet Union [34]. 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 [35]. Construction of the dam began on January 1, 1960 [36] 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 [37].
The Aswan Dam was not the only result of the Egyptian relationship with the USSR. As a result of Soviet influence and domestic factors, Nasser gradually began to move Egypt toward a socialist economic system, at least somewhat shaped by Marxism-Leninism. By 1962, this had led to a minimum 51% government ownership of virtually all Egyptian business [38]. During his official visit to Egypt on May 9-26, 1964, Nikita Khrushchev awarded Nasser the title of the Hero of the Soviet Union, the Order of Lenin and the Soviet Golden Star. [39]
Most historians agree that Egypt under Nasser never truly reached socialism, and under Nasser’s successor, Anwar Sadat, the economy moved back to a more firmly capitalist system [40]. [edit]
Later life
In the three years before his death, Nasser had weathered a considerable crisis resulting from his “colossal blunder” [41] in provoking the 1967 Six Days War with Israel. The crisis culminated with Nasser’s resignation, but he was recalled to power by massive public protests in the streets, and he continued to serve as President until his death.[42]
Nasser died of heart attack on September 28, 1970 at the conclusion of Cairo meeting of leaders of Arab countries regarding Israel [43] and the Black September in Jordan. He suffered hemochromatosis, or Bronze diabetes, a hereditary disease related to excessive iron overload in the body. [edit]
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. Because of his ability to motivate nationalistic passions, as a testament to his influence, “men, women, and children wept and wailed in the streets” [44] after hearing of his death.
Nasser's socialistic economic policies were mainly failures, which produced capital flight and economic stagnation for most of his rule. As a result, Egypt's economic influence in the region declined significantly during his rule, especially after the closure of the Suez Canal after the Six Day War in 1967.

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