Gamal Abdel Nasser

Mr President Gamal Abdel Nasser

was the second President of Egypt, serving from 1956 until his death. Nasser led the 1952 overthrow of the monarchy and introduced far-reaching land reforms the following year. Following a 1954 attempt on his life by a Muslim Brotherhood member, he cracked down on the organization, put President Muhammad Naguib under house arrest, and assumed executive office, officially becoming president in June 1956. Nasser's popularity in Egypt and the Arab world skyrocketed after his nationalization of the Suez Canal and his political victory in the subsequent Suez Crisis. Calls for pan-Arab unity under his leadership increased, culminating with the formation of the United Arab Republic with Syria (1958–1961). In 1962, Nasser began a series of major socialist measures and modernization reforms in Egypt. Despite setbacks to his pan-Arabist cause, by 1963 Nasser's supporters gained power in several Arab countries, but he became embroiled in the North Yemen Civil War. He began his second presidential term in March 1965 after his political opponents were banned from running. Following Egypt's defeat by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War, Nasser resigned, but he returned to office after popular demonstrations called for his reinstatement. By 1968, Nasser had appointed himself prime minister, launched the War of Attrition to regain lost territory, began a process of depoliticizing the military, and issued a set of political liberalization reforms. After the conclusion of the 1970 Arab League summit, Nasser suffered a heart attack and died. His funeral in Cairo drew five million mourners and an outpouring of grief across the Arab world. Nasser remains an iconic figure in the Arab world, particularly for his strides towards social justice and Arab unity, modernization policies, and anti-imperialist efforts. His presidency also encouraged and coincided with an Egyptian cultural boom, and launched large industrial projects, including the Aswan Dam and Helwan City. Nasser's detractors criticize his authoritarianism, his government's human rights violations, his populist relationship with the citizenry, and his failure to establish civil institutions, blaming his legacy for future dictatorial governance in Egypt.

Early influences

Aburish asserts that Nasser was not distressed by his frequent relocations, which broadened his horizons and showed him Egyptian society's class divisions.[18] His own social status was well below the wealthy Egyptian elite, and his discontent with those born into wealth and power grew throughout his lifetime.[19] Nasser spent most of his spare time reading, particularly in 1933 when he lived near the National Library of Egypt. He read the Qur'an, the sayings of Muhammad, the lives of the Sahaba (Muhammad's companions),[18] and the biographies of nationalist leaders Napoleon, Atatürk, Otto von Bismarck, and Garibaldi and the autobiography of Winston Churchill.[8][13][20][21] Nasser was greatly influenced by Egyptian nationalism, as espoused by politician Mustafa Kamel, poet Ahmed Shawqi,[18] and his anti-colonialist instructor at the Royal Military Academy, Aziz al-Masri, to whom Nasser expressed his gratitude in a 1961 newspaper interview.[22] He was especially influenced by Egyptian writer Tawfiq al-Hakim's novel Return of the Spirit, in which al-Hakim wrote that the Egyptian people were only in need of a "man in whom all their feelings and desires will be represented, and who will be for them a symbol of their objective".[13][20] Nasser later credited the novel as his inspiration to launch the 1952 revolution

Military career

In 1937, Nasser applied to the Royal Military Academy for army officer training,[23] but his police record of anti-government protest initially blocked his entry.[24] Disappointed, he enrolled in the law school at King Fuad University,[24] but quit after one semester to reapply to the Military Academy.[25] From his readings, Nasser, who frequently spoke of "dignity, glory, and freedom" in his youth,[26] became enchanted with the stories of national liberators and heroic conquerors; a military career became his chief priority.[27] Convinced that he needed a wasta, or an influential intermediary to promote his application above the others, Nasser managed to secure a meeting with Under-Secretary of War Ibrahim Khairy Pasha,[23] the person responsible for the academy's selection board, and requested his help.[24] Khairy Pasha agreed and sponsored Nasser's second application,[23] which was accepted in late 1937.[24][28] Nasser focused on his military career from then on, and had little contact with his family. At the academy, he met Abdel Hakim Amer and Anwar Sadat, both of whom became important aides during his presidency.[23] After graduating from the academy in July 1938,[8] he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the infantry, and posted to Mankabad.[19] It was here that Nasser and his closest comrades, including Sadat and Amer, first discussed their dissatisfaction at widespread corruption in the country and their desire to topple the monarchy. Sadat would later write that because of his "energy, clear-thinking, and balanced judgement", Nasser emerged as the group's natural leader. In 1941, Nasser was posted to Khartoum, Sudan, which was part of Egypt at the time. Nasser returned to Sudan in September 1942 after a brief stay in Egypt, then secured a position as an instructor in the Cairo Royal Military Academy in May 1943.[19] In 1942, the British Ambassador Miles Lampson marched into King Farouk's palace and ordered him to dismiss Prime Minister Hussein Sirri Pasha for having pro-Axis sympathies. Nasser saw the incident as a blatant violation of Egyptian sovereignty and wrote, "I am ashamed that our army has not reacted against this attack",[30] and wished for "calamity" to overtake the British.[30] Nasser was accepted into the General Staff College later that year.[30] He began to form a group of young military officers with strong nationalist sentiments who supported some form of revolution.[31] Nasser stayed in touch with the group's members primarily through Amer, who continued to seek out interested officers within the Egyptian Armed Force's various branches and presented Nasser with a complete file on each of them Nasser's first battlefield experience was in Palestine during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War.[33] He initially volunteered to serve with the Arab Higher Committee (AHC) led by Mohammad Amin al-Husayni. Nasser met with and impressed al-Husayni,[34] but was ultimately refused entry to the AHC's forces by the Egyptian government for reasons that were unclear.[34][35] In May 1948, following the British withdrawal, King Farouk sent the Egyptian army into Palestine,[36] with Nasser serving in the 6th Infantry Battalion.[37] During the war, he wrote of the Egyptian army's unpreparedness, saying "our soldiers were dashed against fortifications".[36] Nasser was deputy commander of the Egyptian forces that secured the Faluja pocket. On 12 July, he was lightly wounded in the fighting. By August, his brigade was surrounded by the Israeli Army. Appeals for help from Jordan's Arab Legion went unheeded, but the brigade refused to surrender. Negotiations between Israel and Egypt finally resulted in the ceding of Faluja to Israel.[36] According to veteran journalist Eric Margolis, the defenders of Faluja, "including young army officer Gamal Abdel Nasser, became national heroes" for enduring Israeli bombardment while isolated from their command The Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum hosted a public celebration for the officers' return despite reservations from the royal government, which had been pressured by the British to prevent the reception. The apparent difference in attitude between the government and the general public increased Nasser's determination to topple the monarchy.[39] Nasser had also felt bitter that his brigade had not been relieved despite the resilience it displayed.[40] He started writing his book Philosophy of the Revolution during the siege.[38] After the war, Nasser returned to his role as an instructor at the Royal Military Academy.[41] He sent emissaries to forge an alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood in October 1948, but soon concluded that the religious agenda of the Brotherhood was not compatible with his nationalism. From then on, Nasser prevented the Brotherhood's influence over his cadres' activities without severing ties with the organization.[36] Nasser was sent as a member of the Egyptian delegation to Rhodes in February 1949 to negotiate a formal armistice with Israel, and reportedly considered the terms to be humiliating, particularly because the Israelis were able to easily occupy the Eilat region while negotiating with the Arabs in March