The present research paper will analyze the state of affairs in Egypt under the presidency of Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918-1970), and trace the elements of Nasser’s legacy which were observed in the domestic and international politics of Egypt even after the death of this prominent leader.
He survived in the memories of descendants as the godfather of a pan-Arab nationalist movement which was called “Nasserism” after his name. It was especially popular in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, when the second President of Egypt Nasser contributed to initiating anti-colonial and pan-Arab revolutions in Algeria, Libya, Iraq, and Yemen as well as establishing the Palestine Liberation Organization and the international Non-Aligned Movement.
The Path to Leadership Nasser was the senior son of a district postmaster in Alexandria. As his mother died young, and his father remarried, Gamal spent his childhood and youth in the uncle’s family.
He started participating in various anti-British political demonstrations as early as at age eleven.
By the time Nasser finished school and entered the law department of the University of Cairo in 1936, he had already been elected the leader of a nationalist organization of Cairo secondary school students who fought for the nationwide political reform. Nasser was interested in the martial career but his first application to the Egyptian Military Academy was rejected. However, he succeeded in entering the Academy on the second attempt, in March 1937.
From then onwards, Nasser tried to follow the two famous army commanders – Napoleon I and Kemal Atatürk – in his attempts to become an outstanding military officer. As Thornhill stated, Nasser emerged “from the shadows of the military junta,” being a “natural conspirator” (892). During the studies at the Academy, he actively participated in discussing the future of Egypt which faced the problems of “poverty, imperialism, and the power of the landed aristocracy” (Feinstein 556). He devised a project of the anti-British revolutionary organization with many cells across Egypt to remove the British control exercised over his native land.
Upon graduation in 1939, Nasser served as a volunteer in Sudan during World War II. There he contacted representatives of the so-called Axis alliance which was formed by Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan to fight against “The Big Three” of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United States of America, and the United Kingdom. During that period, Nasser also initiated a relationship with agents of a religious fundamentalist group called the Muslim Brotherhood. After World War II, a young officer participated in the first Arab-Israeli War.
By 1948, Nasser had been promoted to a lieutenant colonel of infantry. Around that time he joined Free Officers Society whose members desired to reinforce the status of Egypt after the separation of Palestine in 1947 and the defeat of Arab forces by the Israelis in 1948. The climax of Society’s activity was the bloodless military coup which took place on July 23, 1952. King Farouk was unmade, and the military junta started forming the new pro-nationalist Cabinet of Ministers and Parliament.
After the coup, Nasser was elected vice-chairman of the Egyptian Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) to voice the interests of young and ambitious officers who sought for political and financial aid from the United States. On June 18, 1953, Egypt was proclaimed to be a republic. General Muhammad Naguib took the positions of both President and Prime Minister but had to resign in February 1954. The post of Prime Minister was given to Nasser.
About nine months later he gained absolute power over the country. The Elements of Nasserism The reputation of Gamal Abdel Nasser as a charismatic political leader of Egypt was formed by a series of initiatives. First, he introduced a number of social and economic reforms such as the nationalization of the Suez Canal (1956), the liquidation of feudal land-ownership, the nationalization of enterprises, and the universalization of education. Second, he established a militarist government that had been holding its hand on the pulse of internal and external affairs of the Egyptian nation for almost fifteen years.
Third, he projected the politics of neocolonialism onto the whole Middle East territory. Nasser ideas of pan-Arabism supported the creation of the United Arab Republic in an alliance with Syria (1958-1961) as well as the attempt to gain military and political control over Yemen and Palestine. The following sections will analyze in depth the elements of Nasserism in the domestic and international politics, namely the land reform, Egyptianization or nationalization of the national economy, universalization of educational system, and some principles guiding the foreign policy of Egypt under the Presidency of Nasser. Domestic Policy Before his president election, Nasser covered his rears by creating the Liberation Rally, the predecessor of the Arab Socialist Union, in January 1953.
By June 1956, when the new Constitution was issued, the President had done his best to eradicate all the political parties except for the Liberation Rally (which received the name of the National Union) from the political scene. Nasser and the three of his colleagues from the Egyptian Revolutionary Command Council had power to form an “authoritarian-mobilizational regime” (Feinstein 558) by nominating 350 members to the National Assembly. What were the principles of Nasserism at those years? As Feinstein observed, Nasser was remarkable for brilliantly using “a biting and belligerent rhetoric” (562) to serve his political ambitions. One of the first internationally important speeches delivered by the second President of Egypt to the broader public was heard by the participants of the first Afro-Asian excolonial states meeting in Bandung, Indonesia, on April 18, 1955.
At the meeting, Nasser named the six strands of the Egyptian domestic and international policies, which the new government declared to follow: First – to raise the standards of living of the average Egyptian, both materially and morally. Second – to provide the country with genuine democratic institution. Third – to abolish feudalism through land reform. Fourth – to liberate our national economy from the grip of monopoly which deprives the individual of his real freedom and the state of its proper authority.
Fifth – the strengthening of our national army as a guardian of our sovereignty and international responsibilities. Sixth – promotion of social justice. (Nasser, “Egypt” 1257) It is worth analyzing how the government of Nasser implemented those principles throughout the late 1950s and the 1960s.Economy By the 1950s, Egypt remained a rural country with the economics mainly relying on the feudal system of ancestral land ownership.
People lived either in large urban centers, or ran farms in rural districts (the latter were called “the fellahins”). As Feinstein stated, there were only two thousand wealthy landlords (they were called “pashas”) within the population of about nineteen million people. In other words, the most fertile and well irrigated lands belonged to hardly the tenth part of the Egyptians. National economy of the country was based on exporting agricultural goods, especially cotton, and the products of the iron and steel industry.
To gain popularity with the fellahins, Nasser raised a large sum of money from the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to conduct the radical land reform. As Thornhill emphasized, it was “the junta’s method for undercutting the political influence of Egypt’s pasha elite and establishing its own links with the peasants” (900). In September 1952, the land estates exceeding two hundred acres were confiscated from their owners and passed to the poorer farmers. However, the distribution was far from being fair since “[o]nly one in five who needed land received it” (Feinstein 559).
The ceiling for individual land shares was later on reduced from two hundred to one hundred acres in 1961 and from one hundred to fifty acres in 1969. Characterizing the state of Egyptian economy under the Presidency of Nasser, Berberoglu argued that Nasserism “rallied the support of broad segments of the masses and used the state as an instrument of national capitalist development under petty-bourgeois bureaucratic rule” (44). The final aim of the national economic program devised by Nasser’s government was to directly control the market formed after the integrated capitalist model so that to promote the needs of the national and petty bourgeoisie and to consolidate the Egyptian economy under the state control. The most important economic tendency under Nasser’s Presidency was nationalization or Egyptianization, as Nasser himself put it, of private and foreign-owned enterprises.
Berberoglu observed that the governmental policy of nationalization and capitalization of the national economy proceeded in the four phases. First, the land reform of 1952 signaled the shift of Egypt towards industrialization and the state-capitalist structure. Second, the 1956 constitution reinforced the influence of the central government by forcing private capital, which had played the most important role in Egyptian economy before 1952, to contribute more effectively to the national wealth, and by introducing five-year economic plans. Third, the Suez War of 1956 triggered the wave of expropriating enterprises with foreign capital share and delegating their ownership to the Egyptian state.
To be precise, in January 1957, the state government introduced a package of laws which forced the Suez Canal Company, which had been owned by the French and British capitalists, to sell the biggest share to the Egyptian government. During the same period, the foreign owners of all the banks and insurance companies were made to pass their property to Egyptian banks. From 1957 until the end of the 1960, the state managed to increase its share in each realm of the national economy, including industry, finance, trade, and consumer goods production. It encouraged the emergence of cooperatives and restricted small business structures to functioning on the margins of the economic system.
Finally, Nasser’s death ended the period of Egyptianization, and the “Open Door” economic politics was proclaimed. As Berberoglu observed, the post-Nasser Egypt faced serious troubles in its national economy due to the political legacy of the second President. Although the state succeeded in its economic goals of fostering national industrialization during the state-capitalist period, the narrow bureaucratic and technocratic perspective of state officials prevented them from developing a clear understanding of Egyptian society and its class divisions. Without a class perspective on the prevailing social structure, the new rulers ended up supporting and enhancing capitalist relations of production in a new state-sanctioned setting.
Thus, together with the nationalization of foreign firms, development of cooperatives, and promotion of government ownership of banks and production facilities that promoted national industrialization, this period also witnessed the gradual expansion of private capital that later came to challenge the very basis of the state-capitalist economy. (46-7) Berberoglu supported his assumptions by quoting Ahmad Azim, the author of the book titled “Egypt: The Origins and Development of a Neo-colonial State.” Azim named five mechanisms which drew Egypt from its nationalist social organization to infitah, the “Open Door” economic program. Those mechanisms were: first, the orientation of the old and new bourgeoisie towards the United States politics which asserted imperialism; second, the Egyptian government and elite were involved into a hot debate over the issue of power control; next, the third President of Egypt, Sadat, cooperated with radical conservative groups; it resulted in the restoration of conservative principles in the national economy, which tendency, finally, paved the way to Egypt for the Westerners.
According to Azim, the policy of infitah was based on the three following principles: “to attract foreign capital; to encourage the Egyptian private sector; and to alter the nature of the Egyptian public sector” (qtd. in Berberoglu 47). Throughout the 1970s and the 1980s, Egypt witnessed the emergence of the new business elite which pursued the commercial and landowning goals with the strong support of foreign capital. As Berberoglu emphasized, the United States had managed to invest around $10 billion to 100-percent foreign-owned and joint venture enterprises operating in the sectors of the Egyptian market (excluding the banking sector) by the early 1980s.
Singerman, however, stressed that the share of foreign investments was not enough to drag the Egyptian economy out of the deep crisis. During the period from 1982 to 1990, the proportion of private investments had increased from £E 113 million to £E 10.7 billion. It is remarkable that only 17 percent of those shares were contributed by the foreigners, whereas 19 percent were invested by the entrepreneurs from various Arab countries, and the overwhelming majority of 64 percent were made by the Egyptians.
In other words, the scholar observed that there were domestic and not foreign businessmen who contributed to the modernization of the national economic system under Nasser’s successors. Berberoglu defined the state of the national economy in Egypt in the post-Nasser period as “a neocolonial capitalism dependent on imperialism” (48). The traditional form of old-fashioned colonialism in the first half of the 20th century took place when some mother countries (e.g.
, Great Britain and France) overtly controlled the colonial countries (e.g., Egypt) in terms of economy and socio-cultural life, placing large garrisons in the colonies and restricting the power of local elites. Since the 1970s, the politics of colonialism was modified so that the former colonies seemed to be politically independent states but relied extensively on the financial support from European countries and the United States.
To summarize, Nasserism in the realm of economy was extinct shortly after the death of its founder. Social Life Nasser introduced serious changes to the social life of Egyptians. He was known for modifying the state of the national education and medical systems. Singerman called Nasser’s social policy “ambitious” (xiii) so far as it granted citizens of the Republic of Egypt with free public education and free health care, stabilized the national labor market, introduced the age ceiling regarding pensions, and reduced food prices.
Resources were spread from the state to its citizens under a “social contract” which “induced considerable upward social mobility on the part of less-privileged social groups and raised the expectations of others” (Singerman xiii). That was a reason of Nasser’s constant popularity among the Egyptians despite his defeats in international affairs. Since he gained Presidency, Nasser had never been tired of encouraging the foundation of schools in rural districts which were inhabited by illiterate farmers. The public system of schooling was made free at every level, from elementary schools to the universities.
As Feinstein acknowledged, Nasser insisted on restructuring the medical network so that clinics were being built across the country, and people’s access to medical services was made easier. The most part of those advancements in a social life of the Egyptians was degraded in the later years. As a part of modernization and Egyptian-style socialism, the state encouraged women to become educated and seek employment in the then-expanding state and public sector, which also offered relatively high wages. Subsidies of food and basic health care made it possible for households to direct their scarce resources toward educating their children, including daughters.
However, as the state, under Sadat and his successor, Hosni Mubarak, withdrew from its provisionary role, the economic burdens of the household radically increased. (Singerman xiii) As Singerman stated, in the mid-1980s, the rate of inflation started growing at an unbelievable speed. Earlier, the standard of living in Egypt used to be held at an appropriate level by artificially lowering down the so-called food and beverage index which was directly related to the cost of food products. In 1966, the index was kept at the rate of 100.
By 1990, it reached 1839.8. In result, the families which could not boast of high income were not able to spare money on such a luxury as sending children to school. Sadat seemed to formally adhere to the principles of educational universalization, previously imposed by Nasser.
However, the trend of privatization which could be observed in all the sectors of the Egyptian economy also took place in the sphere of education. The number of public schools remained the same, whereas there emerged a large number of private schools. Only the children from the wealthier families were admitted to those establishments. Singerman quoted educator Judith Cochran who described the life in Egypt in the post-Nasser era as based on social conflicts: Foreign schools had not educated these [wealthy] Egyptians to have a concern for the poor with whom they shared neither common values, language nor social status.
So while there were more Mercedes in Cairo than in Dallas, completed phone calls, sugar and potable water were luxuries for others. (qtd. in Singerman 81) The development of elite schools with the curriculum introduced in foreign languages led to the deeper segregation of the Egyptian society. By the late 1970s, the quality of public schooling decreased catastrophically.
Even the poorer Egyptians tried to send their offsprings to private schools but often failed in those attempts because of the high cost of living. By 1993, the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics of the Republic of Egypt (CAPMAS) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported about the astonishing fact: almost the half of the Egyptians was illiterate.;To summarize, Nasser’s policies aimed at making the social network affordable and accessible to all citizens regardless of wealth and social status were not supported by his successors.;Pan-Arabism;It should be noted that Nasser unified the domestic and international policies under the ideological umbrella of pan-Arabism that was later called after his name, “Nasserism.
” Its principles were declared in public as early as in 1955, when Nasser was invited to the first Afro-Asian excolonial states meeting in Bandung, Indonesia in 1955.;There the President of Egypt managed to turn the audience on, calling to their patriotic and nationalist feelings. It is worth saying that the summit took place in Indonesia whose population was mostly Muslim. The country survived through the successive tides of Dutch and Japanese invasions.
In that anti-Western atmosphere, Nasser addressed to the collective memories of “dependent peoples” (Nasser, “Egypt” 1257) who had learnt the bitter lessons of foreign dictatorship.;The speaker characterized the Egyptian revolution of 1952 in the following words:;Our revolution has set for its goals the liberation of the Egyptian people from Corrupt and despotic Governments and the restoration to out people of their real interests: Dignity and freedom as individuals, independence and unity as a nation. Far from being a revolution of merely local importance it has its significance in terms of the Middle East and of the world. … The revolution of July 1952 was not only the revolution against the old regime.
Both its objectives and significance are of a more far-reaching character. For it was also a revolution against foreign domination. (Nasser, “Egypt” 1257);The problems of the foreign presence in Egypt were described by Nasser in dim colors. He characterized the state of international affairs as critical in relating to the authority of the ex-colonies which attempted to create autonomous governments.
;All over the world there is a growing sense of insecurity. The fear of war has been aggravated by the development of mass-destructive weapons capable of effecting total annihilation. The stakes are high in terms of the very survival of mankind. The challenge is great, the greatest and likely the last.
Can the statesmen of the world meet the challenge? (Nasser, “Egypt” 1257);Posing this challenging question to the audience, Nasser hypothesized that the answer would be negative. He declared that the Egyptian government would stick to the three principles in its international politics. All of them were covertly nationalist and contained the grain of pan-Arabism that Nasser would develop as an ideological doctrine in the future.;The president characterized his home land as “a victim of foreign domination,” and declared that it followed the United Nations guidelines to arrive at the three goals.
First, the Egyptian state “stands in defense of the cause of freedom and welfare whenever it arises and the principle of self-determination for all nations” (Nasser, “Egypt” 1257). The local government, in Nasser’s words, contributed to establishing the atmosphere of freedom and equality among the Egyptians. Providing an example of non-self-governing territories, the Egyptian President covertly blamed the foreign political elites for them failing to fulfill the clauses of the UN charter and neglecting their responsibilities, namely “to take due account of the political aspirations of [non-self-governing territories’] peoples and to assist them in the progressive development of their political institutions” (Nasser, “Egypt” 1257).;In the next passage of his speech, Nasser directly indicated at the anonymous “colonial powers” which “have obstructed any effective supervision of their administration of the non-self-governing territories” (Nasser, “Egypt” 1257).
One might assume that the speaker evidently kept in mind Palestine, Syria, and Sudan as the major zones of interest for Egypt.;The second principle of the Egyptian international policy which was prophesized by Nasser sounded as;… unshaken face in the new international order which was inaugurated in the Charter of the United Nations and our sincere and continuous support of the world Organization as an effective instrument in the maintenance of international peace and security and the promotion of the world prosperity. (Nasser, “Egypt” 1257).;And, once again, the speaker mentioned some “great powers which has unfortunately hindered the progress of the United Nations” (Nasser, “Egypt” 1257).
It should be reminded here that Egypt had been experiencing a great tension in its relation with the British government on the issue of control over the Suez Canal zone during that period. Although never mentioned in Nasser’s speech, Great Britain was pictured as the living example of colonialism, breaking the worldwide order.;Nasser approached to the idea of the alliance between the non-Western countries, especially the Asian and African ones, to counterbalance the dominance of European nations and of the United States on the Middle Eastern scene. Being masked by the eloquence of the newly elected President, the germs of pan-Arabism and nationalism were still traceable in the next paragraph of Nasser’s speech:;Although the Arab countries were among those who were most disillusioned in the failure of this [world] Organization to act in accordance with human rights especially with regard to the countries of Northern Africa and Palestine, this did not cause us, however, to lose interest in it, nor did it deter us from co-operation in its activities or weaken our faith in its lofty principles and purposes.
(Nasser, “Egypt” 1257);The abovementioned passage formed a link to the pre-concept of the anti-Western alliance that would be formed by Asian and African countries. The possibility of such cooperation was defined by Nasser as the third principle of the Egyptian foreign policy, and the means of guarding peace in the world.;Nasser’s speech was not only a silver-tongued invective against the foreign forces attempting to oppose his regime on the territory of Egypt. The President proposed five measures that would help the world Organization to maintain security.
The principles dealt with both the international and domestic affairs of the countries in the post-colonial world.;The first of them was that the United Nations would restrict the armament drive that had been observed in that period. The UN could act by regulating and restricting the placement of troops on the non-self-governing territories, and by prosecuting the development and implementation of mass-destructive weapons. Nasser emphasized:It is with a painful awareness of the extremely heavy burden of armaments which is tending to break the back of the world economy and which is distressingly hampering social progress in the World, that Egypt … ardently hope that a stop be rapidly made to this race of armaments and that the world will soon awake from the horrifying nightmare which it causes.
(Nasser, “Egypt” 1257);As the example of possible realization methods of that principle, Nasser mentioned atomic energy that would contribute to the development of the world economy when used for peaceful purposes. By the way, he made the dream come true as the result of the Aswan Dam project. The construction was initiated on January 1, 1960, with financial aid from the USSR, and ended only in 1970. Egypt borrowed $300 million to cover construction costs and hired the Soviet engineers to consult the Egyptian workforce.
The artificial reservoir of the Dam was named after Nasser.;The second principle of international affairs that was voiced by Nasser in his earlier speech sounded like sticking to the principles of the UN Charter. The Egyptian President found that it was broken in regard to Palestine.;Under the eyes of the United Nations and with her help and sanction, the people of Palestine were uprooted and expelled from their fatherland, to be replaced by a completely imported populace.
Never before in history has there been such a brutal and immoral violation of human principles. Is there any guarantee for the small nations that the big powers who took part in the tragedy would not allow themselves to repeat it again, against another innocent and helpless people? It is almost impossible to believe that such injustice could exist in the twentieth century, the age of world order, and under the eyes of the United Nations, the guardian of international law and justice. (Nasser, “Egypt” 1257);The speaker referred to the situation in Palestine which had always been the cause of a conflict between the Arab and Jewish population. Under the terms of the Mandate which was granted by the League of Nations to Great Britain on 24 July, 1922, the British protectorate was established over Palestine and Transjordan.
From then onward, the immigration of the Jews had been facilitated by the British. In other words, Nasser found the issue to be painful to the national pride of the Arabs but tried to mask his nationalism under the talk about humanism.;The third principle of the international policy in the postcolonial world, according to Nasser, was the elimination of racism which could be observed in the Union of South Africa. The fourth one was the preservation of small nations’ integrity, and the fifth one was the eradication of colonialism.
;The speech is interesting for its definition of nationalism and its clear anti-Western implications. In regard to the former colonial mother countries, Nasser spoke about the “game of power politics” which was imposed on small nations “for the sake of someone’s selfish interests” (Nasser, “Egypt” 1257). One would understand that the arrow was pointed at Great Britain, and the events that would take place in the Suez Canal zone the next year indicated the validity of those assumptions.;Not only the former colonial mother countries undermined the national economies of the former colonies by their presence, but they also produced “the damaging effect of isolating the small nations and weakening the ties of unity and community interests existing between them, thus causing them to fall under the grip of foreign domination” (Nasser, “Egypt” 1257).
Instead of being subjected to the rule of people of different cultural backgrounds, smaller nations should consolidate their efforts “to play independently their constructive role in improving international relations and easing international tension” (Nasser, “Egypt” 1257). It is worth admiring how shrewdly Nasser avoided any possible suspicion in nationalism. The Egyptian President remarked:;Our own experience shows us that nationalism when thwarted creates difficult problems; but if it is dealt with wisely and realistically, it responds with friendship and generosity. … we live now in a difficult age and … the peoples have awakened and nothing can stem the tide of nationalism and progress.
(Nasser, “Egypt” 1257);Within one phrase, Nasser managed to synthesize the concepts of nationalism, which is perceived as a negative trend, and progress, which is a process of growing perfection in all possible meanings. It is true that the second Egyptian President never aggressively declared the principles of nationalism as based on religion or mother language. He was known to arrest the members of the radical nationalist group called the Muslim Brotherhood soon after the 1952 revolt. By releasing the imprisoned nationalists upon a short period of time, he gained popularity with plebiscite.
Those policies spoke on the mastery which Nasser exposed dealing with public opinion and religion.;The principles declared by Nasser in the abovementioned speech delineated the course of the Egyptian international affairs during his Presidency. His words reminded the listeners of the events which had taken place before the 1952 revolution. The next sections will trace how Nasser played on the public opinion regarding foreign presence on the territory of the country.
;Suez Crisis;The question of owning the Suez Canal was an important issue in the Middle-Eastern politics since the canal was opened in 1869 to connect the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. To operate the functioning of the canal, the Suez Company was established on December 15, 1858, on the initiative of Ferdinand de Lesseps, the French entrepreneur. The company was granted the right to control the Suez Canal and rent the attached land for the following ninety-nine years. Gradually, the French shares were bought by the British who gained a total control of the Suez Canal zone under the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936.
;The members of the military junta, whose member Nasser was, hated the very idea of the British presence in Egypt. The British garrison located in the Suez Canal zone in the early 1950s consisted of 80,000 troops. All the attempts of the locals to oppose the foreign regime were severely suppressed. Nasser and his colleagues from the Military Academy were reared on the recollections of the bloody Urabi revolt which burst out in 1882.
Then the Egyptian militaries led by Colonel Ahmed Urabi tried to relegate the foreign political and economical dominance but were defeated by the British army at the Battle of Tel al-Kebir. The location of the British on the Egyptian territory was the main source of indignation. That feeling had been smoldering in the hearts of Egyptians to be channeled by the military junta which seized power in the early 1950s.;In April 1954, the negotiation process was initiated by the British and the United States governments, on the one hand, and the government of the Republic of Egypt, on the other hand.
Judging from its analysis, Nasser was the person whose voice dominated the debate about the Suez Canal zone. As Thornhill observed, the newly elected Prime Minister Nasser had been holding back the nationalist forces in the area of conflict from April till May. The British government attempted to trade the better conditions of evacuation for the British military and civilian contingents, and the Egyptians started guerilla raids.;The general draft of the British-Egyptian Agreement was signed on July 27, 1954.
The British were allowed to enjoy freedom of transit through the Suez Canal during the following seven years. In return, they were obliged to remove their troops within twenty months. The final ceremony of ratifying the Agreement took place in the Pharaonic Hall of the Egyptian parliament on October 19, 1954. It is worth mentioning that Nasser tuned the public opinion so that the event was perceived as a national achievement:;Without a parliament to submit the agreement to, the RCC instead used other methods for gaining the approval of the people.
The rector of al-Azhar, the great mosque and Islamic university, presented himself at the hall immediately after the signing to congratulate the Egyptian delegation. Mass meetings were then held at professional organizations, trade unions and other institutions so that support for the regime could be pledged. (Thornhill 919);Coming to power as President of the Republic of Egypt, Nasser never hesitated to make the clause of the British presence in the Suez Canal zone be the pretext for unleashing the nationalist movement. Throughout the year of 1955, the Egyptian government made several attempts to put off the Israelis in their trade operations in the Strait of Tiran and Gulf of Aqaba.
In July 1956, the government of Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal Company.;Soon afterwards, on September 15, 1956, the Egyptian leader delivered the speech on the issue at Air Force graduation in Bilbeis. The President sounded triumphantly:;In these decisive days in the history of mankind, these days in which truth struggles to have itself recognized in international chaos where powers of evil domination and imperialism have prevailed Egypt stands firmly to preserve her sovereignty. Your country stands solidly and staunchly to preserve her dignity against imperialistic schemes of a number of nations who have uncovered their desires for domination and supremacy.
(Nasser, “The Suez Canal” 741);By evil powers Nasser meant the British-French-Israeli military triumvirate which opposed Egypt in the conflict over the Suez Canal. Nasser uplifted the nationalist spirit of his compatriots to conceptualize the usurpation of the area by the Egyptians as the manifestation of national interests:;… Egypt has resolved to show the world that when small nations decide to preserve their sovereignty, they will do that all right and that when these small nations are fully determined to defend their rights and maintain their dignity, they will undoubtedly succeed in achieving their ends.;We are now hearing saber-rattling in Britain and France, those big powers which aim at derogating Egypt from sovereignty. I declare in the name of the Egyptian people who have smashed the fetters of foreign domination, aggression and feudalism that we are fully determined to defend our sovereign rights and preserve our dignity.
(Nasser, “The Suez Canal” 741);Nasser furthermore recalled about the conference which had been held in August, 1956, by the United States, Great Britain and France to discuss the issues of control over the Suez Canal territory. The Egyptian President labeled that meeting as the attempt of foreign enemies to restrict the country in its marathon towards progress, prosperity and industrialization. Nasser’s belief that the United Nations would prevent the international conflict in the region was supported by the resolution of the UN Security Council that was issued in October, 1956. However, despite the ratification of that resolution, the allied military forces of Great Britain, France and Israel attempted to occupy the Sinai Peninsula and the Suez Canal zone on October 29, 1956.
;On November 1, 1956, Nasser delivered the fiery speech over the radio. He blamed Great Britain that “was always sly with Egypt” for forming “conspiracies with a single block, with one mind” (Nasser, “We Shall Fight…” 71) which were aimed at endangering the safety of the nation. The speakers sounded bold in his statement about the superiority of the national military forces over the “invaders” and especially “aggressive Israeli forces” (Nasser, “We Shall Fight…” 71). It was only the interference of the United States and the USSR governments that prevented war.
The peace trading parties forced the foreign troops to withdraw from the territory.;As Feinstein asserted, the story taught Nasser no lessons as he kept nurturing plans to defeat Israel later on. Almost eleven years afterwards, in May 1967, the head of the Egyptian country sent the national military forces to the Sinai Peninsula and petitioned for the evacuation of United Nations Emergency Forces from the territory. Those actions provoked the so-called Six-Day War.
Being another manifestation of the Egyptian-Israeli hostility, the armed conflict became also the consequence of Nasserism as the ideology of pan-Arabism.;;;;Arab-Israeli Conflicts;In 1967, the Egyptian government under the leadership of Nasser ruined the balance that had existed in the Middle East by making the three decisive steps. Mor provided a chronology of those painful events. First, the President of the Republic of Egypt sent the regular army to the Sinai Peninsula on May 14, 1967.
The Israelis reacted by concentrating their regular army on the Egyptian-Israeli border. Second, on May 16, the Egyptian government appealed to the United Nations to remove their Emergency Force troops from that territory. Finally, on May 22-23, there was an attempt of Egypt to blockade the Straits of Tiran. On May 30, Nasser ratified the Egyptian-Syrian-Jordanian Defense Agreement aimed against the Israeli.
On June 7, Israel attacked Egypt.;Mor’s account of the events of the Six-Day War were interesting since they treated Nasser’s behavior neither merely as a series of “pathologies in … decision-making, … inadequate cognitive processing, emotionally biased interpretations of reality, and personality deficiencies,” nor as Nasser’s “cognitive rigidity, his tendency to succumb to wishful thinking, his inability to withstand the pressures of the situation and of his advisers, and his basic passivity, and lack of foresight” (360). The scholar argued that the President of Egypt was thinking rationally and strategically when he planned a war conflict with Israel over the Sinai Peninsula in 1967.;Before that time, Nasser had refrained from getting involved into an armed conflict with the Israeli.
As Mor stressed, in 1964-5, at the Arab summit meetings, the Egyptian leader objected to the Syrian project to start partisan raids against Israel. On November 13, 1966, Egypt preferred not to react to the Israelis attacking one of the Jordanian communities. On April 7, 1967, when Israel delivered the bombs to the Syrian operating site in the Golan Heights, Nasser again remained passive, breaking the clauses of the Egyptian-Syrian joint defense pact which had been ratified in November, 1966.;From the strategic viewpoint, the leader of Egypt could allow himself to get involved into the war with Israel upon three conditions: “the concentration of superior military power; the isolation of Israel; Arab unity” (qtd.
in Mor 364). During that period, the pan-Arab alliance seemed to be weakened by several facts. First, Nasser had to accept that the United Nations stationed the emergency forces on the Egyptian territory. Second, since the Egyptian-Israeli war of 1956, Egypt lost total control over the Tiran basin.
However, by May, 1967, when there appeared rumors about the Israelis planning an attack on Damascus, the capitol of Syria, Nasser had made several steps to strengthen the link between the Arab countries.;For example, on May 22, 1967, Egypt blockaded the Straits of Tiran, and on May 30, Nasser signed a mutual defense treaty with Jordan and Iraq to locate the Egyptian army on the Jordanian and Iraqi territories. As Mor explained, Nasser assumed that the strategic contender of Israel would not dare to fight on several fronts.;Nasser’s rationale for choosing to step into the open conflict with Israel in May 1967 seemed to consist of several motives:;… the removal of UNEF and the blockade of the Straits were designed to eradicate the embarrassing remnants of the 1956 war; the Tiran blockade had the additional value of constituting an open challenge to Israel, which considered it to be a casus belli [pretext for war].
But whereas UNEF and Tiran were seen as obstacles to the restoration of Nasser’s status in, and leadership of, the Arab world – and in this sense were ‘negatives’ to be removed, or undone – the Pact decision … could … be seen as a major positive decision. (Mor 367);In other words, through the war with Israel Nasser attempted to re-assert himself as the head of the Arab world. He related his decisive strategies (the mobilization of the Egyptian army within the period from May 14 to May 30, 1967; and the de-escalation politics thereafter) to the probable strategies of the Israelis, being guided by the drive to position himself as an icon of pan-Arabism.;As early as in 1958, Nasser planned to unify the two Arab-speaking countries – Egypt and Syria – into the single state to oppose the Western and Israeli influence in the Middle East.
The new structure received the name of the United Arab Republic (UAR), of which Nasser became President. The head of the UAR declared the emergence of the new state as the beginning of transition, which the Arab world experienced in its struggle for unity:;The dawn of our independence and freedom, of our pride and dignity, of our strength and of our hope was preceded by lengthy nights that extended over hundred of years of unending struggle against the tyranny of colonialism, against oppression and injustice and against weakness. … the night … was one of the longest faced by the Arab Nation in its struggle… The unity of the Arab Nation goes back to time immemorial. For this unity existed from the very beginning of the Arab Nation’s existence, grew on the same soil, lived through the same events and moved towards the achievement of the same aims, to that when our nation was able to lay down the bases of its existence in the area, and to affirm them, it was certain that unity was rapidly approaching.
(Nasser, “A United Arab Republic” 327);Nasser defined the Arab unity as relying on the concept of “inseparability”:;It is not by mere chance that the spreading of dissention amongst us, and the setting up of frontiers and barriers between us was always the first step taken by whoever wished to control the area. Neither is it by mere chance that the attempts to reach unity in the area were not forsaken during four thousand years – attempts which were made in quest no only of strength, but … of life itself. (Nasser, “A United Arab Republic” 327);In the light of the abovementioned words, it is evident that the Egyptian relationships with the Israelis were “one of Nasser’s obsessions,” as Feinstein put it (560) because of the issues of Arab integrity. The territory of historical Palestine, which was comprised of the territories of modern Jordan, Israel, and of the modern Palestinian regions of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, had been a thorn in the minds of Arab nationalists since the defeat of the Egyptians in the Arab-Israeli war of 1948-9.
As Nasser put it, “the fighting in Palestine was not fighting on foreign territory” (Feinstein 560). The war operations of the Egyptian-Syrian-Jordan allied forces in 1967 were not, therefore, a mere martial activity but an ideological fight for the supremacy of the Arab spirit. On June 5, 1967, the Israelis defeated the Arab threesome by a series of anti-air strikes. Within six days, the Israeli troops occupied the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights.
Nasser attempted to retire on June 9 but soon afterwards resumed his Presidency. The 1967 war between Egypt and Israel drew the attention of an international community to the Middle-Eastern situation. On November 22, 1967, the United Nations Security Council issued Resolution 242 which prescribed Israel to return the territories that had been seized during the Six-Day War: Expressing its continuing concern with the grave situation in the Middle East,Emphasizing the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every State in the area can live in security,1. [UN Security Council] [a]ffirms that the fulfillment of Charter principles requires the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East which should include the application of both the following principles:(i) Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict;(ii) Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force; (United Nations Security Council paras.
1-2, 4-6) However, the UN resolution failed to put an end to the history of the Egyptian-Israeli conflicts. Anwar Sadat, the successor of Nasser on the post of the Egyptian president, stepped into the so-called Yom Kippur War with Israel in October, 1973. It started with an unexpected bombarding of the Israeli positions in the Sinai and Golan Heights by the military coalition of Egypt and Syria, and lasted for twenty days. The 1973 war can be described as a fluctuating battle.
On the one hand, the allied forces acted very dynamically so that the Israeli army could not easily concentrate to fight back: On October 6, 1973, Egyptian troops launched a massive surprise assault across the Suez Canal, and Syrian tanks and soldiers stormed into the Golan Heights. Well-trained and well-equipped Arab soldiers drove back the Israeli occupiers in the initial fighting. Even the fiercest critics of Sadat in Egypt were caught up for a few days in the elation that swept the Arab capitals. Egypt and Syria were at last fighting for their land – and winning! (qtd.
in Berberoglu 102) On the other hand, Israel managed to oppose the Syrian attacks in the Golan Heights and even succeeded in beating the enemy on its own territory: Israel suffered thousands of casualties and lost large numbers of planes and tanks. As the fighting continued, Israel attacked the Syrian capital of Damascus. To punish the Syrians, Zionist leaders decided to reduce much of the Syrian economy to rubble. The Israeli air force bombed ports, factories, power plants and oil refineries throughout the country and government buildings in the capital.
These attacks killed many civilians. (qtd. in Berberoglu 101) The situation remained unstable until the Israelis crossed the Suez Canal to isolate the Third Egyptian army, and then the United Nations army had to intervene. The severity of attacks, which Israel and the Egyptian-Syrian alliance exchanged with, indicated that the 1973 conflict was not a banal quarrel over the strip of land: The transformation of the Palestinian cause into an Arab cause, with Israel as an outcast that deprived the local inhabitants their rights to self-determination and nationhood, defined the new Arab will to champion a popular mission to unite the Arab world against a targeted enemy.
Thus, the October War was to be an outlet for a larger political goal that, if successful, would have changed the dynamics of Arab politics throughout the region, and in this way restructure the terms of engagement between the opposing sides. (Berberoglu 101) Egypt could not be called a winner in that political trade. The re-orientation of the national economics from the positions of Nasser’s socialism towards the privatization and capitalization of the market caused great hardships to Sadat’s government. The head of Egypt gradually turned his head away from the Soviet Union, on which his predecessor heavily relied.
In 1972, Sadat expatriated the Soviet workforce which was occupied with finishing the construction of the Aswan Dam. Two years later after the end of the Yom Kippur War, in 1975, Egypt called for assistance from the United States President Henry Kissinger. The latter forced the three fighting parties into signing the Sinai Agreement which made the Israel army to retreat to the interior parts of the Sinai Peninsula. The Egyptian politicians were also influenced by the involvement of the USSR and the OPEC oil embargo.
Within the following two years, between 1975 and 1977, Sadat dared to make a few “spectacular” (Cannon 672) decision-making steps. On November, 1977, the head of Egypt went to Jerusalem to discuss the issues of pacifying the relationships between the two nations. In September 1978, the United States sponsored the negotiating process between Egyptian President and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin which happened at US President Jimmy Carter’s Camp David. In result, Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty at the White House on March 26, 1979.
;To summarize, Nasser’s concept of pan-Arabism was neglected by his successors in the international relations with both Israel and former allies such as Syria and Iraq. The theme of Arab dominance gained a new color in the modern postcolonial context when all the countries oppose to the menace of terrorism and nationalism.;The Gains and Losses of Nasserism;Nasserism remains to be a contradictory issue within the international political context. Nor lesser contradictory was it for Egypt.
Initially, Nasser’s friend and pupil Sadat proclaimed that he would follow the principles of his teacher’s political course. In September 1974, the third President of Egypt invited the Assembly to discuss the role of the Arab Socialist Union party in the life of the country. The analysis of the activity of the union that used to be the single political organization under Nasser turned into the analysis of Nasserism.;It appeared that different classes of the Egyptian population reacted to Nasser’s political legacy and the ASU program differently.
Peasants and proletarians, that is the poorer peoples, sounded as the most tolerant regarding the life conditions that had been established during Nasser’s presidency. They insisted on keeping the public schooling and medical system cost free and easily accessible. The less privileged representatives of the Egyptians, including students and women, did not mind the single-party political system and appraised the achievements of Nasser’s socialism in regard to social commodities.Contrastingly, the richer classes of the nation severely criticized Nasserism in terms of economy.
As Sadat himself confessed, the economic course under his teacher left much to be desired:;We had, with crass stupidity, copied the Soviet pattern of socialism, although we lacked the necessary resources, technical capabilities and capital…our socialism began to be tinged in practice with Marxism. Any free enterprise system came to be regarded as odious capitalism and the private sector as synonymous with exploitation and robbery. Individual effort came to a standstill, and from this stemmed the terrible passivity of the people that I still suffer from. (Hopwood 112-3);The representatives of the Egyptian business people called for the expansion of the private sector and the desirability of a greater portion of foreign investments.
The talk about economy was linked to the discussion of the multi-party political system and freedom of the mass media.;By March, 1976, there emerged another three political parties besides the ASU: the leftist National Progressive Union Organisation that stressed the importance of public ownership and strikes as legal means of protest; the Socialist Liberal Organisation that called for free enterprise; and the centrist Arab Socialist Organisation that lobbied the decisions of Sadat’s government and declared to stick to the political course of Nasser. However, the ASU gained the most part of voices in the elections held in October 1976. It spoke of the fact that the Egyptians still believed in the validity of Nasserism and defended its achievements, of which the ASU was the living representative.
;Nasserism as ideology is perceived in a two-fold way nowadays. On the one hand, it was an honest attempt to marry the dream of the friendly family of the Arab-speaking nations that would be unified on the principles of ethnicity, language, and cultural heritage. On the other hand, the gains of Nasserism as an ideology based on the supremacy of the single Arab nation and Islam appeared to be dubious.;As Tibi underlined:;When pan-Arabism, in the form of Nasserism’s nation-state model, subsided, ethnopolitics began once again to thrive, and it is today more than ever a major source of inter-state and intra-state conflict.
The politicization of ethnicity and its incorporation into political Islam are intimately related to the crisis of the existing nation-states, and nowhere in the Islamic world is a genuine nation-state to be seen. Instead of the contended unity, one sees on all levels ethnic, national, and sectarian tensions and divisions. In reality we find clienteles, not the alleged sense of citizenship or the universal Islamic umma. What we see are “imagined communities” … not upheld by corresponding realities.
(136) The attempts of the second Egyptians President to impose the idea of pan-Arabism by military assaults on the neighboring countries failed. Nasser’s successors, Anwar Sadat and Mohamed Hosni Mubarak, could not easily change the Egyptians’ opinion about Nasserism regarding domestic policies. But they managed to neglect the most part of principles declared by the second President of Egypt in the international politics. For example, whereas Nasser kept manifesting his anti-Western orientation in the international politics, the successive heads of the country preferred to orient themselves towards the interests of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the United States imperialist doctrine.
Whereas Nasser tried to stick to the principles of socialism, Sadat relied on the conservative right-wing forces. Whereas Nasser opposed to freedom of the press and democratic elections, Mubarak dared to introduce multi-candidate polls in the 2005 presidential election. Whereas Nasser welcomed the hawkish initiatives of nationalists, Sadat refrained from supporting the ideas of Islamic Fundamentalists, and Mubarak recently insisted on constitutional changes, one of which prohibited using Islam as an ideological corner-stone of any political activity. It should be noted, though, that despite the failure of the most part of Nasser’s aggressive militant and political projects, and despite the fact that the idea of pan-Arabism manifested through armed conflicts subjected Egypt to great losses, Nasser managed to survive in the collective memory of the Egyptian commons as an appealing figure.
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Legacy Nasser revised. (2017, Mar 18). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/legacy-nasser-revised/