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Gamal “Abdel Nasser was born in 1918 and was the second president of Egypt where is assumed power in 1956” (Aburish 105, par.5). Nasser is remembered by many as one the best leaders to have ruled in the Arab world. Investigations into his style of leadership have drawn mixed conclusions from different scholars with some dismissing him as a dictator.
However, most scholars give him credit on the fact that he was one of the most admired leaders in the Arab world. This paper seeks to go into history and identify who Gamal Abdel Nasser was, how he managed to gain all the support and how he changed Egypt both socially and economically (Alexander 30).
The rise to power
Nasser’s rise to power can be traced back to 1937 when he joined the Royal Military Academy (Anwar 23). Soon after completing his studies at the Academy he was posted to work as a volunteer in the Sudan which was part of Egypt at the time. While still in Sudan, he disliked Egypt’s dependence on Britain.
He was particularly enraged when the British Ambassador marched to the Kings palace and ordered him to fire a dissenting prime minster and appoint a pro-British one (Yaqub 45).
After this incident, Nasser begun to form a group of military officers who did not like the way Egypt was being ruled. He would later take part in the Arab Israeli war and form part of the delegation that negotiated for a formal ceasefire with Israel in 1949.
His plans for a revolution were sped up after he was interrogated by Prime Minister Ibrahim Abdel Hadi over allegations that he was forming a secret group of dissenting officers. The group would later rename itself association of free officers.
In 1952 a fierce confrontation between British troops and Egyptian police triggered protests in Cairo (Yaqub 60). The free officers led by Nasser then launched a program to condemn the British influence in the country (Yaqub 62). A revolution was quickly planned and implemented through a government take over by members of the free officers.
According to the written accounts, the free officers were interested in establishing parliamentary democracy in Egypt and not instill themselves as leaders and so they persuaded the former prime minster, Maher to take up his position. Muhammad Naguib, a senior military officer was given the lead role in spearheading reforms by virtue of his seniority in the military.
They formed the “Egyptian Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) with Naguib as the Chairman and Nasser as the vice chairman” (Asterjian 70, par.3). Maher later resigned claiming that Nasser’s schemes were too radical. The turn of events left the RCC with no option but to assume power with Naguib as the prime Minster and Nasser as the deputy.
In 1953, Nasser went against Naguib’s wishes and banned all political parties, and established a one party system. This can be regarded as a move against what the free officers had initially advocated for. However, Nasser was still hopeful that Egypt would hold elections in 1953.
It’s imperative to note that most critical government decisions were made by Nasser. For instance, he pressured Naguib to abolish the Monarch and personally negotiated for the British withdrawal from the Suez Canal (Stephens 20). This inevitably led to rivalry between the two leaders who begun to compete for the control of Egypt (Jankowski 90).
In 1954 when Naguib moved to consolidate support from the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups, army members of the RCC loyal to Nasser Kidnapped him and Nasser was later installed as the Prime Minister. However, protests would later see Naguib reinstated as the president and Nasser remain as the Prime Minister.
Nasser would go further to relieve Naguib’s post as the commander in chief and hand the post to one of his allies. This however resulted in the resignation of many military officials who criticized the move; this clearly shows how Nasser misused his power and instances like this have been used by critics to give him the dictator tag (Riadh 120).
The relationship between Nasser and Naguib was further strained when Nasser single handedly signed an agreement that would saw the British withdraw from Suez Canal as well as grant independence to Sudan (Stephens 32). This also shows that Nasser openly disregarded Naguib to the extent that he never involved him in any important decision making. Furthermore the independence of Sudan weakened Naguib further as he was partly from there and lost the support after independence.
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The events that followed, including an attempted assassination and strengthening of the army increased Nasser’s popularity and helped win the 1956 elections.
On Social Justice
Nasser’s quest to implement socialist policies can be traced back to 1952 after the revolution (Alexander 21). It is believed that the new policies were alien to a society that could be described as “predominantly hierachial, semi-feudist, and agrarian” (Aburish 201, par 5).
Some scholars believe that this failure resulted in the adoption of the autocratic style of leadership, while others remove the blame from Nasser and implicate the intellectuals and technocrats, who they say were responsible for the centralized government that followed.
Notable moves by Nasser include the nationalization of the Suez Canal, which was a high risk that resulted in attack from Britain and France who were the main stakeholders (Riadh 36). He also built the Aswan high dam for the Egyptian people despite opposition from other Arab leaders and most of the Western countries.
His is also known to have been instrumental in the creation of Arab unity through Arab nationalism. He moves to consolidate the Arab world often rubbed the Western governments the wrong way, especially due to the fact that he was threatening western influence in the Arab world.
The west was always trying to make him less popular, for instance, its often believed by some historians that the “bloody conflict that rocked Yemen and depleted the Egyptian Army’s power was one of the schemes by western powers and Saudi Arabia to weaken Nasser” (Riadh 45, par. 2).
It’s also not correct to describe Nasser as a warmonger this is due to the fact that despite his experience in wars as a soldier, he often weighed his options before going out to war with other states, mainly Israel. Most of the conflicts show that he often retaliated following aggression from Israel.
Nasser can also be regarded as no nonsense revolutionary, for instance, he chaired an Arab summit that concluded that Israel was not to be recognized within the Arab world. However, it may also be true that he was more concerned about the freedom of the Palestinian people whose rights had been deprived by the creation of Israel (Stephens 67).
Nasser disliked communism and was unhappy when at one point a communist party was gaining popularity in Syria. This later result in a merger between Syria and Egypt and the establishment of a single republic in the name of United Arab Republic which did not however last but nevertheless succeeded in discouraging communism.
Prior to the Nasser led revolution, the Egyptian economy was predominantly in the hands of private investors; an application of a feudist system in which a tiny percentage of the population owned most of the land in Egypt (Yaqub 109). After assuming power, Nasser acknowledged that the existing land policies were extensively unfair to the poor in the society.
As a result he established measures to ensure that land reforms took place, especially through the reversal of the monarchial system in which farmers were mistreated (Jankowski 19).
It’s imperative to note that most of the Egyptian population was made of poor citizens and thus he got the required support to formulate and carry out “nationalization and confiscation of properties and businesses” (Anwar 55, par.8). Nasser was criticized by many for taking this measure but the criticism was mainly from those who wanted to maintain the status quo.
Actions like this ensured him popularity in his native Egypt and admiration from other Arab nations.
Through the introduction of agrarian reforms, redistribution of land and development of the economy along the socialist ideals, Nasser was able to revolutionaries the Egyptian society. It is noted that there was a marked economic growth following the reforms (Jankowski 56).
This paper sought to argue whether Nasser was a good leader or not and how he maintained a strong influence in the Egyptian population. The paper has shown how Nasser rose to lead Egypt through charisma and firm pursuance of his social policies. It’s been noted that he sometimes made unilateral decisions when he was supposed to consult but in all the cases it was in the interest of the Egyptian people (Jankowski 125).
Aburish, Said. Nasser, the Last Arab. New York: St Martin’s Press, 2004.
Alexander, Anne. Nasser Life and Times . London: Haus Publishing , 2005. Print.
Anwar, Abdemalek. Egypt: Military Society. New York : Random House, 1968. Print.
Asterjian, Henry. The Struggle for Kirkuk: The Rise of Hussein, Oil, and the Death of Tolerance in Iraq. New york : Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007. Print.
Jankowski, James. Nasser’s Egypt, Arab Nationalism, and the United Arab Republic. Lynne Rienner Publishers: London, 2001. Print.
Riadh, Sidaoui. Dialogues Nasserite. Tunis : Arabesques, 1993. Print.
Stephens, Robert. Nasser; A Political Biography. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972. Print.
Yaqub, Salim. Containing Arab Nationalism: The Eisenhower Doctrine and the Middle East. University of North Carolina Press: North Carolina, 2004. Print.