|Biographical detail : ||Arab leader who inspired passion.
Few Arab leaders have inspired as much passion as Jamal Abd al-Nasser. He nationalised the Suez Canal and used the proceeds to build the High Dam, ending the cycles of flood and drought that had blighted rural life for centuries. He also championed social justice, providing education and land to millions of impoverished Egyptians. President Nasser was regarded as an Arab liberator and unifier and helped secure Egypt as a major player amongst Muslim states.
Al-Nasser was an outstanding leader of the anti-colonial movement in the Fifties and the Sixties. Nasser an intelligent young colonel from a modest background organised the Free Officerís Movement, which in 1952 overthrew Egyptís monarchy. After a brief power struggle with the titular head of the revolution, General Neguib, Nasser won almost undisputed control of Egypt, replaced political parties with a single organisation and undermined the landlordsí power by land reform.
Through industrialisation and public works, symbolised by Aswan Dam, built in 1964 which diverted the Nile and changed Egyptian geography permanently, Nasser tried to modernise the economy, having achieved British withdrawal from Sudan and Suez base he went on to exploit Egyptís strategic position to secure Arab leadership. He also established the United Arab Republic of Egypt and Syria.
When Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal, in 1956, Britain and France invaded Egypt in collusion with Israel. But the world pressure forced them to withdraw. The Suez crisis, as the events of the following months came to be called, marked the humiliating end of imperial influence for two European countries, Britain and France. It heralded Americaís supremacy over its Western allies. It thereby strengthened the resolve of many Europeans to create what is now the European Union.
Post-Suez crisis promoted pan-Arab nationalism and completed the transformation of the Israel-Palestinian dispute into an Israel-Arab one.
Nasserís prestige among Arabs and former colonies mounted: he was an acknowledged leader of the non-aligned Third World states. Egypt projected itself as the vanguard of Arab nationalism and a beacon to liberation movements across the third world.
He seized vast foreign assets in Egypt and established close relations with the USSR. He followed a policy of non-alignment with Western and Soviet powers and his nationalisation of the Suez Canal ultimately diminished Britainís influence in the Middle East.
Al-Nasser became for a time quite militantly anti-Islamic, and suppressed the Muslim Brotherhood. One of the Brothers, who belonged to the secret terrorist wing of the society, had made an attempt on al-Nasserís life, but the majority of the thousands of Brothers who languished for years in al-Nasserís concentration camps had done nothing more inflammatory than hand out leaflets or attend a meeting.
Al-Nasserís attempt at an Arab military alliance and his closure of Tiran Straits to Israel shipping provoked the 1967 war and ended with Israeli forces on the Suez Canal. His detractors point to Egyptís defeat at the hands of Israel in 1967 as the logical culmination of his military adventurism and reckless foreign policy. After the humiliating defeat there was a swing towards religion throughout the Middle East. The old secularist policies of al-Nasser seemed discredited. People felt that the Muslims had failed because they had not been true to their religion.
Jamal Abd al-Nasser was born in Alexandria Ė broad-shouldered, handsome and passionate Ė and he entered the Military Academy at Cairo in 1937. Though in poor health he remained the predominant Arab leader until his death.
An estimated five millions people crowded Ė 48 mourners were crushed to death Ė onto the streets of Cairo for President Abdel Nasserís funeral. When presidentís bier passed through the capital towards its final resting place, at Manshiet-el-Bakry mosque, now to be known as Gamal Abdel Nasser mosque, the sheer weight of numbers of grief-stricken Egyptians threatened to disrupt the procession.
Many more congregated in major cities across Egypt and the Arab world. At least eight were killed and more than 200 injured in Beirut as people fired into the air to mourn Nasserís death.