Monday 28 September 2020

September 28th 1970: The Death of President Gamal Abdel Nasser

Photograph used on the August 27th 1956 edition cover of Time Magazine. Credit: Ernest Hamlin Baker. 

Gamal Nasser was a colossal figure not only in Egyptian history, but in Arab and global history. Considered by many historians to have been the first undisputed leader of native-stock to rule Egypt since Pharaonic times, he was an important figure in the process of organising decolonised African states, as well as the attempt at creating a non-aligned community of nations.

Among his achievements after leading a group of revolutionary officers in the overthrow of King Farouk in 1952, was the construction of the world-famous Aswan Dam and the introduction of new technology into rural Egypt.

He brought pride to the Arab world when he nationalised the Suez Canal, as well as in the aftermath of invasion of Egypt by France, Britain and Israel in 1956. Under Nasser, Egypt was a secular and socialist state and he clamped down on the Muslim Brotherhood whose leader Sayyid Qutb was executed for plotting to assassinate him.

However, his defining ideology, that of Pan-Arabism never came to fruition. Not only did the Union with Syria as the "United Arab Republic" come apart, but the humiliating defeat of Egypt and other nations by Israel in 1967 marked a historical turning point in which many Arab communities turned away from the ideology of secularism to that of Islamism.

An excerpt from the article which accompanied the aforementioned Time Magazine cover which was entitled “The Counter-Puncher” distilled the way in which Western eyes observed the young leader came from humble origins:

Gamal Abdel Nasser is a tall (6 ft.), hefty Egyptian of 38 who just four years ago was an unknown infantry officer in a beaten and discredited army. Not very long ago, Western leaders (and even Israel’s) saluted him as a genuine, responsible leader at last in the Middle East, a young man whose forceful vision might yet bring tranquillity where there was chaos. Today, having seized control of the world’s most important waterway, he is defiantly whipping up Arab hatred to drive the Western powers from the Middle East. Said one Western expert: “We thought we were dealing with a kitten. In fact it was a leopard.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2020)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

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