Nasser, Gamal Abdal

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Nasser, Gamal Abdal

Gamal Abdal Nasser (gəmäl´ ăb´dəl nä´sər), 1918–70, Egyptian army officer and political leader, first president of the republic of Egypt (1956–70). A revolutionary since youth, he was wounded by the police and expelled (1935) from secondary school in Cairo for leading an anti-British student demonstration. He attended (1937) law school and graduated from the Royal Military Academy in 1938. In 1942, Nasser founded the secret Society of Free Officers, which fought against political corruption and foreign domination of Egypt. A major in the first Arab-Israeli war (1948), he was wounded in action.

In July, 1952, Nasser led the army coup that deposed King Farouk. Gen. Muhammad Naguib became the nominal head of the government, but Nasser held power through his control of the Revolutionary Command Committee. In 1954, he became premier of Egypt, and following an attempt on his life, he arrested Naguib. In 1956 he was, unopposed, elected president of the republic of Egypt. His nationalization of the Suez Canal precipitated (1956) a short-lived, abortive invasion by Great Britain, France, and Israel (see Arab-Israeli Wars).

When Egypt and Syria merged (1958–61) to form the United Arab Republic, Nasser served as its president. An opponent of monarchical governments in the Middle East, he sent troops to assist (1962–67) Yemenite revolutionaries in their civil war with Saudi Arabian-backed royalists. In 1967, Nasser precipitated war with Israel by dissolving UN peacekeeping forces in the Sinai and blockading the Israeli port of Elat. He resigned from office following Egypt's disastrous defeat, but massive demonstrations of support led to his return.

During his period of rule, Nasser instituted a program of land reform and economic and social development known as Arab socialism; the completion (1970) of the Aswan Dam (see under Aswan) was the crowning achievement of his regime. More than for his material accomplishments, however, Nasser achieved fame for leading the reestablishment of Arab national pride, seriously wounded by many decades of Western domination. In foreign affairs, he originally assumed a neutralist position, seeking support from both the East and the West to bolster his position in the Middle East. After his nation's military defeat in 1967, however, Nasser became increasingly dependent on the Soviet Union for military and economic aid. A pan-Arabist and advocate of Third-World unity, Nasser was one of the most important Arab leaders of the 20th cent.

See biographies by M. Shivanandan (1973) and J. Josten (1960, repr. 1974); P. J. Vatikiotis, Nasser and His Generation (1978); T. Hasou, The Struggle for the Arab World: Egypt's Nasser and the Arab League (1985).

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