Gamal Abdel Nasser

Gamal Nasser

Gamar Abdel Nasser was born in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1918. He was educated at the Cairo Military Academy and eventually became an instructor at the institution. During the Second World War Nasser developed republican views. He secretly recruited cadets and young officers into what became known as the Free Officers Movement.

The failed 1948 Palestine campaign reinforced Nasser's view that the government of Farouk I was inefficient and corrupt. In 1952 General Mohammed Neguib and Colonel Nasser forced Farouk to abdicate. After the Egyptian Revolution Neguib became commander-in-chief, prime minister and president of the republic whereas Nasser held the post of Minister of the Interior.

In April 1954 Nasser replaced Neguib as prime minister. Seven months later he also became president of Egypt. Over the next few months Nasser made it clear he was in favour of liberating Palestine from the Jews. He also began buying fighter aircraft, bombers and tanks from the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia.

Nasser redistributed land in Egypt and began plans to industrialize the country. He also began the building of the Aswan Dam. Nasser was convinced that this would extend arable lands in Egypt and would help the industrialization process. He also advocated Arab independence and reminded the British government that the agreement allowing to keep soldiers at Suez expired in 1956.

President Dwight Eisenhower became concerned about the close relationship developing between Egypt and the Soviet Union. In July 1956 Eisenhower cancelled a promised grant of 56 million dollars towards the building of the Aswan Dam. Nasser was furious and on 26th July he announced he intended to nationalize the Suez Canal. The shareowners, the majority of whom were from Britain and France, were promised compensation. Nasser argued that the revenues from the Suez Canal would help to finance the Aswan Dam.

Anthony Eden, the British prime minister, feared that Nasser intended to form an Arab Alliance that would cut off oil supplies to Europe. Secret negotiations took place between Britain, France and Israel and it was agreed to make a joint attack on Egypt.

On 29th October 1956, the Israeli Army invaded Egypt. Two days later British and French bombed Egyptian airfields. British and French troops landed at Port Said at the northern end of the Suez Canal on 5th November. By this time the Israelis had captured the Sinai peninsula.

President Dwight Eisenhower and his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, grew increasingly concerned about these developments and at the United Nations the representatives from the United States and the Soviet Union demanded a cease-fire. When it was clear the rest of the world were opposed to the attack on Egypt, and on the 7th November the governments of Britain, France and Israel agreed to withdraw. They were then replaced by UN troops who policed the Egyptian frontier.

Nasser now blocked the Suez Canal. He also used his new status to urge Arab nations to reduce oil exports to Western Europe. As a result petrol rationing had to be introduced in several countries and two months after the invasion Anthony Eden resigned from office.

Nasser was now acknowledged as leader of the Arab world. Egypt now joined with Syria to form the United Arab Republic. In March 1958 Yemen and the United Arab Republic formed the United Arab States. Nasser also encouraged Arab nationalism and revolution took place in Iraq. However, deployment of US and British armed forces stopped this happening in Jordan and the Lebanon.

Nasser status was undermined by the heavy losses suffered during the Six-Day War. He resigned on 9th June 1967 but following large demonstrations supporting him he reversed this decision.

Gamar Abdel Nasser remained in office until dying of a heart attack in 1970. He was replaced by his friend Anwar Sadat.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Peter Wright, Spycatcher (1987)

At the beginning of the Suez Crisis, MI6 developed a plan, through the London Station, to assassinate Nasser using nerve gas. Eden initially gave his approval to the operation, but later rescinded it when he got agreement from the French and Israelis to engage in joint military action. When this course failed, and he was forced to withdraw, Eden reactivated the assassination option a second time. By this time virtuallyall MI6 assets in Egypt had been rounded up by Nasser, and a new operation, using renegade Egyptian officers, was drawn up, but it failed lamentably, principally because the cache of weapons which had been hidden on the outskirts of Cairo was found to be defective.