Nasser: the Hero, the Villain, and the Nationalist


Many historians and people who have been following the revolutionary events in Egypt can definitely agree that Gamal Abdul Nasser was, without a doubt, a pivotal figure in recent Egyptian history.  Nasser’s part in the Suez Crisis of 1956 and his desire for an Arabic world free of Western influence led him to become one of the most revered and respected people in Egypt and the Arabic world.  However, while he was revered as the one who brought Egypt together, Nasser was also hated for his actions and decisions during his time as the leader of this new Egypt.

Gamal Abdul Nasser was born in 1918 in Alexandria, a true Egyptian born in Egypt.  All throughout his life Nasser was against the idea of being ruled by another foreign country.  He participated in many anti-British demonstrations and advocated against them all throughout his time in the military.  Nasser fought in the 1948 War against Israel, and it was during this time that Nasser met up with officers who agreed with his anti-British ideals.  On July 23rd 1952, Nasser helped lead a revolt against the Royal Family and King Farouk.  After King Farouk fled Egypt, General Mohamed Naguib took over the country as the new leader.  However, this only lasted for a little while before Naguib stepped down and Nasser took his place.  Some say he was stepped down because he didn’t have the political skills necessary to lead a country, and yet others say Nasser himself forced him to step down.  Nasser then increased his popularity when he took a stand against foreign powers by nationalizing the Suez Canal.  This action brought him much popularity in Egypt and many other Arab nations.  This popularity was shown when the citizens of Egypt protested his offer of resignation after the loss in the Six-Day War of 1967 against Israel.  Nasser died in September 1970 and was mourned by all of Egypt.  Nasser, in the eyes of many, was a hero who nationalized Egypt, freeing the country from foreign clutches and benefitting the country through the nationalization of the Suez Canal, a source of much grief and controversy in Egypt.  However, some people and critics of Nasser believe that some of the things he did were detrimental to Egypt.

Nasser had enemies and critics everywhere, but one of the specific groups of Egyptians that disliked him was the Christian population in Egypt.  They had several issues with Nasser and his rule, one of which was that he ended the liberal era of 1922 to 1952.  This era was supposedly one in which Egyptian Christians flourished in and it was cut short by Nasser.  His socialist policies also undermined many Christians hard work.  Many Christians were able to gain wealth but the nationalism of businesses and redistribution of land hit them hard.  Many Christians also believed that Nasser’s wars with the West and Israel were unnecessary and detrimental to the Egyptian state.  While nationalizing the Suez Canal was beneficial to the state, it nevertheless provoked an attack by Britain and France.  If the United States had not intervened Egypt may have been overrun by the two world powers.  Many believed that it was a very high-risk gamble that may have not been worth it.  Afterwards, Egypt was in a constant warring state and was separated from the democratic and liberal political cultures of the West.

Many critics also believe that Nasser was the one who started Egypt’s militaristic rule.  Nasser was not as bad as Sadat and Mubarak but they were fundamentally the same; all were uncontested rulers who made decisions for the country, “not someone who works for the country”.  Nasser was the one who believed that the military should remove power from the corrupt Royal Family and it was Nasser who spread revolutionary ideals to the younger military officers, the new generation.  After King Farouk was overthrown, a military general took to the center stage and from that point on the military has had an iron grip over the nation.  Nasser put much of his efforts into building the military, trying to modernize it as much as possible before he died.

Gamal Abdul Nasser was the hero who is remembered for standing up to the foreign powers and freeing the country from the corrupt Royal Family.  He was also the villain who started the militaristic rule over Egypt, which would cause much pain and suffering in Egypt’s future.  But above all, Nasser was, and always will be, remembered as the nationalist who fought for the freedom of his nation.