Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918 - 1970)
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Profile of Gamal Abdel Nasser
Gamal Abdel Nasser was born in Alexandria, Egypt, in January 1918. Inspired by a nascent sense of nationalism then sweeping Egypt, the young Nasser joined the army of the 11-year old independent country at the tender age of fifteen.
Having graduated from the Royal Military Academy in 1938, Nasser rose rapidly through the ranks. Yet, Nasser considered the relationship between the house of the royal family of King Farouk and the former colonial government of Britain to be unnecessarily servile.
In the face of overwhelming poverty, socio-economic and political needs, the royal house began to be seen as self-serving, corrupt and venal, more concerned with its own importance and wealth than with the development needs of the nation. When in 1948 Egypt was defeated as part of the coalition of forces against the unilaterally declared independence of the State of Israel, it was the last straw. The military defeat was seen as a national dishonour and directly placed at the door of a monarchy that was seen as out of touch with the people of Egypt and responsible for failing to arm Egypt’s soldiers properly. These views were to shape Nasser’s perspective on the politics of his country and mould his vision for the future of Egypt.
In 1952, Nasser was part of a group of soldiers at the head of a popular national uprising which overthrew the monarchy in a bloodless coup. When the leader of the revolution proved indecisive, the popular and charismatic 34-year-old military officer was called on to take over. He immediately proceeded with a revolutionary programme to overhaul his country.
Nasser began to undertake real social and political transformation, bringing about revolutionary reforms to the feudal agrarian system and implementing hugely popular socialist policies. Nasser’s astute leadership through two decades of post-colonial, post-monarchial rule restored his nation’s sense of self-confidence and honour and laid the foundation of the modern Egypt. Freed from the limitations of a feudal society, Egypt underwent a period of rapid growth and development from which millions of Egyptian peasants benefited. His far-sighted policies and revolutionary practices raised the poorest of the poor out of the mire of poverty.
A true champion of anti-imperialism, Nasser rejected neo-colonialism. He set about to assert Egypt’s independence when he nationalized the Suez Canal, a stand for which he received much support throughout the Middle East. Together with India's Nehru and Indonesia's Sukarno, Nasser founded the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). At the same time Nasser actively propagated the right of all people to freedom and supported liberation movements in the colonies.
Nasser falls into that category of rare breed of principled internationalist revolutionaries. His steely resolve to carve out an independent foreign policy and his far-sighted international initiatives were way ahead of their time and ultimately paved the way for the current movement to redefine the relationship of nations of the South with each other and with the North.
He elevated the poor yet proud nation of Egypt, into a major international power-broker. He remains a highly revered figure in Egypt, the Arab world and among the people of the South. His legacy is forever etched into the popular consciousness of humankind.