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NASSER, GAMAL ABDEL (15 January 1918 – 28 September 1970), more properly, Jamal `Abd al-Nasir, Egyptian soldier and statesman and proponent of Arab nationalism. Leader of the group of Free Officers which overthrew King Farouk (Faruq) in 1952, Colonel Nasser became chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council in 1954 and was elected president of the Egyptian Republic in 1956, a post which he held until his death in 1970. He was one of the generation of Third World leaders who had to face the demands of ruling postcolonial countries in the age of the superpowers and the cold war, while at the same time coping with the problems of economic development in, poor overpopulated countries. In addition, Egypt under Nasser became the center of the Arab world and Arab nationalism, and Nasser was seen as the leader who would unite the Arabs in the struggle to eliminate both the last vestiges of imperialism in the Middle East and the ally of the West, Israel.

Nasser came into office with no firm ideology or plans and made several attempts to provide a broader base of legitimacy for his rule. He lit on socialism as the best solution and in the Arab Socialist Union tried to estabfish a vehicle to put his ideas into practice. Socialism, he believed, would foster development and provide a political framework for the country.

In the Charter of 1962 he set forth guidelines for Egypt’s future. His ideas were strongly influenced by the then widely held principles of Marxism. In the charter, religion is mentioned hardly at all, Islam only once as the historical determinant of Egypt’s thought and spiritual development. Yet Nasser was not a Leninist atheist or a secularizing Ataturk. He valued Islam as an essential part of Egyptian life which should be enlisted to further the ends of the socialist revolution. Nothing he proposed conflicted with deeply held religious principles, yet he did not want these principles to be allowed to hinder the development of a progressive, modernizing society. Islamic values were to be used positively to reinforce the legitimacy of the state political system.

Presumably in order not to offend Christian Egyptians, the charter underlined the “eternal moral values of religions,” not solely of Islam: “All religions contain a message of progress. Their essence is to assert man’s right to life and freedom” [italics added]. But the religious leaders of al-Azhar University went further, stressing that the aims of Islam and socialism were precisely similar-the achievement of social justice, equality, freedom and dignity, and the elimination of want. Al-Azhar served as an organ of state propaganda and Nasser himself used mosque pulpits as a platform from which to proclaim his policies. After the Arab defeat in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, when it seemed that Arab nationalism and socialism had failed, Nasser appealed more strongly than ever to Islamic values. Traditional Islamic themes and symbols were revived, and he made frequent references to Allah in his speeches. By the time of his death he was trying to set Egypt on a different course, less socialist, more accommodating, in which religion would play a greater role.

[See also Arab Nationalism; Arab Socialism; Egypt; Nasserism.]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Hopwood, Derek. Egypt, Politics and Society 1945-90. 3d ed. London and New York, 1991. An introductory survey.

Rejwan, Nissim. Nasserist Ideology, Its Exponents and Critics. New York, 1974. Good coverage of the subject.

Stephens, Robert. Nasser, a Political Biography. London, 1971. An early but comprehensive work.

Vatikiotis, P. J. Nasser and His Generation. London, 1978. A good study by a keen observer of the scene.

Vatikiotis, P. J. The Modern History of Egypt. 4th ed. Baltimore, 1991. The standard history of the whole period.

DEREK HOPWOOD

Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/nasser-gamal-abdel/
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  • writerPosted On: June 11, 2017
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