Led by Mohammed Naguib and Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian national revolution of 1952 is probably one of North Africa’s most pivotal events in history.
Gamal Abdel Nasser is instrumental in ending a long stretch of political power wielded by the Muhammed Ali Dynasty as far back as 1805. This revolution started the transition of Egypt’s age-long monarchical form of government to one more contemporary that is akin to a republican leadership style.
Essentially, it was the beginning of what historians referred to as the “Nasser era,” which ultimately had some massive influence on the entire Arab world.
In the succeeding sections, we’ll take you on a quick journey to understand Gamal Abdel Nasser’s reign.
We will look into the things and principles he stood by and achievements he accomplished that remained evergreen on the hearts of every trueborn Egyptian.
Who was Gamal Abdel Nasser?
For instance, his family strongly supported the notion of the Arab nation’s superiority and dominance. As Nasser grew older, he developed tendencies toward upholding, supporting, or strengthening these beliefs.
As a child, Gamal Abdel Nasser had quite a lot of exposure to different places, as his family was almost always moving. This constant movement was mainly because of his father’s job. At other times, Nasser also had to stay with relatives from both his paternal and maternal sides. These mostly allowed him to see how much social class divide there was in Egypt, thus spurring him to take on certain beliefs. For instance, he later became known for his steadfast belief in social justice and fairness.
Note that the young Nasser had his elementary and primary education in Alexandria and Helwan, respectively, before returning to Alexandria for his secondary school education. At about this time, he began to show much interest in political activism and social justice causes. According to his account, he had joined a protest organized by Hizb Masr El-Fatah, an Egyptian political party, without even knowing what they were protesting against. For Nasser, taking a stand with the people was the right thing to do.
In 1933, as a secondary school student of El-Nahda school in Cairo, he was fast becoming an activist, public figure. He was elected the head of the students union. He joined in the fight against the treaty reached between the United Kingdom and Egypt in 1936. He continued to associate with the Young Egypt Party (Masr El-Fatah) movement and occasionally got arrested. On one of these fights, Nasser incurred a deep cut on his forehead, which left a scar, and which he would later refer to in several of his comments years after.
Interestingly, his drive for political activism did not seem to wane. He associated with a few groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and consistently defined his personal goals and pursued them. Note that about a year earlier, he had also joined on the forefront of those agitating for prime minister Ismail Sidky to reenact the 1923 Egyptian constitution, which had been previously canceled. These agitations yielded results, and the constitution was subsequently reenacted.
Above anything else, the teenage years were a time of great discovering for the young Nasser, and it could be said that the feats he was able to achieve at this time were the things that prepared him for the more eventful later years. In June 1944, he got married to Tahia Kazim- who was of Iranian descent. They were married for about 26 years with five children, and Tahia would later write of their closeness and fondness in a memoir she titled “My Husband.”
Nasser: The Military Man
At 19, Gamal Abdel Nasser became interested in joining the armed forces and enrolling at the Royal Military Academy. This decision was partly born out of Nasser’s conviction that Egypt needed a more practical course of action against the social and political irregularities than just rhetorical speeches. Also, his disapproval of the British’s interference in Egypt’s political systems was influenced by his displeasure, which led to the suspension of the country’s constitution. Consequently, Abdel Nasser believed that joining the military would provide him with the required force needed to correct some things.
However, joining the Royal Military Academy didn’t come easy for him, as he was denied admission at his first attempt. The main reasons for this were his many involvements in anti-government demonstrations, his family’s poor financial background, and his lack of connection with top personalities (popularly referred to as wasta).
However, as a second resort, Nasser got into Cairo University to study law but opted out six months to enroll at the Military Academy again. However, this time, he ensured he had secured a “connection” (wasta) with a top military officer who was also amongst those in charge of recruitment. His name was General Ibrahim Khairy, and it didn’t take long before he took some interest in the ambitious Nasser.
On the second attempt, Gamal Abdel Nasser was able to get into the Academy with the general’s support. He showed determination and purpose in his training, becoming a second lieutenant and then a colonel in no time. During his stay at the Academy, Colonel Nasser was directly charged with grooming new officer recruits, making him contact Abdel Hakim Amer. Due to military officers’ need at an ongoing Suez canal intervention in 1938, the British government had to redeploy its soldiers to the canal. Egypt consequently needed more active officers. This was the seventeenth month of Abdel Nasser in the Royal Military Academy. The current circumstances led to his relatively early graduation.
His first fight as a military officer was in 1939 at Minkabad, alongside other respected military officers like Zakaria Mohieddin and Anwar El-Sadat. They later became Nasser’s successor President. All through his early military career days, Colonel Nasser was against British troops’ continued presence on Egyptian soil because of the British government’s perceived manipulation. As Nasser get a closer connection to the leadership ranks, he was able to see how much unfair pressure was put on King Farouk by the British.
For example, in February 1942, Miles Wedderburn Lampson, a British ambassador, ordered military artillery tanks placed on the monarch’s palace. The attempt was to force the king to abdicate some power for a wafdist faction led by Mostafa El-Nahhas Pasha. This type of manipulation and the increasing level of corruption in the country irritated Abdel Nasser. It was part of why he was one of the fourteen individuals who came together to form the Free Officers Movement.
The Free Officers Movement, Revolution, & Nasser’s Presidency
The free officers’ movement became the primary opposition to the government and the British colonial masters. It started as a small group of “rebel military officers” who wanted a change in Egypt.
Abdel Nasser was not new to this activism, so he quickly became a leader in the fight. Other notable members included Khaled Mohieddin, Saad Tawfik, Salah Nasr, Hussein Hamouda, and a few others. Later on, the first Egyptian President, Mohammed Naguib, joined the movement and became its leader.
The group rapidly grew in support and successfully planned and executed the coup that led to King Farouk I’s ousting on June 23, 1952. After the revolution, the free officers’ movement continued to make transitory plans.
In June 1953, Naguib- who had become well known and loved by many, was made President. However, as time went on, Naguib fell out of favor with some of the free officers’ movement members. He had to resign from being President, 514 days after he assumed power. This opened an opportunity for Abdel Nasser, who was later elected President through referendum votes. He took the presidency on November 14, 1954, and served until he died in 1970.
Several decades after his death, some of Abdel Nasser’s most significant legacies are still referred to in Cairo and elsewhere.
Of all the Egyptian presidents, Nasser was acknowledged when he made access to basic amenities relatively more straightforward for all Egyptians- irrespective of social class or affiliations. His tenure as President significantly helped the new country to adjust well after colonial rule. For instance, Nasser’s agrarian reforms and the Aswan dam’s construction were top agendas that gave the nation a good head start.
Aside from these, Nasser was able to keep Egypt ahead of many other Arab countries in terms of arts and crafts, television programs production, literature, and even music. Interestingly, statistics showed Egypt’s economy to have grown by almost 10 percent per annum for close to ten years. The Gross domestic product too experienced a significant surge from about 15 percent around 1948 to over 35 percent as at the end of his tenure.
One of the most significant actions taken by Nasser was the nationalization of the enormous Suez canal project. Nearly this put the transport canal in full control of the Egyptian government- a move that lacked any support from the UK and France. For the Arab world, this made the Egyptian leader seen as a man who indeed had his country’s interest at heart and wanted his people to be liberated from all sorts of negative colonial influence. Although this action led to Egypt’s invasion by Israel, France, and Britain, its Arab allies firmly supported one of the most outstanding leaders they had seen. They respected his desire for unity and coalition amongst countries of Arab origin, and this was one of his primary goals until he breathed his last.
His disposition towards the Jews was, however, condemned on various ends. At different times, Nasser deported several hundreds of Jews from Egypt and had waged an open war against them.
How did Gamal Abdel Nasser die?
On September 27, 1970, Nasser hosted Arab leaders in Cairo for the Arab League summit. One day, the event was successful, and delegates were already leaving back to their various countries. On the 28th, however, Abdel Nasser developed a heart attack and was immediately rushed home and attended by his doctors’ team. He died some hours later and was buried in a grand procession with millions of mourners in attendance.
Before this time, he had underlying health issues, especially those related to diabetes and heart diseases.
The following is a summary of what we’ve discussed:
- Gamal Abdel Nasser was born in 1918 in a place called Bakos, in Alexandria, Egypt.
- He started political activism when he was a teenager in secondary school and sustained the drive till he became President.
- He joined the Royal Military Academy at around age 19, after being denied admission the first time.
- He went to study law briefly at the Cairo University for only six months.
- Colonel Nasser first became a second lieutenant and then colonel after spending seventeen months at the Military Academy.
- In 1949, he joined about fourteen other military officers to form the Free Officers’ movement.
- The movement was aimed at causing a positive change in Egypt’s political and colonial settings.
- The movement was the brain behind the 1952 Egyptian revolution, which produced the coup that ousted former King Farouk.
- Mohammed Naguib became President for a short while, after which Nasser came into power as President in 1954
- As President, Abdel Nasser developed most sectors of the Egyptian economy and significantly growing its GDP.
- He nationalized the Suez canal project, hot, massive support of the Arab nation for this, but displeasure from France and the UK.
- Three nations Israel, France and Britain, invade Egypt to show displeasure over Nasser’s action and possibly to oust him from power
- Gamal Abdel Nasser won the Suez crisis and gained more political prominence.
- Abdel Nasser host Arab country leaders to a summit in 1970.
- He does the second day after the summit due to a heart attack.
Gamal Abdel Nasser was a man of ideology who always saw the need to do what he felt was right. Although critics do not support his perceived populist authoritarianism, he still has the respect of a good percentage of Egyptians- even in his death.