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Tuesday, 23 July, 2002, 11:09 GMT 12:09 UK
Nasser's mixed legacy
Gamal Abdul Nasser
Nasser's opponents were jailed and sometimes tortured
Roger Hardy

On 23 July 1952, a group of military men known as the Free Officers seized power in Egypt, toppling the British-backed monarchy and setting the country on a new political path.

Nasser facts
Born in 1918, the son of a postal clerk
Graduate of military academy, promoted to colonel in 1950
Led the Free Officers in 1952
Nationalised the Suez Canal in 1956
Resigned after Arab defeats of 1967, but popular demonstrations brought him back to power
Died in 1970
It was the first time Egypt had been ruled by Egyptians for two and a half millennia.

The country had been conquered by a succession of foreigners - Persians, Greeks, Romans, Circassians, Arabs, Turks and finally the British.

So Gamal Abdul Nasser, and the other young army officers, won huge popular acclaim when they ended the much-resented domination of the British, ejected the effete and pleasure-loving King Farouq and turned the country into a republic.

Half a century on, Nasser's legacy is the subject of hot debate.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s and until his death in 1970, he dominated Arab politics and the popular imagination of the Arab masses.

He was an electrifying speaker. Crowds hung on his every word.

He embodied pan-Arabism - the dream of a united Arab nation stretching from the Atlantic to the Gulf.

His message, of social justice at home and anti-colonialism abroad, restored Arab dignity.

Nostalgia for Nasserism

Today, when many Arabs feel humiliated by Israel and the American superpower, there is a certain nostalgia for Nasserism.

But to his critics, Nasser led the Arabs down a cul-de-sac.

He aligned Egypt with the Soviet Union, and so ended up on the losing side in the Cold War.

Relying on Soviet aid, he built up a monolithic state-run economy - which his successors have ever since been struggling to demolish.

His rule was harshly authoritarian. Opponents, ranging from communists to the Muslim Brotherhood, were jailed and sometimes tortured. Many were driven into exile.

Finally, the pan-Arab dream was a costly failure.

Arabs proved, in practice, unable to unite under Nasser's leadership - or to stand up to Israel.

The high hopes of 1952 ended in bitter defeat by Israel in the June war of 1967.

See also:

23 Jul 02 | Media reports
14 Jul 02 | Middle East
04 Feb 02 | Middle East
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27 Sep 99 | Middle East
08 Feb 02 | Country profiles
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