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1970: Mourners killed as Nasser is buried

Scores of people have been crushed or battered to death in Cairo as millions of people crowded onto the streets for President Abdel Nasser's funeral.

The funeral cortege should have been a sombre state ceremony attended by 40 major-generals and 5,000 troops.

But as the president's bier passed through the capital towards its final resting place, the sheer weight of numbers of grief-stricken Egyptians threatened to disrupt the procession.

Communal sorrow

As the coffin crossed Qasr El-Nil bridge soldiers were simply overwhelmed by a mass of communal sorrow as men and women, wailing their loss, swarmed around the entourage.

In a surge of spontaneity hysterical mourners attempted to bear their beloved leader's coffin themselves.

Soldiers used rifle butts and batons to repel the crowd in the ensuing pandemonium.

The march was abandoned and the coffin transferred to a military vehicle.

Authorities drove the coffin in haste to its final resting place at Manshiet-el-Bakry mosque, now to be known as Gamal Abdel Nasser mosque, and completed the burial ceremony three hours ahead of schedule.

Estimates put the number of mourners lining the funeral route at five million.

Many more congregated in major cities across Egypt and the Arab world.

While the majority of casualties in Cairo were caused by overcrowding, other cities in the Middle East witnessed more unusual fatalities.

Stray small arms fire is reported to have killed and wounded a number of people in Beirut.

The discharging of weapons into the air is a common mark of respect in the region for dead heroes and leaders.

In Context
The total number of people killed at the funeral was estimated at 48. Most deaths were the result of people being trampled underfoot. Hundreds more were injured.

President Abdel 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 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.

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.

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