Gamal Abdel Nasser was born in the poor neighbourhood of Bacos, Alexandria on January 15, 1918. He attended school in Cairo and was often caught up in battles with British teachers and took part in anti-British demonstrations. He, later on, graduated from the Royal Military Academy in 1938 as a Second Lieutenant.
While in service with the National Army of Egypt and Sudan, Nasser rallied a group of friends to form a secret revolutionary group which came to be known as Free Officers. Their primary goal was to dislodge the British and the Egyptian Royal Family from power.
On 23 July 1952, the Free Officers achieved their goal and brought an end to the rule of then monarch King Faruk I. Nasser’s right-hand man who would later become his successor Sadat Anwar had favoured the immediate public execution of the King and other powerful Royals, a move Nasser did not fathom. Nasser guaranteed King Faruk safe passage into exile.
The new rulers of Egypt installed Muhammad Naguib as ceremonial President of the newly formed Republic of Egypt. Nasser and his Revolutionary Command Council yielded the real power behind the scenes and with this power just like any other dictatorships, they outlawed all other political parties apart from the Liberation Rally.
In a dramatic turn of events in 1954, Naguib was also shown the exit after having several collisions with the Revolutionary Command Council which gave Nasser the chance to rise from the shadows and take full control of his project as the Prime Minister.
Nasser also managed to push out the British occupation and influence in Egypt in a 1954 agreement that saw the colonial masters withdraw their troops from the Suez Canal, and hand it over to Egypt. In June 1956, Egypt assumed full control of the Canal and nationalized it in July the same year.
In October 1954, he survived an assassination attempt back in his home city Alexandria. Nasser’s administration concluded that the Moslem Brotherhood were the masterminds behind the unsuccessful attack so they responded by making numerous arrests and executing several leaders of the movement.
They also declared the movement a terrorist organisation and anyone caught associating with it would have committed a capital offence of treason.
Gamal Abdel Nasser was respected for his role in pushing back the British occupation
Abdel Nasser became president in 1956, a time when the position was vacant after the expiry of Naguib’s term in office. In January, he announced a new constitution which gave the president absolute powers but maintained the one-party rule under the National Union. It also made Egypt a one religion state under Islam with Arabic as the state language. On the positive side, the constitution allowed women to vote.
Elections were carried out for the National Assembly, the country’s first Parliament since 1952, and all candidates had to be approved by Abdel Nasser himself. In the presidential election, Nasser, the sole candidate won with 99.9% of the votes.
In a bid to further consolidate power, Nasser expelled the country’s Jews societies and also imprisoned some of them. The citizens’ freedoms were highly curtailed. Mails were usually opened up before they reached their final recipient, tapping of phone calls was the order of the day, foreign visitors’ movements were restricted with in the country.
Media was highly censored in a way that the country’s biggest newspapers were nationalized, no anti-government content was allowed onto the national media platform. Political opponents were usually imprisoned in the Southern part of the country.
Nasser expelled the country’s Jews societies and also imprisoned some of them including censorship of the country’s media
In addition to the above, Nasser also put in place aggressive land reforms which disposed of many landowners of their land. The country mainly depended on wheat imports for food since the country was hardly cultivatable which left many people with barely enough to eat.
Like most dictators after consolidating power at home, Nasser also wanted to expand his sphere of influence to all Arab countries including the rest of Africa. He started by uniting with Syria in 1958 to form the United Arab Republic but the union was short-lived after Syrians grow dissatisfied with their government leading to a military coup in 1961 that it announce independence from Egypt.
Egypt continued to use the name the United Arab Republic up to 1971, and also went on and supported pro-revolutionary uprisings and demonstrations across the Middle East.
In 1960, as part of his development projects in his country, Nasser flagged off the construction of what was the biggest Hydro Electric Power plant in Africa with a big financial backing of The Soviet Union. Egypt started using the power from the Aswan High Dam in 1968 though construction was completed in 1970.
The electric plant changed the country’s way of life and also accelerated its industrial sector. The construction of the dam also led to the creation of an artificial lake named after Nasser himself, Lake Nasser. Up to today, the lake is an integral part of the country’s agricultural sector since it used for irrigation.
In 1967, amidst the highly escalating tensions between Egypt and Israel, war broke out. The country was massively humiliated by Israel in the Six-Day War when the Egyptian air force was attacked on June 5. Their bases were bombed and many planes destroyed.
In the wake of such a terrible defeat by the Arab World’s worst nemesis, 4 days later, Abdel Nasser announced that he would resign but he turned back after widespread demonstrations calling for his return. On his return, many members of the military were arrested.
In further post-war changes, Nasser assumed the powers of the Prime Minister and Military Commander, and he also appointed Sadat Anwar as his Vice President.
On 28 September 1970, after hosting the Arab League Summit, Nasser suffered a heart attack and died hours later. His burial took place in October with the attendance of over five million people including all leaders of the Arab World except the Saudi King. His remains were taken to Cairo, at what is known today as Abdel Gamal Mosque.
Nasser was not your usual African dictator, up to today he remains loved by many not only in Egypt but across the Arab World and Africa at large.
Author: Katende Basajjabaka
Katende writes about sports and occasionally technology.