Tuesday, September 28, 2010

40 years ago: Gamal Abdel Nasser, President of Egypt, dies at 52

On September 28, 1970 Gamal Abdel Nasser, President of Egypt since 1954, died at the age of 52. Mr. Nasser was an officer and chief organizer in the military coup that toppled King Faisal from the Egyptian throne in 1952, but installed General Mohammed Naguib as a figurehead president. Mr. Nasser took power himself in 1954, and turned Egypt into a military dictatorship under his control. He embarked on economic reforms and public works projects such as the Aswan High Dam.

Egypt’s decisions to accept arms from the U.S.S.R. and to nationalize the Suez Canal alarmed the U.S.A. and U.K., precipitating the Suez crisis of 1956, in which an Anglo-French force swept into Egypt and achieved great success before being called back in the wake of disapproval from the United States. In February 1958, Egypt and Syria combined to form the United Arab Republic, which broke up just over 3½ years later when Syria abandoned the union because Egypt appeared to benefit from the UAR more than Syria. The Six-Day War between Israel and Egypt in June 1967 was another military disaster for Egypt, but Mr. Nasser retained his popularity. He was a charismatic figure who seemed to symbolize the aspirations of Arab peoples.

On September 27, 1970 Mr. Nasser achieved a diplomatic success when he convened in Cairo a meeting of Arab nations that produced an end to the Jordanian civil war between King Hussein's troops and Palestinian guerrillas (led by a man hitherto unknown to the west, Yasser Arafat) that had begun 10 days earlier. Mr. Nasser, a diabetic who had suffered a heart attack in late 1969 which had been kept secret, suffered another heart attack the day after the conference, this one fatal. He was succeeded as President by Anwar Sadat.

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