31 3. Gamal Abdel Nasser was born to a lower-middle class family in Alexandria, Egypt. As a child, Nasser was beaten and then arrested by British soldiers when he took part in a protest against foreign rule. Later, in high school, he was expelled for leading student demonstrations against the British.
Nasser entered the national military academy in 1937. While in the army, he developed close ties to Anwar Sadat and others who became part of the Free Officers Society. This secret revolutionary group was determined to oust the British and overthrow Egypt's royal family. In 1952, the Free Officers staged the revolt that toppled Egypt's King Farouk. Nasser became prime minister in 1954. He was elected president two years later. He negotiated a treaty with the British under which British troops left Egypt after more than 70 years of occupation. The British, however, still occupied the Suez Canal zone.
Nasser foreign policy objectives were moderate to begin with, then became more aggressive to satisfy domestic critics. He negotiated a peaceful end to the British occupation of the Suez Canal zone. In 1955, he signed an arms agreement with the Soviet Union. In 1956, when the United States and British withdrew their financial support from the Aswan High Dam project, Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal. This action led to a war with Israel, Britain, and France. Egypt was defeated on the battlefield, but managed to retain control of the canal. In the end, Nasser was viewed as a hero in the Arab world for standing up to Western powers.
Nasser attempted to radically change Egyptian society by accelerating the pace of land reform and industrialization. He also granted women the right to vote. He viewed himself as the natural leader of Arab countries and was vocal in his opposition to the existence of Israel. In 1967, increasing tensions between Arabs and Israelis led Nasser to close the Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli shipping. As a result, Israel launched an assault on Egypt that became known as the Six-Day War. The Israeli army occupied the Sinai all the way to the Suez Canal, and Egypt lost the war.
The loss to Israel was a humiliating defeat. Nasser offered his resignation, but the Egyptian government refused to accept it. Although he was in power for three more years, Nasser's influence was weakened. On September 28, 1970, he died of a heart attack. Nasser's leadership helped renew Arab national pride and remains his legacy to the Arab people.
3. Why do you think Nasser is so important to the Egyptian people and is remembered as a hero?