The scheduled airliner from Cairo touched down at Damascus airport early last week in routine arrival. To the astonishment of Syrians at the field, out stepped Egypt's Strongman Gamal Abdel Nasser, new President of the United Arab Republic. Nasser had found it wise to come unexpected and in secret, lest the Israelis be tempted to have a shot at his plane as it crossed the Mediterranean from Egypt to Syria. Syria's ex-President Shukri el Kuwatly, awakened and told of the arrival, was so taken by surprise that he was still unshaven and in his dressing gown when he hurried downstairs to embrace his new boss.
Nasser's precautions were symptomatic of the geographic shortcomings of the new union between Egypt and Syria. But there was no shortcoming in the massive welcome that Nasser got. Within an hour of the time the radio announced that Nasser was in Damascus, youth delegations, red-and-white turbaned religious leaders, poster-waving workers, ragged Palestinian refugees, and thousands of other citizens of the new republic swarmed under Nasser's guesthouse balcony to shout: "Long live our President!"
Tears & Cheers. People got up on shoulders, crowded rooftops and balconies. Arab nationalists streamed over from Lebanon bearing banners: "We give our lives for you, Gamal." Shouting paraders carried coffins labeled "U.S.A.," "Eisenhower Doctrine," "Baghdad Pact." One old man told the beaming Nasser: "All Arabs love you. You will carry on the glory of our ancestors." "Your feet are more stable than mountains, your hand will make the future," cried one shabbily dressed woman, tears of emotion streaking her cheeks.
In one furious outburst from his Damascus balcony, Nasser abruptly ended his brief truce with the rival Arab Federation (Iraq and Jordan). Evidently Nasser was angered by the Iraqi and Jordanian foreign ministers' attempts to line up Saudi Arabia's King Saud for their union.
"The false federation they established to stand against the Syrian-Egyptian union will be blown away by winds like chaff," shouted Nasser. "Dear brothers, you know these people are agents of imperialism and as such their power is but a short-lived thing."
Lip of Revolution. "Lies," replied Jordan's King Hussein from Amman. When Jordanian police arrested an M.P., two doctors, a couple of schoolteachers and some army officers for trying to send congratulatory messages to Nasser, the Middle East nationalist press reported "Revolution in Jordan."
Asserting (falsely) that Iraqi police had fired on crowds to break up demonstrations in favor of the U.A.R., Nasser's Middle East news agency also reported Iraq "is now on the lip of the volcano."
At week's end Crown Prince el Badr arrived in Damascus to tell Nasser of Yemen's adherence to the republic. Imam Saif el Islam Ahmed will keep his throne and his absolute power, and the arrangement constituted little more than a close alliance. But the battle was joined for leadership of Arab unity.