World: Nasser's Legacy: Hope and instability

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elsewhere. Boumedienne is the senior revolutionary surviving Nasser, but Algeria is more North African than Middle Eastern, somewhat remote from the center of the conflict. Libya's Gaddafi may consider himself a successor, but he is too new, too brash and too untested for other Arab leaders to accept him. Saudi Arabia's Feisal, as keeper of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, has long dreamed of claiming Arab leadership on religious grounds. But Feisal's government is so medieval that few young Arabs would follow him. Guerrilla Leader Yasser Arafat rules no country and thus lacks a true power base, even though he does sit as an ex officio 15th member of the Arab League because of the size and strength of the fedai movement.

A Perfect Community

Ultimately, the value of Nasser's legacy will be determined in two areas: Egypt and the broader Arab community.

After nearly two decades of his rule, Egypt is something less than a monument to enlightened rule. By 1980, because of a scarcely controllable population explosion, there will be 50 million Egyptians; yet the country today lacks the industrial base to support half that population. "This people is today no less poor than in Farouk's days," notes Israel's Deputy Premier Allon, "and some say it is even poorer." Not until the interminable drain of the war with Israel has been stanched is the country likely to emerge from the backwardness that persisted under Nasser. "If it does," writes British Biographer Peter Mansfield (Nasser's Egypt), "the Egyptian revolution of 1952 will be a seminal event of the 20th century. If it does not, Nasserism will leave as little impression on the world as Italian Fascism."

In the broader world, Nasser may fare better. Islam is, after all, based on the notion of what Arabist Salem calls "a perfect community." Through the unifying force of the Arabic tongue, Nasser the master orator did much to restore that sense of community after centuries of foreign rule had seemingly shattered it for all time.

The Caliph's Advice

When Mohammed died, his first caliph, Abu Bakr, told the Prophet's mourning followers: "If you worship Mohammed, Mohammed has died. But if you worship Allah, he is alive and never will die." Throughout the Middle East, a variation of that aphorism was broadcast over Arab radios last week: "If you worship Gamal, Gamal is dead. But if you worship the ideas of Gamal Abdel Nasser, they are alive and will never die." Nasser had many ideas, not all of them worth preserving. The future of the Middle East may thus depend on which the Arab world jettisons and which it retains to worship.

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