World: Nasser's Legacy: Hope and instability

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Hussein was surrounded by a squad of bodyguards and escorted to safety.

The procession finally reached Nasr Mosque, renamed Abdel Nasser Mosque as a tribute, but not before the coffin had been transferred to an armored car, which rammed through the crowd at 25 m.p.h. Nasser's widow Tahia fainted at one point. One Egyptian newscaster who was describing the proceedings passed out, and at least three others broke down and wept. Wrapped in a white sheet, Nasser's body was removed from the coffin and lowered into its crypt. The face was carefully turned toward Mecca, 800 miles away across the Red Sea. Nasser's soul, as far as devout Moslems were concerned, was already with God. He had succumbed on the anniversary of Mohammed's ascent into heaven, an auspicious occasion on which to die.

Nasser's last rites were the final confirmation of the immense influence he had exerted in Egypt—and beyond. His death unstabilizes an area that has become the most volatile in the world. Beyond the continual coups, the constant bickering and the incessant intrigues were two related problems: the civil war in Jordan between Palestinian guerrillas and King Hussein's Bedouin-backed government, and the long-festering war with Israel. Just before Nasser's death, a number of Egyptians were voicing cautious optimism about the prospects for peace. "We can't go on like this," said a leader of Egypt's national assembly. "We are spending half a billion pounds a year to finance this war. Israel is hurting the same way. When two countries need peace as badly as we two do, we can find a way." Such optimism gave way to uncertainty and anxiety when Nasser died.

Problems of Succession

But even as Egypt ponders the problem of belligerency with Israel, it faces a more immediate concern—the selection of Nasser's successor (see box). Under the Egyptian constitution, Vice President Anwar Sadat becomes Acting President. Within 60 days, the National Assembly must nominate a President and submit his name to a referendum.

Whoever emerges as the successor, one thing is certain: though he will be in formal command of the most populous (33.5 million) and powerful country in the Arab world, he will enjoy only a fraction of the authority that Nasser wielded. The key question is whether he will be sufficiently strong to resist Arab pressure to resume the war with Is rael. Nasser had been well aware of this dilemma. A few years ago, he told a British biographer, David Wynne-Morgan: "I categorically do not want to go to war with Israel. But any Arab leader who says so will be out the following morning."When Israeli Trans port Minister Shimon Peres heard of the Egyptian President's death, he spoke in a similar vein: "Nasser had experienced enough shocks of war to be careful in the future. His successor may not be so careful."

Nonbeligerent Atmosphere Complicating the situation is the vast Soviet presence that has been established in Egypt, not to mention the rest of the Middle East. There are between 12,000 and 15,000 Russians in Egypt— from economists and engineers to missile technicians and MIG pilots— and any successor to Nasser will have to keep them in mind when he deals with Israel. Sovietologists do not believe that Russia wants all-out war with Israel, but they point out that "controlled

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