World: Nasser's Legacy: Hope and instability

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quarreling with his strict father and failing six times in the first nine years of his schooling. At the age of 16, he impulsively jumped into a street fight between a group of youths and the police. Hauled off to jail, he asked the boy next to him: "Who are you and what were we fighting about?" The youths were members of an independence movement called El Fatat (Young Egypt). Nasser soon became a member.

Accepted into the Royal Military Academy, he was appalled at the corruption and laziness that existed in King Farouk's army. During the 1948 war against the new state of Israel, Major Nasser was wounded in the shoulder by sniper fire during one battle, and his unit was surrounded by the Israelis at Faluja. In his newly published Genesis 1948, former Foreign Correspondent Dan Kurzman records a fascinating encounter—arranged during a temporary truce—between the hard-pressed young major and Yeroham Cohen, aide to an Israeli commander named Yigal Allon, now Israel's Deputy Premier. Nasser seemed more bitter toward the British than the Israelis, telling Cohen that "they pushed us into a war we were not ready for." Then he asked: "How did you do it [get rid of the British]? Maybe we can learn something from you."

Sense of Dignity

Almost immediately, Nasser was at work on his own plan. While still at Faluja he organized the first meeting of a secret group called Dobbat el Ahrar (the Free Officers), who gradually worked out a scheme to gain Egyptian independence. On July 23, 1952, troops under the Free Officers' command surrounded strategic buildings in Cairo and handed the profligate Farouk an ultimatum demanding that he renounce his throne. The King promptly sailed for Italy. Egypt's first President was Major General Mohammed Naguib, a military hero familiar to the public. But the new power in the country was the 34-year-old lieutenant colonel who had masterminded the brilliant, virtually bloodless coup: Gamal Abdel Nasser. Two years later, he became Egypt's ruler in name as well as fact. Naguib was placed under house arrest, and still remains under that restriction.

With his flashing eyes, dazzling smile and throbbing rhetoric, Nasser captivated Arabs everywhere. He cracked down on pasha society. He limited land ownership to a maximum of 208 acres, decreeing that larger plots be redistributed to the peasants. His goal, he said, was for the fellah to command a higher rate for a day's work than did the ga-moosa (water buffalo). They still do not. The fellah costs 580 a day to hire; the gamoosa, 690.

Though he became a professed socialist in the last years of his life, Nasser stood for no doctrinaire political ideology. His movement, he admitted, was "a revolution without a plan." More precisely, it was a revolution to rid the Arab world of foreign domination—a job that was bound to involve tragic excesses. Former U.S. Ambassador to Cairo Raymond Hare has characterized it as "a revulsion rather than a revolution." Convinced that Israel's statehood represented part of the domination that he detested, Nasser felt compelled to waste Egyptian resources in military conflicts with the new nation. At home, he became a dictator who jailed his political opponents and spied on outsiders.

Pageants of Sunrise

His greatest construction project was the vast

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