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If Russia's growing role in Egypt did not trouble Nasser, the growing drain of the conflict with Israel apparently did. In August, he accepted a U.S. initiative calling for a cease-fire at Suez and peace talks. Then the Jordanian civil war erupted, with Arab fighting Arab, and Nasser was again cast in the peacemaker's role. He summoned Arab heads of government to Cairo for a summit to settle the fighting.
Race with Death
Throughout his career, Nasser maintained a ferocious 18-hour workday, taking time out only occasionally for a day in the sun at Alexandria's Agame beach. His relaxations were not enough to relieve a chronic case of nerves: visitors to his office noticed that he constantly wiggled his leg, and during much of his adult life he smoked 100 U.S. and British cigarettes a day. He was a devoted husband and an attentive father to his five children, but lavished few luxuries on his family. He never gave up the suburban villa that he had occupied as an army lieutenant colonel, though he had it considerably enlarged. Nor did he lose the ordinary man's sense of surprise at sumptuous living. Once, while visiting Saudi Arabian royalty at the best suite in the Nile Hilton, Egypt's dictator whispered, wide-eyed, to an aide: "How much does this cost a day?"
Work was his life, but the brutal pace of the Arab summit proved too much for him. For ten days he labored to stop the fighting in Jordan and head off any abrasive settlement that might hurt Arab unity. Fiery nationalists like Libya's Muammar Gaddafi and Algeria's Houari Boumedienne, for instance, wanted to send troops to join the guerrillas against Hussein until Nasser dissuaded them. After the summit worked out ground rules for a cease-fire in Jordan, Nasser managed to get both Hussein and Guerrilla Leader Yasser Arafat to Cairo for a conciliatory hand shake in his presence.
Such intense negotiations visibly fatigued Nasser. Minister of National Guidance and Al Ahram Editor Hasanein Heikal urged the President to slow down. "There are men, women and children dying," Nasser replied. "We are in a race with death." Later, as Nasser drove to Cairo airport to bid goodbye to Kuwait's Emir Sabah es Salem es Sabah, last of the captains and kings to depart from the summit, Heikal again pleaded with his boss to take a rest.
"After I say goodbye to the Emir,"sighed Nasser, "I shall sleep long enough." Almost at the moment the Emir's blue and white Kuwait Airways jet became airborne, Nasser was stricken. Perspiring heavily and unable to stand, he was helped into his limousine.
At his home at Manshiet al Bakri, a waiting physician ordered an oxygen tent and summoned three specialists for consultation. The diagnosis: massive coronary thrombosis.
Red Alert Nasser suffered a similar attack a year ago. At that time, he remained in bed for six weeks, but the illness was publicly reported as influenza; only after his death was it