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As Nasser began to weaken last week, his family and special friends were summoned to his bedside. Heikal and Sadat were there, together with Defense Minister Mohammed Fawzi and two old companions from the 1952 revolutionary days of the Free Officers Movement, Hussein Shafei and Ali Sabry. After Nasser died, it fell to Sadat as Acting President to break the news to the nation. He waited three hours, while a red alert was flashed to put army units on guard against a possible Israeli attack. Then a weeping Sadat went on television to say: "The U.A.R., the Arab nation and humanity have lost the most precious man, the most courageous and most sincere man."
Patient Mediator For much of his life, Nasser was an in corrigible conspirator, and his enemies were never benign. Former Israeli Premier David Ben-Gurion said last week:
"He was a liar without equal." It is ironic that at the time of his death he had evolved into a patient mediator, seeking to settle the quarrels that flared interminably among his fellow Arabs. He even seemed to have abandoned the dream that had prompted the conspiracy: transforming all the Arab League nations into socialist governments that would function as a kind of consortium, presumably with Egyptians at the head.
In the end, Nasser realized that the Arab world was simply too diffuse to weld together. Its governments range from revolutionary regimes through moderate governments to conservative kingdoms (see map). To fuse them into a single unit would be all but impossible. The closest approach, the 1958 amalgamation of Egypt and Syria into the United Arab Republic, lasted only three years before the Syrians seceded, complaining of Egyptian domination. Nasser's aim after that fiasco was to form a consortium of governments that would remain politically separate but would work together militarily and economically. At the time of his death, he was trying to develop such a complex with the new revolutionary regimes of Libya and the Sudan.
Peace in Palestine
Nasser had also come to realize that the future of the Arab world depended on one key achievement: a solution to the 22-year-old Palestinian problem and the status of Israel. After a series of defeats at the hands of the Israelis, he finally concluded that there could be no lasting military settlement—even though he often acted as if that were the only answer to the problem. The Palestinian solution, he would say in private conversations, depended not on war but on the emergence of "a new Arab who would sweep away the old world of sheiks and sultans and kings. Only when this new Arab emerges will we be able to solve the Palestine problem with dignity. It may not happen in my lifetime. But it will happen."
Nasser himself had hoped to create "the new Arab." With this in mind, apparently, he decided to accept the Rogers peace plan two months ago. His death leaves a solution in doubt. No one is strong enough so far to succeed him, not merely as leader of Egypt but as spokesman for the millions of Arabs