Africa

Egypts Nasser still a divisive figure 50 years after his death

Fifty years since Gamal Abdel Nasser's death, controversy over the legacy of the charismatic Egyptian president who championed Arab unity lives on in Egypt as deep divisions beset the Middle East.

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Best known for his colloquial charisma and pan-Arab populism, he enraptured listeners with his radio broadcasts and inspired enormous pride inside the North African country and well beyond its borders.

Nasser was feted as a bulwark against Israel, colonialism and poverty during much of his 16 years in power, first as prime minister and then president.

Early successes included the thwarting, albeit thanks to US influence, of an invasion by Britain, France and Israel in 1956 after Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal.

Critics, however, saw him as a symbol of populist authoritarianism, economic folly and geopolitical imprudence which significantly compromised his standing by the time he died on September 28, 1970.

To mark 50 years since his death, his oldest daughter, Hoda, published a book giving new insight into the life of the divisive leader.

"Nasser: Secret Archives" includes excerpts of his journal while he fought the Arab-Israeli war in 1948 and exchanges with US president John F. Kennedy, as well as Soviet ruler Nikita Khrushchev.

"All I did was recount the events as they happened, and explained the principles he followed by showing documents he wrote while an officer in the army and during his presidency," she told AFP.

"It is up to people how they perceive his rule."

'Boosted dignity'

A senior army officer, Nasser led a group of officers who toppled British-backed King Farouk in a 1952 military coup that later came to be known as the "July 23 revolution".

He served as prime minister from 1954 to 1956, when he became president, until his death.

During his rule, Nasser dismantled the privileges of a landowning aristocracy that had thrived under the old monarchy, and pushed socialist policies including free education and substantial subsidies.

Although very popular, his efforts to establish social equality proved increasingly difficult to fund.

He initiated costly mega-projects like the building of the Aswan High Dam and nationalised the Suez Canal, a move that prompted the 1956 attack by Israel, Britain and France, who were forced to withdraw under US pressure.

"He boosted people's sense of dignity, and that is what Arab peoples miss as they recall Nasser," said Mustapha Kamel, political science professor at Cairo University.

Political parties were abolished under Nasser, while authorities launched a severe crackdown on opponents, including the Muslim Brotherhood.

And Nasser ushered in decades of military rule, characterised by extended emergency powers and the army's significant, often opaque, influence within the economy.

"While he sought to abolish classism, his regime initiated the concept of the police state, and instilled a culture of fear of authority," said Said Sadeq, political science professor at Nile University.

Kamel added: "He did not believe in democracy and used to declare that openly."

"He is a historic leader, who represented key features of the 1950's to 60's ā€” from battling colonialism and seeking social equalitRead More ā€“ Source