December 12, 2017

1970. Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser Dies at 52

Nasser's Legacy After Eighteen Years
"Egyptian Deputy Prime Minister and future President Gamal Abdel Nasser and his convoy being welcomed by the residents of El Minya," June 24, 1954 (source)
Bill Downs

ABC Washington

September 28, 1970

When I first interviewed Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1954, he still insisted on wearing the rank of colonel on his Egyptian army uniform, although as head of the Revolutionary Command Council of young officers who had deposed King Farouk, Nasser was the top man in Egypt.

He was a slim and handsome 36-years-old then, and while still harboring slightly veiled hatred for Zionist Israel, Nasser insisted that he held no hatred for the Hebrew people. But it was a claim not borne out in the years of anti-Jewish propaganda from his Radio Cairo.

But whatever else he was, to the Egyptian people Nasser remained a heroic figure who took their country away from a corrupt monarchy. He was, and will remain, their George Washington.

In the eighteen years that Gamal Abdel Nasser and his young army colleagues ruled Egypt, I watched the physical change in the man that seemed to parallel the fate of the United Arab Republic.

When I first interviewed him, Nasser was the lean and humble revolutionary—dreaming of dragging Egypt into the twentieth century by work and education. He had larger dreams of making the UAR the capital of the Islamic world by embracing Muslims from Africa to Indonesia.

But as the years rolled by, the dreams seemed to fade as the Nasser waistline expanded. He could not even keep his Syrian brothers within the Republic. He arrogantly defied the West and embraced the Russians.

In the Middle East, where the Muslim extremist brotherhoods regard assassination as a valid political practice, the announcement that President Nasser died of a heart attack will be received with some skepticism.

During his eighteen years as head of the Egyptian nation, Nasser's downfall or overthrow was often predicted on the diplomatic grapevines around the world, most particularly heard after the humiliation during the Six-Day War with Israel. However, Nasser survived that defeat and remained his country's hero, even after a purge of the Egyptian army and air force which executed some of his closest colleagues.

Nasser had been reported in bad health for several years, making a number of trips to Moscow for medical treatment. Presumably the strain of the civil war in Jordan, and his inability to do anything about it, was too much for the Egyptian president.

This is Bill Downs for ABC News in Washington.