Aswan and Lake Nasser Feature

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Gamel Abdel Nasser

Lake Nasser is named after Egypt's most important modern-day politician, Gamel Abdel Nasser (Gamal ‘Abd al-Nasir), who broke the ties of colonialism during the 1950s, leading Egypt after independence and becoming a leading light in the pan-Arab movement.

Born in Alexandria in 1918, he graduated from the Military Academy in 1938 but had a deep desire for Egyptian autonomy and founded a group called the Free Officer's Movement. In 1952 the movement staged a military coup, ousting the Egyptian royal family. Nasser left the military and became prime minister in 1954.

Nasser tried to tread a middle path to avoid the tensions between the Communist bloc and the West by joining the nonaligned movement in 1955. But Egypt couldn't avoid making choices between the capitalists and the Soviets. The United States pulled out of a deal to fund the Aswan High Dam in 1956, so Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal to pay for the project, prompting military action by the Israelis, the British, and the French, which petered out after pressure from the United States. The Arab world saw this as a victory for Nasser, and he became a regional hero.

In 1956, Egypt officially became a socialist state. There was nationalization of key industries and land reform, but it never reached the amount of state control that it needed to truly live up to the title. But Nasser also announced Russian funding for the Aswan High Dam, and this further alienated the West. Pan-Arab relations took a step forward in 1958, when Egypt entered a political union with Syria under the banner United Arab Republic, but this wasn't a success and only lasted until 1961.

Throughout the 1960s, pressure in the region was building, and Nasser used his rhetoric against Israel in an attempt to drum up help from other Arab nations to crush the Jewish state. But the Israelis didn't wait and launched a preemptive action in 1967 that became known as the Six Day War. It brought a massive defeat for Egypt and a personal loss of face for its president. Nasser offered his resignation, but in a massive show of popular support his people took to the streets to call on him to reconsider. Although he remained president, the defeat had dampened his spirits. His health suffered, and he died of a heart attack in 1970 at the age of 52.

Nasser was not universally popular at home. After an assassination attempt in 1954, he clamped down on all domestic opposition, putting his main rival, Mohammed Naguib, under house arrest and replacing a judiciary that suggested rule of law ought to prevail. However, he is still viewed as a hero by many.

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