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Nasserism
Ideology Arab nationalism,
Pan-Arabism,
Arab socialism

Nasserism is an Arab nationalist political ideology based on the thinking of the former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. It was a major influence on pan-Arab politics in the 1950s and 1960s, and continues to have significant resonance throughout the Arab World to this day. It also metamorphosed into other nationalist movements during the 1970s. However, the scale of the Arab defeat in the Six Day War of 1967 severely damaged the standing of Nasser, and the ideology associated with him. Nasser himself died in 1970, and certain important tenets of Nasserism were revised or abandoned totally by his successor as Egyptian President, Anwar El-Sadat. During Nasser's lifetime, Nasserist groups were encouraged and often supported financially by Egypt, to the extent that many became seen as willing agents of the Egyptian Government.

Contents

Ideology

Nasserism is a revolutionary Arab nationalist and pan-Arab ideology, combined with a vaguely defined socialism, often distinguished from Eastern bloc or Western socialist thought by the label 'Arab socialism'. Though opposed ideologically to Western capitalism, Arab socialism also developed as a rejection of communism, which was seen as incompatible with Arab traditions, and the religious underpinnings of Arab society. As a consequence, Nasserists from the 1950s to the 1980s sought to prevent the rise of communism in the Arab World, and advocated harsh penalties for individuals and organizations identified as attempting to spread communism within the region.

Though mindful of the Islamic and Christian heritage of the Arab World, as with Ba'athism, Nasserism is largely a secular ideology. Just as with other manifestations of Arab nationalism, this led to direct conflict with Islamic orientated Arab political movements from the 1950s onwards, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood. Nasserists espouse an end to Western interference in Arab affairs, Developing World and Non-Aligned solidarity, modernization, and industrialization. Nasser himself was opposed vehemently to Western imperialism, sharing the commonly-held Arab view that Zionism was an extension of European colonialism on Arab soil.

In world politics, Nasser's Egypt, along with Yugoslavia under Josip Broz Tito, and India under Jawaharlal Nehru, was a major proponent of the Non-Aligned Movement, which advocated developing countries remaining outside of the influence of the superpower blocs. However, notwithstanding this policy, and government suppression of communist organizations within Egypt, Egypt's deteriorating relations with Western powers, particularly following the Suez Crisis of 1956, made Egypt heavily dependent on military and civil assistance from the Soviet Union. The same was true for other revolutionary Arab governments which, although repressive of communism within Arab borders, entered into strong longstanding relationships with communist states outside of the Arab World. The Egyptian-Soviet alliance continued well into the presidency of Nasser's successor as president, Anwar El Sadat, especially with regard to the Arab-Israeli Conflict.

Nasser and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in May 1964

Today

Nasserism remains a political force throughout the Arab World, but in a markedly different manner than in its heyday. Whereas in the 1950s and 60s Nasserism existed as a revolutionary and dynamic movement with definite political and social goals, today it is a much less pronounced and distinct ideology. Many more Arabs are informed by Nasserism in a general sense than actually espouse its specific ideals and objectives. In terms of political organizations, Nasserism's scope is generally confined to minor opposition parties, writers and intellectuals. In Egypt itself, the Nasserist Party styles itself as the successor to Nasser and his Arab Socialist Union. However, as with all opposition parties in Egypt, its activities are severely limited by the Egyptian Government.

While Nasser governed Egypt through a strictly authoritarian one-party system, with extreme limits on any form of political dissent, present-day Nasserists stress their support for democracy, explaining Nasser's autocratic excesses as necessary to implement his revolutionary policies. However, some Nasserist activists complain of persisting autocratic practices within their own ranks. Today Nasserist movements in Egypt are largely overshadowed by Islamic political organizations, especially the Muslim Brotherhood. This is a part of an overall trend within Egypt and the Arab World of Arab nationalism being overshadowed, and even eclipsed, by political Islam.

Influence outside of the Arab World

Whilst being a quintessentially Arab ideology, Nasserism influenced, to a degree, left-wing movements in other parts of the Developing World, particularly Sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America. Under Nasser, the Egyptian Government gave support, both moral and material, to Sub-Saharan liberation movements fighting European colonialism. Nelson Mandela, the former South African President and Leader of the African National Congress, remarked that this support was crucial in helping sustain the morale of such movements, including in South Africa. Similar sentiments have been expressed by Fidel Castro, the former Cuban President, with regard to the Cuban Revolution, and Cuba's later adversities against the U.S. Government. Both men stated that Egypt's resistance under Nasser against the joint British, French, and Israeli invasion of Egypt in 1956 proved to be inspirational for their own movements.

In the present day, Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela and leader of the self-styled 'Bolivarian Revolution', has cited Nasserism as a direct influence on his own political thinking. In an interview with Al-Jazeera that aired on August 4, 2006, Chavez said: "Someone talked to me about his pessimism regarding the future of Arab nationalism. I told him that I was optimistic, because the ideas of Nasser are still alive. Nasser was one of the greatest people of Arab history. To say the least, I am a Nasserist, ever since I was a young soldier." [1] [2]

Left-wing British politician George Galloway has referred to Gamal Abdel Nasser as "one of the greatest men of the 20th Century", and has called repeatedly for the Arab government to embrace the tenets of Nasserism in the 21st Century.

See also

References

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