To mark the 50th anniversary of the death of the Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, Daniel Pipes reflects on his reign:
A thirty-four-year-old colonel when he took over through a coup d’état in 1952, Nasser was the first indigenous Egyptian to rule the country since the pharaohs. His ambitions were as immense as his ideas were delusional. He overthrew a king and installed an oppressive military rule that still endures 68 years later. He dispossessed grand landlords and small merchants alike, then chased out Levantine entrepreneurs—mainly Italians, Greeks, and Lebanese—who fueled the economy. He persecuted the small but thriving Jewish community of 75,000 to the point that it now consists of ten (at last count) elderly women.
He aligned with the Soviet Union, industrialized Egypt along Soviet lines, and ruled with post-Stalin-like brutality. Bewitched by the mirage of bringing all Arabic-speaking countries under his control, Nasser unified with some of them and made war with others. More than anyone else, he installed anti-Zionism as the mainstay of Middle Eastern political life and transformed the Palestinian refugee issue into Palestinian irredentism. Along the way, he initiated the Six-Day War of 1967 and dispatched his armed forces to the most lopsided military defeat in recorded history.
Egypt has never escaped Nasser’s legacy. The regime persists in a casual brutality toward dissidents and a dogged hostility to Israel that outlasts the peace treaty signed 41 years ago. It lags economically, with retired military officers more important than ever and the country unable to feed itself or produce goods that the world wants. . . . Thus did Egypt slide from its old status as the foremost of twenty Arabic-speaking countries to an afterthought.