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Nasserism is a socialist Arab nationalist political ideology based on the thinking of Gamal Abdel Nasser, one of the two principal leaders of the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, and Egypt's second President. Spanning the domestic and international spheres, it combines elements of Arab socialism, republicanism, nationalism, anti-imperialism, Developing World solidarity, and international non-alignment. In the 1950s and 1960s, Nasserism was amongst the most potent political ideologies in the Arab World. This was especially true following the Suez Crisis of 1956 (known in Egypt as the Tripartite Aggression), the political outcome of which was seen as a validation of Nasserism, and a tremendous defeat for Western imperial powers. During the Cold War, its influence was also felt in other parts of Africa, and the Developing World, particularly with regard to anti-imperialism, and non-alignment.
The scale of the Arab defeat in the Six Day War of 1967 damaged the standing of Nasser, and the ideology associated with him. Though it survived Nasser's death in 1970, certain important tenets of Nasserism were revised or abandoned totally by his successor as Egyptian President, Anwar El-Sadat, during what he termed the 'Corrective Revolution', and later his Infitah economic policies. Under the three decade rule of Sadat's successor, Hosni Mubarak, most of the remaining socialist infrastructure of Egypt was replaced by neo-liberal policies strongly at odds with Nasserist principles. In the international arena, Mubarak departed almost entirely from traditional Egyptian policy, becoming a steadfast ally of both the U.S. government, and Israel, the latter still viewed by most Egyptians with enmity and distrust, derived largely from the five wars that Egypt fought against Israel between 1948 and 1973.
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 in its efforts to spread revolutionary nationalism in the Arab World. In the 1970s, as a younger generation of Arab revolutionaries came to the fore, Nasserism outside of Egypt metamorphosed into other Arab nationalist, and pan-Arabist movements, including component groups of the Lebanese National Movement during the Lebanese Civil War.
Nasserism continues to have significant resonance throughout the Arab World to this day, and informs much of the public dialogue on politics in Egypt, and the wider region. Prominent Nasserist Hamdeen Sabahi competed in the first round of the 2012 Egyptian Presidential election, and only narrowly avoided securing a position in the run-off against eventual winner Mohammed Morsi.
Nasserism is an Arab nationalist and pan-Arabist 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-oriented political movements in the Arab world from the 1950s onward, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood. Nasserists espouse an end to Western interference in Arab affairs, Developing World solidarity, international non-alignment, modernisation, and industrialisation. 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 organisations within Egypt, Egypt's deteriorating relations with Western powers, particularly following the Tripartite Aggression 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.
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, by the 1980s it had become a much less pronounced and distinct ideology. Today, many more Arabs are informed by Nasserism in a general sense than actually espouse its specific ideals and objectives. In terms of political organisations within Egypt itself, during the presidency of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Nasserism's scope was confined generally to writers, intellectuals, and minor opposition parties. Nasserist movements were largely overshadowed by Islamic political organisations, especially the Muslim Brotherhood. This was a part of an overall trend within Egypt and the Arab World of Arab nationalism being overshadowed, and even eclipsed, by political Islam. In Egypt, the Nasserist Party styles itself as the successor to Nasser and his Arab Socialist Union, as does its offshoot, the Karama Party of Hamdeen Sabahi. However, as with all opposition parties in Egypt, their activities was severely limited by the Mubarak regime prior to the Egyptian Revolution of 2011.
Whilst 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.
Influence outside of the Arab World
Despite 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 imperialism. 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 with 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.
Hugo Chavez, late President of Venezuela, and leader of the self-styled 'Bolivarian Revolution', cited Nasserism as a direct influence on his own political thinking, stating: "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."
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 Arab governments to embrace the tenets of Nasserism in the 21st Century.
- Gamal Abdel Nasser
- Arab nationalism
- Arab socialism
- Egyptian Revolution of 1952
- Sheikh 2003, p. 34
- Shehadi & Mills 1988, p. 265
- President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez – MEMRI
- “President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez: Israel Uses the Methods of Hitler, the U.S. Uses the Methods of Dracula. I'm a Nasserist who Has Crossed the Deserts, Ridden Camels, and Sung Along with the Bedouins. Al-Jazeera Plays a Role in Liberating the World,” MEMRI, Clip No. 1220 (August 4, 2006). Retrieved 16 August 2013.
- George Galloway (2005). I'm Not the Only One
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