Egypt: Arab nationalism and socialism under Nasser (1952-1970)

Updated January 2012

Subsequent to the overthrow of the monarchy, General Mohamed Naguib became Egypt's first President and Chairman of the Egyptian Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) and Gamal Abdel Nasser its Vice-Chairman. The RCC formed the Liberation Rally, following the January 1953 ban on all existing political parties. But President Naguib was soon ousted by his Vice-Chairman, Gamal Abdel Nasser, in 1956. Gamal Abdel Nasser's leadership over the next 18 years left a long-lasting imprint on the Egyptian political, economic and social landscape. In 1954 British withdrew its troops from Egypt, but refused demands to return the Suez Canal to Egypt and conflict over this and with Israel led to the October 1956 Suez War and the recovery of the Canal from Britain. In 1967 pre-emptive strikes by Israel led to crushing defeats of its Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian neighbours and the capture of Egypt's Sinai peninsula.

Along with the rest of the Ba'ath movement, especially in Syria and Iraq, Nasser embraced a secularist Arab Socialism as a way of securing economic development and independence in contradistinction to the International Socialism promoted by the Soviet Union and its allies or the vision of an society directed by the Qur'an and the Sunnah promoted by the popular social upliftment Muslim Brotherhood movement that had been founded in Cairo in 1928. Despite the commitment of the Muslim Brotherhood members to the peaceful attainment of their objectives the movement was banned in January 1954, following on the banning of political parties the previous year, its leaders were arrested and many were executed. In 1954 also one party state elections were held, naturally easily won by Nasser. During Nasser's regime, the Liberation Rally was replaced by the National Union, which became the only political party after the adoption of the 1956 Constitution under which a single-party system was established. Law No 73 on the Exercise of Political Rights, which sets criteria for the eligibility of candidates and voters and the conduct of elections, was also passed in 1956. Under the new constitution, the National Union was mandated to nominate a candidate for presidential elections whose name would be submitted for popular approval through referendum (see Presidential referenda 1956 - 2005).

Nasser engaged in the nationalisation of industries, land use reforms and the establishment of the state as the main provider of goods and services to citizens. Land reform was undertaken from 1952 onwards, wealth was redistributed by an enlarged state, cultivated land available expanded, the Aswan Dam was built and a period of rapid economic growth was enjoyed which, together with the expansion of education infrastructure, led to the emergence of a substantial middle class. Nasser died on 28 September 1970 and was succeeded by Vice-President Anwar El Sadat.