WAS NASSER WAS A ‘STRONGMAN’ , OR A ‘WEAK RULER’? THIS IS A MATTER OF INTERPRETATION
President Gamal Abdar Nasser (1918-1970) was overwhelmingly elected as President of Egypt in a national referendum held in 1956, when he instituted a one party system. He was not a dictator a la Saddam Hussein, by any means.
Was he a weak ruler because he lost the 1967 war with Israel? Losing a war doesn’t necessarily indicate ‘weakness’ of a ruler. For example, Presidents in the US were not widely believed to be ‘weak’ because of defeat in the Vietnam War. You could argue that if a ruler can’t defend the country, he or she is ‘weak.’ The reality is more complex. In 1967, Egypt as a post-colonial state struggling to get on its feet after British rule, was not sufficiently financially sound to conduct a war, nor did it have military preparedness. Nasser was under pressure however by other Middle East powers to go to war against Israel, and with good cause, he was worried about an Israeli invasion of Egypt. Israel began hostilities by bombing the entire Egyptian Air Force as it sat on the tarmac. In the ensuing six day war, Israel went on to occupy the Sinai desert and the Gaza Strip. Nasser then went on television in Egypt and said
"I have taken a decision with which I need your help. I have decided to withdraw totally and for good from any official post or political role, and to return to the ranks of the masses, performing my duty in their midst, like any other citizen. This is a time for action, not grief.... My whole heart is with you, and let your hearts be with me. May God be with us—hope, light and guidance in our hearts."
The next day, demonstrations were organized in support of his Presidency, and he retracted his decision. Contrast this to the refusal of Rumsfeld et al to take responsibility for not defending the US when it was attacked on 9/11. To me, Nassar’s stance indicated strength and accountability. I disagree with his stance towards the Egyptian Communist Party, which he outlawed.
In 1970, Nasser at a landmark Arab League meeting, succeeded in ending the war between King Hussein of Jordan and the PLO. In my view, the ability to end hostilities is the mark of a responsible leader. He died a day after the end of the Arab League meeting.