In the year 1952, Gamal Abdel Nasser with his friend Mohammad Naguib toppled the monarchy of King Farouk with a military coup and ended the British occupation. While most people in the world would have been against a military coup, the people of Egypt responded otherwise. This military coup and the reforms he got in Egyptian society gave him the name — People’s Pharaoh.
On 23 June, 1956, Nasser got 99% votes in the election that decided not just Egypt’s President, but also the constitution and status of religion. People overwhelmingly voted in favour of Nasser as President, the socialist constitution and Islam to be the state religion. Though he was a dictator, he was loved by the people for his work.
Nasser made Egypt part of the Non-Alignment Movement (NAM) initiated by Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru. But just like most countries that were part of the Non-Alignment Movement (NAM), him and his government silently supported the Soviet Union. He believed in Arab nationalism over Islamic brotherhood. Something that a leader in the Middle East cannot even think of today.
In his 16-year rule, critics believe that his government was part of what they called populace authoritarianism. Some critics say poverty under his regime was rampant and a one-party system existed, leaving political opponents mute.
But social equality is what makes him stand out even today. The Middle East in today’s day and age does not have a single leader that would advocate social equality the way he did.
Under Nasser, women were educated and not forced to cover themselves, as demanded by the Muslim brotherhood. Women’s freedom was at par with western countries, at least in urban areas. He carried out land reforms where poor peasants got their due and followed the principles of secularism in day-to-day life.
Nasser once said, “For far too long the Middle East has focused on what it does not want instead of what it wishes to build. That’s what the Arab world must focus on.”
Profound were and are his words that the Arab world still does not know what it wishes to build. What Arab leadership does know and what they knew back in Nasser’s time was that they do not want western interference on their soil.
The Arab world today lacks leadership like Nasser. To the west, he must be a tyrant. But to the women and men of the Muslim world, he is a legend.
The pictures that have come out of Afghanistan speak volumes of what has happened to the Islamic world over the course of the last 5 decades. Women are forced to cover themselves and dictators with no social or economic direction are leading the people of the Muslim world into misery and poverty.
What the Islamic world needs at present is a leader like Nasser. He was the people’s king for a reason back then and with time his position as a people’s dictator, king or pharaoh has only become stronger.