Newstalgia Reference Room - Conflict in the Middle East - documentary from NBC Radio on July 17, 1956 regarding the Suez Canal crisis and the emergence of Col. Gamal Abdul Nasser as leader of Egypt and the Arab world.
February 10, 2011

Gamal Abdul Nasser - 1956 - introduced the world to Arab Nationalism.

With the current story unfolding in Cairo and the cautious attention being paid to events in Tahrir Square by most Arab nations, I'm reminded of another unfolding story that involved a newly emerging Egypt in the 1950's under Col. Gamal Abdul Nasser and how his rise to power came about as the result of a military coup and overthrow of a Monarchy and several decades of indirect British rule.

This radio documentary, Conflict In The Middle East from July 17, 1956 outlines what was happening in the Arab world as the result of the Suez Canal crisis and how the events in Egypt reverberated throughout the region and a new phrase Arab Nationalism was being touted to millions of Arabs. It's a fascinating document about the growth of Arab Nationalism and where it came from with numerous interviews with players in the conflict and assessments by observers.

Wilson Hall (NBC News Bureau Chief, Cairo): “This red hot nationalism is primarily directed against Great Britain and France. We Americans get hit by these verbal brickbats because we’re standing too close to the target. Arab Nationalism, and anti-Westernism, are inseparable. Anti-Western feeling is the easiest manifestation. The West is a handy symbol of Arab frustration which has built up for centuries. For more than five centuries the Arab states have been occupied, ruled, governed or kicked around by nations of Western Europe. Turks, the French, the British have all at one time claimed the Middle East as their bailiwick, their ‘sphere of influence’, ‘just theirs’. The Arabs are tired of being used, exploited is their term. Now they feel that they’re strong enough, and rich enough, to do something about it. The target, the one they’ve seen and been subjected to for generations; the West. The combination coach and quarterback of the Arab team is Gamal Abdul Nasser, leader of Egypt’s revolution. What trick plays he has on the blackboard, for running up the score for the Arabs blanking the West, is not certain. Critics of Nasser say he’s doing all this signal calling because he’s power mad, because he wants to rule all of the Arab world. Friends of Nasser say it’s not that at all. They say, the Arab world was right for a coach and a quarterback. Nasser just happened to come along. There’s probably some truth in both these theories. But this much is certain, Nasser is an all-out flame fanner for Arab Nationalism. The Arabs admire a man of action. Nasser is that. Almost single handedly, Nasser has transformed the Arab League from a rowdy debating society into a working league with a purpose. Nasser has received Czech arms for his growing army, with enough arms left over to parcel out to other Arab countries. Nasser is praised all over the Arab world as the first Arab who has had the nerve to stand up to the West. He pushed the British Army out of the Suez Canal Zone and British administration out of the Sudan. Egypt celebrated the evacuation of the British with a noisy three day celebration. With tears streaming down his face, Nasser raised the Egyptian flag over the Suez Canal Zone. He said ‘no foreign flag will ever again fly over Egypt.”

The Cold War is certainly over. Russia is no longer the dominating story. But it's interesting to see how recent all this history is (as I said yesterday, recent as far as country's go.) and how Nasser and Egypt in general, emerged as a powerful force among Arab nations. Nasser rose to power as the result of a Military coup and ran the country from 1952 until his death in 1970. Nasser wasn't well regarded by Western powers. His successor Anwar Sadat however, was. But that resulted in his assassination by members of the military, paving the way for Hosni Mubarak's rise to power as a military entity.

Over the coming hours and days the story will continue to emerge. But as always, there is a history to these events. The names and faces are all intertwined but the struggle is the same.

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