Since the death of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1970 there has been no ideology to capture the imagination of the Arab world except Islamic fundamentalism. Any sense of completely secular Arab states ended with him and what we see today happening in the Middle East is a direct result of Western opposition to Nasser's strategies and ideals.
Nasser is a fascinating figure fraught with dilemmas. With the CIA continually trying to undermine him, Nasser threw his lot in with the Soviet Union, even though he was fervently anti-Communist. Nasser wanted to build up a military on par with Israel's, but didn't want either the '56 or '67 wars. This was a man who was a dictator, but also a popular leader with an ideology which appealed to most of the Arab people and bound them together. While he was alive, there was a brief chance of actual Arab unity producing common, honest, and incorruptible governments throughout the region.
More than ever, the Arab world is anti-Western and teetering on disaster, and this examination of Nasser's life is tantamount to understanding whether the interests of the West and the Arab world are reconcilable.
Nasser is a definitive and engaging portrait of a man who stood at the center of this continuing clash in the Middle East.
According to London-based journalist Aburish, his is the 28th biography of Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918 1970). The statistic says much about the appeal of the Egyptian colonel who forced out King Farouk yet failed to modernize an unwilling nation that adored him. Nasser evicted Britain from Suez and funded the Aswan Dam, but, Aburish concedes, could not lead Egypt out of backwardness, corruption and Islamic extremism. This biography has more politics than life in it, and much repetitive and often contradictory history. Once Nasser joins with dissident fellow officers whom he quickly co-opts, the reader learns little more than that he was always a good husband and father, spurned corruption and suffered early on from the heart trouble and diabetes that killed him at 52. Aburish mourns the lost potential of the man he sees as the greatest figure in the region since Saladin, but acknowledges that the inability to delegate authority to anyone not an incompetent and thus likely to unseat him left Nasser unable to achieve real change. The book attempts to explain Nasser's contradictions regarding relations with America (and the CIA), Russia, Israel and his Arab neighbors, but Aburish is unable to persuade even himself. At one point, for example, Nasser's "heir apparent" Zakkaria Mohieddine quarreled with him "and never saw Nasser again," but 15 pages later he is named prime minister "and seldom met his leader alone." Also marred by a propensity for triteness, this biography is unlikely to appeal to readers beyond those who are fixated on Middle Eastern political turmoil. 8 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW.