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Yearning for an Arab Hero (Opinion).

The first Asia-Africa Conference was held in Bandung, Indonesia, in April, 1955.

Forty-one years later, on May 11, 1996, I sat watching a film at the Asia-Africa Museum, site of the Bandung Conference.

The film captured the spirit of the beginning of the new Non-Aligned Movement. I listened to the speeches by the leaders of Asian and African nations, bonded by common cause. The primary objectives of the Conference were to build a sense of Asian-African solidarity, to end racism and colonialism, and to promote social justice and equality.

The key figures of the conference included Indonesian President Sukarno, Prime Minister Nehru of India, and President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt.

On April 18, 1955, President Gamal Abdel Nasser addressed the delegates, speaking of such issues as race, religion, colonialism, and national sovereignty. He called for increasing support for human rights, social equality, and the self-determination of people and nations.

President Nasser stressed the need for cooperation between Asian and African nations in the cultural, economic and social fields, stating, "Cooperation between the nations can lead these countries representing the biggest two continents of the world and more than half mankind towards progress and better standards of living."

On colonialism, he raised the question, "On what grounds can anyone condone the fact that the countries of North Africa which, for centuries, were independent nations and the seats of great civilizations are now being degraded to the status of non self-governing territories?"

Laying the foundation for Pan-Arabism, Nasser said, "We have been witnessing for some years the rising tide of nationalism, not only in our part of the world but also in various parts of Asia and Africa." A year after Nasser denounced colonialism at the Bandung Conference; he challenged the West by "nationalizing" the Suez Canal on July 26, 1956. His action led to military confrontation with major super powers. As a result, Gamal Abdel Nasser emerged as a hero in the Arab world.

Anthony Nutting, who at the time was the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of the United Kingdom, resigned his position as a protest against the Suez invasion. Nutting articulated the triumph of Nasser in his book, No End of a Lesson: the Story of Suez:

"We had raised him to a pinnacle of power and prestige unknown in the Arab World since the beginning of the 18th century, when Mohammed Ali defied the combined pressures of the Ottoman Sultan and of Lord Palmerstone's England to enthrone himself as the independent ruler of renascent Egypt."

Even during times of tribulation following the 1967 war, the Arab masses continued to support Nasser and embrace his vision. He advocated for Arab unity until the final hours of his life, when he called for an emergency summit to deal with a crisis in Jordan. Due to the dynamic inspiration of his leadership, Nasser was able to help contain the crisis. Just a few hours later, on September 28, 1970, the life of Nasser ended.

Dr. Clovis Maksoud expressed his view on the Arab peoples' relationship with president Nasser in an article published in Arab Studies Quarterly (Summer 1997) entitled, "From June 1967 to June 1997: Learning from Our Mistakes." Dr. Maksoud writes, "Nasser's articulation of our deepest yearnings, ennobling defiance of dominance, charismatic personality and sincere commitment tendered the Arab masses uncritical and totally identified with every decision he made and with every policy he sought to pursue. The identification was of such intimacy that when he resigned in the aftermath of the disastrous defeat of 1967, the instant and stunning popular reaction calling on him to stay on was tantamount to a restorative act. While this reaction may in part have been an expression of fear of the unknown, it revealed an institutional vacuum that the masses instinctively sought to fill by an unprecedented demonstration of loyalty and affection. This was the same phenomenon that manifested itself when President Nasser died on 28 September 1970."

Some say that Arab Nationalism is dead and buried with him, but what is the Concept of Arab Nationalism?

Nasser elaborated on Arab Nationalism during an interview on January 27, 1958, with American editors and commentators, "A quick glance at the history of the area establishes beyond the shadow of the doubt the fact that the aspirations of its entire people have always been for unity and solidarity. This is in fact what we mean when we speak of Arab Nationalism. Solidarity is a step towards unity. It will definitely be the solution if unity cannot be achieved". In a speech on December 23, 1958, in Port Said, Egypt, Nasser referred to Arab Nationalism as "C* not mere words to be repeated; it is not only a slogan but rather a great aim and an ideal."

Gamal Abdel Nasser left a great impact not only on Egypt, but also on the Arab World.

Anthony Nutting, in his biography, Nasser, described Gamal Abdel Nasser's prominent role in the Arab world, his impact not only on Egyptian history but also on Arab history, and how he gave a sense of dignity and national pride to the people. Mr. Nutting writes,

"For all his faults and failures, Nasser helped to give Egypt and the Arabs that sense of dignity, which for him was the hallmark of independent nationhood."

Perhaps these qualities of a hero that Abdel Nasser possessed explain why people in the Arab world still cling to his memory to this day, and are perhaps hoping for a new Arab dawn with that same sense of pride and dignity.

*The Author is a Library Consultant and resides in Chevy Chase, Maryland....

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Publication:Yemen Times (Sana'a, Yemen)
Date:Jul 29, 2009
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