For most British readers Colonel Nasser will be forever associated with the “Suez Crisis” of 1956. This biography of the Egyptian nationalist leader by Troy Southgate seeks to give a fuller picture of a man who led Egypt from 1956 until his untimely death in 1970.
Helpfully, the early part of the book gives a brief history of the region in the period prior to the emergence of Nasser and thus gives the reader the context of where he emerged from in Egypt’s colonial and post-colonial political scene. After cutting his political teeth as a teenage Egyptian activist against British rule, he went on to join the army and rose rapidly through its ranks. His participation in the coup by the Free Officers that brought him to power is fully documented and viewed in the perspective of the politics of the wider Arab world and its struggles with the newly created state of Israel.
Nasser’s abilities both as a gentle diplomat and careful statesman are well documented in this book. From dealing with fellow Arab leaders to maintaining a balancing act between the Cold War powers and their attempts to bring Egypt into their respective camps, Nasser proved himself to be a skilful politician. There is a brief but instructive examination of the blend of Pan-Arabism and socialism that came to be characterised as “Nasserism” and how it impacted positively on the Egyptian economy and political scene.
Of particular interest to readers in the UK are the chapters concerning the Suez Crisis of 1956. The “Crisis” was the Anglo-French-Israeli assault upon Egypt undertaken in response to Nasser’s nationalisation of the Suez Canal. The military and political dimensions to this conflict are examined and it throws up some interesting facts such as the largest political demonstration in a decade occurred in Trafalgar Square in protest against the fighting and opponents to the military action included Michael Foot and AJP Taylor.
“Eagle of Saladin, The Life of Gamal Abdel Nasser” is a well-researched book and the bibliography at the end gives the reader a comprehensive list of publications for further reading on the subject. The one downside is a lack of illustrations and future editions would benefit from the addition of photographs and maps.
Reviewed by David Andrews