Excerpts from Gamal Abdel Nasser's Speech to the Officers' Club
(April 25, 1959)
Speech given in Cairo, Egypt
Reprinted in The Arab States and the Arab League: A Documentary
Published in 1962
"The obliteration of Arab nationalism from any Arab country means that our turn will come to defend nationalism in our country."
Well before the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, a vast empire of southwest Asia, northeast Africa, and southeast Europe that reigned from the thirteenth century to the early twentieth century, in 1918, Arabs in the Middle East had dreamed that they would attain political independence, perhaps in a single state encompassing the entire Arabian peninsula. Husayn Ibn Ali (1852–1931)—who held the title of Sherif of Mecca, making him the leading Muslim religious figure on the Arabian peninsula—led an Arab revolt against Ottoman rule in 1916, at the height of World War I (1914–18; war in which Great Britain, France, the United States, and their allies defeated Germany, Austria-Hungary, and their allies). But at the end of the war, Britain and France divided the Middle East into territories under their control. Arab dreams of independence were thus temporarily thwarted.
By the 1950s the Arab world had developed into a multinational region. European control of the region had carved the Middle East—an area that had once been loosely defined by small emirates, or kingdoms—into numerous nations, including the newly created Jewish state of Israel in the former territory of Palestine. Though these nations went about creating their own unique national identities upon gaining their independence, there remained a desire among many to unite all Arabs within a single Arab state. This desire was known as Pan-Arabism.
Pan-Arabism was a vision for the Middle East that enjoyed popularity in the 1950s and 1960s. Pan-Arabism held that all Arabs would unite in a single state. That state would obey the following principles: it would be secular, with the government not tied to any particular religion; it would be socialist, following a system by which the major means of production and distribution are owned, managed, and controlled by the government; and it would be anti-imperialist, meaning it would not ally itself with either of the major powers trying to exert political influence in the world—the United States and its allies, or the Soviet Union. Pan-Arabists believed that the only way for Arabs to realize their potential was to follow these principles.
The greatest proponent of Pan-Arabism was Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918–1970). Nasser had come to power in the early 1950s as part of a movement that removed the country's monarch, or king, and promoted Egyptian nationalism (devotion to the interests and culture of Egypt). In 1956 he became the country's first president and soon emerged as a champion of Arab political causes. Nasser believed that the Arab world could only escape the domination of foreign powers if governments directed the actions of people toward improving agriculture and industry. In 1958 he joined with Syrian president Shukri al-Quwatli to form the United Arab Republic, a political union intended as a first step toward further Arab unification. In 1959 Nasser spoke of his goals for the Pan-Arabist movement to a group of military and political leaders in Cairo, Egypt.
Things to remember while reading excerpts from Gamal Abdel Nasser's "Speech to the Officers' Club"
- The key components of Nasser's ideology are Pan-Arabism, anti-imperialism (being against large countries taking over smaller countries), and anti-Zionism (being against the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine). Watch for the different ways that he refers to each of these key issues.
- Some of Nasser's longtime rivals for power in the Middle East were Jordan and Iraq. Look for the subtle ways that he criticizes his political enemies.
- Nasser's speech contains both a short version of recent Middle Eastern history and proposals for future action.
Excerpts from Gamal Abdel Nasser's Speech to the Officers' Club (April 25, 1959)
I extend my congratulations to you all and wish you success in the great work you undertake for the glory of our nation.
Circumstances and occasions often change, but whatever changes may occur, the men of the Armed Forces always bear the same eternal duty of protecting the Fatherland and the people's objectives. Moreover, they must always be ready at any time to protect the gains we make. ...
When we look at the position we occupy in the world, this world in which we live and from which we cannot separate ourselves, we find that our zone is one of great strategic importance, that its history reflects all sorts of differences, particularly the struggles of the great powers for domination over the area on account of its vital and strategic importance.
We men of the Armed Forces therefore have a great responsibility, as our country has always been the target of the ambitions of the big powers, those big powers that always seek power and think they can have it through dominating our land.
However, we have resolved to follow an independent policy and to maintain the independence of our country. We made that known when we declared that our policy is based on positive neutrality and nonalignment, for this means that we shall not submit to power politics, and shall not, under any circumstances, accept the role of a satellite or allow our fate to be decided in a foreign country or our policy to be planned in a foreign capital. ...
As soon as Cairo achieved its independence through freeing the country from British occupation and domination ... the banner of Arab nationalism and Arab solidarity was raised in Cairo and we felt that we could not really feel free or enjoy our independence until each and every Arab country became independent. The independence of all Arab countries is a closely knit entity and we consider that there is a serious threat to our independence if any Arab country remains under foreign domination. When both Egypt and Syria achieved their freedom and the two countries raised the banner of Arab nationalism, we find that the Arab people in Egypt and Syria united in defending and upholding the independence of the Arab world and Arab nationalism.
We felt that the armed forces were imperative in defending and safeguarding this freedom and this great call for Arab nationalism which now came to prove its existence. The call for Arab nationalism is not a racial call, it is not the call of any one person, neither is it a new call; the call of Arab nationalism rang throughout the centuries and showed its strength whenever the Arab countries were independent or whenever they felt the threat of danger. The banner of Arab nationalism was raised in the 10th Century—when the Arab countries were threatened with invasion and outside pressures they realized that their very existence depended on their strong belief in and adherence to Arab nationalism, to protect the Arab world and its civilization. The united Arab army was then able to defeat the Crusaders who occupied the Arab world for over 80 years. The Arab armies achieved this victory only when they felt that their unity brought them strength and that Arab nationalism was their shield of protection. The union between the armies of Egypt and Syria brought them success and they saved Syria and Egypt and Palestine and all the other Arab countries from the occupation of the Crusaders. In truth the call of Arab nationalism is not a new call, nor is it a newly discovered mission—indeed it is a deeply-rooted factor in the heart and mind of the Arab nation; the Arab nation was sometimes distracted from it but rallied round it and clung to it whenever it was faced with danger.
When the Tartars invaded this part of the world, occupying Baghdad and crossing the Euphrates into Syria and threatened Egypt, it became clear that the only way to repel this invasion was by rallying under the flag of Arab nationalism. Eventually the Syrian and Egyptian armies united and successfully pushed the Tartar forces back of the Euphrates. The Tartars had not met such a setback in their invasion until they reached Syria. Once again were the Arab armies by means of their united strength able to defeat the enemy and save the Arab nation and its civilization. This was by no means a racial mission, it was a mission of sacrifice for and defence of the Arab world.
During the First World War, when the Arabs wanted to rid themselves of the Ottoman occupation which lasted for over 500 years they resorted again to Arab nationalism and unity. The Arab revolution rallied round the banner of Arab nationalism but committed the error of allying itself with Britain instead of depending only on the Arab people to reach its goal of independence and freedom. It is inconceivable that any major power would desire us to achieve independence and unity. Britain exploited Arab nationalism and used it to defeat the Ottoman Empire. After the First World War Britain did not fulfill its promises to the Arab people—instead the Arab world was divided under British and French rule. But the people of the Arab nations rebelled against this foreign rule and fought for their independence until the Palestine War broke out. The Arab countries entered the Palestine War, not under the unified flag of Arab nationalism, but torn by internal feuds, jealousies and rancour. We were seven armies fighting in Palestine under 6 or 7 different and separate commands. The great tragedy which befell the Arab nation was a direct result of the jealous ambitions between the different commands. We all know how these battles were carried out and how Israel, exploiting our division upon ourselves and our jealous feuds, struck at one Arab army after another; we know the tragic end of the Palestine War. We know that the Arabs, the Palestinians, were kicked out of Palestine and became refugees after the victory of international Zionism. International Zionism constitutes a threat to all the Arab countries for Israel is not the outcome of Zionism's efforts in 1948 only—these efforts started a long time ago and stretched over the years until they achieved their first material victory, the Balfour Declaration of 1917. From 1917 until 1948 Zionism and Imperialism continued their efforts and intrigues to put this declaration into effect. We can say that 1948 is not the year in which the Palestine story started and ended—it started long before that and Zionist aims were not restricted to that part of Palestine which their forces occupied. The Zionists always claimed that their holy state extends from the Nile to the Euphrates. As they seized opportunities in the past, they will try to do the same in the future. We all know that when they annexed part of the Egyptian territory in the Sinai peninsula after their aggression against us, they did so in the hope of keeping it under their rule.
This does not suit in any way the interests of International Zionism, because it knows, together with Israel, that Arab Union, or Arab solidarity and military strength spells a quick end to their expansionist schemes in the Arab world. What it actually means for them is that with the springing up of a strong Arab community on their borders, it will be utterly impossible for them to realize their ambitions, or to go on violating the rights of the Palestinians Arabs who have been thrown out of their homeland in 1948, and who still are determined to regain their rights in their own country, their rights to their own land and their own properties which have long been usurped from them.
International Zionism, then, spared no efforts in its fight against Arab Nationalism, and its attempts at preventing the Arab countries from coming together in a military agreement. They used every possible means to achieve this end, through the influence they have in the imperialist countries, through money, inducement and even through using traitors inside the Arab world, who were known to have betrayed their countries in the past.
Imperialism, on its part too, which long aspired to place this part of the world in its spheres of influence, in order to dominate it and usurp its wealth at the cheapest of prices, establish military and air bases on its soil so as to achieve military superiority, this same Western imperialism also felt it could never reach its goals as long as there was a strong Arab nation facing it; it also realised that it would not have a chance as long as it was encountered with the kind of solidarity that the Arabs now had, the solidarity that enabled them to have one strong unified army working for the sole purpose of protecting the Arab nation.
Imperialism therefore strove in every way it could to divide the Arab countries, and to sow the seeds of dissension and hatred among them, using the traitors and agents of imperialism who have always collaborated with it, and who already accepted to become stooges selling their countries at a cheap price.
Those are the treacherous statesmen who accepted to work as agents and stooges for imperialism, and for a fifth column against their own countries and against the freedom of their own peoples.
Western imperialism went along this road using every possible means; money, influence, propaganda, economic warfare and economic blockade. Relying on these agents, it attempted to spread discord between the Arab countries, fabricate crises so as to disseminate hatred among the Arabs.
These were the bases of this alliance between Western imperialism and Zionism, the spreading of disunity and hatred among the Arab people. But the Arab awakening which made the people aware of all such methods, the Arab determination to achieve complete freedom and independence for their countries and their knowledge of the road that leads to the realization of their aspirations, defeated all these attempts of the Imperialist-Zionist alliance. ...
But, to their misfortune, this hatred the imperialists hoped to disseminate among the Arab countries or among the sons of the Arab nation, was doomed to failure because the Arab people firmly believe in Arab nationalism and knew that in adhering to this nationalism lay their only salvation and their future security. They knew that the unity of the Arab countries and their solidarity were the only means to achieve Arab strength, dignity, freedom and independence. ...
In all their struggles, the Arab people firmly believe in their armed forces, in the Arab army which had determined to protect this mission and to sacrifice everything for the cause of Arab nationalism. We all believe that our survival depends on the defence of every Arab country. The obliteration of Arab nationalism from any Arab country means that our turn will come to defend nationalism in our country. The obliteration of Arab nationalism in Palestine is a sign of danger to us. Should we slacken or weaken, our turn will come; we shall suffer the same fate as Palestine. ...
But our victory over the attempts of imperialism would not bring us to the end of our road, for imperialism will never despair, and will continue its endeavours to bring this area into spheres of influence by all possible means, depending on the use of its agents.
In the meantime, new factors appeared, for at this stage, after we had gained our great victory over the forces of imperialism, the Communists in the Arab countries felt that the time had come for them to strike at the Arab nationalist movement and destroy it, because they saw in it an obstacle to their domination of the Arab countries.
And with this started a new phase in our Arab Nationalism battle.
The first phase was the struggle of Arab Nationalism with Zionism ...coupled with the struggle against the imperialist powers and their efforts to bring the Arab countries into spheres of influence.
The new phase in the battle was the struggle against the activities of Communist parties in the area. This phase started after the outbreak of the revolution in Iraq.
This revolution broke out in order to do away with the agents of imperialism in the country. It adopted the call for Arab Nationalism. Then the Communist party in Iraq started to launch attacks against the United Arab Republic and its policy, one month after the Iraqi Revolution. ...
Attacks were launched against the United Arab Republic, and the policy of Arab solidarity, in which the Arab people had put their faith. The Communists did not consider Zionism as the danger threatening the Arab states, but preferred to attack Arab Nationalism, for they believed that this nationalism and its appeal to the Arab nation constituted the real threat to their domination of the Arab countries. ...
Brethren, it is not a matter of difference over a doctrine or idea, but of domination, of centres of political power, of the policy of the great powers, and whether we Arab countries are free, or satellites, lying within spheres of influence, and whether we shall follow a policy of positive neutrality or align ourselves with either camp.
It was the policy of Arab Nationalism which prevented the Communist Party in Syria from gaining control of the country, and which threatens the plans of the Communists in Iraq. And it is because of this Arab nationalism that world Zionism and Israel are violently fighting the United Arab Republic. World imperialism also is fighting the United Arab Republic, depending on agents, stooges and opportunists, as in Iraq, for imperialism sees in the success of the United Arab Republic and its policy a consolidation of the strength of the Arabs in the area, and the potentiality of creating an independent strong zone, which would render the return of Western Imperialism to the area, in an attempt to bring it within spheres of influence, a practical impossibility. Imperialism has been defeated in several rounds, but it has not despaired and continues its attempts to bring the area within spheres of influence, by all possible means, in order to affect the international situation accordingly.
And then comes Communism ... the aims of which were proclaimed by the Communist parties in our land. At the same time, the Eastern camp, or the Soviet Union, which had supported us in our struggle against Western imperialism, and when we declared that our policy would be built on positive neutrality and non-alignment, changed its policy. ...
If the East intends to align the United Arab Republic to its side it will have no alternative but to fight us because the United Arab Republic is adamant in its refusal to be included in any sphere of influence. Likewise if the West desires to include this area in its sphere of influence, it will have to fight and subjugate us. The West has already waged all sorts of war against us; armed, economic, psychological and propaganda wars. Thus we find that there is perfect accord between these powers in their efforts to influence the people of the United Arab Republic. ...
We have a long struggle ahead of us before we can complete our independence. The road to independence is strewn with sacrifices and requires firmness and constant protection. The price we are paying for the safeguarding of our freedom, independence and dignity does not compare in any way to the price being paid by those countries which accept the role of attendant countries to other bigger countries or which allow themselves to be goaded into spheres of influence. We are determined, rulers and people, to pursue a policy aiming at complete independence, non-alignment to either East or West and non-subjection to any foreign nation.
Anything we might sacrifice in pursuit of this policy is nothing compared to what the people would have to suffer if they fell under the yoke of a foreign power and had to live under its rule. We can see how the dominated nations cannot in any way have a will or character of their own.
You men of the armed forces are the guardians of this country as you carry a great responsibility for a noble cause on which depends the destiny of every individual in the Arab nation, as well as the destiny of the Arab nation at large. It is the mission of Arab nationalism.
This is why the nation and the people feel confident in their struggle as they feel that they are backed by a strong national army ready to sacrifice everything.
The people feel confident. We who have drawn this policy and determined to make it independent, must do our utmost and sacrifice everything to fulfil this mission, from the President of the Republic to the last soldier. We all work for the establishment of these principles and the achievement of these goals. All the people are one army working for this cause.
May God guide our steps.
What happened next ...
Nasser's speech, and his larger Pan-Arabist political philosophy, caused quite a stir, both in the Middle East and around the world. Within the Arab community, it excited those who supported the prospects for a unified Arab world. They saw in Pan-Arabism a way to regain Arab dignity and improve the Arab economy. They also believed that the only way to defeat Israel and regain Palestine was through united action. But others within the Arab community did not embrace Nasser's vision. Saudi Arabia preferred its monarchy and its strict religious legal system. Jordan preferred to ally itself with Britain and the United States. And political factions within every Arab nation resisted Nasser's attempts to consolidate power in his hands.
Despite the fervor of Nasser's vision, Pan-Arab unity proved very difficult to achieve. The alliance between Syria and Egypt was strained from the beginning, with Syrians feeling that they had given up too much power to Egypt. By September 1961 the Syrian military led Syria in leaving the United Arab Republic. Nasser did not wish to use the Egyptian military to fight against fellow Arabs, and the union dissolved. Egypt also formed a short-lived union with Yemen which lasted from 1958 to 1961. Pan-Arabism lost most of its supporters in 1967, when Israel defeated the combined but poorly organized troops of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria in the Six-Day War. After that time, few seriously supported the idea of Arab unification, and Arab nations each pursued their own independent course into the future. It would take the passion of Islamic fundamentalism to revive dreams of a unified Arab world in the coming years.
Did you know ...
- From the 1940s through the early 1970s, Egypt was the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the Middle East. However, the oil-producing capacity of nations like Saudi Arabia and Iraq has since shifted the balance of economic power in the region.
- Though Syria withdrew from the United Arab Republic in 1961, Egypt continued to use the name until Nasser's death in 1970, when it was renamed the Arab Republic of Egypt.
Consider the following ...
- Nasser offers a short version of Middle Eastern history. Is his history accurate? How has he shaped what he said to suit his political goals?
- What are the ways in which Nasser draws attention to the failings of other Arab nations? Point to those places in which he attacks his enemies, and identify those he attacks.(Hint: He doesn't refer to them directly.)
- Policy makers in the United States and Britain have often tried to depict Pan-Arabism as a radical, dangerous political philosophy. Is the tone of Nasser's speech one of a radical nature? Why might Nasser appear as a threat to those in the West?
- Compare and contrast Nasser's speech to one or more of the other documents in this section of the book. How do these visions for the Middle East differ? Are they compatible or contrary to each other? To what extent do these visions still shape politics in the region?
For More Information
Farah, Tawfic E., ed. Pan-Arabism and Arab Nationalism: The Continuing Debate. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1987.
Khalil, Muhammad, ed. The Arab States and the Arab League: A Documentary Record. Vol. II. Rue Bliss, Beirut, Lebanon: Khayats, 1962.
Luciani, Giacomo, and Ghassan Salamé, eds. The Politics of Arab Integration. New York: Croom Helm, 1988.
Paparchontis, Kathleen. 100 Leaders Who Changed the World. Milwaukee, WI: World Almanac, 2003.
"Nasserist Rule." Arab Net. http://www.arab.net/egypt/et_nasser.htm (accessed on June 24, 2005).