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History, Egypt Under Nasser

Aswan High Dam, domestic reforms, Egyptian government, Communist countries, Muslim Brotherhood

When Naguib voiced support for the old parties and the Muslim Brotherhood, most of the Free Officers, under the leadership of Nasser, opposed him. In early 1954 Nasser became prime minister, while Naguib retained the presidency. A failed attempt by the Muslim Brotherhood to assassinate Nasser in November 1954 gave him a reason to clamp down on the Brotherhood and on other groups thought to favor Naguib, who subsequently was dismissed from the presidency and placed under house arrest. Nasser became acting head of state. He was formally elected president in 1956.

The revolutionaries gave precedence to domestic reforms, but they soon turned their attention to foreign affairs. They secured an agreement by which the British would evacuate the Suez Canal bases by June 1956. They also agreed to let the people of Sudan choose between union with Egypt and independence. The Egyptian government fiercely opposed attempts by the Western powers, especially the United States and Britain, to create a Middle Eastern alliance against Communism. In particular, the Egyptians condemned the British-sponsored Baghdad Pact, which brought together Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan against the USSR. An Israeli raid into the Egyptian-administered Gaza Strip in February 1955 underscored Egypt’s military vulnerability and hence its need to buy arms from abroad. Unable to purchase any weapons from the West without conditions, Nasser looked to the Communist countries. In September 1955 he concluded a $200 million deal with Czechoslovakia.

One of the new government’s most ambitious domestic projects, construction of the Aswan High Dam across the Nile, soon had a tremendous impact on foreign affairs. Egypt initiated the project in order to increase cultivable land and generate hydroelectric power. Initially, the World Bank, Britain, and the United States offered to lend money for the project. However, in July 1956 the United States withdrew its offer, and Britain and the World Bank followed suit. The U.S. government claimed that Egypt would not be able to repay the loans, but it was widely believed that the Americans were punishing Nasser for recognizing the Communist-led People’s Republic of China. Nasser responded a week later by nationalizing the Suez Canal Company, which operated the canal and was owned by the British and French governments. He also persuaded the Soviet government to help finance the dam project.

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