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Nasser's Gamble

Nasser's Gamble: How Intervention in Yemen Caused the Six-Day War and the Decline of Egyptian Power

Jesse Ferris
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Nasser's Gamble
    Book Description:

    Nasser's Gambledraws on declassified documents from six countries and original material in Arabic, German, Hebrew, and Russian to present a new understanding of Egypt's disastrous five-year intervention in Yemen, which Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser later referred to as "my Vietnam." Jesse Ferris argues that Nasser's attempt to export the Egyptian revolution to Yemen played a decisive role in destabilizing Egypt's relations with the Cold War powers, tarnishing its image in the Arab world, ruining its economy, and driving its rulers to instigate the fatal series of missteps that led to war with Israel in 1967.

    Viewing the Six Day War as an unintended consequence of the Saudi-Egyptian struggle over Yemen, Ferris demonstrates that the most important Cold War conflict in the Middle East was not the clash between Israel and its neighbors. It was the inter-Arab struggle between monarchies and republics over power and legitimacy. Egypt's defeat in the "Arab Cold War" set the stage for the rise of Saudi Arabia and political Islam.

    Bold and provocative,Nasser's Gamblebrings to life a critical phase in the modern history of the Middle East. Its compelling analysis of Egypt's fall from power in the 1960s offers new insights into the decline of Arab nationalism, exposing the deep historical roots of the Arab Spring of 2011.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4523-1
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. [Map]
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-23)

    A low-resolution photograph of Egypt’s international position around 1960 would have looked something like this: For the first time in centuries, perhaps millennia, Egypt was completely free of foreign domination. The great powers of the East and of the West competed against each other to arm Egypt’s military, build its industry, and feed its people. Egyptian power extended deep into the Levant, further than at any time since Muhammad Ali. Egypt’s charismatic president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, was the undisputed leader of the Arab world. Peace reigned, thanks to an astute leadership’s assiduous avoidance of war.

    A second snapshot taken a...

  6. CHAPTER ONE The Road to War
    (pp. 24-69)

    Before dawn on september 28, 1961, units of the Syrian military seized control of Damascus and put an end to the grand experiment in pan-Arab unity launched with Egypt more than three years before. Egypt’s most famous journalist, Muḥammad Haykal, called Syria’s unilateral secession from the United Arab Republic (UAR)—the infamousinfiṣāl—“the greatest blow to the Arab revolutionary movement” since 1952.¹ In fact, the blow landed squarely in Egypt.

    Nasser’s star had been on the ascendant ever since 1955. With the formation of the United Arab Republic in February 1958, his influence in the Arab world attained its...

  7. CHAPTER TWO The Soviet-Egyptian Intervention in Yemen
    (pp. 70-101)

    In october 1962, at the very peak of the Cold War, as Soviet warships laden with nuclear missiles headed west for Cuba, a second drama was unfolding far away in the rugged boondocks of the eastern hemisphere. As if to underline that his boldness in the Caribbean was the rule, not an exception, Khrushchev had authorized the dispatch of Soviet planes and pilots to the Middle East to help Egypt project force onto the distant battlefield in Yemen, more than 2,000 kilometers away. As world attention remained riveted on Cuba, thousands of Egyptian soldiers poured into the Arabian Peninsula. Night...

    (pp. 102-141)

    Food aid was the taproot of American-Egyptian relations in the early 1960s.¹ Egypt, the focal point of Kennedy’s Middle East policy, depended on a steady supply of wheat and other food products from the United States under the terms of the Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act of 1954, also known as the “Food for Peace” program, and commonly referred to as Public Law 480 (hereafter PL 480). Although the program included grant provisions, its largest and most successful component was an arrangement for the sale of surplus food products by the US Department of Agriculture to developing countries. The...

    (pp. 142-173)

    The dependable if capricious nature of Khrushchev’s generosity must have eased the troubled minds of Egypt’s leaders in the months leading up to October 1964. But then, in a flash, he was gone. With some justification, Haykal writes that “in few countries can the news of the Russian leader’s fall have been received with greater shock than in Egypt.”¹ A US intelligence source records the Egyptian president’s panicked reaction to the news: Khrushchev’s ouster, exclaimed Nasser, “is a catastrophe for us.” Indeed, “[it] is worse than Suez.” The Soviet leader had recently promised more arms and aid, but now “all...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE On the Battlefield in Yemen—and in Egypt
    (pp. 174-214)

    The outbreak of the war in yemen coincided with a sharp turn to the left in Nasser’s domestic policies. Fueled in part by fear of rightwing opposition from members of the old regime in the aftermath of theinfiṣāl, the adoption of a specifically Arab brand of socialism, embodied in the National Charter of 1962, presaged a radicalization in the regime’s social and economic policies in the mid-1960s. The intensification of socialist reform and the frenetic drive to implement the development plan contributed to an atmosphere of perpetual crisis reminiscent of the Soviet Union in the 1930s. Although censorship and...

  11. CHAPTER SIX The Fruitless Quest for Peace: SAUDI-EGYPTIAN NEGOTIATIONS, 1964–66
    (pp. 215-261)

    Since 1948 the palestine problem has often served as a “Shirt of ‘Uthmān” to cover inter-Arab differences while advancing state interests that have little or nothing to do with the Arab-Israeli conflict.¹ In the 1950s and 1960s, it was, for instance, the tool of choice for Arab governments seeking to apply pressure on the Hashemites of Jordan, whose domestic position and aspirations west of the Jordan River hinged on the suppression of Palestinian nationalism. Palestine has rarely, if ever, been invoked by Arab leaders out of a sincere intention to go to war on behalf of the Palestinians. More often,...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN The Six-Day War and the End of the Intervention in Yemen
    (pp. 262-294)

    As 1966 drew to a close, an atmosphere of deep crisis descended upon Egypt. The crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood had spread to the countryside, where a ruthless campaign against the Egyptian “kulaks” was underway. A massive purge of the public sector began to take shape. Thousands of suspected dissidents languished in prison. The corruptchef de cabinetof the commander of the armed forces was appointed minister of war. Such basics as soap, fluorescent bulbs, rice, and cooking oil began to disappear from the shelves. There were no foreign currency reserves to speak of. And the national stockpile of...

  13. AFTERWORD The Twilight of Egyptian Power
    (pp. 295-312)

    The six-day war ended a decade and a half of Egyptian ascendancy. Having lost Sudan in 1956 and Syria in 1961, Egypt in 1967 conceded the Arabian and Sinai Peninsulas as well. Not since Muhammad Ali’s defeat at the hands of Great Britain in 1840 had a rising local power suffered such an imperial contraction.

    Egypt’s misfortune was more than the shattering of an imperial dream. It was the end of an era. The age of Arab revolution began with the seizure of power in Cairo by the Free Officers in the summer of 1952. Thereafter, Arab nationalists from Algeria...

  14. Bibliographical Note
    (pp. 313-318)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 319-334)
  16. Index
    (pp. 335-342)