Nasser said that the Arab nation’s only battle was against Zionist racism backed by colonial powers. He opposed the creation of rival Arab axes, and his only concern was the contribution of each Arab country to the battle of the nation. Image Credit: Illustration: Guillrmo Munro/©Gulf News

It has been 40 years since the death of Egyptian President Jamal Abdul Nasser, who passed away on September 28, 1970. As we commemorate the 40th anniversary of his passing, we remember him as a great national hero and the guiding force behind the Arab awakening and the revival of the Arab nation.

Today, some say those who talk about Nasser are merely longing for a bygone era that will never return, while dragging the nation into religious and sectarian conflicts dating back 14 centuries.

This group, which does not welcome talk about Nasser and his era, works enthusiastically to engage the nation in domestic sectarian struggles. This benefits Israel, which insists on obtaining Palestinian and Arab recognition of the Jewish identity of the state of Israel.

Unfortunately, we have been living in Israel's golden age since the sudden demise of Nasser and the end of the era of Arab nationalism, when Egypt was at the forefront of the Arab renaissance project during the 1950s and 1960s.

TodaySome Arab countries are riven by sectarian and ethnic tensions aimed at dividing each Arab state, and the nation as a whole.

The era of the Non-Aligned Movement, led by Egypt, has given way to an era of conflict between the Islamic East and the Christian West, which has resulted in the Arab-Zionist conflict being sidelined, to the benefit of Israel.

The current Arab situation raises many questions. Is it true that talk about Nasser is mere nostalgic indulgence that has nothing to do with the current reality? And how could that be so if the Arab scene is now the exact opposite of what it was during Nasser's era?

Nasser died while striving to end the bloody conflict between the Jordanian army and Palestinian armed factions.

Was effective Arab solidarity not the strategy Nasser adopted at the Khartoum summit after the 1967 war?

Following the 1967 war, Israel's key priority was to remove Egypt from the Arab-Israeli conflict in exchange for the return of the Sinai Peninsula. This is exactly what happened after the signing of the 1979 peace treaty, which led to the normalisation of relations between Egypt and Israel. Consequently, this peace accord resulted in Egypt becoming isolated from its Arab neighbours.

Another source of disappointment is that the first topic on the agenda of the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks is the borders of a proposed Palestinian state, rather than compelling Israel — a state based on 60 years of occupation — to declare its borders.

We ask God to have mercy upon Nasser, who repeatedly said that Gaza, the West Bank of occupied Jerusalem and the Golan Heights held priority over Sinai. Nasser believed that the strength of Egypt lay in it belonging to the Arab nation, and hence its security could not be isolated from that of the nation.

Today, the situation faced by Egypt and Arabs is very different to how it was 40 years ago. Battling Israel and defining the Arab identity are no longer priorities — they have been replaced by domestic divisions, growing sectarian and ethnic tensions, inter-Arab conflicts and growing calls for the normalisation of ties with Israel.

Selfish aims

Now, the Arab priority is to perpetuate individual regimes, and not the nation. Israel has succeeded in achieving many of the political goals of the 1967 war — something Nasser had prevented.

Following the 1967 war, Nasser realised the importance of the creation of a Palestinian resistance, and hence he supported the launch of the Palestinian revolution and its leadership under the Palestinian Liberation Organisation.

He refused to form a localised Palestinian force, as other Arab governments had done in their countries, due to his belief that the Palestinian people should be united and work together to regain their occupied homeland. But ever since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, the Palestinian leadership has succumbed to American and Israeli demands and conditions, and have made too many concessions.

Nasser repeatedly stressed his desire to strengthen national unity in each Arab country, as well as his rejection of domestic conflicts that only serve the Israeli enemy. This was demonstrated by his intervention to end the domestic struggle in Lebanon in 1968 after the eruption of armed clashes between the Lebanese army and Palestinian groups.

Regretfully, Arabs are now involved in internal conflicts and domestic armed struggles along sectarian and ethnic lines. The Arab nation is being weakened from within, allowing Israel to dominate the region. Some Arabs seem content to return to the age of ignorance and tribal conflicts, while ridiculing talk about Nasser's era. Others believe the solution is to return to the era when the West dominated the region.

As Arabs we should recall and seek to understand Nasser's speech before the conference of the Arab socialist union in 1969, when he said: "The bullets of our enemy do not differentiate between Muslims and Christians...Israel's bombs do not differentiate between Muslims and Christians. We all need to remember that our enemy does not endanger a particular person, but all of us. Focusing on one of us over the others is a result of priorities set by our enemy to suit his purposes".

Nasser said that the Arab nation's only battle was against Zionist racism backed by colonial powers. He opposed the creation of rival Arab axes, and his only concern was the contribution of each Arab country to the battle of the nation. Hence, he opposed personal, sectarian and ideological struggles that might weaken the nation.

Forty years after Nasser's death, the world has changed radically — yet the challenges facing Egypt and the Arab world are the same.

Sobhi Ghandour is head of the Al Hewar Centre in Washington.