Saddam Husayn and nasirism: A summary

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Since his days of exile in Cairo before his party came to power in Baghdad the young Saddam Husayn developed a highly ambivalent attitude toward the Egyptian leader, ranging all the way from admiration and a wish to emulate him to opposition and envy. When coupled with political expediency this attitude has been translated into seemingly inconsistent, but perfectly rational policy. In 1968-1970, following the party's take over, it denounced Nasir and accused him of "military, bureaucratic and dictatorial" mentality. His regime was described as "petty bourgeois", elitist and detached from the masses and a traitor to its socialist ideals. In the pan-Arab arena, Nasir was portrayed as adopting "expansionist, egotistical-Egyptian" policies, using "pan-Arab slogans" to mask his imperial ambitions. The reason for this assault was the Ba'th unpopularity in Iraq and Nasir's popularity there, especially within the armed forces. Only by attacking him could the party draw the line. By defining him as an enemy and arresting his supporters the Ba'th regime hoped to prevent the creation of a strong Nasirite trend in Iraq. Nasir died at the end of September 1970, and within a year it became clear that the threat to the regime in Baghdad died with him. In the mid and late 1970s the Ba'th regime and Saddam, its strong man, ignored the legacy of the deceased Egyptian giant altogether. This legacy was revived, however, during the Iraq-Iran War (1980-1988) and even more so during the international sanctions against Iraq. Since the early 1980s Saddam donned Nasir's mantle in an attempt to persuade the Iraqi people (and to a lesser extent: the Arabs) that the suffering he inflicted upon Iraq when he decided to confront first Iran, then the "imperialist" West was unavoidable, in the same way that Nasir's struggle for national independence entailed much Egyptian suffering. Even when he finally embraced Nasir's legacy, however, Saddam was still careful to point out that (unlike himself) the great Egyptian was far from being infallible. After all, in Saddam's Iraq there is room for only one demigod.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)461-471
Number of pages11
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development


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