Nasser, a hero of the Soviet Union

The Philosopher of Islamic Terror by Paul Berman. [Post edited in 2021.]

Gamal Abdel Nasser was the only Nasser whose name Russian announcers articulated with a stress on the second syllable: Nah-SER. The audience enjoyed punning on that surname because this pronunciation brought to mind a rude Russian word, a rough equivalent of “to crap”. Khruschev was the first Soviet leader to be joked about domestically; Nasser probably the first foreign leader Soviet Russians cared to make fun of. The former not only invited the latter to Moscow and promised eternal friendship (the Aswan dam was later built with considerable Soviet assistance), but awarded him the golden star of the Hero of the Soviet Union.

Now even in these days when no value is left undervalued, most Russians have residual respect for those Heroes, either of the USSR or of post-Soviet Russia. The Golden Star was supposed to be awarded for self-sacrificial bravery on the battlefield or in an emergency – the first Heroes were the pilots who rescued the Chelyuskin expedition – and was strongly associated with WW2. To award the honor to an Arab president who, among other things, persecuted – and executed – Communists in his country was to insult the feelings of too many in the USSR.

Of course Stalin would have gotten away with anything, but he was Satan in the flesh, and Khruschev merely human. Did ordinary Russians know about Nasser’s anti-Communism? Soviet newspapers may have reported on that well before he became Khruschev’s Arab favorite.

Nasser took advantage of Khruschev’s friendly disposition and imported Soviet military advisers, some with WW2 experience. Naturally, they were appalled to find a portrait of Hitler in his office, but what could they do? The advisers didn’t help, though – Egypt lost two wars with Israel, and Anwar Sadat, Nasser’s successor, sent them back and turned to the US for further assistance, only to be “executed” by the Muslim Brotherhood. You know the rest, Camp David and all.

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