469. Intelligence Memorandum Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency’s Directorate of Intelligence1
NASIR’S CURRENT STATUS WITHIN EGYPT
Nasir’s hold on Egypt has been weakened considerably as a result of the Arab-Israeli war, but it appears that he will remain as Egypt’s leader at least for the immediate future. Following the Sinai debacle and the arrest and subsequent death of the former military chief, Abdul Hakim Amer, Nasir’s stock with the military has dropped. Nasir still has the support of the masses but some civilians—both in and out of the government—reportedly would not be unhappy to see him go. Nasir himself is said to be depressed over recent events, and this together with health problems reportedly caused him to contemplate at least a temporary semiretirement. No likely successor appears willing to assume the responsibility of attempting to work out a settlement with Israel and this circumstance will act to support Nasir’s tenure.
- Recent reporting from Egypt indicates that Nasir’s once undisputed hold on Egypt has been seriously undermined and that he may be on the way out as the effective leader of that country.
- Since the end of hostilities with Israel, factors have been at work in Egypt which appear to have eroded Nasir’s position and to have paved the way for his eventual departure from the center of the Egyptian power structure. Until the Arab-Israeli war, Nasir could almost unreservedly count on the allegiance of the military. In the wake of the debacle in the Sinai, however, much of this loyalty has been lost.
- Originally Nasir himself publicly accepted the blame for Egypt’s defeat, but this was soon shifted onto the military, reportedly causing no small amount of bitterness among those officers forced to take the rap for a situation which many probably viewed as Nasir’s doing. The subsequent wholesale cashiering of large numbers of military officers alienated those directly involved. Still other elements of the military, already unhappy with the corruption and inefficiency prevalent among [Page 897]the officer corps, are reportedly dissatisfied because the postwar shake-ups did not go far enough.
- The arrest of former deputy supreme commander of the armed forces Abdul Hakim Amer probably embittered the large bloc of Amer supporters in the military, which Nasir had previously counted on as the mainstay of his own military support. Amer’s subsequent suicide deepened the resentment of this group which, in all likelihood, blamed Nasir for his death. Amer’s death and the ensuing purges of those working with him have probably eliminated the immediate threat of a military move against Nasir, but the possibility of a sudden coup attempt by some relatively unknown junior officer remains.
- Nasir still appears to hold the allegiance of the masses, but there are reports that some civilian elements—middle and upper class—would not be unhappy to see him go. For some time there have been indications that certain Western-oriented business and intellectual groups have been unhappy with Nasir’s policies. Recently, even some medium-grade government officials have reportedly expressed the opinion that Nasir must be replaced. A number of reports allege that contending factions are vying for dominance in the government, but there is no comprehensive picture of the situation.
- There seems little doubt, however, that some form of maneuvering for predominance is in progress. This factional maneuvering appears to be a further indication that Nasir’s control over the situation has weakened. The falling out among some members of the ruling clique is the most vivid illustration of the current disarray in the Egyptian leadership. The arrest of Salah Nasir (one of the clique) and other members of General Intelligence may have undermined President Nasir’s control of one of the country’s primary security mechanisms and thus contributed to the loosening of his hold on the country.
- Nasir himself, according to a number of recent reports, has indicated a desire to step down, at least temporarily. His depression over the military defeat and the death of Amer, his long-time friend, seems to be genuine. [4–1/2 lines of source text not declassified] He also is said to think and even talk from time to time of retiring altogether.
- Many details of the state of affairs in Egypt remain obscure, but there does appear to be a distinct possibility that Nasir’s days as Egypt’s functioning head are numbered. Although a military move against him appears unlikely at present, the political and physical pressures facing Nasir may in time produce a situation in which he feels forced to step down. It has been reported a number of times, however, that he is reluctant to do so until he is able to work out at least an Israeli withdrawal from Egyptian territory. Furthermore, it is unlikely that any of his prospective replacements would be willing to assume responsibility [Page 898]for working out a settlement with Israel. At present Deputy Prime Minister Zacharia Mohieddin appears to be the front runner among possible successors. The potential of Ali Sabry, the alleged leader of a left-wing faction said to be vying for predominance, to stage a take-over at this time is doubtful.
- In light of these considerations, Nasir probably will continue as Egypt’s leader, at least until the question of Sinai is resolved. Nasir’s prestige and influence, nonetheless, are likely to continue to decline.
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, UAR, Vol. VI. Secret; No Foreign Dissem/Background Use Only; No Dissem Abroad/Controlled Dissem. Prepared by the Office of Current Intelligence and coordinated with the Office of National Estimates and the Clandestine Services. Copies were sent to Bromley Smith, Walt Rostow, Saunders, and the White House Situation Room.↩