Nasser’s 1967 Disillusion

In six days, Israel gained battlefield superiority and smashed the myth of Arabism.

Arab Unity Episode 6

Israeli troops guard captured Egyptian troops and Palestinians at the start of the Six-Day War on June 5, 1967 in Rafah, Gaza Strip. [GALLO/GETTY]

By the late 1950s, Egypt’s president Gamal Abdel Nasser was the Arab world’s most powerful and influential leader. With his own brand of socialist ideology and political victories he impressed and inspired the Arabs, giving a new meaning to Arab nationalism. 

In the meantime, Nasser was also coming under increasing pressure to confront Israel. Arab leaders began doubting his sincerity in defending Palestine, the cause he claimed to support. 

Counting heavily on Arab support, Nasser’s stated his intention to attack Israel, although militarily stretched to breaking point with a large part of Egypt’s army fighting in Yemen. The Arab Defence Pact was put to the test in 1967, in what became known as the Six-Day War. 

In a pre-emptive strike on June 5, Israel destroyed most of Egypt’s air force on the ground.

Arabs refer to this as the Naksa – the Defeat. The Arab Defence Pact failed, and after six days of fierce fighting, Israel had seized control of Jordan’s West Bank, Syria’s Golan Heights and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Nasser was humiliated.

The military defeat of 1967 showed lack of coordination among Arab states, Arab land was lost, the common enemy was victorious, it served a big blow to Arab self confidence.


Part six of Al Jazeera’s nine-part series, A Question of Arab Unity, look at what is left of Nasserism and discuss the implications of the defeat of 1967 which worked its way deep into the collective Arab psyche.

Divided Arab World

A Question of Arab Unity Web special coverage


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Spanning 22 countries with 320 million people, they share three general commonalities.

Revolution Calling
With promises of a unified state broken, uprisings and revolt swept the Middle East.

Rising Nationalism
Secularism and Islamism emerged as political movements during the 1920s and 30s.

1948: A Cause for Arab Unity?
The creation of the State of Israel became a rallying call for Arab nationalism.

Nasser’s Age of Revolution
In 1952, an Egyptian army officer stepped forward to lead the drive for Arab unity.

It has now been 41 years since the war that changed the shape of the Middle East and the region is as divided as ever.

A swift victory for Israel gave rise to the belief that the young Jewish state could not be destroyed by its powerful neighbours.
But, for Arab nations, the shock and scale of the sudden defeat came as a huge blow.

The year 1967 established the newly formed state as a first class military power with Israel, backed by powerful Western countries, almost tripling its territory.

The Sinai was later returned to Egypt.
However the West Bank, home to 2.4 million Palestinians, and the Golan Heights, a key source of water and fertile land, remain under occupation.
Today, despite the military victory, many uncertainties remain.
The unresolved fate of millions of Palestinians, the ongoing violence in Gaza, the recent war in Lebanon with Hezbollah and continuing rocket attacks on Israeli territory have shown all too sharply how many problems from the 1967 war remain unresolved.
More than forty years later, a lasting peace in the region remains as far out of reach as ever.
Source: Al Jazeera