|Said lecturing in Paris forty years after writing this article. 11/28/1999. |
Photo by Rainer Ganahl.
Below is an article written in the Daily Princetonian by Edward Said when he was a 20 year-old undergraduate at Princeton. In his memoir Out of Place (1999) Said wrote that the "article was published without provoking the kind of response that it might have had if it had appeared after 1967. It was my first piece of political writing, but so quiescent were political passions and so muted were Zionist opinions—this was, after all, when Eisenhower in effect compelled Israel to withdraw from Sinai—that I was able to publish it quite easily." Speaking with Zoe Heller in 1993, Said said that the 1956 Suez War "stirred me to write my first political article — I took some very emotional positions, I seem to remember.”
Gamal Abdel Nasser's announcement of his country's nationalization of the Suez Canal was the culmination of a series of stalemates between the Arabs and the West. This latest crisis arose ostensibly from the West's refusal to help finance the Aswan High Dam Project. To a large extent this is true. Judging from reliable sources as well as enraged editorial opinion, the West, acting through Mr. Eugene Black, President of the World Bank, had offered a portion of the sum required for the Project only after the Egyptian Government agreed to certain conditions. Among these were: 1.) a clause stating that none of this money was to be spent on the Project without receiving Western approval, 2). agreement to what was called "an outrageous rate of interest," and 3.) that Egypt make peace with Israel. While these conditions might at first seem reasonable, nevertheless they fitted an expected pattern of apparently anti-Arab Western policy when compared with the Soviet counter offer. It consisted of a reported "adequate sum," a pay-when-you-can stipulation with no interest, and no mention of the Egypt-Israel quarrel. In his July 26 speech, Nasser intimated that because subsequent negotiations had resulted in failure Egypt had been forced to seek funds for the Project from Egypt's own resources. Its source of money: the Suez Canal.
Even though the Russian offer evidently concealed some other plan, the West and especially the U.S. suffered a by no means negligible fall in prestige and esteem. Furthermore, Nasser was legally justified in his move—it was not a grab or seizure as Britain and France would have; since the Suez Canal Company was an Egyptian Company of limited liability—and in the eyes of his countrymen and the rest of the Arab world that was sufficient.
For a fair consideration of the crisis, it is this writer's opinion that Nasser must be considered as a sincere, dedicated, (if inexperienced) man. Because he is such a man. his confidence in the West was shaken, and not as Mr. Dulles once said,the West's confidence in Nasser. The U.S. is viewed as Israel's chief abettor in that state's struggle against the Arabs. And it is the injustices committed against the Arabs, injustices all stemming from the Palestine question, that can be blamed for most Near Eastern problems. For Nasser and the Egyptians, the Suez Canal venture was a great blow struck for the Arabs. While it has been the policy of Western observers to view Nasser as a potential Hitler (Anthony Eden made no bones about this in his speech to the British people) he is considered to be Arabism's chief warrior in the continuing struggle for unity against British and French colonialism.
In spite of Western retaliation in the form of economic sanctions, Nasser is managing to keep shipping in the Canal as always. There should be no doubt in Western minds that Nasser's promise to maintain passage in the Canal free at all times, is sincere. That he should gradually play into Communist hands and jeopardize freedom of shipping is improbable since Egypt is equally loth to submit to Soviet imperialism. Because he has been forced to opportunism it remains in his best interests to allow all countries use of the Canal. At present, Allied schemes, user's associations etc., seem to have caused more discord amongst Western powers than worry in Nasser's camp. The solution seems to lie in acceptance of the fact that the Canal is Egyptian in all senses of the word, that Nasser's promises will be upheld, and a wholehearted attempt to nurture Arab friendship is a safeguard for both Arab and Western interests.
(Edward W. Said, Daily Princetonian, Volume 80, Number 97, 11 October 1956, p. 2.)