THERE was overwhelming concern and doubts about the US winning World War II after its renowned president Franklin Roosevelt passed away 82 days after the start of his fourth presidential term.
The late president was considered as a rare US experience, as he was the one who rescued the US from the Great Depression, and reorganized and modernized its states in a manner that is yet to recur.
Roosevelt is the only US president to have served four consecutive terms. Both major political parties — Republicans and Democrats — unanimously rallied behind him, let alone the fact that he easily outperformed his rivals during presidential elections.
However, when his deputy Harry Truman took office in 1945, the Americans did not hope much from him. Instead, they considered him weak and believed that he managed to reach the top office under the wings of a great president.
Nonetheless, it did not take long before Truman changed this perception after he took a series of bold decisions, starting with bombing Japan with nuclear bombs — the act that ended the war, which was expected to last a year or more despite the defeat of Germany and Italy.
Truman went on to reinstate relief laws and revive the local economy, parallel to the Marshall Plan for the Reconstruction of Europe, which paved the way for American dominance over the global economy.
The abilities that Truman demonstrated in governance were much greater than what even his closest associates imagined. He was the one who stopped the tide of communism in Asia when he entered the Korean War. He worked on launching the anti-communism project in Latin America, in addition to opening corruption files that remained for decades during World War II.
President Truman was the one who changed modern American history and made the United States a world power to fight the Soviet Union in the Cold War.
Likewise, there is an Arab figure who seized the affection of Egyptians and Arabs during the first half of the twentieth century.
He is Jamal Abdel-Nasser, the one who led the Free Officers Movement in 1952. He was considered as a loyal leader of the Arabs from what befell them in the first half of that century. Despite the wars in which they were defeated, he managed to transform them to personal victories, especially in 1967 after the Six-Day War and Israel’s occupation of Sinai and several chunks of Arab land.
When Nasser announced his resignation from the presidency of the republic, millions of Egyptians and Arabs came out to demand him to return, because they felt his exit from the political scene meant the end of the dream. However, things changed a lot after his death in 1969.
The unpopular vice-president Anwar Saddat came to power. He was described as weak and narcissistic, and that he did not have the charisma of Nasser, or his ability to confront the Israeli enemy.
However, this did not last long, as Saddat soon announced the continuation of the war of attrition, the start of restructuring the Egyptian armed forces, increasing people’s standard of living, and modernizing institutions. Within four years of assuming power, he launched the war in October 1973 to shift the balance in the Middle East.
He took great steps that Jamal Abdel-Nasser couldn’t have taken, irrespective of the level of strength, composure and self-confidence he could possess, or even a tenth of it.
He made peace from a position of strength, not weakness. All the Arabs who stood against him in 1977 when he went to Jerusalem were eventually convinced about his point of view and recognized his courage.
After 39 years of his passing away, Egyptians today see him as a leader who founded the modern renaissance in their country. They believe he owned the long-term political vision that transformed Egypt into a powerful regional player, from where initiatives and solutions have been launched, and which has an international standing that is indisputable.
In Asia, there is a pioneering experience related to modernizing countries. It is that of Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. He moved his country from poverty to the ranks of the First World, and even made it an example for those who seek to build a civilized world. He did not pay attention to the criticism directed at him by the West and human rights groups at the beginning of his reign. He did not succumb to the corrupt who were persistently plundering his country. His main concern was to remove all that the British occupation left behind in terms of deprivation and backwardness, otherwise it would have plunged into axes that would make it poorer.
At the beginning of his tenure in office, which lasted for three decades, he said, “I am absolutely sure that if Singapore gets a stupid government, the country will sink into nothingness”.
Therefore, work began to change the country from being just a port for fishermen and a nightclub for British soldiers into a modern state.
Education was the basis for modernizing the nation, as well as individual initiative, and priority of the public interest over the private. When he left power in 1990, Singaporeans thought their civilized country would return to the darkness of corruption. However, this did not happen, as his son Lee Hsien Loong succeeded him, and the father became a state advisor until he passed away in 2015. Halima Jacob Javi then took over the presidency, surpassing her mentor, the founder of modern Singapore.
In the Gulf region, when the late King Abdul Aziz passed away, the Saudis imagined that Saudi Arabia would not rise and continue to live on the legacy of the great late king. However, Saudi Arabia today, under the leadership of King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz and His Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has been playing a pivotal role regionally and globally. It is seeking development on all levels and thus becoming stronger than what it was during the reign of King Abdul Aziz.
Likewise, when the founder of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan passed away, citizens as well as Arabs thought no one would fill his place. However, this expectation turned out to be inaccurate, as the achievements of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed not only surpassed everyone’s imagination, but also stunned the world.
The history of nations is made by leaders who realize from the start that their mission in life is to serve their country. Living consciences and strong wills are based on defying difficulties, not living on what people imagine about this or that ruler.
By Ahmed Al-Jarallah
Editor-in-Chief, the Arab Times