The Revolution & the Early Years of the New Government, 1952-56

History of Egypt
The Revolution & the Early Years of the New Government, 1952-56

History of Egypt. The nine men who had constituted themselves as the Committee of the Free Officers' Movement and led the 1952 Revolution were Lieutenant Colonel Gamal Abdul Nasser, Major Abd al Hakim Amir, Lieutenant Colonel Anwar as Sadat, Major Salah Salim, Major Kamal ad Din Husayn, Wing Commander Gamal Salim, Squadron Leader Hasan Ibrahim, Major Khalid Muhi ad Din, and Wing Commander Abd al Latif al Baghdadi. Major Husayn ash Shafii and Lieutenant Colonel Zakariyya Muhi ad Din joined the committee later.

The Revolution & the Early Years of the New Government, 1952-56

After the coup, the Free Officers asked Ali Mahir, a previous prime minister, to head the government. The Free Officers formed the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), which dictated policy to the civilian cabinet, abolished all civil titles such as pasha and bey, and ordered all political parties to purify their ranks and reconstitute their executive committees.

The RCC elected Muhammad Naguib president and commander in chief. He was chosen because he was a popular hero of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and an officer trusted by the army. In 1951 the Free Officers had elected him as president of the Egyptian Army Officers Club over the candidate chosen by Faruk. It was extremely important for the Free Officers to ensure the loyalty of the army if the coup were to succeed. Naguib was fifty-one years old; the average age of the other Free Officers was thirty- three.

The decision made by the Wafd government after the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 to allow sons of non-aristocratic families into the Military Academy had proved an important one for the future of Egypt. It meant that men such as Nasser and Sadat were able to become officers in the army and thus be in a position to shape events in Egypt. The decision had been made, not to create a more egalitarian officer corps, but rather to meet a desperate need for more officers.

As it turned out, most members of the Free Officers' group and all of the original members of the RCC had entered the Military Academy during the period between 1937 and 1940. The men who profited from this new policy were not from the poorest families; their families had to have enough money to send their children to secondary schools. For the most part, they were from families of moderately prosperous landholders and minor government officials, who constituted the class of rural notables.

Nasser himself came from a rural notable family. His father was from a small village in Upper Egypt and worked as a postal clerk. In 1915 the senior Nasser moved to Alexandria, where on January 15, 1918, his first son, Gamal, was born. At the age of seven, Gamal was sent to Cairo to live with his uncle and to attend school. He went to a school in Khan el-Khalili, the old quarter of the city near Al Azhar Mosque, where he experienced firsthand the bustling, crowded quarters of Cairo and the poverty of many in the city.

Between 1933 and 1938, he attended An Nahda (the Awakening) School in Cairo, where he combined studying with demonstrating against British and Egyptian politicians. In November 1935, he marched in demonstrations against the British and was wounded by a bullet fired by British troops. Identified as an agitator by the police, he was asked to leave his school. After a few months in law school, he joined the army.

Nasser desired vehemently to change his country; he believed that the British and the British-controlled king and politicians would continue to harm the interests of the majority of the population. Nasser and the other Free Officers had no particular desire for a military career, but Nasser had perceived that military life offered upward mobility and a chance to participate in shaping the country's future.

The Free Officers were united by their desire to see Egypt freed of British control and a more equitable government established. Nasser and many of the others seemed to be attached to no particular political ideology, although some, such as Khalid Muhi ad Din, were Marxists and a few sympathized with the Muslim Brotherhood. The lack of a coherent ideology would cause difficulties in the future when these men set about the task of governing Egypt.

Although Naguib headed the RCC and Mahir the civilian government, Nasser was the real power behind the RCC. The years between 1952 and 1954 witnessed a struggle for control of the government that Nasser ultimately won. The first crisis to face the new government came in August 1952 with a violent strike involving more than 10,000 workers at the Misr Company textile factories at Kafr ad Dawwar in the Delta. Workers attacked and set fire to part of the premises, destroyed machinery, and clashed with the police. The army was called in to put down the strike; several workers lost their lives, and scores were injured.

The RCC set up a special military court that tried the arrested textile workers. Two were convicted and executed, and many others were given prison sentences. The regime reacted quickly and ruthlessly because it had no intention of encouraging a popular revolution that it could not control. It then arrested about thirty persons charged with belonging to the outlawed Communist Party of Egypt (CPE). The Democratic Movement for National Liberation, a faction of the CPE, reacted by denouncing the regime as a military dictatorship.

On September 7, Ali Mahir resigned, and Naguib became prime minister, minister of war, commander in chief, and president of the RCC. That same month, the RCC passed its first major domestic measure, the Agrarian Reform Law of 1952. The law was intended to abolish the power of the absentee landlord class, to encourage investment in industry, and to build support for the regime.

The law limited landholdings to 200 feddans with the right to transfer another 100 to wives and children. The owners of the land requisitioned by the government received about half the market value of the land at 1951 prices in the form of government bonds. The land was sold in lots of two to five feddans to tenants and small farmers owning less than five feddans. The small farmers had to buy the lots at a price equal to the compensation paid to the former owner.

The RCC also dealt with labour legislation and education. Initial legislation raised minimum wages, reduced working hours, and created more jobs to reduce unemployment. Enforcement of these measures was lax until the early 1960s, however.

In another effort to reduce unemployment, the RCC instituted a policy of providing employment in government service for all university graduates, a practice that swelled the ranks of the bureaucracy and left many skilled people underused. The government increased its spending on education with the goal of educating all citizens. Rent control was established, and the government undertook construction of housing for workers. These programs were expanded in the 1960s.

On January 17, 1953, all political parties were dissolved and banned. A three-year transition period was proclaimed during which the RCC would rule. On February 10, the Liberation Rally headed by Nasser was launched to serve as an organization for the mobilization of popular support for the new government. On June 18, Egypt was declared a republic, and the monarchy was abolished, ending the rule of Muhammad Ali's dynasty. Naguib became the first president and also prime minister. Nasser became deputy prime minister and minister of interior. Other officers took over other ministries.

Between 1952 and 1954, there was a struggle between Naguib and Nasser and his colleagues on the RCC for control of the government and over the future form of the government. Naguib was to have one vote on the council and was responsible for carrying out council decisions. He enjoyed considerable popularity, and he developed his own following after conflicts involving policies arose between him and the RCC. The conflicts came to a head on February 23, 1954 when Naguib resigned.

The RCC may have been relieved at this decision, but the popular outcry was so great that Naguib was reinstated as president of the republic. Nasser, however, took the position of prime minister, previously held by Naguib, and remained president of the RCC.

As soon as the Free Officers came to power, their immediate and major concern was the evacuation of Britain from Egypt. At first, the Free Officers feared that the British from their garrison in the Suez Canal Zone might try to intervene on behalf of the king. However, the British made it clear that they would not interfere on behalf of the king nor take any action unless British lives were threatened. Achieving the evacuation of the British, however, involved two contentious issues, Sudan and the Suez Canal.

Sudan proved to be the easier to resolve. In February 1953, the Egyptian government agreed to a plan for self- determination for Sudan to be implemented over a three-year period. The Sudanese opted for independence rather than union with Egypt.

The issue of the Suez Canal was more complex and linked to Britain's desire to involve Egypt in the West's Cold War with the Soviet Union. As early as September 1952, the British government announced that there was no strategic alternative to the maintenance of the British base in the canal area. In the opinion of Anthony Eden, British foreign secretary, Egypt had to fit into a regional defence system, the Baghdad Pact, and agreement on this point would have to precede any withdrawal from the canal.

This was the period of pacts directed against the Soviet Union. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Southeast Asia Treaty Organization were supposed to contain the Soviet Union in the west and east. The Baghdad Pact, bringing into alliance Britain, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and Iraq, was supposed to do the same on the Soviet Union's southern borders. The British government was attempting to force Egypt to join the alliance by refusing to discuss evacuation of the Suez Canal base until Egypt agreed.

Egypt, however, would discuss only evacuation and eventual administration of the base, and the British slowly realized the drawbacks of holding the base without Egyptian acquiescence. By October 1954, Nasser signed an agreement providing for the withdrawal of all British troops from the base within twenty months, with the provision that the British base could be reactivated in the event of an attack on Egypt by an outside power or an Arab League state or an attack on Turkey.

The agreement gained a mixed reception among Egyptians. Despite the enthusiasm for ending imperialism, there were those who criticized Nasser for rewriting the old treaty. Nasser's chief critics were the communists and the Brotherhood. It was while Nasser was justifying the canal agreement to a crowd in Alexandria on October 26, 1954 that a member of the Brotherhood attempted to kill him. The following day, in a show of courage, Nasser deliberately exposed himself to crowds in Alexandria, at stations en route to Cairo and in the capital. In Cairo he was met by an estimated 200,000 people, his popularity having been enormously strengthened by this incident.

Although the Muslim Brotherhood had a long history of anti-British and anti-regime activities, its leaders stipulated that they would work with the Free Officers only if the officers would agree to Brotherhood objectives. Because the Brotherhood would not refrain from opposing the RCC, Nasser had outlawed the organization in February 1954. Naguib had always had a certain sympathy for the Brotherhood, and its leaders implicated him in the attack on Nasser. It is doubtful that he had any connection with the attack, but it gave Nasser the pretext he needed to remove Naguib from the presidency, and he did so in November.

In February 1955, Eden visited Cairo seeking again to persuade Nasser to join the Baghdad Pact. Nasser again refused. Many Egyptians were sceptical of Britain's intentions and believed that membership in the pact would amount to trading one form of British domination for another.

In addition, however, Nasser was increasingly attracted to the Non-aligned Movement that eschewed membership in either the Western or the Soviet camp. Nasser was no particular friend of the Soviet Union, and the Communist Party remained outlawed in Egypt. It was Western imperialism and colonialism, however, that Egypt had been struggling against.

Nasser also had become an admirer and friend of President Marshal Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India. Tito had survived by aligning himself neither with the West nor with the Soviet Union. Together, he and Nasser developed the concept of nonalignment, which entailed avoiding both pro- and anti-Soviet pacts but did not prevent them from purchasing arms or receiving aid from either bloc. Nevertheless, the West, particularly the United States, expected Third World countries to support the West in return for both arms and aid, as Nasser was soon to learn.

A turning point for Nasser was the Conference of the Non-aligned Movement in Bandung, Indonesia in April 1955. There he found himself the centre of attention as a Third World leader, accepted as a colleague by Chinese premier Chou En Lai, and greeted by crowds in the streets. Egyptian participation in the conference, along with other former colonies such as India, symbolized not only the new postcolonial world order but also Egypt's own independence.

Another turning point for Nasser came in February 1955 when he became convinced that Egypt had to arm to defend itself against Israel. This decision put him on a collision course with the West that ended on the battlefields of Suez a year later.

In February 1955, the Israeli army attacked Egyptian military outposts in Gaza. Thirty-nine Egyptians were killed. Until then, this had been Israel's least troublesome frontier. Since the end of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Egypt's leaders, from King Faruk to Nasser, had avoided militant attitudes on the ground that Israel should not distract Egypt from domestic problems. Nasser made no serious attempt to narrow Israel's rapidly widening armaments lead. He preferred to spend Egypt's meagre hard currency reserves on development.

Israel's raid on Gaza changed Nasser's mind, however. At first he sought Western aid, but he was rebuffed by the United States, France, and Britain. The United States government, especially the passionately anticommunist Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, clearly disapproved of Egypt's nonalignment and would make it difficult for Egypt to purchase arms. The French demanded that Egypt cease aiding the Algerian national movement, which was fighting for independence from France. The British warned Nasser that if he accepted Soviet weapons, none would be forthcoming from Britain.

Rejected in this short-sighted way by the West, Nasser negotiated the famous arms agreement with Czechoslovakia in September 1955. This agreement marked the Soviet Union's first great breakthrough in its effort to undermine Western influence in the Middle East. Egypt received no arms from the West and eventually became dependent on arms from the Soviet Union.

Relations between Nasser and the West reached a crisis over plans to finance the Aswan High Dam. Construction of the dam was one of the earliest decisions of the Free Officers. It would increase both electrical generating power and irrigated land area. It would serve industry and agriculture and symbolize the new Egypt.

The United States agreed to give Egypt an unconditional loan of US$56 million, and Britain agreed to lend Egypt US$14. The British loan was contingent on the American loan. The World Bank also agreed to lend Egypt an additional US$200 million. The World Bank loan stipulated that Egypt's budget be supervised by World Bank officials. To Nasser these conditions were insulting and were reminiscent of Europe's control over Egypt's finances in the 1870s.

While Nasser admitted to doubts about the West's sincerity, the United States became incensed over Egypt's decision to recognize communist China. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union was offering aid to Egypt in several forms, including a loan to finance the Aswan High Dam.

Then, on July 19, the United States withdrew its loan offer, and Britain and the World Bank followed suit. Nasser was returning to Cairo from a meeting with President Tito and Prime Minister Nehru when he heard the news. He was furious and decided to retaliate with an action that shocked the West and made him the hero of the Arabs.

Nationalizing The Suez Canal: On July 26, 1956, the fourth anniversary of King Faruk's exile, Nasser appeared in Muhammad Ali Square in Alexandria where twenty months earlier an assassin had attempted to kill him. An immense crowd gathered, and he began a three-hour speech from a few notes jotted on the back of an envelope. When Nasser said the code word, "de Lesseps," it was the signal for engineer Mahmud Yunis to begin the takeover of the Suez Canal.

The canal's owner was the Suez Canal Company, an international company with headquarters in Paris. Anthony Eden, then British prime minister, called the nationalization of the canal "theft," and United States secretary of state Dulles said Nasser would have to be made to "disgorge" it.

The French and British depended heavily on the canal for transporting oil supplies, and they felt that Nasser had become a threat to their remaining interests in the Middle East and Africa. Eden wanted to launch a military action immediately but was informed that Britain was not in a position to do so. Both France and Britain froze Egyptian assets in their countries and increased their military preparedness in the eastern Mediterranean.

Egypt promised to compensate the stockholders of the Suez Canal Company and to guarantee right of access to all ships, so it was difficult for the French and British to rally international support to regain the canal by force. The Soviet Union, its East European allies, and Third World countries generally supported Egypt. The United States moved farther away from Britain and stated that while it opposed the nationalization of the canal, it was against the use of force.

What followed was the invasion of Egypt by Britain, France, and Israel, an action known as the Tripartite Invasion or the 1956 War. Whereas the truth about the invasion eventually became known, at the time the Conservative government in London denied that it used Israel as an excuse for attacking Egypt. Eden, who had an intense personal dislike for Nasser, concealed the cooperation with Israel from his colleagues, British diplomats, and the United States.

The plan, which was supposed to enable Britain and France to gain physical control of the canal, called for Israel to attack across the Sinai Desert. When Israel neared the canal, Britain and France would issue an ultimatum for an Egyptian and Israeli withdrawal from both sides of the canal. An Anglo-French force would then occupy the canal to prevent further fighting and to keep it open to shipping. Israeli Prime minister David Ben-Gurion agreed to the plan but informed Britain that Israel would not attack unless Britain and France first destroyed the Egyptian air force.

On October 28, Israeli troops crossed the frontier into the Sinai Peninsula (also seen as Sinai), allegedly to destroy the bases of Egyptian commandos. The first sign of collusion between Israel and Britain and France came on the same day when the Anglo-French ultimatum was handed to Egypt and Israel before Israel had even reached the canal.

British bombing destroyed the Egyptian air force, and British and French paratroopers were dropped over Port Said and Port Fuad. The Egyptians put up fierce resistance. Ships were sunk in the canal to prevent transit. In the battle for Port Said, about 2,700 Egyptian civilians and soldiers were killed or wounded.

Although it was invaded and occupied for a time, Egypt can claim to have emerged the victor. There was almost universal condemnation of the Tripartite Invasion. The Soviet Union threatened Britain and France with a rocket attack if they did not withdraw. The United States, angered because it had not been informed by its allies of the invasion, realized it could not allow the Soviet Union to appear as the champion of the Third World against Western imperialism. Thus, the United States put pressure on the British and French to withdraw.

Faced with almost total opposition to the invasion, the anger of the United States, and the threat of the collapse of the pound sterling, the British agreed to withdraw. Severely condemned, Britain and France accepted a cease-fire on November 6, as their troops were poised to advance the length of the canal. The final evacuation took place on December 22.

Israel, which occupied all of Sinai, was reluctant to withdraw. President Dwight D. Eisenhower of the United States placed great pressure on Israel to give up all its territorial acquisitions and even threatened sanctions. The Israelis did withdraw from Sinai, but they carried out a scorched earth policy, destroying roads, railroads, and military installations as they went.

A United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) was established and began arriving in Egypt on November 21. The troops were stationed on the Egyptian side of the Egyptian-Israeli border as well as along the eastern coast of Sinai. Israel refused to allow UN troops on its territory. The UN troops were stationed on the Gulf of Aqaba to ensure the free passage of Israeli shipping to Elat. The troops remained in Egypt until 1967, when their removal contributed to the outbreak of the June 1967 War.

Egypt reopened the canal to shipping in April and ran it smoothly. It was open to all ships except those of Israel, and it remained open until the June 1967 War (Arab-Israeli war, also known as the Six-Day War). Diplomatic relations between Egypt and Britain were not restored until 1969.

Nasser had won a significant victory. The immediate effect was that Britain and France were finally out of Egypt. Nasser went on to nationalize all other British and French assets in Egypt. The Egyptians now had full control of the canal and its revenues. The Suez crisis also made Nasser the hero of the Arab world, a man who had stood up to Western imperialism and had prevailed.

In response to his increased prestige, Nasser emphasized the Arab character of Egypt and its leadership role in the Arab world. He had always had a concern for Arab causes, as shown by his volunteering to fight in Palestine in 1948, but now this tendency was amplified. His Egyptian nationalism became Arab nationalism when he decided that if the Arab countries worked together, they would have the resources to solve their individual problems. In addition, the move toward nationalization, which started with French and British assets, continued in Egypt and became a cornerstone of Nasser's administration.

Another result of the 1956 events was the increased Soviet influence in Egypt stemming from the Soviet financing of the Aswan High Dam construction and Soviet arms sales to Egypt. Thus, Egypt became the cornerstone of the Soviet Union's Middle East policy.

Under the Protectorate & the 1919 Revolution

British Imperialism in Egypt
Under the Protectorate & the 1919 Revolution

British Imperialism in Egypt. Opposition to European interference in Egypt's affairs resulted in the emergence of a nationalist movement that coalesced and spread after the British military intervention and occupation of 1882. The immediate causes of what is known to Egyptians as the 1919 Revolution, however, were British actions during the war that caused widespread hardship and resentment.

Specifically, these included Britain's purchase of cotton and requisitioning of fodder at below market prices, Britain's forcible recruitment of about 500,000 peasants into the Labour and Camel Transport Corps in the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, and its use of the country as a base and a garrison populated by British, Australian, and other troops. After the war, Egypt felt the adverse effects of soaring prices and unemployment.

Under the Protectorate & the 1919 Revolution

Under the Protectorate & the 1919 Revolution

Under the Protectorate & the 1919 Revolution

When the war ended, the nationalists began to press the British again for independence. In addition to their other reasons, the Egyptians were influenced by American president Woodrow Wilson, who was preaching self-determination for all nations.

In September 1918, Egypt made the first moves toward the formation of a wafd, or delegation, to voice its demands for independence at the Paris Peace Conference. The idea for a wafd had originated among prominent members of the Umma Party, including Lutfi as Sayyid, Saad Zaghlul, Muhammad Mahmud, Ali Sharawi, and Abd al Aziz Fahmi.

On November 13, 1918, thereafter celebrated in Egypt as Yawm al Jihad (Day of Struggle), Zaghlul, Fahmi, and Sharawi had an audience with Sir Reginald Wingate, the British high commissioner. They demanded complete independence with the proviso that Britain be allowed to supervise the Suez Canal and the public debt. They also asked permission to go to London to put their case before the British government. On the same day, the Egyptians formed a delegation for this purpose, Al Wafd al Misri (known as the Wafd), headed by Saad Zaghlul.

The British refused to allow the Wafd to proceed to London. On March 8, Zaghlul and three other members of the Wafd were arrested and thrown into Qasr an Nil prison. The next day, they were deported to Malta, an action that sparked the popular uprising of March-April 1919 in which Egyptians of all social classes participated. There were violent clashes in Cairo and the provincial cities of Lower Egypt, especially Tanta, and the uprising spread to the south, culminating in violent confrontations in Asyut Province in Upper Egypt.

The deportation of the Wafdists also triggered student demonstrations and escalated into massive strikes by students, government officials, professionals, women, and transport workers. Within a week, all of Egypt was paralyzed by general strikes and rioting. Railroad and telegraph lines were cut, taxi drivers refused to work, lawyers failed to appear for court cases, and demonstrators marched through the streets shouting pro-Wafdist slogans and demanding independence. Violence resulted, with many Egyptians and Europeans being killed or injured when the British attempted to crush the demonstrations with force.

On March 16, between 150 and 300 upper-class Egyptian women in veils staged a demonstration against the British occupation, an event that marked the entrance of Egyptian women into public life. The women were led by Safia Zaghlul, wife of Wafd leader Saad Zaghlul; Huda Sharawi, wife of one of the original members of the Wafd and organizer of the Egyptian Feminist Union; and Muna Fahmi Wissa. Women of the lower classes demonstrated in the streets alongside the men. In the countryside, women engaged in activities like cutting rail lines.

The upper-class women participating in politics for the first time assumed key roles in the movement when the male leaders were exiled or detained. They organized strikes, demonstrations, and boycotts of British goods and wrote petitions, which they circulated to foreign embassies protesting British actions in Egypt.

The women's march of March 16 preceded by one day the largest demonstration of the 1919 Revolution. More than 10,000 teachers, students, workers, lawyers, and government employees started marching at Al Azhar and wound their way to Abdin Palace where they were joined by thousands more, who ignored British roadblocks and bans. Soon, similar demonstrations broke out in Alexandria, Tanta, Damanhur, Al Mansurah, and Al Fayyum. By the summer of 1919, more than 800 Egyptians had been killed, as well as 31 Europeans and 29 British soldiers.

Wingate, the British high commissioner, understood the strength of the nationalist forces and the threat the Wafd represented to British dominance and had tried to persuade the British government to allow the Wafd to travel to Paris. However, the British government remained hostile to Zaghlul and the nationalists and adamant in rejecting Egyptian demands for independence.

Wingate was recalled to London for talks on the Egyptian situation, and Milne Cheetham became acting high commissioner in January 1919. When the 1919 Revolution began, Cheetham soon realized that he was powerless to stop the demonstrations and admitted that matters were completely out of his control. Nevertheless, the government in London ordered him not to give in to the Wafd and to restore order, a task that he was unable to accomplish.

London decided to replace Wingate with a strong military figure, General Edmund Allenby, the greatest British hero of World War I. He was named special high commissioner and arrived in Egypt on March 25. The next day, he met with a group of Egyptian nationalists and ulama.

After persuading Allenby to release the Wafd leaders and to permit them to travel to Paris, the Egyptian group agreed to sign a statement urging the people to stop demonstrating. Allenby, who was convinced that this was the only way to stop the revolt, then had to persuade the British government to agree. On April 7, Zaghlul and his colleagues were released and set out for Paris.

In May 1919, Lord Milner was appointed to head a mission to investigate how Egypt could be granted "self-governing institutions" while maintaining the protectorate and safeguarding British interests. The mission arrived in Egypt in December 1919 but was boycotted by the nationalists, who opposed the continuation of the protectorate. The arrival of the Milner Mission was followed by strikes in which students, lawyers, professionals, and workers participated. Merchants closed their shops, and organizers distributed leaflets urging the Egyptians not to cooperate with the mission.

Milner realized that a direct approach to Zaghlul was necessary, and in the summer of 1920 private talks between the two men took place in London. As a result of the so-called Milner-Zaghlul Agreement, the British government announced in February 1921 that it would accept the abolition of the protectorate as the basis for negotiation of a treaty with Egypt.

On April 4, 1921, Zaghlul's return to Egypt was met by an unprecedented welcome, showing that the vast majority of Egyptians supported him. Allenby, however, was determined to break Zaghlul's political power and to build up a pro-British group to whom Britain could safely commit Egyptian independence. On December 23, Zaghlul was deported to the Seychelles via Aden. His deportation was followed by demonstrations, violent clashes with the police, and strikes by students and government employees that affected Cairo, Alexandria, Port Said, Suez, and provincial towns like Tanta, Zifta, Az Zaqaziq, and Jirja.

On February 28, 1922, Britain unilaterally declared Egyptian independence without any negotiations with Egypt. Four matters were "absolutely reserved to the discretion" of the British government until agreements concerning them could be negotiated:
  •     The security of communications of the British Empire in Egypt
  •     The defence of Egypt against all foreign aggressors or interference, direct or indirect
  •     The protection of foreign interests in Egypt
  •     The protection of minorities; and Sudan

Sultan Ahmad Fuad became King Fuad I, and his son, Faruk, was named as his heir. On April 19, a new constitution was approved. Also that month, an electoral law was issued that ushered in a new phase in Egypt's political development, parliamentary elections. 

Egypt Imperialism The Post-War Upheavals

Egypt Imperialism
The Post-War Upheavals

The victory of the Allies over the Germans came in 1945, but despite demands by the Wafd that they now leave Egypt, the British failed to react. It was the last straw. The Egyptians, their patience utterly exhausted, took matters into their own hands.

When the Wafd won a landslide victory in new elections, its government, headed by al-Nahhas, declared the 1936 Anglo-Egyptian Treaty void.  Furthermore, the intense anger of the Muslim Brotherhood, muted for the duration of the war, erupted to the surface and manifested itself in a wave of anti-British demonstrations, riots and strikes.

Egypt Imperialism The Post-War Upheavals

By early 1952, the situation in Egypt had become explosive. In the Suez Canal Zone matters came to a head after a newspaper published a reward of a thousand Egyptian pounds for anyone who would kill the British general in charge of the Canal.

 The general in question, Sir George Erskine, responded by cracking down on Egyptian police who were suspected of having dealings with anti-British organizations operating in the region. Soon events got out of hand, resulting in a full-scale siege of a police barracks.

 Facing strong resistance, British forces stormed the building with the aid of tanks, leaving 50 Egyptians dead and many others wounded. The event shocked and outraged the Egyptians, provoking a huge demonstration against the British and King Faruq, whose popularity had reached an all-time low.

Soon Cairo was literally on fire as furious mobs went on the rampage. In an attempt to bring the situation under control, the king declared martial law and dismissed the Wafd government. It was too late. The fate of the country now lay outside the hands the politicians and in those of the Egyptian army. 

Abbas Hilmi I

Abbas Hilmi I, 1848-54 & Said, 1854-63

Muhammad Ali was succeeded by Abbas Hilmi I, a genuine traditionalist with no interest in continuing the development plans of his grandfather. Abbas disliked Europeans, but he allowed a railroad line to be built between Alexandria and Cairo that facilitated British imperial communications with India.

Regular steamship services already linked Britain to India via Alexandria, Suez, and Bombay. This partially overland route to India took thirty-one days, compared to three months for the journey around the Cape of Good Hope. Abbas's successor was Said, the fourth son of Muhammad Ali. He revived the works in agriculture, irrigation, and education begun by his father.

Abbas Hilmi I
Abbas Hilmi I

 Under his rule, the first land law governing private landed property in Egypt was passed in 1858. Said abolished the agricultural monopolies of his father by granting landowners the right to dispose freely of their produce as well as the freedom to choose what crops to cultivate. He also introduced uniform military service and the first organized pension plan for public servants.

Said was a friend of the French engineer Ferdinand de Lesseps, to whom he granted a concession in 1854 to construct a canal from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean. The Suez Canal Company was organized to undertake the construction, and the concession to the company included two items that proved costly for Egypt.

First, the company was granted a strip of land linking the Nile with the canal site. There a freshwater canal was constructed, and the strip of land was decreed tax free, allowing the company to enjoy the benefits of its cultivation. Second, the viceroy undertook to supply labor for the canal's construction, in what amounted to a system of forced labour.

British Imperialism in Egypt An Unsatisfactory Independence

British Imperialism in Egypt
An Unsatisfactory Independence

British Imperialism in Egypt. In 1923 it seemed that independence had finally arrived; yet it was not exactly what the Egyptians had hoped for. The British were not readily going to relinquish the power they had over a country they considered to be of such strategic importance. Accordingly, independence had been granted on certain conditions that came to be known as the "Four Reserved Points."

These were Britain's rights to safeguard its imperial communications in Egypt; to defend the country against foreign attack; to defend minorities and foreign interests; and to control Sudan. Given the circumstances, it was an offer the Egyptians could hardly refuse.

British Imperialism in Egypt An Unsatisfactory Independence
Saad Zaghloul

In 1923, a constitution was drafted by a National Assembly, and Egypt officially became a parliamentary monarchy. Fuad I, one of Ismail's sons who had become sultan after the death of Hussein in 1917, now took the title of king. A bicameral parliamentary system was established that consisted of a Chamber of Deputies and a Senate. Members of the former were elected by the adult male population, while two-thirds of those in the latter were appointed by the king.

In January 1924, Egypt celebrated its first general election. The clear winner was Zaghlul's Wafd Party, which took its name from the delegation that he had led several years earlier. Zaghlul, who had been released the previous year and whose popularity was greater than ever, was now country's new prime minister, but attempting to govern the country would prove anything but straightforward.

Politics in the country became a three-way tug of war between the King, the Wafd, and the British government. Fuad I took advantage of the considerable powers granted to him under the constitution, and engaged in a personal crusade to frustrate the parliamentary process in order to serve his own ends. Indeed, thanks to his interference, intrigues and talent for playing the British and Wafd against each other, no elected parliament ever lasted its full term. For their part, the British exerted a great deal of influence through the High Commisioner and other officials who occupied key security posts in the government.

One of Zaghlul's main priorities was to see a decisive end to the British occupation of Egypt. This he believed would be possible by negotiating a treaty between the two countries. Furthermore, he was keen to fulfill the Wafdist dream of forcing the British to relinquish control of Sudan and then incorporating the territory into Egypt.

Zaghlul would never see his goals realized, and was soon overwhelmed by events beyond his control. On November 19, 1924, extremists with links to the Wafd Party assassinated Sir Lee Stack, the commander of the Egyptian army and Governor General of Sudan. The British government was furious. The High Commisioner, General Allenby, responded with a thinly veiled threat.

Allenby, a friend of Stack who was appropriately dubbed the "Bull," demanded that the government apologize and pay a fine of 500,000 Egyptian pounds. Furthermore, he insisted that Egypt withdraw its military personnel from Sudan, a gratuitous demand that clearly had nothing to do with the matter and merely demonstrated Allenby's bullying methods.

Insulted and outraged, Zaghlul rejected the ultimatum and promptly resigned. Allenby did not escape either. His handling of the affair had courted a great deal of displeasure at home and he was forced to resign. Despite continuing to lead the Wafd, Zaghlul's career was effectively over. He died a few years later in 1927, remaining as popular as ever until the end. His body was laid to rest in a huge granite tomb that still stands in Cairo.

Meanwhile, the three-way struggle continued. Little could be decided upon. King Fuad I worked hard at limiting the power and popularity of the Wafd and suspended the constitution, replacing Zaghlul's successor, Mustafa al-Nahhas, with Ismail Sidqi. Fuad I then forced through a new constitution that further strengthened his powers and allowed him to rule by decree. Between 1930 and 1933, Sidqi, backed by the king, imposed a hard-line rule over Egypt.

However, under continual pressure from the Wafd and the British, Fuad I found his position increasingly untenable. In April 1935, he was forced to restore the 1923 constitution. One year later he died and was succeeded by his son and successor.

With Faruq still too young to rule directly, the Wafd government seized the moment. Headed once again by Al-Nahhas, it quickly negotiated a deal with the British government. On August 26, 1936, the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty was signed. This agreement replaced the "Four Reserved Points" and offered Britain a 20-year guarantee to protect the canal and other strategic zones in the event of war. Although it formally ended British imperialism in Egypt, it was a far from perfect settlement since British troops would not in fact be required to abandon the region until Egypt had proven its ability to defend itself.

At the age of 16, Faruq ascended the throne, yet little changed. Like Cleopatra so many years before him, the new king was the first in his line to be able to address his subjects in their own language. Like Cleopatra too, he was to preside over the end of his dynasty. But there the similarity ended. While the flamboyant young king paid lip service to nationalist ideals, he would never show the strength of character required to lead the country and challenge the British imperialism in Egypt. He also found himself incapable of accommodating his government and, by December 1937, Al-Nahhas was out once more and new elections brought in a disastrous result for the Wafd. 

Nasser's Defiance of the West

Gamal Abdel Nasser
Nasser's Defiance of the West

In 1956 the British finally left Egypt and Gamal Abdel Nasser was free to turn his attention to the intensely bitter conflict that had been raging in the Middle East over the creation of the state of Israel. It was at this point that Gamal Abdel Nasser resolved to find weapons to boost Egypt's fighting potential. Hoping to gain them from the Britain or the United States, he was frustrated by the condition that they not be used against Israel and that Egypt should join the West in an anti-Communist alliance.

 Undeterred, Nasser turned to the Communist bloc and purchased his arms from Czechoslovakia instead. In the tense climate of the Cold War, the West took an extremely dim view of Nasser's defiance. But from the Arab world, it brought rapturous applause. Nasser had shown the world that an Arab country could make its own decisions and choose its own destiny. Nasser was seen as a new champion who had stood up to the West and would lead the Arabs to victory in Palestine by defeating the Israelis.

Nasser's Defiance of the West

Nasser's Defiance of the West

Nasser's star had risen, and the following year he pulled off the most dramatic and popular moves of his career. It came in July 1956, after the United States, annoyed by Nasser's drift away from the West, withdrew its support for an ambitious project to construct a huge new dam at Aswan in the south of Egypt. The dam was the linchpin in a massive program to boost the Egyptian economy. By controlling the waters of the Nile, it would protect the country from the worst effects of drought, increase the area of land under cultivation, and provide a massive boost to industry by generating enormous supplies of hydroelectricity.

Nasser was furious at the U.S. withdrawal of support and took the bold step of nationalizing the Suez Canal Company. He further rejected any suggestion that the canal be managed by a new international body. The canal was Egyptian, and the revenue it earned which, as Nasser was quick to point out, made the proposed U.S. aid for the dam project look ridiculous in comparison - would be ploughed back into Egypt to fund the construction of the dam.

Gamal Abdel Nasser's Aswan Dam was eventually constructed, taking 30,000 workers ten years to complete. Finished in 1972, it now measures more than 12,000 feet long (two and one-quarter miles) along the top and stands 360 feet high. At its base it is 3,200 feet thick and 130 feet at its top. The huge body of water it created, named Lake Nasser, is an astonishing 300 miles long, with an average width of over 6 miles, and extends well into neighboring Sudan.

The flooding of such a great area of land inevitably posed serious problems for local inhabitants and around 100,000 people had to be resettled. Another cause for concern was the fate of major archeological sites, especially the temples of Abu Simbel, which would be lost forever under the waters of the artificial lake.

At the behest of the Egyptian and Sudanese government, a huge rescue appeal was launched with the support of UNESCO. In what was to prove an unparalleled feat of modern engineering, two temples built by Ramses II were moved block by block and rebuilt on higher land. Many other temples in the region were similarly saved from destruction.

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