Modern History of the Arab Countries. Vladimir Borisovich Lutsky 1969



A few days after the British had entered Cairo, Duclerc, the Prime Minister of France, asked Granville, the British Foreign Secretary, about his government’s intentions with regard to Egypt. Granville replied that the occupation was of a temporary nature and would end as soon as Egypt’s affairs had been straightened out. British statesmen made frequent public declarations to the effect that the evacuation of British troops from Egypt would take place as soon as order had been restored. A case in point was Prime Minister Gladstone’s declaration in the House of Commons in 1884, that the question of the evacuation of British troops from Egypt was a matter of honour for Britain.

Britain had not annexed Egypt since such a step might have led to a serious international crisis. She realised that France would be opposed to annexation and that France would have Russia’s backing in this question. Turkey would also be opposed to annexation, although, truth to tell, Britain would have paid little enough attention to Turkey had it not been for France’s and Russia’s stand on the Egyptian Question.

In 1884, the French demanded of Granville the withdrawal of the British troops from Egypt. Granville promised to do so by the beginning of 1888.

In 1885, under pressure from France, Britain began talks in Constantinople on the evacuation of her troops from Egypt. The British dragged out the negotiations for as long as possible and proposed the dispatch to Egypt of two emissaries, one British and one Turkish. An Anglo-Turkish agreement was not drafted until 1887. The British undertook to evacuate Egypt three years from the time of the agreement’s coming into force, if within this period no new internal or external threat to Egypt’s security had arisen. This reservation made the entire agreement unusually precarious. Even so, Britain further demanded that the agreement should guarantee her the right to reoccupation, if any internal or external threat should again arise. The Sultan categorically objected to the draft agreement.

What was the attitude of the Powers to the draft agreement? In 1882, while preparing for a war against France and Russia, Germany had knocked together an imperialist bloc known as the Triple Alliance, which, besides herself, included Austria-Hungary and Italy. On the other hand, the German threat had brought about a French-Russian rapprochement. Britain tried to play the role of arbitrator between those two blocs pursuing what became known as a policy of “splendid isolation.” She joined neither of the blocs and maintained the role of arbitrator in order to dominate European politics. Her sympathies, however, were with the Triple Alliance. Britain took a stand of friendly neutrality towards the countries of the Triple Alliance and one of hostile neutrality towards the Franco-Russian bloc. The main feature of Britain’s relations with France at the time were the contradictions in Africa, while Britain’s relations with Russia were largely determined by the contradictions in the Middle East. Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy supported the British occupation of Egypt, which Britain highly appreciated. On the other hand, France and Russia backed the Sultan and demanded the evacuation of British troops from Egypt. Under these circumstances the Sultan rejected the British plan.

No agreement was reached and the British army remained in Egypt.

Egypt was still regarded as part of the Ottoman Empire and the British continued to give assurances of their intention to evacuate Egypt some time in the near future.

In January 1888, a British statesman told the French diplomat, de Laboulaye, that only the Egyptian Question divided them, but that they were mistaken in France if they thought the British wanted to stay in Egypt for ever. He added that there was no politician in England who would include the permanent occupation of Egypt in his programme. He said the British intended to leave, but could do so only after establishing definite order.

Such was the British stand on the Egyptian Question. Technically they meant to evacuate Egypt, but practically they did everything in their power to stay where they were. After 1887, French and Turkish diplomats repeatedly broached the subject of the evacuation of British troops from Egypt. The British responded with all sorts of verbal assertions, but stayed on. It was not until 1904, that a far-reaching change occurred.

On April 8, 1904, Britain and France concluded a number of agreements which marked the beginning of the Anglo-French Entente. Among these, the principal agreement was the Anglo-French Declaration on Egypt and Morocco, which consisted of public and secret clauses. The public part of the Declaration stated: “His Britannic Majesty’s Government declare that they have no intention of altering the political status of Egypt [i.e., Egypt remains a part of the Ottoman Empire, under British occupation – V. L. Q.]

“The Government of the French Republic, for their part, declare they will not obstruct the action of Great Britain in that country by asking that a limit of time be fixed for the British occupation or in any other manner.” [L. Cromer, op. cit., Vol II, p. 391. Thus France granted Britain freedom of action in Egypt, in exchange for which she received freedom of action in Morocco.

The secret clauses of the Declaration envisaged the possibility of changing the British policy on Egypt, i.e., the possibility of annexing Egypt in one form or another. Moreover, a pious stipulation was made to the effect that this would happen only if Britain were compelled to do so by force of circumstances. Naturally, they could always create the circumstances themselves.

In 1904, the Anglo-French differences over the occupation of Egypt were settled. Simultaneously, other Anglo-French contradictions over the Egyptian Public Debt and the regime of the Suez Canal were also settled.


For twenty years the question of the Suez Canal regime was a source of conflict between Britain and France. Fearing that the occupation of Egypt would threaten the freedom of navigation in the Suez Canal, France insisted on the formation of a body of international control. On her initiative, in 1885, an international commission was founded to work out measures to secure the free use of the Suez Canal. After a prolonged and stubborn struggle, the commission worked out a draft Convention to guarantee free navigation in the canal. On October 29, 1888, the Convention was signed in Constantinople by the representatives of France, Russia, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy, Spain, Holland and Turkey.

The Constantinople Convention of 1888 stipulated that “the Suez Maritime Canal should always be free and open, in time of war as in time of peace, to every vessel of commerce or of war without distinction of flag.” According to the Convention, warships could not linger in the Canal Zone more than twenty-four hours. Britain was thereby deprived of the opportunity to keep her fleet within the limits of the Suez Canal. Furthermore, the Convention prohibited the construction of fortifications, the stationing of troops and the setting up of ammunition depots in the Canal Zone, which also affected Britain’s interests.

The British Government opposed the Convention of 1888 and did all it could to hamper its practical implementation. And when she eventually signed the Convention, Britain formulated a reservation, which rendered her signature completely invalid and amounted to a refusal to join the Convention. Only in 1904, along with the general adjustment of Anglo-French relations was the reservation removed from the text of the Convention, and only then did Britain actually join the Constantinople Convention of 1888 and agree to put it in force.

Summing up this brief review of Egypt’s position in the international political situation, it must be noted that in 1906, Britain annexed the Sinai Peninsula to the territory of Egypt and occupied it. This evoked futile objections on the part of the Porte, and since France no longer interfered in these matters, Britain acquired a zone for the defence of the Suez Canal and a springboard for an attack against Palestine in the coming world war.


On September 20, 1882, immediately after the British troops had entered Cairo, Britain notified France that Dual Control

over Egypt’s finances had ended. Since she was out to establish her complete domination over Egypt, Britain did not wish to permit the presence of French finance controllers alongside the British authorities. Instead she offered France the presidency of the Commission of the Public Debt. This the French declined, saying that “it was not consistent with the dignity of France to accept as an equivalent for the abolition of Control, a position which was simply that of cashier.” [L. Cromer, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 340.

Having taken over Egypt, the British set about turning her into a cotton base for British industry. This called for the wide-scale construction of irrigation canals, which Britain was quite willing to realise at Egypt’s expense. More-over, the British pressed Egypt for the payment of the indemnity (compensation to the British for losses incurred during the military operations in Alexandria). Finally they could not balance the Egyptian budget without a deficit. To solve these problems, the British drew up a plan of financial measures, the main points of which were the following:

(1) the abrogation of the law on the liquidation of a part of the assigned and non-assigned revenue; the transfer of the surplus on the assigned revenues to the Egyptian budget,

(2) the partial and temporary reduction of payment on former loans,

(3) a new loan of 9,000,000 for Egypt at an interest rate of 3 per cent per annum,

(4) the right to sell the state and khedival estates,

(5) the right to tax foreign residents in Egypt.

Britain could not carry out this plan without the approval of all Egypt’s creditors. France, however, categorically objected to the measures contemplated by the British. Britain then proposed an international conference in London on the Egyptian Public Debt. The conference, which lasted from July to September 1884, yielded no results. Only after further prolonged talks, in March 1885, did the French agree to adopt the British plan on the condition that the new loan would have an international guarantee, i.e., if the French were given the right to participate in the control over the loan.

An international convention on the Egyptian Public Debt was signed in London, on March 18, 1885, and Britain’s demands were satisfied. On the insistence of France, however, the following provision was added to the convention: if Britain in the course of three years does not reach a balance in the Egyptian budget, the supervision of Egypt’s finances will pass into the control of the international commission.

This stipulation was a serious threat to the British and they did everything they could to put Egypt’s finances in order. They carried out a currency reform (1885); they eliminated the difference between the ushriya and Kharaj lands and raised taxes; they economised in a number of branches of government administration at Egypt’s expense, particularly by cutting expenditure on public education. The proportion of indirect taxes increased sharply. The result was that by 1888, the British had balanced Egypt’s budget and had deprived France of an excuse to interfere in Egypt’s financial affairs.

Having strengthened Egypt’s financial position, in 1890, the British converted the Egyptian Public Debt and reduced the interest rates on the state debts. When the agreement on the Entente was signed in 1904, France agreed to the conversion of the debt and supported other measures taken by the British authorities in Egypt, such as the liquidation of foreign control over Egypt’s custom houses and railways, the revenues from which had been used to pay off the debt; the suspension of the practice of dividing the Egyptian budget into two parts; the modification of the functions of the Caisse de la Dette, and so on.

In 1898, the British founded the National Bank of Egypt. In spite of its name, the bank was not national, but private, and not Egyptian, but British. Unlike the other British banks in Egypt, however, the National Bank was empowered with the functions of a central bank of issue. It issued the Egyptian banknotes and looked after all the Egyptian Government’s cash.

The British financial policy in Egypt safeguarded the interests of the European banks. Revenues from the Egyptian Public Debt flowed regularly into their coffers. The aggregate sum of the debt was stabilised at a level of about 100,000,000. The foreign creditors received 4,500,000 annually as payment on the debt. Moreover, Egypt paid the Porte between 600,000 and 700,000 tribute annually. This tribute formed a guarantee for one of the Turkish loans and also profited the European money-lenders. In all, Egypt paid the foreign bankers over 5,000,000 annually, which comprised at first 50 and later 30 per cent of the Egyptian budget.


The economic policy pursued by the British banks and their representatives in Egypt reflected the attempt of British finance capital, on the one hand, to exploit Egypt by purely usurious means and, on the other, to turn her into a cotton base for British industry. This can be seen by the economic measures and the trends of foreign capital investments during the period of British occupation.

The new capital investments were relatively small in the first years of the occupation. Between 1883 and 1897, they comprised (excluding the General Company of the Suez Maritime Canal) E6,600,000. Then they rose sharply. During the financial boom of 1897-1907, which preceded the international economic crisis of 1907, foreign capital investments in Egypt comprised the colossal sum of E73,500,000. After the crisis, they were again curtailed and in 1907-14, dwindled to E13,000,000.

The proportion of industrial investment was insignificant. In 1883-97 it accounted for 29 per cent of the total sum and in the boom years (1897-1907) even less – 9.3 per cent. What happened to these huge sums of foreign capital? They were invested mainly in commerce, in banks, mortgage banks and land companies and concessionary enterprises in the public utilities. According to the figures given for 1914, out of E210,000,000 (the total sum of foreign capital investments in Egypt), 166,300,000 or 79 per cent was accounted for by non-productive investments (public debt, mortgage and banks), 26,500,000, or 12.6 per cent, by transport and trade and only 10,500,000 or a mere 5 per cent by industry and construction.

Foreign capital in Egypt was of an openly usurious character and did not promote the development of Egypt’s productive forces. Cotton-growing was the only branch of the Egyptian economy that interested the British capitalists and the occupation authorities. During the British occupation, the entire economic life of Egypt was geared to one aim-the production of raw cotton for British industry.

With a view to developing cotton-growing, the British authorities carried out wide-scale irrigation works. In the period between 1890 and 1914, several dams and irrigation networks were built, in particular, the old Aswan Dam (1902), which after additional building in 1912, made it possible to store up to 2,300,000,000 cubic metres of water. The system of year-round irrigation was expanded in Lower Egypt and also applied in Central Egypt. As a result, the area of land under cultivation rose from 4,472,000 feddans in 1877 to 5,503,000 feddans in 1913.

Cotton production was virtually monopolised by British capital.

The main cotton producer was the Egyptian fellah. Most of the cotton was cultivated on small plots of land which were tilled by the fellaheen, but only an insignificant share of the land belonged to them. In 1914, 2,397,000 feddans, i.e., 44 per cent of the entire area of the privately. owned land, belonged to 12,500 landlords, while only 1,954,000 feddans or 35.8 per cent fell to the share of 1,491,000 peas-ants (who owned up to ten feddans). The process of parcel-ling out the peasants’ land rapidly gained momentum. With-in twenty years (1894-1913), the number of peasants who owned less than five feddans increased threefold.

The majority of the cotton plantations of Egypt were controlled either directly or indirectly by foreign capital. In 1910, the foreigners owned 700,000 feddans or 13 per cent of the entire area of the privately-owned lands. The foreigners, however, controlled not only the land which belonged directly to them. They also controlled, indirectly, through mortgage, 27 per cent of the land which had been hypothecated in mortgage banks and companies.

The irrigation system was the key factor of British domination in the cotton industry. The chief dams and the main canals were built at the expense of the Egyptian people, but were controlled by the British irrigation inspectors. A ramified network of peripheral canals and small irrigation ditches which supplied water to the fields branched out from the main canals. The peripheral irrigation network had been built by private British irrigation companies which charged the cotton-growing Egyptian fellaheen large sums for their use. Not only was the land and water under British control, but also most of the primary cotton-processing and cotton-cleaning industry of Egypt.

Cotton was exported by railway, by boat along the rivers and canals, and so on. The steamship lines which transported the cotton from the interior of Egypt to Alexandria were also British owned. The main railways belonged to the Egyptian state, but were in the hands of the British inspectors. Moreover, the British and some French companies had built a number of peripheral narrow-gauge railways and shipped cotton from the interior to the main roads and from there to Alexandria. The entire cotton trade, both internal and external, was also in the hands of the British. Their banks in Egypt had special cotton departments which granted credits for home and foreign trade. The cotton buying was done by local merchants, they were all agents of their respective British banks and export companies. The exporting of cotton was handled almost entirely by British firms. Cotton was transported from Egypt to Britain by British steamship lines. The Alexandria cotton exchange was under British control. In other words, the entire mechanism of the cotton industry, from the cultivation of the cotton to its processing and export, was concentrated in the hands of the British capitalists.

Egypt was turned into a one-crop country. The area under cotton increased from 495,000 feddans in 1879 to 1,723,000 feddans in 1913. Within this period, the proportion of land under cotton grew from 11.5 to 22.5 per cent in spite of the significant over-all growth of the sowing areas. Between 1910 and 1914, cotton yielded 43 per cent of the total value of agricultural output. Cotton export in-creased from 3,500,000 cantars in 1884 to 7,400,000 cantars in 1913 and accounted for an average of 85 per cent of the value of Egyptian exports.

The British authorities developed cotton cultivation and strangled all the other branches of agriculture. Between 1879 and 1913, wheat decreased from 20.6 to 16.9 per cent and barley, from 11.1 to 4.8 per cent. At the beginning of the 20th century, Egypt began to import grain and flour. The area under sugar cane and flax was also reduced. In 1883, the cultivation of tobacco was forbidden in Egypt so that the entire area could be switched over to cotton cultivation. The tobacco mills of Egypt began to work on raw products imported from Turkey and the Balkans.

England stifled the development of Egyptian industry. The cotton-cleaning and, to some extent, the mining industries were the only exception. The industrial processing of cotton, separating the fibres from the seeds, was carried out on the spot for the sake of economy, but all the other stages of cotton processing were done in Britain. Egypt, who grew the best cotton in the world, who occupied second or third place in the world in cotton production, Egypt, the land of the cotton crop, did not have a single cotton mill and exported all her cotton abroad, mainly to Britain. The cotton was processed in other countries and entered the Egyptian market as a ready-made product. Egypt met one-third of the requirements of the British industry in raw cotton.

Power engineering plays an important part in the industrialisation of any country. There were no coal fields in Egypt and in such circumstances water power was of vital importance. The Egyptian dams offered numerous opportunities for building hydroelectric power stations. As early as 1902, a project had been drawn up for the construction of a power station on the site of the old Aswan Dam, but it got no further than the paper stage. Keeping Egypt as an agrarian and raw material appendage of the metropolitan country, Britain neglected Egypt’s industrial development, which she regarded as unprofitable for herself.


In 1882, Egypt became a British colony, but no changes took place in her international legal status until 1914. Be-cause of the contradictions between the imperialists, Britain hesitated to announce the annexation of Egypt or the establishment of a protectorate over the country. Formally, Egypt was still regarded as part of the Ottoman Empire and Britain merely acted as a “temporary occupation Power.”

The former organs of power headed by the Khedive were retained in Egypt and the reins of government were held by Tewfik till 1892. After his death, he was succeeded by his son, Abbas II Hilmi, who ruled Egypt from 1892 to 1914. Under Khedive Abbas a cabinet of six ministers was formed. On May 1, 1883, the Khedive promulgated the Organic Law, establishing two Houses of Parliament in Egypt: a Legislative Council and a General Assembly. The Legislative Council was composed of thirty members. Of these, fourteen were appointed, while sixteen were elected by the Provincial Councils. The General Assembly was composed of eighty-two members and included all the ministers, the thirty members of the Legislative Council and, in addition, forty-six delegates who were elected on the basis of an extremely high property qualification. Both Houses met once in two years. They had no legislative initiative and discussed only bills introduced by the government. Their decisions had no binding force. The assent of the General Assembly was required only for the introduction of direct taxes. In all other matters, the Legislative Council and the General Assembly were powerless.

The cabinet and the Khedive himself were in the same position. Actually, all power in Egypt was in the hands of a British administrator. He had no high-sounding title and was merely regarded as the diplomatic representative of Britain, her consul-general, or general agent, but all real authority was concentrated in his hands. Backed by the British army of occupation, he wielded absolute power over Egypt. From 1883 to 1907, the Consul-General was Major Baring, who had been a British commissioner in the Caisse de la Dette (Commission of the Public Debt) and had now received the title of Lord Cromer. The colonial laws he had introduced, known as the Cromer regime, signified complete impotence for the Egyptian Government and no rights whatever for the Egyptian people. He established in Egypt a dictatorship of British finance capital and ruthlessly sup-pressed the Egyptian national liberation movement.


After the defeat of the Arabi revolt in the eighties, there was no organised national movement in Egypt. The core of the movement had been dispersed or driven underground. Emergency courts meted out punishment on captured guerillas from detachments still operating in Egypt. In the nineties, however, the national organisations and societies in Egypt reappeared and the ideologists of the Egyptian national bourgeoisie renewed their activities.

In those years, the Egyptian bourgeoisie did not believe in the possibility of a mass popular movement, considering that any movement of the kind would be suppressed by Britain. Moreover, some sections of the Egyptian bourgeoisie even denounced the struggle against the British invaders, regarding their activities as a “blessing” for Egypt and her future. They felt their main task was to struggle for reforms and for the alteration of the internal structure of Egyptian life.

The most brilliant advocates of these moods were Mohammed Abdu and his followers, who laid the foundations of Moslem reform in Egypt. Abdu was born in 1849 in a peas-ant family and later received his education at El-Azhar. In 1872, he became friends with Jamal el-Din el-Afghani, who greatly influenced him. Abdu was banished from Egypt for his part in the Arabi revolt and lived in Beirut, Paris and Tunis. In 1889, he returned to Egypt and in 1899, with the backing of the British authorities, he was appointed the Mufti (expounder of the canon law) of Egypt, thereby occupying the highest religious post in the land. Abdu died in 1905. His teachings were propagated by the magazine El-Manar (Beacon), which was founded by Ridah Pasha in 1898 and had become the principal organ of Moslem reform.

Abdu and the Moslem reformers fought against the political and ideological supremacy of the feudal lords and the conservative Moslem clergy connected with them. Abdu and his followers accused them of “corrupting” Islam and held them responsible for Egypt’s backwardness and enslavement. They called for the revival of Islam, which they portrayed as a return to the original and true religion. Actually, they favoured the adaptation of Islam to bourgeois relations. In his capacity as Mufti, Abdu passed a fetwa (a formal pronouncement made by the appropriate theological authority on matters involving the interpretation of the canon law) authorising the lending of money on interest. He advocated the adoption of Western, capitalist, civilisation and the diffusion of enlightenment and technical knowledge in the Arab countries. Genuine Islam, he felt, was not incompatible with science. He called for the acknowledgement of elementary bourgeois rights and privileges on the basis of the principles of Islam, which he regarded as a democratic religion.

The activities of Abdu and the Moslem reformers exercised a great influence on the morals and manners of the Egyptian Moslems, on their way of thinking and on the entire subsequent development of social and political thought in Egypt. But in those times the activities of the reformers were interpreted primarily as a call for Egypt’s economic and cultural regeneration and the rejection of political struggle. In this rejection lay the reactionary aspect of the activities of the Moslem reformers, who, considered objectively, hindered the development of the national liberation movement in Egypt.

The ideas and principles of Arab nationalism arose in close contact with the Moslem reform movement. Mohammed Abdu and his followers called for resistance to the Turkisation of the Arab population of the Ottoman Empire, and advocated revival of classical Arabic, to which they assigned an important place in the history of the Moslem peoples, and advanced the concept of the Arab nation. This concept, however, was more fully reflected not in the activities of the Moslem reformers, but in the works of the Arab publicist, a Syrian by origin, Abd er-Rahman el-Kawakebi, who is rightly regarded as the father of Arab nationalism.

Kawakebi was born in 1849 in Aleppo. In his youth he was influenced by the teachings of Bustani and Jamal el-Din el-Afghani. The Turkish authorities threw him into prison for his outspoken denunciation of the tyranny and corruptness of the Ottoman administration. After liberation, in 1898, he left his native land and settled in Cairo, where he died suddenly in 1903.

Abd er-Rahman el-Kawakebi published two books in Egypt. One of them, Taba’i El-Istibdad (The Attributes of Tyranny), was a reprint (with additions) of articles he had published in the Egyptian press. The other book, Umm El-Qura (Mother of the Cities), a name occurring in the Koran as one of the designations of Mecca, was a record of imaginary proceedings of a Moslem congress that solved the problem of founding an Arab caliphate and an Arab state with its centre at Mecca. In these books Kawakebi attacked tyranny in defence of the poor and dispossessed. His ideas and system of argumentation had much in common with the views of the French and Italian enlighteners of the 18th and the early 19th century. He denounced scholastic theology and religious fanaticism, preached democracy andcalled for the formation of a single Arab state. His home-land meant more to him than religion and patriotism was superior to religious differences. Kawakebi, however, was not free from the tendency to idealise Islam. In his works he paid tribute to clericalism and Pan-Islamism. Despite these shortcomings in Kawakebi’s views and those of his friends, the activities of this outstanding philosopher undoubtedly had a progressive significance. They formed the ideological basis for national renaissance and were one of the factors which brought about an upsurge of the national liberation movement in the Arab countries.

The cultural revival (literary and journalistic) went hand in hand with the mounting wave of the national liberation movement. The political foundation of this movement was laid by the outstanding Egyptian patriot, publicist and enlightener, Mustafa Kamil, who played a leading role in the development of national organisations and political struggle.

Mustafa Kamil, a qualified lawyer, was born in 1874, in Cairo, in the family of a doctor. In 1891, while still at school, he organised a circle of young Nationalists. To complete his education, Kamil went to France, where he published several political pamphlets demanding the expulsion of the British from Egypt. The pamphlets attracted the attention of the French circles which opposed the British colonial policy. He was permitted to publish articles in the French press and to establish political contacts. He became friends with Colonel Marchand, the hero of Fashoda, with the French colonial writers, Leon Daudet, Pierre Loti and with the authoress, Juliette Adan, who wrote militant pamphlets against Britain and supported Mustafa Kamil till old age.

Mustafa Kamil’s acquaintance with this group of French colonial writers and politicians was no accident. He also shared the characteristic disbelief of the Egyptian bourgeoisie at the time in the forces and potentialities of the popular movement. He hoped to achieve national liberation by turning to advantage the contradictions between the imperialists and, in particular, the contradictions between Britain and France. All his strength and efforts were devoted to this aim.

Mustafa Kamil also believed in enlightenment and the propaganda of nationalist ideas as a means of struggle for Egyptian independence, particularly when his tactics of utilising the Anglo-French contradictions had proved ineffective. The operations in Fashoda had deeply discouraged him and he wrote to his French friends that he was disappointed in France, who, instead of defending Egypt’s independence, had chosen to compromise with Britain.

In 1898, Mustafa Kamil opened a national school in Cairo and in 1900, he took over the newspaper El-Lizera (Banner) in which he began to criticise not only British policy in Egypt, but also that of the imperialist Powers as a whole. He attacked British policy in South Africa, French policy in Morocco and German policy in China. At this stage, he tried to make friends with the Khedive, Abbas II Hilmi.

The Khedive was the same age as Mustafa Kamil. Abbas II had ascended to the khedival throne at the age of eighteen and, despite his youth, endeavoured to pursue an independent policy, which entailed many conflicts with the British. In 1893, no sooner had Abbas succeeded to power than he decided to appoint Mustafa Fahmi Pasha to the ministerial post he had held in Arabi’s cabinet. Lord Cromer protested against the Khedive’s decision and had a pro-British candidate appointed to the post. A fresh conflict arose in 1894, when Abbas II Hilmi objected to Kitchener’s appointment to the post of sirdar (commander-in-chief). The objections were ignored and Kitchener was made sirdar, but relations with the British had been spoiled.

In 1904, Abbas II Hilmi became close friends with Mustafa Kamil and supported his activities. In the same year this induced Lord Cromer to order a search to be made of the Khedive’s palace, where the police hoped to find all kinds of illegal literature and material compromising Mustafa Kamil.

Besides making friends with the Khedive, Mustafa Ka-mil placed hopes on his friendship with the Turkish Sultan, Abdul Hamid. He reasoned that should France betray him, and should he find himself in need of outside support, he could depend on Turkey and her allies in Europe-Germany and Austria-Hungary. Mustafa Kamil did not call for Egypt’s full independence, but fought for her reincorporation in the Ottoman Empire, in light of which he propagated the doctrines of Pan Islamism. In 1904, the Sultan awarded him the title of pasha. This policy of rapprochement with the Sultan yielded no further results.


Up till 1905, Mustafa Kamil Pasha confined his activities to propaganda, enlightenment and various forms of diplomatic negotiations. There was no mass national movement in Egypt at the time. This came into being only in 1906 in connection with the general international trend of the era, the era of the awakening of the Asian continent, when under the influence of the Russian revolution (1905-07), a number of bourgeois-democratic movements arose in the East, including Egypt.

The Denshawai incident spurred the development of the Egyptian national liberation movement. Denshawai is a small village near the city of Tanta in the Nile Delta. One hot day, on June 13, 1906, a party of British officers set out for the village to shoot pigeons. As often happens in such cases, the officers trampled the crops underfoot and the indignant fellaheen asked them to leave. In reply the Englishmen opened fire, wounding several peasants, and started a fight, in which the peasants used their wooden staffs. One of the British officers was slightly hurt and it was decided to send him to the railway station. The temperature that day was 42C and the officer died of a sunstroke on the way. The cause of his death was confirmed by a doctor. Nevertheless, the Denshawai peasants were charged with the murder of British officer. They were arrested and tried. Four of them were sentenced to death by hanging, nine to penal servitude and the others were flogged at the foot of the gallows.

The Denshawai execution had a serious effect on Egypt. Demonstrations and protest meetings swept the country. The Egyptian press was full of indignant articles and poems were written in honour of the Denshawai martyrs. People everywhere demanded an amnesty for the peasants who had been sent to prison.

The Denshawai incident was so scandalous and had such international repercussions that in the end the British were forced to agree to a compromise. In 1907, the Denshawai peasants were pardoned. Lord Cromer summoned Mustafa Kamil, whom he had described as “England’s worst enemy,” and asked him to recommend someone from among his friends for the new ministry. One of the many named by Mustafa Kamil was Saad Zaghlul, the future president of the Wafd Party. Saad Zaghlul (born in 1860), a member of the Arabi movement and a qualified lawyer, practised at the bar and later served on the bench. In 1906, Cromer appointed him Minister of Education.

In April 1907, Cromer resigned. The new British resident in Egypt was Sir Eldon Gorst, who had served under Cromer as an Assistant Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of the British mission, i.e., the civil servant who is charged with the supervision of the local national movement. Unlike Lord Cromer, who had lived in Egypt for twenty-five years without learning Arabic or establishing relations in the Egyptian society, Gorst had been obliged by the very nature of his work to acquire a knowledge of the language and Egyptian contacts.


Eldon Gorst decided to begin by splitting the ranks of the Egyptian national movement. On his initiative, in 1907, a group of Egyptian anglophiles founded the Hizb El-Islah (Party of Reform), which was comprised of Egyptian dignitaries, bureaucrats and intellectuals, who favoured cooperation with the British. The party was backed by the British mission and it controlled the biggest Egyptian newspapers, El-Mukattam, El-Ahram, and others.

In 1907, to counterpoise the Party of Reform, Mustafa Kamil founded his own political party which, as Arabi’s had been, was called Hizb El-Watan (National Party). The Party’s first congress was held on December 7, 1907, and was attended by 1,017 delegates, representing petty-bourgeois democratic elements of the national liberation movement.

The Hizb El-Umma (People’s Party), which was founded in 1906 and represented the bourgeois and feudal elements of the national movement, occupied an intermediary position between the two other parties.

Workers’ trade unions and the political parties arose simultaneously in Egypt. The first attempt to form a trade union had been made in 1899 during a strike of the tobacco workers, but had failed. In October 1908, the Nationalists set up a trade union of manual workers, which opened branches in various towns of Egypt and headed the workers’ movement. By 1911, there were already eleven trade unions in the land with an over-all membership of over 7,000.

The death of Mustafa Kamil was a severe blow to the national liberation movement. His health had been under-mined by the increased pressure of his political activities after the Denshawai incident. He had travelled tirelessly about Egypt, addressing several meetings a day. Simultaneously, he published a newspaper, wrote proclamations and supervised the work of the party. The result was that he contracted tuberculosis and died in February 1908, at the age of thirty-four. His funeral became a huge anti-imperialist demonstration. Tens of thousands of people followed his coffin. Soon after his death, however, the popular movement began to wane.

The Turkish revolution of 1908 and the restoration of the Constitution of 1876 was widely welcomed in Egypt and revived the movement for a time. Fresh demonstrations against British imperialism broke out in Egypt. All the political parties of Egypt demanded a constitution and insisted that the Legislative Council and the General Assembly be replaced by real representative institutions. The Hizb El-Watan Party led the constitutional movement. The party was connected with the Young Turks and took its cue from them. Although the other parties also demanded a constitution, they opposed the Young Turks.

The weakness of the constitutional movement lay in the fact that it developed during the decline of the mass national liberation movement. The political parties had channelled the movement into a legal struggle for constitutional reforms. Even the petty-bourgeois democratic party, Hizb El-Watan, restricted its work to propaganda, enlightenment and the organisation of intellectual study groups.


Taking advantage of the decline of the mass movement in Egypt, the British mission adopted a hostile attitude towards the Nationalists. As early as in 1907, the reactionary Copt, Butrus Ghali, the president of the Denshawai court, became the Prime Minister of Egypt. He was an obedient tool of British policy and took violent measures against the national liberation movement. The emergency laws of 1909 which were directed especially against the Nationalists provided the “legal” basis for mass persecutions. The Law of March 25, 1909, on the press, virtually deprived the Egyptian papers of all opportunity to criticise the British authorities. The Law of July 4, 1909, on suspicious persons, permitted the authorities to exile without trial or investigation anyone suspected of sympathy with nationalism.

The emergency laws of 1909 caused panic among the Nationalists and some of them emigrated in order to continue their activities. Two congresses of the Hizb El-Watan Party were held abroad, one in Geneva (1909) and one in Brussels (1910). The rest of the Nationalists remained in Egypt and went underground.

During their underground activities, the Nationalists lost contact with the masses and switched over to tactics of individual terror. On February 20, 1910, one of the Nationalist terrorists, Ibrahim Wardani, assassinated the Prime Minister, Butrus Ghali, and although Wardani’s associates declared him a national hero, although poems were written in his honour and meetings were organised, this terrorist act, far from changing things, actually enabled the British authorities to step up their reprisals. Wardani was executed. Working on the Indian pattern, Gorst used the assassination to whip up hostility between the Copts and Moslems, by turning the incident into a question of strife between the two religious communities.

In 1911, Eldon Gorst died. He was succeeded by General Kitchener, the conqueror of the Sudan and South Africa and later (in 1914) Britain’s War Minister. Kitchener continued Gorst’s policy in Egypt.

He tried to come to an agreement with the bourgeois and landlord circles of the Nationalists and, as a means to that end, in 1913, he reformed the Egyptian Constitution. In-stead of the former two Houses of Parliament, the Legislative Council and the General Assembly, a one-house Legislative Assembly, composed mainly of elected members (seventeen appointed and sixty-six elected), was formed. The Legislative Assembly, however, had the same restricted functions as the former Houses established by the Organic Law of 1883. Saad Zaghlul, who was later to play an important part in the history of the national liberation movement in Egypt, was elected Vice-President of the Legislative Assembly.