T. Cliff

The Problem of the Middle East

<p. 59>

Part III
The Economic Structure of the Arab East

Two possibilities have been placed before me in dealing with the Arab East economy: the one to depict the most general features of the economy of the countries the book deals with without entering into the differences among them; the other to analyze the economy of each of the countries alone. In face of the great variations in the development of the different countries I have been compelled to follow the second method, but in order to avoid too many repetitions, I sometimes, while describing the economy of one country, have found it sufficient merely to mention those features common to other countries which had been analyzed previously.

Seeing that Egypt gives very extreme expression to the process of development of capitalist society out of feudal society, under conditions of the decline and decay of world capitalism and under the rule of imperialism, I have devoted much space to an analysis of the economy of this country. This is logical also considering the fact that its population is double that of Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq together. Although Palestine has only a very tiny population I have found it necessary to devote much space to its economic structure as it became very complicated through Zionist settlement. After discussing Egypt and Palestine at length it was possible to pass over the economies of Syria, Lebanon and Iraq very shortly.

<p. 60>

Chapter VIII
Industry and Banking in Egypt

The industry that developed in Egypt is mainly an import from abroad. Not only the machines were imported, but also the capital, and just as the technique of Egyptian industry is the last word in ultra-modernity, so its organization too is ultra-modern. The concentration of the enterprises and the tightening of the ties of mutual dependence between them, the rule of finance capital (the merging of industrial with banking capital under the hegemony of the latter) the merging of finance capital with the state – all these are fundamental features of Egyptian industry. And this ultra-modernity is based on an agrarian, barbaric economy, from which it draws its strength and weakness alike.

I. Foreign Capital

There is almost no country in the world where the weight of foreign capital compared with local capital is as great as in Egypt. According to an estimate made by French circles (L’Egypte Indépendante par le Groupe d’Etudes de l’Islam, Paris 1938, pp. 144–5) foreign capital in 1937 amounted to £450 millions, the entire wealth of the country being estimated at £963 millions, which means that foreigners owned 47 per cent of it.

According to another estimate, capital investment, besides land, in the same year amounted to £550 millions (A. Bonne, The Economic Development of the Middle East, Jerusalem 1943, p. 73). Seeing that the price of land is estimated at £500–600 millions (or according to another estimate £670 millions) the total property of Egypt amounts to £1,000–1,100 millions. According to another estimate of 1937 based on English calculations, foreign capital invested in Egypt amounted to £500 millions. Thus the property of foreigners constitutes 40–50 per cent of Egypt’s total property, which sum does not differ from that arrived at by the French experts.

There are no exact figures for the distribution of foreign capital among the foreigners of the different countries. According to the above estimate made by the French, 3/5ths of all the foreign capital invested in Egypt belongs to Frenchmen, i.e. about £270 millions, England has £100–125 millions, i.e. about 22–28 per cent. The rest belongs to Belgians, Greeks and Italians. We shall follow a less arbitrary method of calculation and shall take the share of the different foreign companies in the paid-up capital of all the foreign companies, besides the Suez Co., active in Egypt (1933):–


No. of
































In Suez shares France’s portion is also a little greater than England’s. If the proportions in the table are correct as far as the total foreign capital is concerned, we may assume (if the above French estimate of the total foreign capital in Egypt is correct) that French capital invested in Egypt amounts to £200–225 millions, and English to £170–180 millions. If the total capital amounts to £500 millions (according to the English calculation) the French capital amounts to £230–240 [million].

<p.61> Page missing, though the analysis seems to flow …

<p. 62> Of course we must take into account the fact that there is capital not organised in companies, mainly Egyptian capital, which is also active in these spheres. The portion of foreign capital is therefore less than appears in the figures given, but not much less. At any rate it is clear that, besides landed property, less than a quarter of other property belongs to Egyptians.

Foreign capital has a far-reaching influence in all spheres of the economy. In its hands are the key positions of all the branches – transport, electricity, water, industry, agricultural mortgage, etc. It is also the most concentrated capital, and it draws into its orbit local Egyptian capital too. As it takes a great part of the surplus value created by the fellaheen and workers, it retards the accumulation of capital in Egypt, shrinks the purchasing power of the masses, and by these two actions prevents the materialisation of the two basic conditions for any energetic industrialisation – the accumulation of capital and the widening of markets. Being bound up with great landed property, it constitutes an important support of the existing relations of land property, of the feudal system.

II. Finance Capital

According to the words of Marx written about 80 years ago, the banking system ‘presents indeed the form of universal book-keeping and of distribution of means of production on a social scale, but only the form.’ (K. Marx, Capital, vol. III, p. 712.) According to its form, banking is social, but according to its content it is private, subjugated to the interests of big private capital. By the power over the financial operation of the economy as a whole the bank transforms itself from a simple book-keeping institution into a controller and determining factor of the destiny of the economy as a whole. This process reached its maturity in Europe and the US at the beginning of the present century when the industrial capitalism of free competition gave place to monopolist capitalism. The same system in an ultra-modern form was imported to Egypt.

In a country such as Egypt the banking system, besides being an institution for the distribution of means of production on a social scale, is, and to a decisive degree is, an institution built upon the basis of the wringing of surplus value from the toilers who produce by pre-capitalist, primitive methods, and is therefore an institution which disturbs the accumulation and distribution of means of production on a social scale. In any case, if the banking system has a social form as regards the first function, which is a manifestation of the growing social character of production (even though this is subordinated to the needs of big capital), then as regards the second function of the bank – as a superstructure on primitive agrarian economy – it is in its entirety retrogressive.

Here we shall deal with the general organisation of the banking system and also with its function as regards industry, transport, communications, etc., only touching on its connections with agriculture.

The most important banks whose centres are in Egypt are: The National Bank of Egypt, Crédit Foncier Egyptien, Banque Misr, Crédit Agricole d’Egypte, Land Bank of Egypt and Banque Belge et Internationale en Egypte. These banks in 1942 together had assets amounting to £E 162.2 million, while the assets of all the other banks did not go above £E 10 million. Thus the concentration of the banking system in Egypt is very high. This would be shown even more clearly if the fact were taken into account that many small banks are in reality branches of the big banks.

Many arteries connect these banks with one another: the participation of one bank in the capital of another, the purchase of shares by one from another, or the exchange of shares among one another, the giving of credit by one to the other, etc. Unfortunately the statistical material is much too scarce for us to be able to show the degree of intertwining of the six banks. We shall be compelled to be satisfied with illustrating the connections between them through the directorships. In the following illustration every square signifies the assets of the banks and every line connecting them signifies a director sitting on the boards of both banks:–

<p. 63>



<p. 64> The following figures include only those people who have five or more directorships (1943):–


No. of


Total no. of
in their hands

5–9 directorships






15 and more






Thus of a total number of directorships of 1,620 in 441 companies, 621 are concentrated in the hands of 66 people.

In the main the same men have interests in and sit on the boards of directors of enterprises belonging to entirely different branches of the economy, as the following table shows:–













Abdel Maksud, Ahmed








Aboul Kheir, Abdel Razzak







Afifi, Hafez










Cattaui, Aslan









Fargaly, Mohamed Ahmed









Khalil, Mohamed Mahmoud










Rolo, R.J.






Rolo, R.S.








Sidky, Ismail









Yeghen, Ahmed Midhat








Yehia, Aly Emine









Thus all the enterprises of industry, transport, commerce etc. are connected to one another by a close network of canals and by another network to the big banks, all enterprises in this way making up one economic unit subjugated to a handful of banks which constitutes one gigantic monopolistic concern.

III. The Merging of Finance Capital with the State

The industrial capitalist of the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth centuries was liberal. He did not want the intervention of the state in economic life except in the interests of the protection of private capitalist property from ‘anarchy.’ By liberty he meant his defence from the arbitrariness of the state bureaucracy and the nobility. The colossal capitalist of the twentieth century has no cause to fear the state bureaucracy. His strength is sufficient for him to negotiate with the ministers as the representative of a power on an equal footing with the state. More than this; he even desires the state’s increasing intervention in foreign affairs – by a policy of imperialist expansion, wars etc. – and also in domestic affairs – having a ‘strong hand’ against the proletariat. If during the period of industrial capital, therefore, no close connection existed between the bureaucracy of the capitalist state and the individual capitalist, now, in the period of imperialism, finance capital grows into the state. In face of the close connection between the different enterprises in Egypt and the high degree of merging of industrial with banking capital, it is readily understood that the relation of big capitalists to the state is not like the relation of the bourgeoisie toward the state in the Europe of the 18th and first half of the 19th centuries, but rather like that of the bourgeoisie in the developed capitalist states of the 20th century. The dependence of the state on an imperialist Power increases even more the tendency of the growing of finance capital into the state. This tendency is revealed in many forms – the dependence of the state finances on the subscription of its securities by the big banks, the dependence of industry on government orders and subventions and on the customs policy etc. It takes on its most open form in the personal ties between the directorships of the different companies and the bureaucracy of the state.

<p. 65> Thus among the 696 directors of all the companies holding 1620 directorships there were (1943) [1]:–


No. of

No. of

Former Prime Ministers



Former Ministers






Members of the Chamber of Deputies



High officials







IV. The Increased Industrialization of Egypt

Egypt is still to a decisive degree an agrarian country. According to the 1937 census the whole of Egyptian industry together with building employed 609,733 persons, without building 478,199. Those working in industry therefore make up 6.4 per cent of the total earning population. If we exclude from the calculation those whose employment is not known, the percentage employed in industry comes up to 7.8. (Actually it may safely be assumed that a considerable portion of the ‘Unknowns’ are really handicraft workers for petty industry, so that the percentage is slightly higher).

Things do not stand still. And precisely those contradictions which strangled the industries of Europe and USA gave a great push forward to the industrial development of Egypt: the decline of world capitalism which received its clearest expression in the serious 1929 crisis and which increased the competition between the imperialist Powers; and the economic ‘revival’ which was caused mainly by the preparation for war and which increased the aggressiveness of the ‘have not’ imperialist Powers – Germany, Italy and Japan – crisis and prosperity alike weakened the position of Britain in Egypt. Britain was therefore compelled to make concessions in favour of the industrial development of Egypt, especially by raising the customs duties. For a very long period lasting up to 1930, customs duties had been very low, and fixed according to the value of each article, the average for all goods not exceeding 8 per cent of the value of the imports plus 2 per cent consumption tax. In 1930 the government introduced a system of special tariffs and from then on the customs duties rose by leaps and bounds till they reached 20 per cent of the value of imports in 1931, 23 per cent in 1932, and eventually far exceeded even this percentage, being on an average 40.5 per cent in the years 1936–41.

This raising of the customs duties is the result of the pressure of the Egyptian national movement and also of the fact that, even if today, as in the past, English capitalism is not interested in the industrial development of the colonial countries which is liable in the course of time to compete with its own industry, this does not prevent it from collaborating in this development in the interests of the export of capital which finds no profitable field in the home country and is drawn to the colonies because of their cheap labour and inexpensive raw materials. Strategic reasons (preparation for coming wars) also increase the tolerance of imperialism towards a certain industrial development in its colonies.

Besides increasing customs duties for defence of industry in Egypt, the government took some other measures: it began to give preference to home products in its purchases. The municipalities followed suit. The government also gave financial aid, giving credit on relatively easy terms to different industrial enterprises. A number of exemplary government factories and workshops were also set up under the protection of the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, which served both as laboratories and experimental stations and also as centres for the training of skilled workers.

But besides the government intervention which facilitated the development of industry, an intervention enmeshed in contradictions as the result of the general decline of the capitalist world, Egyptian industry found another not less important fountain of life – the severe agrarian crisis which cut down wages and the price of raw materials.

<p. 66> And indeed the general decline of world capitalism together with the barbarian relations in Egyptian agriculture, alone explain the speed of the industrialization of the country and at the same time the narrow limits which frame it in.

In certain fields foreign competition has been almost entirely done away with: building materials (cement, marble, ceramic products etc.), metal bedsteads, metal and wooden furniture, shoes and other leather products, cotton blankets and coverlets, flour, alimentary pastes, carpets, tarbushes.

In other fields where foreign competition was not entirely done away with, local industry nevertheless rapidly pushed it aside to a great extent: cotton yarn, cotton piece goods, soap (common), glass and glassware, matches. Of great importance is the pushing aside of foreign cotton goods from Egypt’s markets. Over about ten years Egypt’s cotton industry managed to get almost complete control over the local market, as the following table shows:–

Cotton Piece Goods, Consumption, Production and Import
(1,000 sq. metres)



% of total


% of total


























* Not including production by handlooms

Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great tempo of the industrialization of Egypt in the last decade or so, the level the industrialization has reached is very low. This will become clear from the percentage of those occupied in industry and also from a comparison of the capital invested in industry and commerce (there are no separate figures for industry and commerce) per capita of the earning population in Egypt, with the same in other countries. As regards the latter, figures for Egypt are for 1937 and for other countries for 1913 (in International Units [2]): Egypt 147, USA 1,560, Canada 1,630, Australia 965, Britain 1,658. The fact that the figures for Egypt are for a much later year than those for the other countries, to some extent blurs over the backwardness of Egypt as compared with other countries. This backwardness can also be seen in the consumption of electricity. While the annual consumption of electricity per capita in Egypt in 1937 was 18 kWh, it was in USSR 215, in the United Kingdom (1938) 608, in USA (1929) 1,160.

V. The Concentration of Capital in Industry

Even if only a tiny minority of the Egyptian population is occupied in industry and the industrialization is very backward, the existing industrial enterprises nevertheless show a high degree of concentration: they are ultra-modern enterprises.

Unfortunately, owing to the poverty of the statistics, it is impossible to calculate the degree of concentration according to the quantity of products, number of workers or motor power. The only calculation that can be made, and then not very accurately, is that of the concentration of capital in industry.

Seeing that there are no exact figures of the total quantity of capital in the enterprises of the different sizes except for the 250 largest, but there are data of the number of enterprises sorted according to the quantity of capital invested in them. I have made use of these figures, taking the maximum figures for the capital of the small enterprises (thus, for instance, if 3,089 enterprises have £50 to £99 per enterprise, I have assumed that altogether they have £3,089 times 100). This method of calculation does not overestimate the concentration of capital in industry, but on the contrary, underestimates it:–

<p. 67>, <p. 68>, <p. 69> Pages missing

<p. 70> … up the electric poles, steal, seek food or rags among the garbage, and ‘hide their crimes behind a screen of polishing shoes or selling lottery tickets.’ ‘The homeless children of today are the criminals of tomorrow.’ The speakers at this conference also gave the reason for this: ‘80 per cent of the crimes are the fruit of poverty.’ (Al-Ahram, 23/2/44).

Two incidents which were reported in the papers bear witness to the extent of poverty in Egyptian towns: in September 1943, four people were trampled to death when alms were being distributed, and in March 1944 an Egyptian woman sold her daughter to a merchant immediately after birth – for £20.

Even the representatives of the Egyptian bourgeoisie are forced to admit the direness of the situation. One of the members of the Chamber of Deputies said in March 1943:

‘The war has brought about a concentration of capital in the hands of a few hundreds. The wealth of the rich has risen, while the poor have been forced down into more dire poverty; the abyss between the classes has deepened. The social system is shaken and grave dangers threaten it. A good future cannot be prophesied for the country.’

IX. The Narrowness of Local Markets Hampers Industrialization of Egypt

According to a reliable calculation made before the war the consumption of industrial products in Egypt was nearly £90 million per annum, or £5.5 per capita. The production of local industry was £65–70 million or £4 per capita. Thus already before the war local industry satisfied nearly three-quarters of the industrial consumption of the country. During the war Egyptian industry continued to develop, so that it is nearing the stage of satisfying all the needs of the Egyptian population with means of consumption as they are today.

The fact is not at all surprising, as the power of consumption of the masses is very low indeed. Cleland makes the following calculation:–

Manufactured Goods Annually Consumed
in a Fellah’s Household of Five










Bedding, blankets





Other items of consumption












£E6.230, and per capita £E1.250

If we compare these figures with those given in the chapter The Agrarian Question in Egypt we see that Cleland’s figures are somewhat too high. But even following Cleland’s figures, we see that the agricultural population of about 10 million does not need industrial products of more than £12 million.

According to a calculation of Cleland, in 1936 there were 232,000 people whose income was above the minimum necessary, their average income amounting to £E 420, or taking the total, £E 97,440,000. (Of course among these there are a handful of millionaires, and masses of middle and petty bourgeoisie whose position is comfortable compared with the masses of workers and simple fellaheen, but who are far from being well-to-do.) Excluding this layer, there are yet 16 million other inhabitants of Egypt (according to 1937 census figures). If we deduct the agriculturists, there remain about 6 million people – workers and their families, domestic servants, petty officials, etc. The average income of the workers and officials in industry (according to a partial census) is £E 40.3 per annum, or if we include their families, about £E 10 per person. The major portion of such a low income goes for food. We should not be underestimating the figures if we assumed that at most a quarter of the expenditure of a worker and petty official goes towards the purchase of industrial products, i.e. £E 2½ per person. According to this estimate, all workers, domestic servants, petty officials and their families buy a total of £E 15 million worth of industrial products. Thus the masses of poor and middle peasantry and of workers buy industrial products to at most the value of £E 27 million.

<p. 71> While the buying of industrial products by the masses of people is limited by the low purchasing power their small incomes afford them, the buying of industrial products by the wealthy is limited firstly because of the fact that a part of them are foreign capitalists living in other countries and buying the products of those countries, and secondly because of the fundamental law of capitalist accumulation – the tendency of the capitalist to increase his savings as against his consumption.

The urgent problem confronting Egyptian industry of extending its markets can therefore not be solved except by raising the power of the masses of agriculturists to buy means of consumption and means of production, which means the emancipation of the fellaheen from their feudal burdens, and the rapid advance of the forces of production in agriculture. The extension of markets for Egyptian industry demands also the abolition of the monopolistic position of foreign capital in the national economy. Thus the widening of the internal markets demands a struggle against feudalism and imperialism.

But Egyptian capitalists who are junior partners of foreign capital, or its agents, and whose ties with the feudal lords are strong, of course do not dare to conduct this struggle with all the necessary vigour. They are also put off from the struggle by the constantly growing fear that every anti-imperialist and anti-feudal liberatory struggle is liable to deepen and turn into a struggle also against the local bourgeoisie. And so instead of a revolutionary struggle, Egyptian industrial circles find other ways.

The president of the Egyptian Federation of Industries, Ismail Sidky Pasha, now Prime Minister, writes: ‘It is through the medium of export alone that our industry can realize considerable progress and great compass.’ (La Revue d’Égypte Économique et Financière, April 1940)

It is easy to say ‘export’, but how to do it? Is a really serious increase in Egyptian industry possible at all?

Even in the markets of neighbouring countries Egypt did not manage to establish herself against the competition of the advanced industries of Europe and the efforts of the imperialist powers. The total annual export of Egypt to neighbouring countries was on an average £E 1,742,000 for the years 1933–38, or about 5 per cent of the total export of Egypt.

With world capitalism not rising, but in decline, with world markets shrinking and the struggle for them becoming fiercer and fiercer, with a world cut into pieces by high customs walls, currency restrictions, etc., the outlet for young and weak Egyptian industry is – export! Can there be anything more fantastic?

X. Egyptian Industry during the War

The war was an important turning point for Egyptian industry. The army encamped in Egypt became a huge market for the products of Egyptian industry. Industries which had closed down before the war came to life again and factories and sometimes whole branches sprouted and bloomed rapidly. In the war period there arose in Egypt a chemical industry (producing acids, ammonium salts, copper sulphate, aluminium, magnesium, borax, lead oxide and zinc, lacquer), a medical industry (with 25 enterprises), a large paper industry and also glass, pipes and machine parts, starch and rice husking industries. Since the beginning of the war the amount of cotton manufactured by Egyptian industry has risen by 65 per cent and the production of cloth by more than 100 per cent.

The industries made tremendous profits. For most of the companies we have figures of the net profit only up to 1942 (from The Stock Exchange Year-Book of Egypt, 1943). Since then profits must certainly have increased, but the tendency of their development is shown clearly enough from the figures for 1938 or 1939 and 1942 relating to a few companies chosen at random:–

<p. 72>







Eastern Co. (Tobacco)




The Egyptian Salt and Soda Co. Ltd.




Crown Breweries




Filiature Nationale d’Égypte




Soc. Anon. des Bières Bomonti et Pyramides




Soc. Égypt. de Ciment Portland, Tourah




Soc. Gen. des Sucreries et de la Raffinerie d’Égypte




Soc. Misr pour la filature et le tissage




Soc. Misr de la soie




Soc. Viticole et Vinicole d’Égypte




Soc. Financière et Industrielle d’Égypte




Kafr-al-Zayat Cotton Co. Ltd.




Soc. Misr pour le lin




Helwan Portland Cement Co.




Industrie Fibres Textiles




When reading the above table we must remember that companies tend to minimize their profits as much as possible (by putting large sums into hidden reserves, etc.) But nevertheless one thing is sure – that the big companies in Egypt made excellent profit out of the war. During the war the number of millionaires (mainly foreign) rose from 50 to 400. This tremendous enrichment was not accompanied by any rise whatsoever in the living standard of the workers but by a decline (as has already been shown above).

XI. How Foreign and Egyptian Capital Prepare for the Period
after the War and the ‘Reconstruction’

With the cessation of war orders, the building of camps, etc. (which until now have continued on a large scale) the contradictions in Egyptian capitalism will reach their climax. The 500 hundred thousand workers employed by the army will be discharged and the authorities’ buying of Egyptian products to the extent of tens of millions of pounds will cease. On the other hand there are already insurmountable difficulties in the conversion of large surpluses of frozen accounts amounting to £400 million which accumulated in England to Egypt’s credit into means of production so badly needed by Egyptian industry whose machines and buildings were largely amortized during the war. In the not too distant future another difficulty will arise – the danger of the flooding of the markets by overseas products.

How does foreign capital visualize the future?

La Bourse Égyptienne and Great Britain and the East warn against the industrialization of Egypt. The British Chamber of Commerce is not satisfied with general declarations and speaks at length about the situation of Egypt after the war (quoted in Egyptian Gazette, 12/1/45, British Trade Prospects in Egypt): they express fear of the aggressiveness of the Egyptian bourgeoisie, which, having gained much wealth during the war, will want to defend its positions during peace time too by a constant increase of the customs duties. The British capitalists try to turn this bitter pill to their advantage.

‘Since it is certain that a large number of Egyptian industries have come to stay, and that the Egyptian authorities are likely to do all in their power to protect them, it is desirable that United Kingdom firms should participate with Egyptians in their promotion. We consider that in some industries at least, there may well be a fruitful field for Anglo-Egyptian collaboration by the provision of equipment and finance from the United Kingdom. Such collaboration has in the past already been advocated by His Majesty’s Government and been most successful in many of the existing industries … Alternatively British firms should consider the desirability of manufacturing their products in Egypt, as it may be better for the United Kingdom to derive invisible exports from this development than to cease taking an interest in those branches of industry where local production would be likely to supplant visible exports from the United Kingdom.’

But there is a danger that the Egyptian <p. 73> government may go too far. Then, ‘should this occur, His Majesty’s Government may have to intervene in order to restrain excessive protectionism’, and this intervention will be particularly necessary if something further happens and the fear of foreign capital comes true ‘that the [Egyptian] government may introduce legislation of a nature to limit or acquire before the date of the concession public utility and concessionary companies which for the most part have been formed by foreign enterprise and capital.’

As far as the payment of Britain’s war debt to Egypt is concerned, capitalist and government circles in Britain think only of payment bit by bit in the form of goods with very limited possibilities of converting this debt into a basis for acquiring international credit (i.e. dollars).

The different sections of the Egyptian bourgeoisie did not delay in putting forward their demands. The late head of the Egyptian government, Ahmed Maher Pasha, remarked:

‘Free trade is the best economic system which the world has known and which history has proved to be the most beneficial to mankind. It will harm Egypt intensely if she does not adopt free trade as soon as conditions permit. Trade protection was only adopted by countries in exceptional circumstances and maintained until conditions came back to normal. Egypt should return to free trade as soon as possible. I demand freedom of commerce in the same way as I demand political freedom.’ (British Chamber of Commerce of Egypt Journal, March 1945)

This representative of the stock exchange and the comprador bourgeoisie connected with the landowners is much more interested in trade with overseas than in the development of Egyptian industry.

On the other hand, Ismail Sidky Pasha, President of the Egyptian Federation of Industries, said:

‘The throne speech’s references to the suppression of protection tariffs had caused concern in industrial quarters. Also disconcerting was the announcement of the possibility of abandoning the policy of national self-sufficiency in favour of international specialization in industry and agriculture. This meant that Egypt could not rely on protection for its growing industries and had to concentrate on developing its agriculture. But, in the same breath, the Government said it would make every effort to encourage local industries and provide them with every assistance. It would be interesting to see what aid the Government can give Egyptian industry when it proposes to remove the slight protection given in 1930, which had to save it from an early death in the face of overwhelming competition.’

The stand of a large section of the bourgeoisie towards the payment of the British debt to Egypt created during the last war was not less assertive. Thus at the session of the Senate on 20/2/45, Senator Ahmed Ramzi Bey said that the currency restrictions meant that Egypt could not get dollars and buy in America, but only in England, and this was a serious handicap. He proposed that England should supply dollars or even hand over to Egypt some of her shares in companies in Egypt, such as the Suez Co., Anglo-Egyptian Co., etc. He also mentioned the decline in practice, if not in theory, of the value of the Egyptian pound compared with the pound sterling. The paper Al-Ahram of 19/4/44 states that the United Kingdom’s debt to Egypt is the debt of the strong to the weak, and of course it was dependent on the will of the strong whether and how to pay. A week later the same paper quotes Senator Mohamed Barakat Pasha as stating that the United Kingdom would not be able to pay her debts, and advising Egypt to leave the sterling bloc. The same theme of leaving the sterling bloc and transferring Suez and other shares to Egyptian hands repeats itself over and over again in the Egyptian press.

In addition to pressure on Britain the capitalists have in mind another more important measure – the increase of pressure on the workers. In this sphere there is no dispute among the different sections of the Egyptian bourgeoisie, all of them seeing this as their main task. Fouad Saraj ed-Din, a large landowner who was Minister of Agriculture, Internal Affairs and Social Welfare, says that in order that Egyptian cotton be able to compete with Indian, Chinese and Brazilian cotton, with artificial silk and nylon, the rise of wages in agriculture must be stopped. Hafez Afifi, Director of Banque Misr, also states that the rise of wages deprives Egyptian industry of the possibility to compete with foreign products. The paper Al-Ahram of 19/7/43 states that the <p. 74> workers get a high wage which accustoms them to luxuries (sic!)

In short, the conclusion of the Egyptian bourgeoisie is a struggle against British imperialism in order that some concessions be wrung from it or in order to come under the wing of the USA, and drastic cuts in the starvation wages of the workers. Seeing that they are very hesitant on the front of their struggles, and they fear strong and revolutionary opposition on the other, they are seized with fear when they look into the future, a fear which was expressed in Al-Ahram (4/4/44) in these words: ‘God save us from the peace!’

If the war deepened the abyss of social contradictions and changed the country into a volcano liable to erupt any minute, now with the peace which is accompanied by the efforts of the bourgeoisie of the ‘mother’ country to cast the results of the war and the burden of the crisis on to the shoulders of the colonial masses, and the increasing tendency of the local bourgeoisie to use a heavy hand against the workers, the volcano is sure to erupt. The first smoke heralding this has already been seen in the upheavals of the last few months (see chapter The Trade Unions in the Arab East).


1. The calculation is made according to the Stock Exchange Year Book of Egypt 1943. As many directors are not listed as senators, state officials etc. although they are, the concentration of directorships is greater than is shown in the table.

2. An International Unit equals approximately one US dollar. This unit was introduced by Colin Clark for the purpose of international comparisons.

Last updated on 28.5.2011