T. Cliff

The Problem of the Middle East

Part IV
The National Movement in the Arab East

<p. 130>

Chapter XV
The National Movement in Egypt

I. The Social Forces in the National Movement

During the First World War the yoke upon the necks of the masses was weighted down very much. Tens of thousands of people were forcibly conscripted into the labour corps which worked side by side with the British Army. The camels of the fellaheen were taken from them. The cost of living rose continuously, rent rose by leaps and bounds, and the conditions of the masses grew more and more serious; after the war the situation deteriorated even more precipitously as tens of thousands were being discharged from service in the army to wander the streets unemployed, while price inflation continued.

To these inflammable factors was added the general excitement following the Russian revolution and the revolutionary wave in Europe, which signalled the approach of the overthrow of imperialism. All this caused a broad national movement to arise in Egypt, which for the first time had a real mass base. At the head of the movement stood the Wafd [1], whose president was Saad Zaghloul.

On the 9th March 1919 the leaders of the Wafd who demanded the unity and full independence of Egypt and the Sudan were arrested. On the same day a strike of the Cairo tram workers was called which caused a complete stoppage of tram transport. On the 11th March the taxi and cab drivers struck, putting a stop to all traffic in Cairo. On the 14th March notice was given by the authorities that sentence of death would be imposed on anyone who in any way hindered rail traffic. The answer of the masses was not slow in coming: on the morrow the workers of the railway workshops met in Boulak (Cairo) and went out in a demonstration. The railways were thus put out of action. On 16th March a strike of the workers of the electric company began, and Cairo was in complete darkness. On 21st March a strike of the Port Said coal workers was called. On 2 April work stopped in a number of industrial enterprises as a protest against the military actions taken against the population. Strikes of workers and officials in the government service broke out, and also of the Cairo sanitary workers and the government printing workers (which Rushdi Pasha, head of the government gave as a pretext for his notices not being published). The government officials formed a committee which on 10th April decided to strike until their demands should be satisfied: that official recognition be given to the Wafd as a delegation of the Egyptian nation, that the British Protectorate be abolished and the British army withdrawn from Egypt, and that a national government be formed.

The masses of fellaheen also participated actively in the national movement. Their activity, however, was sporadic, lacking centralisation and leadership. They limited themselves in the main to attacks on police and railway stations, which completely stopped rail traffic to the most remote parts of the country. (The English were forced to use planes and boats for transport.)

‘The movement of attack on the trains, burning of stations and stoppage of their services, strengthened and the attacks on police centres spread. The rioters would fall upon them in groups until they controlled several of these centres, expelling the government officials from them. The tidings were spread that some centres and districts had declared their independence and created provisional republican governments. It is known that one of the sea district centres did declare its independence. The provisional government collected the customs duties on goods brought to this district.’ (Ahmad Shafiq Pasha, Egyptian Political Yearbooks, Part I, Cairo 1926. pp. 346)

What was lacking to the fellahs’ movement was the organisation and leadership of a centralised urban class. The movement was altogether spontaneous. Abbas Mahmoud Al Aqqad, the biographer of Saad <p. 131> Zaghloul, testifies to this:

‘The riots in the districts occurred without direction or organisation as the Wafd at that time had no committees which might be said to have agreed among themselves to a fixed line in all the districts from the beginning … The revolt came as an unexpected improvisation of the whole nation.’ (Saad Zaghloul, Cairo 1936, p. 230)

The petty bourgeoisie and intelligentsia were active beside the workers and fellaheen. Strikes and demonstrations of students were everyday occurrences in the month of March-April 1919. But the centre of gravity of the movement was not in the students’ movement but in the workers’ strikes.

While, however, this was the mass basis of the movement, at its head stood people from entirely different circles. Of the 12 chosen to go to Europe as the Egyptian delegation, there were 4 large landowners, 2 big capitalists connected with foreign capital, 3 of the rich intelligentsia, among them Saad Zaghloul himself and 1 who later became head of the Chamber of Commerce. 7 of them had the titles Pasha, which is usually given to people of important aristocratic families or landowners, and 5 had the title Bey, the usual title given to rich kulaks. The main financial supporters of the Wafd were the well-known Egyptian millionaire Badrawi Ashur Pasha, one of the biggest landowners in Egypt and Prince Yussuf Kamil, owner of 23 thousand feddans in Keneh in Southern Egypt.

Saad Zaghloul himself came from a family of landed proprietors. His father was head of the omdehs in his district. ‘… He bought at one time 17 slaves who ate and slept together with their families in his house.’ (Muhammad Ibrahim Algaziri, The Assets of the leader Saad Zaghloul, Cairo, Arabic) His mother was the daughter of Sheik Abdu Barakat, one of the richest Egyptians. Saad Zaghloul himself had 800 feddans, although after a time nothing remained to him but his house.

Thus a front arose which united the landed aristocracy with the third estate and leant upon the support of the masses of toilers in town and country. Saad Zaghloul well knew that it was only the participation of the masses which gave the movement its hammer-blow power.

In a speech before a delegation of worker on 26.9.23 he said:

‘I bless the delegation of workers who are the most important element in our Egyptian society and public… You, workers have a great merit which I shall not forget in the national movement, and in your enduring protests you have helped this movement of resurrection to show that what had harmed us was unjustified oppression and tyranny.’ (Mahmoud Fuad, Collection of the Latest Speeches of Saad Zaghloul, Cairo 1924, pp. 51–2, Arabic)

And in a speech before a meeting of railway workers (4.7.24) he said:

‘If this movement (the Wafd movement) limited itself to the upper classes, it would not exist at all … The principles of the “class of the masses” are firm and permanent, its principles are full independence for Egypt and Sudan. This class does not desire to acquire posts … but when a man with capital and the official in a high post says “Long live the Homeland” he says nothing other than “Long live my post or long live my interest”.’ (Muhammad Ibrahim Algazari, op. cit., pp. 241–2)

But already in the 1919 riots the deep class differentiation. among the Egyptian people, which undermined the Wafd from left and right, was shown up in quite a clear form. Attacks on the large commercial houses, factories and estates (described by the press as robberies) were everyday occurrences (see, for instance, Ahmad Shafiq Pasha, op cit., pp. 252, 274–5 and others). More clearly of a proletarian character was the strike movement. The workers now began also to organise on a large scale, trade unions, which had almost not existed before the war, springing up rapidly. In 1922 there were already 38 unions in Cairo, in Alexandria 33, in the Canal region 18 and in other districts 6. In 1920 the Socialist Party was organised, which in 1922 became the Communist Party connected with the Comintern.

But even though the class awakening of the Egyptian proletariat was still in its first stages, it awoke grave fears in the hearts of the other partners of the nationalist ‘bloc’.

On 24th March a leaflet was published, signed by the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, the Egyptian Mufti, the Coptic Patriarch, the head of the Sufi sheikhs, 49 ministers, village notables, members of the representative institutions and <p. 132> other influential men. The leaflet calls to the people to keep the peace and to stop the demonstrations. It says:

‘Everyone knows that an attack on person or property is forbidden according to religious laws … and that stoppage of transport routes causes much damage to the inhabitants of the country, as it disturbs their businesses and stops the transference of products … Such attacks cause the Egyptians to lose their support … We call on the Egyptian people to stop the attacks and not go beyond the bounds of the laws, so as not to clog the way before those who serve the people through legal channels. We call upon the notables of the country and the influential men within it to carry out their duty.’ (Ibid., pp. 270–1)

Fikri Abaza rightly writes that the tasks of ‘the leaders and central pillars of society’ was ‘to advise and direct and rein in the revolt and the rebels,’ (Weeping-Laughing, p. 91). And the leaders of the Wafd did play a great part in reining in the revolt. Thus on 20th March 1919, the members of the Wafd gave notice signed by all of them which says:

‘… All this happened and the country is convinced that we have not done anything unlawful, both from the point of view of general law and also from the point of view of the limits laid down by the military authorities. Immediately after the arrest of our comrades became known, we saw many young people from among the students of the high schools who came to us to tell us that they must arrange a demonstration. We advised them, at length not to do this, and to continue their studies in peace and quite … but they did not take our advice, or could not persuade their friends to do this …’ (Ahmed Shafiq Pasha, op.cit., pp. 301–2)

And when the students came to the leaders of the Wafd the latter said: ‘The question is no child’s play … Let us work in peace and not inflame the fire of anger among the people’ (A.M. Al Aqqad, op. cit., p. 226). Amine Yousef Bey quite justifiably wrote in his book Independent Egypt (London 1940):

‘There was little rioting and violence when Zaghloul was in Egypt, freely conducting his campaign. It was when he was exiled and when his influence for order was removed, that the anger of his followers flamed high.’ (pp. 70–71)

While the leaders of the Wafd attempted to quieten the students, the latter prepared to ‘meet’ the people. Following the example of the ‘National Guard’ which suppressed the 1848 uprising of the Paris proletariat, who dared to think that its duty was not only to serve the revolution, but that it was the duty of the revolution also to serve it, the students on April 16th 1919, proclaimed the establishment of a national police force from among the people in the name of the preservation of order, which would arrest all who broke order and hand them over to the government police. [2]

In spite of the class antagonisms and contradictions, the Wafd succeeded in establishing all-embracing national unity for the space of one month – March 1919. But even in this month the beginnings of the class antagonisms already began to disclose themselves and they became deeper and deeper as time went on. The Wafd was therefore deserted on the one hand by the workers, and on the other by the feudal aristocracy and the big capitalists connected with foreign capital.

In 1921 the following members left the Wafd: Ali Maher, Ismail Sidky, Hafez Afifi, Muhamad Aluba, Abd-al-Azi, Fahmi and Muhamad Mahmud. Ismail Sidky is a landowner; he is also the Chairman of the Egyptian Federation of Industries, and is on the board of directors of 19 companies, mostly foreign (among which are the Suez Company, Kom Ombo Co., Filature Nationale d’Egypte) as well as being on the board of directors of Banque Misr and four daughter companies of Banque Misr. Hafez Afifi is chairman and managing director of Banque Misr, on the board of directors of 19 daughter companies of Misr, and on that of 13 foreign companies. Muhamad Mahmud is the owner of a colossal estate in Fayum.

Muhamad Mahmud and Adb-al-Aziz Fahmi, after leaving the Wafd founded the party of Constitutional Liberals which consisted mainly of landowners. It set up various coup d’état governments which abolished parliament where there was a Wafd majority, and suppressed the Wafd. Ali Maher in 1925 founded the Ittihad Party, the mouthpiece of the royal house. Ismail Sidky founded the Shaab Party and managed to establish a tyrannical dictatorship (1930–34) which harshly suppressed every workers’ organisation and badly injured the Wafd too. <p. 133> In 1937 the Wafd was deserted by two of its most important leaders: Mahmid Nukrashi and Ahmed Maher. The latter was the agent of the stock exchange and the comprador merchant bourgeoisie.

Seeing that the social interests of the workers were not satisfied during the 1919 insurrection, and the proletariat was suppressed with an iron fist (as will be seen later) by the Wafd governments, the Wafd has ceased to find enthusiastic support among the masses of workers although from time to time its ‘popular’ demagogy has succeeded in drawing sections of the proletariat behind. This support, however, has not been at all similar in extent or depth to the popular support it got in 1919. On the other hand, as we have seen, the Wafd was deserted by the large landed proprietors, the more commercial bourgeoisie and the large industrialists. It has more and more become the party of the urban middle bourgeoisie, of the rural kulaks and the intelligentsia.

This fact is clearly shown up in the list of Wafd members of parliament. In the 1924 Chamber of Deputies the Wafd members consisted of 6 per cent pashas (i.e. general large landowners and big capitalists), 45 per cent beys (i.e. general kulaks, omdehs etc.) 7 per cent Sheiks (i.e. ecclesiastics), 7 per cent doctors, 32 per cent effendis (i.e. urban intellectuals without any other title) and 3 per cent others.

While in 1919 the centre of gravity of the national movement was the strikes of workers, in the following years, with the decline in vitality of the national movement, the demonstrations of students became the cardinal activity.

Thus after the assassination of Lee Stack, governor of Sudan and Commander in Chief of the Egyptian Army by a young student, when Allenby imposed his punishment on Egypt, and Saad Zaghloul’s government resigned, the sole reaction was the sending of telegrams of protest by the Wafd and … a students’ strike (25.11.1924). When in the end, after long negotiations Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister, refused to sign any agreement with Egypt (1928) the sole reaction was – students’ demonstrations in Asyut, Cairo and Tanta. Toynbee justly points out in his book Survey of International Affairs for the Years 1926-28 that these ‘outbursts’ were entirely insignificant in comparison to the ‘outburst’ after the war. These students’ demonstrations of the Wafd were repeated from time to time.

There were large-scale demonstrations at the end of 1943 in connection with events in Lebanon, in December 1944 in connection with the Sudan, in February 1945 in connection with matters of supply. The petty bourgeoisie, the Wafd’s main support, being incapable of influencing the centres of economic life, is of insignificant weight, which is why it permanently fluctuates between opportunism – even if accompanied by high-sounding proclamations which do not touch on imperialism at all – and desperate acts of individual terror, which too, cannot touch imperialism.

II. The Wafd and Imperialism

In the Wafd’s relation to imperialism permanent readiness to compromise may be seen, and opposition not to imperialist rule in itself, but only some aspects of it.

In the first few years after the was Saad Zaghloul repeated his demand <p. 134> for ‘full independence for Egypt and the Sudan’ and complete evacuation of the British army from Egypt. Accordingly in a speech in Cairo (31/10/24) he said:

‘The English demanded that they maintain military power on the soil of Egypt … We refused because we know that the presence of one soldier on the soil of Egypt violates independence’ (A.M. Al-Aqqad, op. cit., p. 369)

‘Great Britain has not the right to hold and army in the Canal region according to the neutrality agreement’ (Ibid., p. 517)

On another opportunity the same year he said:

‘The existence of the general command of the Egyptian army in the hands of a foreign officer, and the maintenance of British officers in this army, do not go hand in hand with the honour of the Egyptian nation.’ (A.Shafiq Pasha, op. cit., p. 329–30)

But at the same time he reveals great readiness to compromise with England in the Sudan affair. ‘If Britain has no imperialist aspirations’ (sic!). (From an interview with the correspondent of the Times in Cairo, 21/5/24). Saad’s successor, Mustafa Nahas Pasha, complied in the 1936 Anglo-Egyptian Treaty, to the maintenance of a British military mission at the head of the Egyptian army. As regards the Sudan, he agrees to the continuation of the status quo, as it had been since 1899. And he completely forgot the Wafdist demand for the absolute rule of Egypt over the Suez Canal. However when the Wafd was driven from government in 1944 and found itself once more in opposition, it repeated the slogans of 1919: full independence for Egypt and the Sudan, the evacuation of the British army.

The fact that the Wafd did not oppose imperialism in itself, but only some aspects of it, is most clearly shown up in its relations to foreign capital.

Saad Zaghloul concluded a letter from his seat of exile to the British Prime Minister with the following words:

‘It is better for England to be a friend to Egypt as then we should take the obligation upon ourselves to protect your interests and to help in the sale of your goods in our country.’ (A.M. Al-Aqqad, op. cit., p. 241)

In reply to Lord Curzon he said:

‘Let us pass to foreign interest: are they in danger? It is only a fictive danger. Don’t the Powers understand that their interests and the interests of their citizens will be better assured by the maintenance of the foreign concessions and the Caisse de la Dette which we will preserve, than they are by the Protectorate whose inevitable result will undoubtedly be the abolition of the foreigners’ every concession? …’ (A. Shafiq Pasha, op. cit., p. 385)

In an interview that the Wafdist leaders had with Reginald Wingate, the British High Commissioner, in 1919, Saad Zaghloul promises that if Egypt and received its independence,

‘we will not turn to anyone over here except you, and we will not turn to anyone abroad except British statesmen … We will guarantee her (England’s) route to India – the Suez Canal – and promise that we will give her, not any other Power, the right of conquest in a time of need. We will make a pact only with her, and not with any other Power, and will put our army at her disposal in a time of need, according to treaty.’ (A.M. Al-Aqqad, op.cit., pp. 199, 198)

And he also added:

‘We now admit that Britain is the strongest state in the world and the state that has the broadest freedom, and we are thankful to her for all the important things she has done in Egypt.’ (Ibid., p. 99)

The bourgeoisie and their petty bourgeois hangers-on who fawned upon imperialism, had contempt for the strength of the Egyptian people. Every time, therefore, that Zaghloul preached additional compromise with imperialism to the masses, he gave his reason Egypt’s lack of strength. The refrain that Egypt has no real strength constantly repeats itself in his speeches and articles. Thus in a speech to the Chamber of Deputies (28 June 1924) he said:

‘You know brethren, that in my conversations with the English and others I have never once claimed that we are strong from a material point of view, but we are strong form the point of view of rights, and we are strong in our unity. We told the English that it was impossible that they should refuse to just demands solely because they were the demands of a people without arms. We told them this and we did not approach them with force as we have no force, and they know we have no force.’ (A. Safiq Pasha, op.cit., vol. IV, p. 239)

And the Wafd paper Al-Balagh writes in the same strain in its issue of 29th August 1924:

‘Egypt is weak. She is the weakest among eastern and western states except for Transjordan, the Sultanate of Lahaj, the Kingdom of Hejaz and their like among small states and emirates. The Egyptian government does not demand, and it is impossible for it to demand a declaration of war against England, or that itself speak to her in the tone of one who can declare war against her if things reach such a pass.’ (Ibid., p. 296)

<p. 135> Of course without a proletarian revolution which will merge with an agrarian revolution, recruiting enthusiastic masses of fellaheen behind the solid Egyptian working class, arousing a huge revolutionary tide in all the Arab countries whose echo will resound far beyond the borders of the Arab East and drawing international class assistance to its aid – without this Egypt is indeed very weak and wretched.

As Saad Zaghloul was not the heir of the Jacobins but rather of the Girondins, his lack of faith in and scorn for the forces of Egypt was natural, a scorn hidden behind every work of admiration for the capability and usefulness of foreign capital, behind every praise of the hypocritical declarations of this or that imperialist politician. While Desmoulins called ‘To arms! To arms!’, Saad Zaghloul begged for negotiations: ‘Negotiation is the only way of achieving our rights’ (Al-Balagh, 9/7/24). A more radical pronouncement made by a Wafdist was that of Makram ‘Ubeid, Saad’s more extreme disciple, who added that negotiations must be combined with passive resistance, which he defined as ‘resistance to the English in every legal way’ (Al-Makramiyat, Collected speeches of Makram ‘Ubeid, collected by Ahmad Qasem Gawat, Cairo 1943, Arabic, p. 104).

Thus in place of the barricades came Ghandi’s goat!

III. The Wafd’s Relation to National Movements Outside Egypt

The Wafd revealed no great readiness to help the anti-imperialist liberatory struggle in other Arab countries.

Saad Zaghloul’s attitude to the Libyans who revolted against Italian rule, for instance, was simply treacherous. Although in 1919 the Egyptian insurrectionaries received active support from their Libyan neighbours, when in 1924 the Italian government demanded the handing over of Libyan rebels who had fled to Egypt, Saad did not dare to hand them over, but he neither dared openly to protect their rights. As a solution, he therefore expelled them from Egypt.

Nahas behaved similarly. When the Lebanese government was arrested by he French in November 1943, and a movement of sympathy for support of the Lebanese arose in all sections of the Arab world, Egypt included, Nahas prohibited any demonstration in support of Lebanon. After the Lebanese government was reinstated, and its premier, Riad al-Sujh, came for a visit to Egypt, he was greeted with enthusiastic demonstrations in his honour. A day later Nahas again prohibited all demonstrations and the police cleared the streets of the crowds. The paper Akhbar al-Yowm (23/12/44) could justly write in connection with Nahas’s attitude to the Lebanese events that he was ‘the thermometer of enthusiasm which rose and fell according to the rise and fall of the enthusiasm of the English paper The Times.’ The idea was widespread that Nahas was ‘the “Eastern” adviser of the English for Arab affairs’

On 29th February 1944, an interpellation was put forward in the Egyptian senate:

‘What has the government done to facilitate the arrival of the representative of North African Arabs to take part in the consultation of the Arab nations? Nahas replied that actually he sympathised with the national movement in Morocco, but there was a difference between the situation in Morocco, and in, for example, Lebanon. The Egyptian government must have contact only with those Arab countries such as Lebanon, for example, whose independence was recognised by the Powers. To this the interpellator replied that he saw no difference between the duties of the government towards a nation recognised as independent by Powers, and one not so recognised; on the contrary, in the latter case even greater efforts must be made to help the national movement to achieve independence.’ (Al-Ahram, 1/3/44)

The intervention or non-intervention of the Wafd in the affairs of other Arab countries was inspired not by militant anti-imperialist solidarity but <p. 136> by the direction of Downing Street.

‘Anti-imperialist’ declarations did not prevent the Wafd from being appointed to the government in 1942 by the British as it was considered the most reliable pro-British party in Egypt at the very same time as the leaders of the Indian Congress were arrested (of course on this occasion the Wafd conveniently forgot all pro-Congress sympathy), or from maintaining a boycott against Soviet Russia for more than 20 years, or from recognizing the rule of France.

In place of the consciousness of the Jacobins that France stood at the head of European revolution, came the bourgeois-democratic international of 1848 which at the decisive moment did not stand the test of solidarity and which in the space of a small number of years turned from being a force to being a mere farce. The Wafd began at a point even lower that that at which the bourgeois-democratic international of 1848 ended.

IV. The Wafd and the Question of the Sudan

The Wafd’s reactionary character was revealed most clearly in its position towards the problems of Sudan. Seeing that the Sudan is not included in the book, we shall only touch on the questions.

He who rules the Sudan rules the Nile and that means, also Egypt. Over the fate of the Sudan, therefore, more and more obstinate clashes take place between the Egyptian national movement and imperialism. Actually it is its seven million inhabitants who must play the decisive role in moulding the fate of the country, and the main task of the liberatory movement in Egypt must be to build an anti-imperialist united front with the Sudanese masses. The Egyptian capitalists and landowners, however, are not interested in this united front, but in a partnership with British capital in exploiting the Sudan.

Saad Zaghloul on many occasions repeated hat ‘the Sudan belongs to Egypt’. In the negotiations with Henderson in 1930 Nahas Pasha demanded the ‘practical participation of Egypt in the administration of the Sudan.’ And when asked what his concrete demands were he replied: ‘Freedom of immigration to it and freedom to acquire property. We also demand equality between Egypt and England in the administration.’ (According to Jamal ed-Din al-Hamamsi, What is in the Sudan?, Cairo, Arabic, pp. 158–165) The proposal of the Egyptian delegation to the 1936 negotiations with Britain spoke about ‘Egypt’s right to rule over Sudan’ and Nahas declared the 1936 treaty to be a victory for Egypt. Actually the treaty reintroduced the status that had existed from 1899–1924 (and abolished in 1924 by England as revenge for the murder of Lew Stack, governor of Sudan, by an Egyptian terrorist) according to which Sudan was under and Anglo-Egyptian condominium. Who it was who struck the note in this condominium is quite evident from the fact that the British government decided who the governor – who was always a Britisher and had absolute rule – was to be, and the Egyptian king simply affirmed the choice.

The Wafd is moved by the desire of the Egyptian capitalists to be rulers, or more correctly, junior partners of imperialist rule, over Sudan. In none of the declarations of the Wafd leaders has reference ever been made to the elementary rights of the Sudanese. The fact that in the Sudanese cotton plantation belonging to British companies starvation wages are paid, that the law prohibits the payment in Southern Sudan of more than 6 mils a day, that less than 1 per cent of the population is literate, that no one from the north of the country, which is more developed than the south, is allowed to migrate to the south or marry a woman from there and that a southerner who has migrate northwards is not allowed to return home (in order to keep the south segregated and backward), that the only ‘popular’ government institution is an advisory council nominated by the governor – all these things do not move the Wafd ‘liberatory’ party one iota.

There is also no doubt that the slogan of ‘Egypt’s right over the Sudan’ has helped imperialism in strengthening the separatist tendencies among Sudanese, and it is no accident that the separatist party in the Sudan – the National Party – attempting to prove that Egypt is responsible for the sufferings of the Sudanese always emphasise that the Egyptian flag flies over the government building. The crimes of imperialism, however, are so blatant that the movement for federation with Egypt is much stronger than that for separations. (In the municipal elections in Khartoum, for instance, the <p. 137> former received the great majority of the votes, while the latter suffered a severe defeat.)

It is clear that only a struggle for the expulsion of imperialism from Egypt and Sudan and the recognition by the Egyptian masses of the right of the Sudanese democratically to determine their fate, can serve as a basis for the real unity of the masses of the two countries. The paper of the Sudanese students in Egypt was clearly correct in writing that ‘those in Egypt who call for unity (of the Nile Valley – T.C.) are not less dangerous than those in Sudan who call for separation’ (Um-Durman, 1.1.46) Among those calling for unity of the Nile Valley – the rule of Egypt over the Sudan – not the least vociferous is the Wafd.

V. The Wafd and the Monarchy

The friction between the middle bourgeoisie on the one hand and the feudal aristocracy, foreign capital and imperialism on the other, was revealed as permanent friction between the Wafd and the king – the largest landowner in Egypt and chief tool of imperialism. Quite a few times – in 1924, 1926, 1928, 1930, 1937 and 1944 – the king dismissed the Wafd governments and in most cases nominated instead dictatorial governments from minority parties which are close to the royal house. In spite of this, however, not one of the Wafdist leaders of any faction in the party ever made so bold as to contemplate republican ideas.

Al-Aqqad emphasises that there was no foundation to the rumour spread when disputes arose between Saad and the king that Saad aspired to a republic: ‘He never said nor hinted this once, neither to an Egyptian nor to an Englishman.’ (Op. cit., pp. 469–70). In an address on November 13th, 1923, Zaghloul said:

‘I am sure that it (the nation) will continue in this dignified path until the elections are over and the Chamber of Deputies is convoked under the protection of the king of our country who most would like to see the convocation of this chamber, its dealing with matters of state, and his participation in these dealings. May God lengthen his protection and bring fortune to all.’ (Collection of the Latest Speeches of Saad Zaghloul, collected by Mahmoud Fuad, Cairo 1924, Arabic, p. 86)

In connection with the king’s birthday the paper Al-Misri (Cairo, daily), organ of the Wafd, wrote the following (11/2/42):

‘The king and the homeland are an indivisible unity, one complete entirety, a building on firm foundations which love binds together and a feeling of sympathy encompasses … in which royal democracy is realised in all its meanings and shades, the regime which Egypt willingly accepted as a basis, as the best structure of a regime, with the strongest supports, whose parts are firmest and strongest.’

When a Turkish journalist who visited Egypt at the end of 1945 wrote that the Wafd had republican tendencies, Al-Misri emphatically denied it, writing: ‘Thank God there are no republicans in Egypt; in Egypt there are only monarchists faithful to the throne and him who occupies it.’ (23/12/45).

Even Zuheir Sabri, who constituted the ‘socialist wing in the Wafd’ and who was expelled from it because of his social ‘radicalism’, writes in an article which appeared in the journal Al-Ithnein of 6/11/44:

‘His Majesty King Farouk I, son of Kings, speaks about the workers and artisans and encompasses all their questions and problems … and so while some nations struggle against their kings we see the Egyptian nation struggling on behalf of its king and making from the heart of its sons a throne, which it is ready to redeem with its soul and life spirit …’

VI. The Wafd and Democratic Liberties

In general the Wafd is in the habit of demanding democratic rights when it is in the opposition and of limiting them when it holds the reins of power (although in general when the Wafd arranged the elections, the election laws were relatively democratic because the Wafd was always sure of a safe majority.)

Saad Zaghloul for instance strongly attacked the proposal made in the Chamber of Deputies to lighten the sentence for organisers of illegal meetings and demonstrations from imprisonment for a half a year and a fine of £100 to imprisonment for a week and a fine of £1; the sentence for those who participated in such meetings and demonstrations from imprisonment for a <p. 138> month and a fine of £20 to imprisonment for a week and a fine of £1.

The persecution of the opposition was very severe and the censorship very strict during the time of the Wafd governments. This, for instance, during the Nahas Pasha government of 1942–44 a great number of the most moderate books were banned, searches conducted in the houses of their authors, and journalists arrested. Even some of the most innocent articles were banned, such for instance, as an article by Zuheir Sabri on religious freedom in Russia. When during a discussion in the senate, Husayn Siri Pasha, former Prime Minister, complained that the Nahas Government prohibited any article criticising the government, Nahas’s sole reply was that during the government of Husayn Siri the censorship was not less severe. The demand of the opposition to abolish all censorship except for military secrets was rejected by the Wafd, but immediately after the fall of Nahas’s government the Wafdist opposition hastened loudly to demand the abolition of the censorship.

In December 1941 the leader of the Wafdist opposition in the Chamber of Deputies, Abd-al-Hamid Abd-al-Hak, demanded the release of political prisoners, called for the preservation of individual liberties and the limiting of the authority of the military governor (i.e. the Prime Minister) to incarcerate political opponents (Al-Misri, 9/12/41). When the Wafd rose to power in 1942, however, it released only a small number of political prisoners and at the same time arrested many of its opponents, a number of socialists included. The revolutionary Marxist paper Magalla al-Gadida was banned, the reason being ‘that the paper continuously makes propaganda for social doctrines antagonistic to the existing order in the Egyptian monarchy and in all the cultured states at the present time, in a style which endangers public security’, while at the same time the ban on the fascist paper Ruz al-Yussuf was lifted. The leaders of the revolutionary socialist group ‘Bread and Freedom’ were kept in prison while at the same time the fascist Ahmed Husayn was released.

VII. The Wafd and Religion

A single example will suffice to throw light on the Wafd’s attitude to religion.

In 1925 Ali Abd al-Razeq who was a judge in the religious court of al-Mansura published a book called Islam and the Fundamentals of Rule. In this book he says that Islamic law applies only to individual life and personal behaviour and not to social life or state laws. He demanded the consistent continuation of the process of secularisation which had already begun in Egypt and other Eastern countries, and the separation of state from the church. Of course the circles of al-Azhar, the king and court, attacked this book viciously. Abd al-Razeq was declared a heretic and dismissed from his post as judge in the religious court. Saad Zaghloul supported the opponents of Abd al-Razeq and agreed to his dismissal.

While the ascending revolutionary bourgeoisie controlled the forces of nature and society and so was materialist, the Wafd, as the representatives of a belated bourgeoisie, fears the contradictions in society and hangs on to religion as a means of covering these contradictions, as ‘opium for the people’.

VIII. The Wafd and the Peasants and the Workers

The agitation of the Wafd is full of social demagogy, and it attempts to identify the party with the common man.

In a long speech explaining the budget of the Wafd government of 1942 Makram ‘Ubeid said:

‘There are two Egypts, one of less than ten per cent of the inhabitants who live sumptuous lives, and one of more than ninety per cent of the inhabitants who grow wheat which others eat, who grow flax which others wear … I asked myself: Have we realised independence while Egypt of the fellaheen and of the toilers – and this is nearly all Egypt – is subjugated to the land and the landowners? … And how has the Egyptian fellah profited by independence if at all periods he is a scapegoat and source of exploitation. We must therefore, Gentlemen, say openly, “We have toiled to save the Egyptian from foreign imperialism; now it remains to save the Egyptian from Egyptian imperialism!” … Please show me in which country in <p. 139> the world a man whose total income is £3–4 (a year – T.C.) pays a tax of 50 piasters to the state treasury. This happens only in Egypt in which the fellah has been subjugated for thousands of years; the fellah toils and produces, and another reaps the benefit.’

In order further to identify the Wafd with the interests of the fellah, he said: ‘All its (the Wafdist government’s) members are the progeny of the fellaheen.’ (Al-Makramiyat, op. cit., pp. 178–80).

But the practical conclusions were in no way in conformity with the exuberance of social enthusiasm expressed in Makram’s words. The Wafdist government decided to free from taxes the fellaheen whose plots were so tiny and whole yield so small that the taxes did not exceed 30 piasters, and to reduce the taxes of those who paid £½–10 … According to the budget estimate 2,426,000 fellaheen would enjoy the freedom from and reduction of taxes, which would lessen the total tax burden by half a million pounds i.e. an average of 20 piasters per fellah! At the same time the Wafdist government imposed a progressive tax increase on the large landed estates, but under pressure from the big landowners retreated, and instead of adding 100 per cent to the existing taxes, it added only 50 per cent and fixed £2 per feddan as the maximum agricultural tax, i.e. less than a tenth of the rent (during the war the rent more than trebled, and it is now more than £30 per feddan.)

The divergence between words and deeds reached its climax when malaria attacked wide regions in Upper Egypt, Keneh and Aswan.

Actually the malaria had started spreading already in 1941, but the situation became critical at the end of 1943 and beginning of 1944. Nevertheless Nahas did all he could to conceal the truth. Thus, when he came back from his visit to Upper Egypt he described the inhabitants of the affected regions as men of ‘healthy bodies, lively faces who were in a satisfactorily comfortable state.’ (Quoted by Muhamed Khitab in the Senate, 13/4/44)

The quinine that the government distributed as medicine was sold by hungry fellaheen to buy food. (Al-Ahram, 4/1/44) The poverty reached such dimensions that many of the fellaheen could not even buy shrouds for their dead (Al-Ahram, 6/1/44). According to one estimate 140,000 died of malaria. (Al-Ahram, 14/4/44)

Only after the number of working hands began to diminish to an alarming extent and the fellaheen ceased to grow sugar cane, forcing the land company Kom Ombo to pay for breaking the canes on their lands, and the wages on all estates rose considerably – only then did the Wafd and the other parties begin to make some ado about the malaria. In the discussion on the subject in the Chamber of Deputies one delegate said:

‘Why did all this tumult arise? Do you know why? Because the large landowners were anxious for their estates, but if the illness had confined itself to Nubia this hubbub would not have been heard, as Nubia has no estates belonging to the rich.’ (Al-Ahram, 2/3/44)

Even now, however, the enactments of the Wafd government to help the fellaheen were most restricted – to raise the minimum wage from 7½ to 10 piasters, to distribute flour and wheat in the affected regions; to send a larger amount of clothes to the affected areas than the usual government allotment – and those enactments that were made can hardly be said to have been carried out. The law fixing a minimum wage remained only on paper. At the beginning of 1944 when the official minimum wage was 7½ piasters, the workers of the sugar company in Upper Egypt were receiving only 6 piasters, and in Keneh and Aswan it was customary even, according to the words of Nahas himself, to pay 3½ to 4½ piasters. Raising the minimum wage from 7½ to 10 piasters in theory did not change the situation in practice to any real extent. Any change there may have been was not the result of the law of the Wafd government, but the blind law ruling the capitalist order – the law of supply and demand – that was realised here in its most brutal form: low wages brought about death, and death brought higher wages.

As regards the distribution of food: Nahas pointed out in his speech that the number of poor in the two districts amounted to 1,050,875. In the same <p. 140> speech he said that 1,200,000 okes [3] of flour were sold for half their price, i.e. everyone could buy one oke at half of the price. Every month 630,000 loaves of bread were distributed free, i.e. half a loaf per person. 2,250,000 loaves of dry bread were also distributed free, i.e. 2 loaves per person. As regards of the quality of the distributed food, the flour, for example, was so bad that when one of the opposition members of the Chamber of the Deputies wished to show a sample of it, the Wafdist members strongly opposed such an action. (Al-Ahram, 1/3/44) Asma Halim, authoress of a pamphlet on the condition of the fellaheen in Keneh and Aswan called Eight Days in the Sa’id, was told by some villagers that they refused to receive the bread distributed. And the reason? ‘It is said to be bread made of pure wheat, but it is full of worms, as it has been stored for a long time – since the bombardment of Alexandria …’ (p. 31)

According to a declaration of Nahas, 39,000 clothes were distributed in Aswan and 123,000 in Keneh (i.e. the normal government distribution together with special supplies). This number is about a sixth of the number of poor inhabitants of the areas. He did not say what price was paid for this. How small a palliative this was, is revealed in the following simple fact: of every hundred children in Egypt, 70 had no galabiehs (simple cotton dresses which serve also as ‘means of production’, cotton being gathered in their skirts) so that the collection of cotton was severely affected …! (Al-Ahram, 13/9/44).

In this play of high-sounding words and puny deeds one dangerous factor can intervene – the real action of the masses of workers and peasants. The enthusiastic ‘social’ agitation of the Wafd, especially in the time of social strain, is always accompanied by strong agitation against the class struggle and socialism. And so, in the same days that the press was full of the malaria news, and few weeks before Nahas’s verbal attack on the great latifundias, Al-Misri, the mouth-piece of the Wafd government, published an article by the writer Zaki Mubarak, under the title The Egyptian Line of Character (12/1/44) which says:

‘We have here a group of boastful writers who have heard that the discussion of class differentiation won some European writers a place in society. They begin therefore to weep and wail for mercy for the poor and the fellaheen … Have they, by weeping and wailing, achieved their aspirations? Have they become the central pillars of socialism or communism? Have they aroused the poor to revolution against the rich? They did not reach their aim, as Egypt was created in social harmony, which will not be shaken by the boasting of a foolish writer who wishes to be one of the makers and is really one of the breakers. The fellaheen in Egypt have not been hungry and will not be hungry (sic!). And so in vain the sorrow of those who weep large tears for them. If the weepers of this kind understood anything, they would see that the Egyptian fellah hates anyone who suffers and weeps for him. The Egyptian fellah is a proud man, and when he is reduced, he hides his poverty and does not reveal it to neighbour or friend; these are the qualities that the prophets preached! Shame is the daily bread of Egyptian society! … The fellaheen will not be influenced by the boasting of vain writers of such a kind, as the Egyptian village is more generous towards its sons than these writers. Allah therefore blessed it with an abundance of treasures and fruits, clothing his sons in wrapping of health (sic!); and they are stronger than their like in all the valleys of the world without exception (sic!). Nobody has died of hunger in your wide fields, O my Homeland, (sic!) while in other countries men die of hunger because they are not Egyptians’ (sic!).

The social agitation of the Wafd is less inspired by the ‘Mountain’ which stood at the head of the bourgeois agrarian revolution than by the ‘socialist’ demagogy of declining capitalism – by fascism.

The last year has witnessed a great polarisation in the national movement in Egypt. On the one hand a proletarian class power has arisen, and on the other the activity of a fascist-clerical wing – the Moslem Brotherhood – has increased. The first factor will be dealt with in the chapter The Rise of an Independent Proletarian Power in Egypt, and we shall here deal with the second.

<p. 141>

IX. The Moslem Brotherhood

To tackle the deep social and national crises passing over Egypt the ‘strong hand’ system of Ismail Sidky Pasha is not sufficient, as it leans upon the army and the police and has no popular support. It is only a fascist movement using extreme demagogic methods which can serve as a popular support for the Egyptian bourgeoisie and feudal class, and through them for imperialism. In the conditions of Egypt this demagogy must wear a dress of religious fanaticism; the Moslem Brotherhood, whose influence has grown quite considerably of late, fills the required role. It is they who on 2 November 1945 succeeded in turning the demonstrations against imperialism and Zionism into attacks on the religious minorities. Their success here, indeed, was but partial, as only petty bourgeois and lumpen-proletarian elements adhered to them while the workers stood in opposition. The workers’ paper Ed-Damir wrote about the event:

‘It is very fine that the workers were not dragged into the plot hatched against them to involve them in the attacks of the 2nd November, the day of the cursed Balfour Declaration … The Egyptian workers’ movement fights against racial fanaticism and deprecates every movement stirred up by it.’ (14/11/45)

When the Anglo-American Inquiry Report on Palestine was published, the paper of the Moslem Brotherhood came out in fierce attacks expressing the most bitter racial and religious hatred of the Jews and it did not dedicate so much as a single word to imperialism. While the Moslem Brotherhood actively exploited every opportunity which presented itself to form a mass movement against the religious minorities, on the 21st February of this year they declined to take part in the ‘evacuation movement’, instead highly commending Ismail Sidky Pasha, the suppressor of mass demonstrations. And when, on the 10th May, the ‘Workers’ and Students’ Committee’ called for a new strike, they expressed their antagonism to it. (Al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin, 10/5/46). (It deserves to be mentioned that the strike took place despite the opposition of the secretary of the Arab League, the Egyptian Government and the Moslem Brotherhood.) The Moslem Brotherhood has attempted to find a foothold in the trade union movement but has met here with complete failure. For a long time the Egyptian workers had struggled against the endeavour of the Egyptian government to confine the trade union movement within the bounds of the organisation of the workers of each factory separately, and they had succeeded in forming general unions each of a complete industry. Now the Moslem Brotherhood has come along and called again for separate committees – with the addition that these committees should be purely Moslem – and they hastened to publicise the fact that such committees had been formed in Shubra al-Khaima, an industrial quarter of Cairo. (The workers of Shubra, Moslems and Copts, immediately published a denial and their deep disapprobation of this. The attempt was repeated in the textile factories of Alexandria, but here too it met with failure. The Brotherhood tried, too, to form a committee of students separate from that which took part in the Workers’ and Students’ Committee, again unsuccessfully. They also endeavoured to harm the popular movement which consolidated itself behind the Workers’ and Students’ Committee by setting up a rival ‘National Committee’, which did indeed come into existence and which contained the big religious organisations (the Moslem Brotherhood, the Moslem Youth) and some other small groups (the fascist Misr al-Fatat, the followers of Ali Maher who collaborated with the Axis, and others). The Committee supported the government and called upon the masses to let it work in peace. (Al-Ba’as, 8/3/46) This attempt, however, also came to nought, the Committee dissolving before a month had passed, while the Workers’ and Students’ Committee continues to work and organise.

In the meanwhile British imperialism and the Egyptian government are doing all in their power to stimulate the movement of the Moslem Brotherhood. Reuter’s correspondents publish a declaration of the Brotherhood every Monday and Thursday, while they systematically attempt to silence the Workers’ and Students’ Committee. The government of Nukrashi allowed and that of Sidky today allows them to arrange conferences and meetings while they prohibit such gatherings of the workers. The governor of Sudan and the High Commissioner of Palestine gave permission for delegations of the Moslem Brotherhood to visit these countries, while the workers’ leaders are persistently refused visas. The wireless station in Jerusalem gave a full hour of its time to broadcasting the foundation ceremony of the Jerusalem branch of the Brotherhood, and the Egyptian wireless station has announced a fixed programme for broadcasts of the Brotherhood. At the same time the Egyptian papers and wireless station have been prohibited from publishing any news whatsoever about the Workers’ and Students’ Committee. Reuter boosted the Brotherhood by announcing – through the pen of John Kimche – that it contains half a million members, while in reality its numbers do not exceed ten thousand. Mention of the Workers’ and Students’ Committee is conspicuous by its absence.

<p. 142> While from 1919 until the Second World War the Wafd had the decisive influence among the masses and was the main power in the Egyptian national movement, its position is now threatened by two extreme forces: on the one hand the Egyptian proletariat on the other fascism. The deepening of the social and national crisis will undermine the influence of the Wafd over the masses and a central place in the life of the country will be taken by the struggle between revolutionary socialism and clerical-racial fascism.


1. Wafd means ‘delegation’. This was the delegation which wished to appear before the Peace Conference in the name of the Egyptian nation.

2. The High Commissioner was ungrateful enough, however, to announce that it was he who had the power to keep order, without the national police, and he prohibited its organisation.

3. One oke = about 1¼ kilograms.

Last updated on 2.6.2011