Arthur Rosenberg


The Revolution in Egypt

(10 January 1922)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 3, 10 January 1922, pp. 20–21.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2019). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

“It appears as if we have let an opportunity in Egypt slip by which will not easily come again”, the Manchester Guardian wrote warningly a few days ago. It is remarkable that England in spite of its victory in the world war today has less authority in its colonies than ever before. The situation in India is today more difficult than in the 50’s of the century, at the time of the great Indian Mutiny. Never had there raged in Ireland a civil war of such bitterness as in 1921. Egypt has never so risen against the foreign invaders since the occupation of the country by English troops 40 years ago. These facts support the belief that in the last world war the question of defeat or victory had nowhere near the importance that attached to it in previous conflicts. England, the “victorious” power, is faced by phenomena which usually appear only in defeated countries. In spite of its formal victory, English capitalism is deeply involved in the general crisis of world capital. The disaffection in the British colonies is nourished by the conviction that the old system of society is tottering and that at the present time it is possible to establish new economic and political forms of society by energetic action.

Up to the world war Egypt was formally a Turkish province, which however actually was under English control – occupied by British troops, exploited by British capital and ruled by British commissioners on the style of Lord Cromer. When England declared war on Turkey it abolished Egypt’s formal allegiance to the Sultan in Constantinople. In Cairo there now sits an “independent” Sultan dependent on England’s favor. However, the masses of the Egyptian people are protesting more and more decisively against this state of affairs. Until recently there existed two parties in Egypt. The Moderate Party was supported by the well-to-do native bourgeoisie and sought an understanding with Britain. Its leader was Adly Pasha. The Radical Party, opposed to this standpoint, was under the leadership of Zaghlul Pasha, a man with exceptional gifts as an agitator and organizer. This radical wing, which demands Egypt's independence and the expulsion of the foreign exploiters, has taken especial root among the students of the country. The celebrated Mohammedan University of Cairo has developed into a citadel of the Egyptian revolution. Whenever a movement commences, the students immediately go on strike. They do not, however, remain at home, but go into the streets of the cities and into the villages to preach the revolution. These thousands of young fanatical Mohammedan intellectuals are the shock troops of the movement, behind which the millions of exploited peasants, artisans and workers group themselves. This situation can be in some degree compared to that in Central Europe in 1848 or, even better, to the present situation in China, where the students and other young intellectuals also are the standard-bearers of the nationalist movement. These students, in China as well as in Egypt, are at first dominated only by national ideals. But the exceptional situation of their country brings it about that their nationalist struggle is directed against foreign capitalism, and in this connection they can expect no support from the half-hearted native bourgeoisie, but must depend on the great masses of the poorer population. Thus, the national struggle for independence in Egypt as well as in China adopts a social-revolutionary character. There are a few trade-union organizations in Egypt, but the political organization of the Egyptian proletariat is in its infancy.

During 1921, the British began to realize that they could not indefinitely rest their rule on the bayonet, and that some sort of agreement with the native population must be sought. A Commission was appointed to study the Egyptian question under the chairmanship of Lord Milner, who is considered by many as the cleverest representative of British world power. The Milner Commission recommended far-reaching concessions, above all the evacuation of the provocative British troops from the country. Only the Suez canal, an important link in the lines of communications of the British Empire, was to be protected by British troops. Lord Milner desired a compromise between British capital and the native Egyptian bourgeoisie. These two could easily come to an understanding on the economic field. Adly Pasha, the Egyptian Prime Minister, came to London last autumn to conclude an agreement in accordance with the spirit of the Milner Report. But Lord Curzon, the British Foreign Minister, spoiled everything through his obstinacy. He submitted a treaty draft to the Egyptian which meant nothing more or less than a perpetuation of present conditions, together with continual occupation of the entire country by British troops. Adly Pasha is usually a willing man, but the Egyptian bourgeoisie, in whose name he spoke, desired in one way or another to rise to the status of associates of the British Empire. They were no longer content to play the role of slaves. Adly Pasha refused to sign, left for home and resigned as Prime Minister. Thus the united national front was established in Egypt. The Adly Party united with that of Zaghlul for common action.

Britain’s might is wielded in Egypt by Lord Allenby, a ruthless soldier and conqueror of Jerusalem in the war. He proceeded according to the recommended methods of reaction. Zaghlul and his most prominent adherents were arrested and deported to Ceylon. Native papers have been suppressed and political meetings forbidden. There followed a revolutionary uprising in the great cities of the country Cairo, Alexandria, Port Said and Suez. The students officials and railwaymen went on strike. The people erected barricades and attacked the British troops, which resulted in many fatal casualties. The movement spread to the rural districts and the British resorted to their accepted measures. The beating of political prisoners, which is secretly employed in Poland, Hungary. Germany and Spain, is allowed by law in Egypt, the realm of British democracy. Lord Allenby proclaimed that he would employ airplane bombs against assemblages of people. In Alexandria, British warships entered the harbour, armed ships were sent up the Nile and the bank deposits of Zaghlul Pasha, of his friends and of the National Egyptian Association were confiscated.

The British military despotism may again succeed in temporarily restoring order in Egypt. But British capital gains nothing thereby. The new infamies of the foreign rulers will only result in the more rapid revolutionizing of the country. In Ireland houses were set on fire and men executed by court-martial until British militarism did not know which way to turn. The cleverer representatives of the British bourgeoisie have already begun to realize this. It is not at all improbable that it will again attempt to separate the Adly Party from the revolutionaries and to come to a compromise with the Egyptian bourgeoisie. But Britain will now have to make much greater sacrifices than were necessary last autumn. Things in Egypt as well as in India and Ireland are following their inexorable path. All these national independence movements will sooner or later have to merge in the battle of the world revolution against dominating capital.

Last updated on 27 December 2018