M.N. Roy

The Political Somersault in Egypt

(January 1923)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 3 No. 5, 12 January 1923, pp. 43–44.
From International Press Correspondence (weekly), Vol. 3 No. 1, 16 January 1923, pp. 10–12.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2021). 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.

The correspondent of the London Times wrote on December 3 from Cairo reporting the resignation of Sarwat Pasha and the consent of the pro-Zaghlulist Nessim Pasha to form a new cabinet. Zaghlul himself is reported to have wired from Gibraltar, protesting loyalty to the King, whose authority as the sovereign he had before refused to recognize. If looks very strange; and the changes are all too bewildering. But a retrospective glance at history proves that this political somersault of bourgeois nationalism was to be expected.

It is evident that the government, controlled by the Sarwat-Aly clique, is overthrown by a new combination of forces, namely an unexpected alliance between the Palace and the Waft-el-Mosri (Zaglulist Deputation). The event that immediately preceded the resignation of the Sarwat Cabinet was a manifesto issued by The Waft. This manifesto, which was exceptionally hostile to the government, was launched immediately after the acting president of the Waft had had a long and mysterious interview with the King. What is the moral of this apparently strange combination? The none too comfortable experience of the last twenty months has convinced the Imperialist of the necessity of striking his roots deeper into the organism of the native society. It has been found that the thin strata of feudal lords and upper bourgeoisie, represented by those Pashas, who signed the agreement of “Independence”, is not a strong enough support for the continuance of British domination. The concessions made to this class failed to reconcile the rich agrarians and bourgeoisie represented by the Zaghlulist Waft, not to mention the rebellious lower middle and small peasantry operating through the militant ranks of the Khizb-el-Watani (Nationalist Party). The mysterious interview in the palace was evidently held for the purpose of intimating to the Centrist Zaghlulist Waft that embarrassed Imperialism, was now m the market bidding for its support. What is amazing was the quickness with which the bargain was struck. King Fuad has proved himself to be a clever bargain maker. But there have been other reasons of deeper social significance which led up to the successful conclusion of this bargain.

The social composition of the Zaghlulist Party proves that the present compromise was logically to be expected of it. Zaghlul Pasha, who had taken part in the Nationalist rebellion led by Colonel Arabi in 1882, was one of the leaders of the Khizb-el-Uma (Peoples’ Party) organized in 1906. This first political party of Egypt was mainly composed of big landowners, high officials and the intelligentzia. It also included in its ranks a considerable number of the upper middle class, rich agrarians, merchants, students and some sections of the clergy. The object pursued by this party was not a revolution against British Imperialism, but the sharing of the right of exploitation and power with the lattrr. The Khizb-el-Uma, at least its leading elements, was very closely connected with Khedive Abbaz II, who exploited its anti-British agitation in order to strengthen his position as the absolute ruler of the country, his policy was secretly to help and encourage the landowning and official elements, but to persecute the more democratic middle class leaders. The compromising policy of the Right Wing became too much for the middle class, democratic elements, when Zaghlul in 1907 became a Vizir (minister) of the reactionary monarchy.

The social differentiation in the ranks of the nationalists was then marked by a split in the Khizb-el-Uma. It was found that the “people” were not a homogeneous whole with identical interests. The middle class found its interests incompatible with those of the landlords and upper bourgeoisie, and repudiated the latter’s leadership. The radical Left Wing of the People’s Party broke away and formed the Khizb-el-Wataru (the Nationalist Party), with a program of revolutionary struggle against the British occupation. Although he could not remain in office for long in the midst of rank feudal reaction, Zaghlul did not, however, sever his political connection with the bankrupt Khizb-el-Uma, because his social affiliation did not permit him to endorse the petty bourgeois Eextremism of the new party. He waited for the chance of playing a Centrist role In spite of the heavy hand of repression that came down upon it from the very beginning, the Knizb-el-Watani carried on a strong anti-British propaganda both at home and abroad, but only to be proved impotent in actual revolutionary struggle, as is always the case with petty bourgeois nationalism, which is prone to pronounce formidable phrases, but ever incapable of putting them into action. Therefore when, on the morrow of the Imperialist War, a spontaneous mass revolt broke out all over the country, the talkative petty bourgeois extremists were found entirely lacking in political leadership.

The moment came sfor Zaghlul to appear on the field. He wanted to utilize Theae classes demanded more than could satisfy the reactionary feudals, in league with the corrupt ruling dynasty. The Mosri headed by Zaghlul, was formed in order to bargain with British Imperialism over the “independence” of Egypt in order to secure the backing of the rebellious people, the Waft had to take up such demands as would reflect their revolutionary will. Thus, we found the Watanists putting forward such radical slogans as “Abolition ot the Protectorate”, “Removal of the British Army of Occupation”, “Complete Internal Autonomy”, etc. But the fact that the agreement subsequently arrived at between the Zagblulist Waft and Lord Milner differed essentially very little from the “Independence” accepted by the Adly-Sarwart combination, proves that the Waft-el-Mosri was not serious in putting forward these slogans. It was done simply to secure popular support.

The British government, however, was so terrified by the revolutionary mass upheaval, that it failed to see the artificial tie that bound the popular movement with Zaghlulist leadership; consequently, it took some steps which strengthened that tie. The Delegation was refused permission to proceed to England. This stupidity of Imperialism made of Zaghlul, who only wanted to negotiate a modus vivendi, a popular hero. The mandate of the nation was immediately given to the Zaghlulut Delegation, in the form of a declaration. The subjective blunder of Imperialism, coupled with the objective situation, forced Zaghlul and his colleagues to head a revolutionary movement. They were arrested and deported to Malta. This was simply fanning the fire. The discontent of the masses broke out into open revolt which spread all through the Nile Valley. But the Zaghlulist Waft, which was brought into the limelight by a queer combination of forces and became the formal leader of the Nationalist movement in those eventful days, did not by any means constitute the dynamics of the revolt. The peasant uprising was the crux of the situation, and the leadership of this agrarian revolt was in the hands of the Left Wing of the Khizb-el-Matani which, as a party however, was swallowed up by the Waft. This revolutionary factor in the nationalist movement, which subsequently forced Zaghlul to break up his negotiations in London, was composed of de-classed intellectuals, (students) the economically bankrupt lower middle class; the pauperized peasantry, and above all, the city workers.

During the revolutionary struggle of 1919–1920, a social re-grouping took place in the nationalist ranks; the Right Wing of the Khizb-el-Watani joined the Centrist Waft, whose program was to force the British government to compromise under the pressure of mass revolt, while the Left Wing understood the necessity of coming closer to the toiling masses, in order to carry out its program of complete destruction of British Imperialism. It was the revolutionary action of the latter that forced The British government to release Zaghlul and his Delegation and let them proceed to London. It was not long before Imperialism recognized its mistake, and started on the astute policy of exploiting the conflict of class interests within the national ranks. There was very little in common between the landlords, rich agrarians and upper bourgeoisie, represented by the Waft, and the reorganized and rejuvenated Knizb-el-Watani, whose social foundation had been shifted onto the petty traders, pauperized intellectuals, exploited artisans, poor peasantry and the proletariat. Lord Milner recommended that the first should be bought off with some concessions.

But this was not to be. The revolutionary movement was still very strong and Zaghlul did not dare accept the conditions without risking his popularity, which it was vet too early to do. The present somersault of the Zaghlulist Waft ceases to be a mystery when it is known that the agreement reached in August 1920, hardly differed from the present "independence" and that Zaghlul Pasha would not have rejected these compromising conditions had he not been forced to do so under the pressure of the revolutionary mass movement at home. The Left Wing of the Khizb-el-Watani was quick in understanding what would be the result of such a half-way measure: it would satisfy the demands of the big bourgeoisie, rich agrarians and higher officials represented of the Zaghlulist Waft, but the condition of there classes represented by the revolutionary nationalists of the Khizb-el-Watani, would not be improved in any way. Therefore, the Watanists carried on their agitation among the peasant masses, and compelled Zaghlul to break up the diplomatic negotiation and return home. The policy of the Zaghlulist party during the risings of 1919–1920 also reveals how far from revolution was its objects. On many an occasion, it restrained the rebellious masses from active armed struggle, on the ground that it was harmful to the nationalist cause. It shows that the bourgeoisie was very anxious to see that the movement did not go so far as to make negotiation and compromise with Imperialism impossible.

The politics of bourgeois nationalism were at a crisis when the Waft returned to Egypt By rejecting the agreement strived at with Lord Milner, the Waft had practically committed itself to revolution, because a greater measure of self-government could not be conquered without a violent struggle, and such a struggle could not be carried on unless the social basis of the movement was shifted to the working and peasant masses. But such a revolutionary step was not to be expected from the Zaghlulist party. It failed the movement at this critical period, and the leadership passed to the petty-bourgeois Khizb-el-Watani, which talked in violent terms, but could only take very feeble steps towards organizing a revolutionary mass struggle. All the Watanists could do was to declare a boycott of British goods and banks, and to make some half-hearted attempts at organizing Trade Unions. The deportation of Zaghlul eliminated the social class represented by him from the political arena, and the reactionary feudal and corrupt bureaucratic elements appeared on the scene, to become the prop of Imperialism. Or in other words, the Kingdom of Heaven conquered by the Zaghlulists was inherited by their political opponents.

Hence the opposition of the former to the “independence” accepted by the Adly-Sarwat combination. It was not the revolutionary question of national liberation, but the conflict of class interests that underlay this opposition. It is a struggle for power. The real question is, which section of the propertied upper class shall reap the fruits of the compromise with Imperialism, – the feudal bureaucrats or the capitalists and agrarians? There is a third factor intervening in this struggle for power. It is Imperialism, which has found in bourgeois nationalism a more powerful ally. An alliance was concluded behind the closed doors of the Palace, and led to the resignation, more correctly dismissal, of the Sarwat Cabinet.

The latest political events in Egypt signify the collapse of opportunist centrism. They prove how history has deprived the colonial bourgeoisie of a consistent revolutionary role. In fact, its unwillingness to head a revolutionary struggle on its return from London in September 1920 marked the exhaustion of the little revolutionary significance that the Zaghlulist partv possessed. It was not long before the revolutionary social forces repudiated its leadershin. A general strike of the railway workers, called on the occasion of the second deportation of Zaghlul Pasha in December 1920 was not responded to by the workers. This was the first sign of the breach between bourgeois nationalism and the forces of mass revolution, which alone are capable and destined to win the independence of Egypt. Therefore, bourgeois nationalism eventually landed in the lap of Imperialism, after a spectacular career of a few eventful months, during which it was caught in the whirlwind of a spontaneous revolutionary struggle.

In a rather peculiar way, Egypt is enjoying all the sensations of a bourgeois revolution. Feudalism and reactionary bureaucracy are defeated; imperial exploitation will be carried on in the future through the medium of the native bourgeoisie. The basis of imperial rule is widened, but the revolutionary consciousness of the anti-imperialist hosts will also be quickened. Thus grows the struggle, and the day is drawing nearer when the people of Egypt will be free, in spite of the fact that British Imperialism, embodied in King Fuad, has secured the loyally of Zaghlul Pasha. It will simply help the revolutionary forces to lose another illusion.

Last updated on 9 July 2021

Last updated on 9 July 2021