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Fight, October 1936

The Colonial Question: Egypt Eases The Grip


From FIGHT, October 10, 1936, Vol.1 No.1, pages12-13. Published by the Marxists Group, UK
Transcribed, edited & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2009 for ETOL.


The treaty signed between Britain and Egypt, in the Locarno Room of the Foreign Office, with the gold fountain pen of Nahas Pasha, the Wafd (Nationalist Party) leader, is a document of great importance to a student of British Imperialism in its present crisis. The British Tory Government to-day has gone much further to meet the Egyptian demands than that protector of Imperialist interests, Ramsay MacDonald, in 1924, and that arch-apostle of peace, Arthur Henderson, in 1930. Not only is Egypt recognised as a sovereign state, with the right to appoint an Ambassador to the Court of St. James’, but for the first time she is given a theoretical share in the exploitation of the Sudan, that bone of contention which has embittered Anglo-Egyptian relations so long. With the head-waters of the Nile under its sole control, British Imperialism had a close grip on the throat of Egypt. Now, with Mussolini’s black-shirts entrenched in Abyssinia, and the Palestinian Arabs carrying on a violent movement of strikes and revolt, the British Government has thought it wiser to relax even that grip over the waters which bring life and fertility to the land.

All this climbing down is occasioned by the threat of war in the Mediterranean. Most of the clauses of the treaty pertain to the future military, naval and air adjustments. To conciliate the Egyptian Nationalists, the British troops in Cairo and Alexandria are to be moved to the Canal zone, though the 400 aeroplanes of the R.A.E. will still have the right to fly anywhere and everywhere, and British battleships will still dock in Alexandria’s naval harbour.

Egypt will have to provide strategic roads and railways, build barracks for the troops and aerodromes for the bombers. The non-military clauses of the treaty merely treat of the gradual abolition of the British police in the towns and the right of the Egyptian Courts to try foreigners. The era of Cromer, Kitchener, Milner and Lloyd, the pro-consul masters of Egyptian destiny on the British side, and Arabi Kemel, Zaghul and Mahash Pasha, the leaders of national revolt on the Egyptian side, is at an end. Egyptian politics enters a new and advanced phase.

The Pashas and Bey s, descendants of the old Turkish and Arab military aristocracy, will no longer be able to play off the economically ruined fellaheen (peasant) against Britain. In the whole treaty the name of the fellaheen and finance does not appear once. The leaders of the Wafd, though free from the reaction of the Court Junta, which has been ruling Egypt under the direction of the British High Commissioner, are only middle-class Nationalists. They have no other programme or slogan except absolute independence.

Egypt, practically without any large-scale industry, has no town proletariat approaching the size and importance of the Indian or Chinese. The million people in Cairo, and another three quarters of a million in Alexandria, are mainly traders, artisans and Pashas, small and big, with a claim on the rents of the land. Eighty per cent. of the population is composed of the fellahin, who cultivate the fifty-mile fertile strip of the Nile and the wider strata of the Delta. The land is mainly owned by the old feudal army aristocracy and the new intelligentsia, students, clerks, administrators, engineers, “financial advisers,” and military officers.

When Britain began to exploit Egypt, British officials pushed out these Egyptians from the best posts in the Government at once, so these people became Nationalists and allied themselves with the peasantry against the British-controlled Court. But now, when they have come to some sort of agreement with Britain, fissures will begin to appear in this apparent unity. The lack of big industry, and hence an organised proletariat, has kept Egypt more or less free from Communism, but the wide gulf between the hungry tax and debt-ridden peasantry and the parasitic elements in the towns, can no longer be bridged by a party of pure Nationalism.

The economic crisis and the fall in the prices of agricultural goods has hit the fellah hard. Egypt, by deciding to remain on the gold standard, has still further reduced the exports of the country. Cotton and wheat, the staple products of Egypt, have brought very little money to the fellah in the last few years. Britain, with its control of Egyptian finance and administration, and its troops suppressing the peasant risings, as in 1919 and 1925, has long been the villain of the piece. The Wafd is incapable of producing a programme of social and economic change, as its leadership represents only smaller and newer exploiters. The fellah will have to look to the oppressed and warlike tribes across the frontier in Sudan if he wants allies and direction in his fight for economic and political freedom, He will have to link up his fate with the elements which produced the Mandi in the ‘seventies and ‘eighties of the last century.

They, the Negro and Arab tribes of the Sudan, given a favourable opportunity, will again produce the necessary leadership and the movement for the final overthrow of Imperialism and feudal landlord tyranny in this corner of Africa. That their military and fighting spirit is not dead is evidenced by the revolt of military cadets and the army in the Sudan in 1924.

As the conquest of Egypt came from the Mediterranean coast, the liberation is to come from the hinterland, where tribes with a warlike tradition are just waiting for the chance. It is when the Imperialists are destroying each other in another war that the chance will come. Then Egyptian peasant and Sudanese tribesman will be able to deal with both foreign and native exploiters at the same time.

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Last updated on 9 March 2009