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International Socialism, Autumn 1961



Nationalism and Imperialism in the Middle East


From International Socialism (1st series), No.6, Autumn 1961, p.29.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Intellectual Origins of Egyptian Nationalism
J.M. Ahmed
RIIA, Oxford. 25s.

Middle Eastern Affairs, Number Two
St Antony’s Papers, No. 11
Chatto & Windus. 18s.

Except for the chapter on Ahmad Lutfi al-Sayyid, the ‘old man’ of Westernized bourgeois liberalism in Egypt, J.M. Ahmed mainly covers known ground. Moreover, he disregards some important works on subjects treated by him as, for instance, the thorough and brilliant analysis of Mustafa Kamil’s ideology by F. Steppat (originally in The World of Islam). Indeed, Mustafa Kamil, doubtless the most important nationalist leader at the turn of the century, gets from the author no more than a summary treatment of less than three pages. Thus, by emphasizing Lutfi al-Sayyid’s liberalism and playing down Kamil’s pan-Islamism, the history of Egyptian nationalist ideology emerges in a somewhat distorted form. This only complicates his attempt at showing that present Egyptian ideology is extending or resuming that of the pre-World War I period – a thesis which is very doubtful anyway. Ahmed tries to solve his difficulty by throwing all the writers of that time into one pot and speaking more of ‘political vocabulary’ than of ideas. It would have been more useful had he tried to emphasize the trends and changes of Egyptian nationalist ideology and to explain the social background for these changes – especially for the failure of Western bourgeois liberalism to make headway in contemporary Egypt. Nevertheless, if one bears in mind these shortcomings, the book will be useful as a short survey of nationalist ideology in Egypt during the last 150 years.

One episode in the history of Egyptian nationalism is retold by Elie Kedourie in Sa’ad Zaghlul and the British, one of the articles in St Anthony’s second collection of papers on the Middle East. This contains some interesting facts from the hitherto unpublished Wingate Papers; its main aim, however, seems to be to accuse British imperialism that it was not imperialistic enough:

‘Now that the British had given way to violence, violence must continue. Hence, civil service strikes, riots, demonstrations, shootings, and the general unsettlement which pervades an oriental country when it knows its master to be weak and hesitant’ (p.151).

‘Another facet of his (Milner’s) attitude shows with startling clarity that failure of nerve, that weakening of the will to rule, which began to afflict the British ruling classes in the aftermath of the first World War, and which was to make the dissolution of the British Empire so ugly and ruinous, to subjects and rulers alike’ (p.154).

And so on.

Two other papers deal with British foreign policy in the Middle East: Miss Elizabeth Monroe’s Mr Bevin’s Arab Policy and the scholarly essay of André Raymond on Salisbury and the Tunisian Question, 1878-1880, based on part of his Ph.D. thesis. His characterisation of Salisbury is worth noting: unerring vision, precision of analysis, masterly ‘style’ ... ‘These statesmanlike qualities inevitably have their counterpart; a complete cynicism in carrying out a policy which seems to be dictated by the national interest, but of which the author himself considers certain aspects scarcely honourable, and a certain contempt for human beings ...’ (p.137). The outcome was that, ‘for a gain which in the event was illusory, Tunisian independence was sacrificed’ (p.138).

William Polk’s America in the Middle East, 1945-1958, is rather unimportant; Allan Cunningham’s “Dragomania”, the Dragomans of the British Embassy in Turkey is an interesting and very amusing piece of solid research.

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