In 1935, following the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, I was transferred to the Western Desert to command a squadron of light cars. It was feared that the Italians, who were massing troops in Libya, might be tempted to invade Egypt if they were frustrated in Ethiopia. My squadron's task was to patrol the border south of Salluwm. We operated in liaison with other Egyptian and British forces, among which were units of the Ist Essex Regiment and the 5th Northumberland Fusiliers. Both were then based at Marsa Matruwh.

In 1936, after the Italians had conquered Ethiopia and had consequently ceased to threaten Egypt, I was reassigned to Cairo to serve as a deputy adjutant general under Brigadier Hasan `Abd al-Wahhab. The year 1936 was one of the most eventful in the history of modem Egypt. King Fuw'ad died in April and was succeeded by Faruwq in May. In August, Egypt and Great Britain signed a twenty-year treaty of friendship and alliance.

The Treaty of 1936 (see the Hawashiy below), as it came to be known, terminated the British occupation of all but a small portion of Egypt the Suez Canal Zone, where a maximum of 10,000 soldiers, including 400 fliers, were to be based for the treaty's duration. The treaty also abolished the legal immunities and special privileges enjoyed by Britons and other foreigners in Egypt and the discriminatory restrictions to which Egyptians had been subjected in Sudan. It reduced the status of the British High Commissioner to that of an ambassador and established a British military mission to train and equip the Egyptian Army to the extent necessary to ensure the defense of Egypt without further assistance from the British Army except "in the event of war, imminent menace of war or apprehended international emergency."

In such an event the King of Egypt was obliged to make available to the King and Emperor of Great Britain " all the facilities and assistance in his power, including the use of his ports, aerodromes and means of communication, and to take all the administrative and legislative measures, including the establishment of martial law and an effective censorship, necessary to render these facilities and assistance effective It was hardly an ideal treaty from the Egyptian point of view inasmuch as it authorized a limited British occupation for another twenty years. But the new relationship established between the two countries was so much less inequitable than any previous Anglo-Egyptian relationship that the treaty was received in Cairo with rejoicing. Before long, however, the British attempted to re-occupy western Egypt on the pretext that another war was imminent.

When they requested permission to carry out maneuvers in the Western Desert south of Fayuwm, I recommended that such permission be refused on the ground that it would constitute a violation of the treaty. The then Chief of Operations, Brigadier Ahmad Hamdiy Himmat agreed with me and refused to allow the maneuvers. I was not insensible to the growing danger of war, but neither was I insensible to the desire of the British to reoccupy Egypt at their first opportunity. Now that their forces had at last been confined to the Canal Zone, I was not eager to see them emerge from their confinement except in the event of an "imminent menace of war."

I also put a stop to the British habit of communicating with us through their military mission. I insisted that all communications be addressed to the Egyptian Army directly. I put a stop, too, to the custom of issuing Egyptian military orders in both English and Arabic. I had no objection to providing the British with Arabic copies of our orders, but I insisted that it was no part of our obligations under the treaty to provide them with a free translation service.

In 1937, in addition to my other duties, I founded "The Magazine of the Egyptian Army", which I edited for several years and to which I contributed many articles. One of my favorite themes was the need for providing Egyptian high school and college students with military training. It is still my belief that military training for both sexes is essential to good citizenship in a rapidly developing but still backward, impoverished, and largely illiterate country. The Young Men's Muslim, Christian Associations, their feminine auxiliaries, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Guides, the Daughters of the Nile, and other private organizations have all done excellent work, but for obvious reasons they have been able to influence only a small percentage of the young people of Egypt. The Army is the only institution capable of reaching the younger generation as a whole, without distinction as to race, class, creed, or sex, and of inculcating the pride, discipline, and spirit of self-sacrifice necessary to overcome our tremendous social, economic, and political problems within a reasonable length of time. The purpose of the military, as I have said, is to defend a government from its enemies, foreign and domestic. One of the best ways of doing so, as Turkey, Mexico, and certain other renascent countries have demonstrated, is to so strengthen a country's social, economic, and political fabric with the help of enlightened military training that its enemies, foreign or domestic, will not be tempted to resort to armed intervention.
In 1938 the British requested permission to send two battalions to Marsa Matruwh  in order to "acquaint them with the terrain." Out of curiosity, I asked them which two battalions they intended to send. When they replied that they intended to send the same two battalions from the Ist Essex Regiment and the 5th Northumberland Fusiliers that had been stationed at Marsa Matruwh in 1935, I advised `Abd al-Wahhab, the Adjutant General, to refuse their request on the ground that these two battalions were already as well acquainted with the terrain as they had any legitimate need to be.

I was afraid that the British were merely seeking once again to establish a precedent for violating the Treaty of 1936, according to which no members of the British Armed Forces other than small parties of officers in civilian dress on topographical and planning missions were to be stationed west of the Nile in the absence of "war or an imminent menace of war."`Abd al- Wahhab sent me to Lieutenant General `Aliy Fahmiy the Minister of War, who was just about to countersign a letter of approval. After hearing my arguments, he destroyed the letter and dictated a new one, politely but firmly refusing the British request.

Not long afterward I was named to accompany an Egyptian military mission to England, but at the last minute I was refused a visa. My name, it developed, had been placed on the blacklist of the British military mission in Cairo. Later, when I applied for admittance to the Staff Officers' School, which was still run by the British, my application was rejected. I was finally admitted in the autumn of 1938, however, at the personal insistence of Hasan Sabriy, the civilian who had succeeded `Aliy Fahmiy as the Minister of War, and in 1939, I was permitted to visit England with the other members of my class.
 
 

(To be continued)
 
 

 "National elections once again brought a Wafd majority to power with al-Nahhas as premier, but the parties got together in a United Front to send a delegation to England to negotiate the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty in 1936. Earlier attempts at treaties had failed for a variety of reasons, but by then Egyptian politicians were willing to make concessions they had turned down earlier because they feared a world war. The Italian presence in both Ethiopia and Cyrenaica did little to assuage fears on the part of both Egyptians and Britons. The outcome was a treaty that gave Egypt little more than the terms it had been offered a decade earlier, but which was hailed by most parties as a successful outcome to an impasse.

Individual politicians objected to some of the clauses of the treaty. For example, some feared the implications of a treaty which required  the Egyptian government to render Britain assistance in the event of war or "an apprehended international emergency". Some objected to the stipulation that the Egyptian government undertake to build roads to facilitate British troop movements within the country in the case of an emergency. By and large most of the politicians felt that the treaty offered Egypt substantial gains. It ended the occupation in a legal sense although not in a physical one, for British troops were still to be stationed in the Canal Zone. It gave Egypt British support to get the country admitted into the League of Nations as an independent country; it placed the responsibility for protection foreigners and minorities with the Egyptian authorities - the only one of the Four Reserved Points to be settled. It promised to assist Egypt in abolishing the capitulations [1] which continued to plague any government and which finally came to an end in 1948.

The treaty was to last for twenty years, when it would be reopened for negotiation, and if no agreement was reached between both parties it  would be submitted to the Council of the League of Nations. Ambassadors were exchanged, but the British Ambassador in Egypt was always to occupy the position of senior ambassador. While the  terms of the treaty mentioned a joint protection of the Suez Canal by British and Egyptian forces, no Egyptian forces or civilians  were allowed to enter the Canal British force and no Egyptian planes were allowed to fly over the Canal Zone. The Egyptian army was to be trained and armed by British officers and  weapons and all British officials employed in the Egyptian government were, eventually to be phased out and replaced by Egyptian officials.

The terms of the treaty were described by al-Nahhas, who had led the delegation, in the usual hyperbole as terms of ''honor and independence".' Many thought quite differently and pointed out with justice that these same terms had been offered in the past and turned down by the Wafd as insufficient, because the Wafd had not then been party to the negotiations. In parliament the treaty was discussed before ratification and both Sidqqiy and Muhammad Mahmuwd, the leaders of the Liberal Constitutional Party, who had been members of the delegation, pointed out that the terms of the treaty did not give Egypt complete independence, but they also pointed to the fact that the Egyptian army was in no condition to undertake the defense of Egypt for some time to come and the country would therefore have to rely on British protection.

The general feeling was one of limited satisfaction that the treaty at least had changed the previous deadlock and would open the door to future negotiations, once fear of a world war had evaporated. The British army presence was to be unobtrusive, for troops would be relegated to the Canal Zone, instead of being stationed in the capital city, but they were still very much there, as events in 1942 and 1951 were to demonstrate. The section of the community which was the most dissatisfied with the treaty was that of the foreign residents. Many of them were of Greek, Levantine, Armenian and Italian origin and had long been established in Egypt and knew no other homeland, but preferred to keep their alien status and benefit from the capitulations. The occupation had allowed them preferential rights and the capitulations permitted them to make money but pay little in the way of taxes. Now they were threatened with being treated on a par with nationals. They would have to use native courts in cases of litigation and not rely on the mixed courts, where a majority of the judges were aliens, or on the consular courts in criminal cases. Some opted for Egyptian nationality, some opted to leave, while others opted to remain aliens and to stay, but at the same time transferring large amounts of money out of Egypt.

There were some slight financial gains for some Egyptians through the treaty, for while the population generally had to shoulder the heavy burden of building roads and barracks for the British army, the Egyptian government was allowed to appoint two members to the board of directors of the Suez Canal Company. The company raised its annual payment to Egypt by £300,000 and agreed to hire 35 per cent of its workforce from among the Egyptian population.

As a byproduct of the treaty of alliance, the military academy opened its doors wider to take in the sons of the middle and lower bourgeoisie, for the army needed an officer corps. 10 per cent of the students were allowed into the academy free of charge.The most famous officer to come from that poorer milieu was Gamal `Abd al-Nasir or Nasser as he came to be known in the West.

Once the treaty was negotiated, the Egyptian government could no longer use it as an excuse to shelve internal problems and was forced to face these with little knowledge of their ramifications or of their solutions. Institutions were weak at best and the personal element tended to rule the institutional. Intermediaries and patrons were appealed to and acted on behalf of their clients, so that the institution was sidestepped in favor of the use, or abuse, of influence. And yet people in government positions had a high degree of moral rectitude and tried to act according to a notion of justice and fair play; those who were accused of corruption were well-known figures who were despised by the rest of the bureaucracy. Bribery was rare, although a handful of powerful individuals were notorious for accepting bribes. The government had no clear plan of how to reform the problems that faced them and soon got bogged down in party infighting that conveniently put off any major overhaul of the administration.

When the second World War broke out, Egypt was faced with an invasion from the western desert, where the Italian armies under Graziani were eventually defeated by Wavell, who drove the Italians out of Cyrenaica in March 1941. By the following month the British army was pushed back by Rommel's advance and it looked as though Egypt would soon be occupied by the Germans. For the next year, until November when the Battle of al-`Alamayn finally forced Rommel's retreat from Egypt, it seemed touch and go; by July 1942 German forces were within seventy miles of Alexandria. The British embassy burned its files, in preparation for an evacuation, and the Royal Air Force airport (Almazah) in Heliopolis was bombed every night. Food became scarce. Prices rose and some people took to hoarding. Ration cards were printed but they were ineffective. The poor suffered hunger and rioted, blaming the British army for their misery, and accusing them of eating the country's food.

Dissatisfaction with the terms of the treaty surfaced. It had become obvious that Egypt to spend a good deal of money and effort to provide facilities and amenities for the British army, which was rapidly growing in numbers as a consequence of the war. Furthermore , facilities for rest and recreation were also being provided by an entrepreneurial class which made money from war profiteering, military contracts, nightclubs and bars. The sight of so many uniformed streets of the main cities in search of amusement shocked the sensibilities of a population that was largely traditional, deeply religious, and which frowned on the bars and houses of prostitution that mushroomed. This feeling was especially high among the members of the 'Ikhwan,  the Society for Muslim Brethren, who were outraged that the poorer women were opting for a life of sin through the lure of British gold. Their activities multiplied as they showed their followers that Muslim principles and ethics were infringed by the British presence. Few among the population cared about the issues for which a world war was being fought, or were even familiar with them."
 
 

`Afaf Lutfiy A-Sayyid Marsot, A short History of Modern Egypt. p. 70-71, 98-100, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge 1985)

At present, Prof. Emiretus `Afaf Marsot is fully retired and is writing historical novels set in the Middle East.
Field of interest: Near Eastern History: Modern period. 
Education: D. Phil. Oxford University, 1963 

Publications:
Egypt & Cromer (1968)
Egypt's Liberal Experiment: 1922-1936 (1978)
Editor, Society and the Sexes in Medieval Islam (1979)
Egypt in the Reign of Muhammad Ali (1983)
A Short History of Modern Egypt (1984). Second edition, 1994
Women and Men in 18th Century Egypt (1995) 
 
 


(1) "The capitulations were grants of extraterritoriality given by Ottoman sultans from the sixteenth century to various European Powers, along with the right to trade in Ottoman territories. The grants allowed Europeans to station in the Ottoman empire consuls who would try any of their citizens who resided in the area for the infringement of their own national law. (According to Ottoman custom, Ottoman Muslim law was applicable only to Muslims; religious minorities were tried by their own church hierarchy.) As the Ottoman empire weakened and became unable to defend itself against European military and economic encroachments, the capitulations were abused by the Europeans, who used them as a means of avoiding both taxation and the law. With the complicity of their consuls, Europeans in the empire could commit any crime with impunity. Their punishment was to be shipped out, but they could return on the next ship and the local authorities could do nothing about it. Smuggling therefore flourished, alien residents paid no taxes, even though they controlled most of the sources of wealth, and the burden of taxation therefore fell on the hapless fallah. Moneylenders did a thriving trade by lending the fallah money at usurious rates, which rose as high as 20 per cent a month, and when the fallah could not pay the interest on the debt his land was seized for non-payment. Along with the national debt, the indebtedness of the fallahiyn was another calamity to befall the country."
 
 



 

 

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