The Mohammad Saeed Pasha Cabinet, like that of Rushdy Pasha, his predecessor, did not last more than six months.  Those successive Cabinets looked like musical chairs and, for some, could have indicated inefficiencies!  The truth was that the Prime Ministers involved were quite capable and well equipped with knowledge and experience but they happened to be there during very turbulent times.  They were torn between three formidable forces:  The Colonial occupying Power represented by Field Marshall Lord Allenby, a very power hungry tyrant Sultan Ahmad Fouad and the mass of the Egyptian people who craved to end the Protectorate and claimed to accept nothing short of complete independence.  On November 20, and in the middle of those difficult times, Sultan Ahmad Fouad requested Youssef Wahba Pasha to form a new Cabinet.(1)

Legal expert, judge, Cabinet Minister and Premier.  Born in Cairo in 1852, he was educated at Cyril the Fourth Coptic College where he learned fluently French and English.  He began his public career in the Finance Ministry and later moved to the Ministry Of Justice where he helped to translate the "Code Napoleon" into Arabic and to develop the National Courts.  Being a Christian Copt, he also helped to revive the Coptic Council (AL MAJLIS Al MILLI) (2) against the wish and will of Patriarch Cyril The Fifth and to establish the Tawfiq Benevolent Society.  He later became a Chancellor in the Mixed Court Of Appeals in Alexandria.  When Mohammad Saeed and his successor resigned from their Premiership, Wahba became the Coptic Member of the Cabinet with the portfolio for Foreign Affairs.  In 1914 he became Finance Minister in the first Rushdy Cabinet and continued to serve in the Cabinet during the First World War and the 1919 Revolution.

Unrest in Egypt in the aftermath of the failed assassination of Youssef Wahba Pasha

On November 20, 1919, he agreed to head the Government despite massive demonstrations by leading members of the Coptic Community, supported by many Muslims, and narrowly escaped assassination.  He later served in the Senate where he generously arranged for his erstwhile assailant to find employment as a clerk.  He coauthored with Shafiq Mansour Yakan, "Sharh Al Qanoun Al Madani" (Civil Law Explained) and, with Abdul Aziz Kuhayl, "Sharh Qanoun Al Tijara Al Misri" (Egyptian Commercial Law Explained).  He died on February 7, 1934(3)

Wahba Pasha 's Cabinet was constituted on November 20, 1919. Most of its Ministers were members of the previous Cabinet who agreed to fully collaborate with the Milner Commission.  On that same day of its formation, Lord Allenby announced the forthcoming arrival of the Milner Commission, which explains the wave of unpopularity and defiance with which was met the formation of that Cabinet.  The mass of Egyptians considered the Prime Minister and Ministers as Allenby 's poodles and tools in the hand of the occupying power.

Lord Allenby in Egypt

Since Youssef Wahba Pasha was a Copt, the Coptic Community was the most vociferous in its condemnation.  On November 21, 1919, over two thousands of the Coptic elite met at the St Mark Cathedral, in Cairo, to denounce Wahba Pasha 's acceptance of the Premiership under such shameful condition.  Such a meeting and the demonstrations that followed all over the country are the strongest proof of the solidarity between Moslems and Christians that prevailed during this glorious chapter of the modern history of Egypt.

The Lawyers Union, along with other professional organizations, declared a one-week strike in protest against the arrival of the Milner Commission, which paralyzed the legal and intellectual life of the country.  In spite of all that, the Commission arrived into Egypt on December 7, 1919, where it was met by hundreds of protest demonstrations, some of them quite bloody.  To get the situation under control, the Occupation Authority cracked down on the demonstrations arresting hundreds of participants; worse, a British Military column invaded the Azhar Mosque, the oldest University in the world, arresting many of its students and it "Ulemas"which added more fuel to the fire.

During its six months lifetime, the Cabinet held fifteen meetings; all of them presided by Sultan Fouad.

On the morning of December 15, 1919, the Prime Minister convoy was attacked by a young man who threw two homemade bombs that exploded with no casualties.  The perpetrator was arrested while he was getting a handgun out of his pocket.  A British Military Court condemned him to ten years in prison and it appeared that his name was Aryan Youssef Saad, a Coptic medical student. Another young man threw a bomb at the car of Ismail Sirry Pasha, the then Minister of Public Works, without hearting him and he managed to escape; the Government announced a five hundred pounds reward for his arrest, but, in spite of that large amount, nobody denounced him.  On February 22, 1920, two young men threw two bombs at the car of Mohammad Shafiq Pasha; the bombs exploded with no casualties.  The perpetrators, Abdel Qader Shehata and Abbas Helmi, two secondary school students, were arrested and condemned to death but the Government reduced the sentence to life.  Another bomb was thrown at Husein Darwish Pasha 's car demolishing the car and seriously wounding the driver; Darwish Pasha, the then Minister of Religious Affairs (AWQAF) miraculously escaped and so did the perpetrator.  The attempts on the Ministers life created a panic amongst them, which prompted Sultan Fouad to decree a yearly pension, for life, of one thousand five hundred pounds to all Cabinet members who spent at least twenty years in the Government service (most of them did) with the understanding that resigning Ministers would forfeit their right to that pension.

To reward Sultan Fouad for his collaboration, the British Authorities amended the Sultanate Succession Law by confining the throne to the Sultan 's oldest son, Prince Farouq in that case.  The future king Farouq was born on February 11, 1920, and on that "happy" occasion, the Cabinet announced a day off to all the Government employees.  More troubles were caused by the British interference in the familial matters of the Mohammad Ali 's dynasty.

The explosion of population and the immigration of many citizens from the countryside to the cities created a deep housing shortage, which encouraged the house owners to raise the rents to unchecked and unacceptable levels.  In an effort to gain a little popularity, the Cabinet promulgated a law according to which no rent should exceed fifty percent of its level in 1914.  The Cabinet also decided to cancel the price control that was imposed on all agricultural products, with price control remaining on sugar, since such a control created a black market.  The cost of living having soared, the Cabinet accorded all the Government employees a cost of living raise and created an Administration within the Ministry Of Agriculture, to control the distribution of the essential products.  It also imposed a two pounds tax on each "QANTAR" of ginned cotton; the money such raised, about two millions pounds a year, would go to subsidize the price of wheat and flour.  But, the best and most useful achievement of the Wahba Cabinet was to establish a new one hundred percent Egyptian bank to be called "BANQUE MISR" (4)  , March 15, 1920; A Sultanate decree was promulgated on April 3, 1920 authorizing the formation of that Bank, which will ultimately become the backbone of the Egyptian Economy and the creator of modern industries in different fields.  The Cabinet authorized the schools of Medicine and Pharmacology at the Egyptian University to enroll three students, sons of doctors and pharmacists who did not obtain the necessary admission marks.

On May 20, 1920, Wahba Pasha, suddenly and without any explanation, submitted the resignation of his Cabinet to Sultan Ahmad Fouad.  For many, the resignation was a mystery, but in fact it was caused by the general turmoil that was prevailing in the country and the assassination attempts against some of the Ministers.  The deteriorating health of Wahba Pasha and the behavior of Mohammad Nasim Pasha, a Cabinet Minister, who unashamedly courted the Sultan and Lord Allenby, seem to be the main reasons of Wahba Pasha 's resignation.

Youssef Wahba Pasha went into history as the third and last of the Christian Prime Ministers, the first was Nubar Nubarian Pasha, an Anatolian Armenian and the second was Boutros Ghali Pasha, a Copt from Upper Egypt.

(To be continued) 

Kamal K. Katba



 (2) He has two publications on the Commercial Code in Egypt and had drafted the constitution of the Majllis Milli, the first Coptic Christian council to manage the affairs of the Coptic community in Egypt in 1882 outside of the control of the church.

Yusuf died in 1934. He was married to Doudou daughter of Mikhail Bey El Nakkadi and had eight children. Two of his sons Mourad Pasha Wahba (1879-1972) and Sadek Pasha Wahba(1885-1971) had prominent careers in the Egyptian judicial system and the diplomatic service respectively.

(3)  .(see:Modern Egypt.  The Formation of The Nation-State by Arthur Goldschmidt, Jr. p.58.) 

Arthur Goldschmidt Jr., is Professor Emeritus of Middle East History at Pennsylvania State University. He is (with Lawrence Davidson) the author of A Concise History of the Middle East, Eighth Edition, and is the author as well of Modern Egypt: Foundation of a Nation-State, Second Edition. He is the recipient of the Amoco Foundation Award for Outstanding Teaching and the 2000 Middle East Studies Association Mentoring Award. Goldschmidt has been known during his years at Penn State for having created a series of courses that stimulated undergraduate interest in Middle Eastern history and culture. Educated at Colby College and Harvard University, Goldschmidt has held fellowships from the Social Science Research Council and the Fulbright Faculty Research fund, among others. He is author of numerous books and many articles and essays on Middle Eastern history. He was an elected faculty senator, chaired its committee on student affairs and served as secretary. He chaired the Middle East Studies committee for 25 years. He also was instrumental in helping to devise courses in non-western history and in developing the successor to those courses for the general education curriculum. In addition, he is one of the most respected authorities on Egypt's Modern history. Prof. Goldschmidt is a frequent contributor on the Internet, including the prestigious and oldest forum: Egypt Net.

For meaningful and serious discussions about the History of Modern Egypt,  join Egypt Net group (The oldest & continuous Egyptian forum on the internet since 1985.) 

 (4) The Bank of Egypt) is an Egyptian bank founded by industrialist Talaat Pasha Harb in 1920.

1920 -When Tala`at Harb and several other Egyptian personalities founded Banque Misr , it was the start of a series of economic upheavals which marked Egypt in that century. At that time, it is true, the Egyptian banking system consisted only of foreign institutions. The founders set Banque Misr the ambitious objectives necessary to the development of the national economy. 1922 - Banque Misr opened the first of a series of subsidiaries, the major actors behind industrial, commercial and transport activities. Rapidly, the MISR Group, present in all sectors of the economy, contributed to the technical development of production means, playing a pioneering role for entrepreneurs.




© Kamal Katba 2007


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The April 2007 ISSUE


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