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,
Qanoun Al Tijara Al Misri" (Egyptian Commercial Law Explained).
He died on February 7, 1934. (3)
'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,
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
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
On the morning of
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
young man threw a bomb at the car of Ismail Sirry Pasha, the then
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,
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;
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