Officially, the resignation of the Nasim Pasha Cabinet was to give Sultan Fouad the opportunity to appoint a more political Cabinet that is more acceptable to the population at large.  The resigning Prime Minister has always considered his Cabinet as a temporary one that would run the affairs of State as efficiently as possible while avoiding any hurt with the Sultan and/or the Representatives of the occupying Power.  The Sultan promptly accepted the Cabinet‘s resignation and appointed, the same day, Adli Yakan Pasha to form a new Cabinet.

Politician Cabinet Minister and three times Prime Minister, Adli Yakan was the great-grandson of Mohammad Ali ‘s sister; he descended from one of Egypt‘s main landowning family, from which he inherited 1,000 feddans.  He became Nubar Pasha‘s private secretary, in 1885, then Deputy Governor of the Province of Menufya in 1891.  He went on to serve as Deputy Governor of the Province of Minya followed by that of the Suez Canal.  He was appointed Governor of the Provinces of Fayoum, Minya, Sharkya, akahlya, Gharbya and finally Cairo.  From 1906 to 1909 he was Director General of the Awkaf Department.  He was elected to the General Assembly in 1913 and served as Minister of Foreign Affairs, in the Rushdi Pasha‘s Cabinet until the declaration of the British Protectorate over Egypt, which abolished the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; he then held the Portfolio of Public Instruction (1917 – 1919) followed by that of Interior (1919).  As Public Instruction Minister, Yakan Pasha made Arabic the main language of both Elementary and Secondary Instruction, set up the first Kindergartens and Primary Schools and took the first steps toward creating an Egyptian University.  He became Prime Minister in 1921 and took part in the negotiations with Lord Curzon about Egypt‘s status, which were eventually stymied by the “WAFD”.  He was a founder of the Constitutional Liberal Party in 1922 and Interior and Prime Minister in 1926 to 1927 and in 1929 to 1930.  His policies served the interests of the Egyptian Landowners and particularly those of King Fouad the First.  As far as popularity was concerned, he could not compete with Saad Zaghloul Pasha and the Constitutional Liberal Party Could not compete with the Wafd Party.  He died in Paris.  (1)

Right after his appointment, Adli Pasha (2) declared that the most important objective of his Cabinet was to negotiate with Great Britain the status of complete independence for Egypt with the participation of the Wafd in those negotiations.  The new Prime Minister also declared that the Nation, represented by its elected members of the National Assembly, would have the last word concerning the result of those negotiations.  He also promised that the Assembly would be asked to play the role of a Constituent Assembly that would write a Constitution and that the election of its Members would be achieved through free and fully democratic popular vote.  He finally stated that martial laws and press censorship would be abolished. 

Records indicate that, during its nine months short life, the Cabinet held 19 meetings, eleven of which were presided by Sultan Fouad.  One of the first actions of the Cabinet was to discuss the 1921/1922 budget, which was ratified.  It is interesting to note that, according to that budget, the total income received from taxation and other duties was thirty-eight millions and six hundreds and eighty pounds!! 

Because of the huge and unexpected fall of the price of cotton on the international markets, the Cabinet formed a committee with the objective of reducing the cost of leasing the lands where cotton would be grown.  Such a fair reduction would certainly ameliorate the relationship between landowners and lessees. 

The Cabinet gave the green light to the Egyptian Sculptor, Mahmoud Mokhtar to start the work on the statue of the “Awakening of Egypt” (3)which was to be placed in the middle of the Cairo Railways Square to welcome all the visitors to the Capital City.  To cover the cost of that statue, the Government launched a national donation campaign and the people of Egypt responded with great patriotic enthusiasm thus covering the cost and more in just a few days.  In recent time, that superb piece of art was transferred to the University Square, facing the Cairo University. 

During this most important phase of the History of Modern Egypt Yakan Pasha invited Zaghloul Pasha to participate in the historical negotiation to obtain the Independence of the Country.  Claiming that he was nominated by popular support, Zaghloul Pasha accepted the invitation on condition that he would lead the negotiation team while the Prime Minister insisted that such a role should be his privilege, being the Head of the existing Government.  Needless to say that such a silly personalities conflict caused lots of disturbances among the population of the land and, more importantly, resulted with the weakening of the Egyptian side well before the start of the negotiations. 

It also created a rift between members of the Wafd Party; some eminent members of the Wafd, such as Mohammad Mahmoud Pasha and Dr. Mohammad Husein Haykal Pasha resigned from the Party and joined Adli Pasha in forming the Constitutional Liberal Party!! 

After the fiasco of including the Wafd in the negotiations, the Cabinet asked for and obtained from Sultan Fouad a decree approving the formation of the Negotiation Team under the leadership of Yakan Pasha.  The Cabinet allocated the amount of forty thousand pounds to cover the Team ‘s expenditures in London on the basis of eight pounds a day for the Prime Minister, six pounds for each of the negotiators, four pounds for each of the Advisors and the Secretary General of the team and two pounds for each of the Secretaries. 

More fierce demonstrations erupted as a result of excluding the Wafd from the negotiations, particularly in the Cairo, Alexandria and the large cities of the Country; a strong feeling of animosity and hatred was directed toward all those who contradicted Zaghloul Pasha, along with their supporters thus dividing the Country at a time when its unity was an important factor of success!!  The demonstrations and disturbances turned into violent and bloody riots particularly in Alexandria when Wafdists and foreigners exchanged fire, which lead to the intervention of the British Army of Occupation.  This turmoil resulted with the death of forty three with one hundred and twenty nine wounded on the Egyptian side, and fifteen killed and seventy one wounded on the Foreigner side!! 

As a result of the sad events in Alexandria, (Sir) Winston Churchill, who was then the British Minister of Colonies, declared that any negotiation with Egypt would be pointless since, as the events in Alexandria show, the presence of British troops in Egypt was vital for the protection of Foreign lives and British interests and their evacuation was made impossible by the local animosity.  Mr. Churchill ‘s declaration united the Cabinet and the Wafd in protest and seemed to be a prelude for the failure of the Negotiations before they even started…. 

In spite of all the above, the Egyptian negotiators, presided by Yakan Pasha, left Egypt on July first 1921 arriving in London on July 11

From the beginning, the negotiations between Yakan Pasha and Lord Curzon, the British Minister in charge of The Foreign Office, proceeded at a very low pace; but when Lord Curzon insisted that the British Troops would stay in Egypt anywhere they please and that Egypt Foreign Policy and Foreign Affairs would be carried on from London by His Majesty ‘s British Government, through the British High Commissioner in Cairo, the Egyptian team felt their presence in London was useless and decided to return home empty handed.  They departed the British Capital on November 20, arriving to the Egyptian Capital on December 5, 1921.

Shortly after his arrival, Yakan Pasha summoned his Cabinet and announced that the cost of the failed negotiations in London was thirty nine thousand and seventy-one pounds and seven “milliemes”.  It also decided that Yakan Pasha would write a report of the negotiations and the causes of its failure, to Sultan Fouad, along with the resignation of the entire Cabinet.  The report and resignation were delivered to the Sultan on December 8.  After sixteen days of hesitation and deliberation, Sultan Fouad accepted the Cabinet resignation.

(to be continued)

Kamal Karim Katba



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.) 




The Awakening of Egypt, arguably the country's most famed statue, embodies, perhaps more than any other symbol, the national liberation struggle. Sculped by Mahmoud Mukhtar in 1928, the work, which stands to this day, specifically epitomises the spirit of the 1919 Revolution. Al-Ahram followed the story -- from the statue's inception to how it was built, its unveiling and how it was used to serve more than one political agenda. Through the pages of the newspaper, Professor Yunan Labib Rizk explains why The Awakening of Egypt has continued to revebrate so powerfully among Egyptians.

Perhaps no other work of art in contemporary Egyptian history has received as much acclaim as The Awakening of Egypt. The statue, which first stood on Ramsis Square, now stands in the avenue leading up to Egypt's oldest university, the University of Cairo.

The statue earned its place in history for a number of reasons. Although its creator sculpted many other works, among the most famous of which are the two statues of Saad Zaghlul that tower over major squares in Cairo and Alexandria,The Awakening of Egypt stands out because it does not represent an individual. Rather, it embodies a symbol. 

Secondly, its creator was an ordinary Egyptian from the heart of the countryside, unlike most other sculptors in modern Egypt up to that time. Those were primarily foreigners -- for the most part Italians -- commissioned to sculpt statues and busts of the royal family. But the work of Mahmoud Mukhtar was intimately associated with the nationalist movement and, specifically, the spirit of the 1919 Revolution.

Al-Ahram of 20 May 1928 features a short biography of Mukhtar which reveals, perhaps better than any other source, what a unique personality he was: 

"He grew up in Tambara, a village near Mehalla Al-Kubra. Although he worked in agriculture, like every Egyptian he had a passion for beauty. Fate was fortuitous, enabling him to enroll in the School of Fine Arts, where he quickly proved an astute student who understood the distinction between truth and fantasy. The newspaper goes on to relate a little-known chapter in the life of the young artist. For four years, the Italian dean of the School of Fine Arts kept Mukhtar secluded from the environment in which he grew up in. Following this period of intensive study, the dean introduced Mukhtar to Prince Youssef Kamal and recommended that he be sent to Paris on an artistic study mission. 

In the City of Light, the young Egyptian was taken under the wing of Monsieur Coutin. Under the French sculptor's tutelage, Mukhtar's talent bloomed, as was manifested in his statue of Aida. This work, Al-Ahram writes, was lauded in the French press, which "extolled the young artistic genius coming from the land of the Pharaohs." Soon after, Mukhtar was appointed curator of a Paris museum, for which he created a number of statues of war heroes. 

Mukhtar's artistic development was profoundly linked to developments in Egypt following World War I. Not long after the 1919 Revolution, the Egyptian sculptor left his work at the French museum in order to "devote himself full-time to an Egyptian work, the concept of which had been germinating for two years." The account continues, "He sketched it out on paper, then enlarged it. Whenever he wanted to work on his design, he delved into his imagination for an image to manifest the glory of the awakening." A model of Mukhtar's project was unveiled in the Paris exposition of 1920. The noted Egyptian politician Wissa Wassef, then in Paris, was on hand to wire the news back to Al-Ahram

It was thus that, on 4 May 1920, under the headline, "Mahmoud Mukhtar: the famous Egyptian sculptor," Egyptians first heard of what has now become a familiar landmark. Describing the statue, Wassef wrote: "It is Egypt awakening the Sphinx, which opened its eyes to the sound of her voice. The Sphinx, to Westerners, is the symbol of muteness and deafness." He went on to urge Egyptians to "pave the way" for brilliant Egyptian talents, of the likes of Mahmoud Mukhtar, "so that they do not have to work in Europe and be ignored in Egypt, so that their nation can benefit from their talents and to enable them to convey their knowledge to the nation." 

The article then describes the statue in further detail. The sculptor portrayed it, not with its eyes open, but with its eyes just opening as though awakening at that very moment from its centuries-long slumber. As for the woman symbolizing Egypt, "every feature is depicted with painstaking detail. Her forehead shines and her long nose, which resembles that of Cleopatra, does not detract from the beauty of her face. Her lips are slightly parted as though pronouncing noble words; her chin suggests a righteous tenacity and her hands evoke the generosity of her ancestry." Coupled with the report was an appeal to the Egyptian people to donate towards the purchase of this work of art. 

Mahmoud Mukhtar, top, dressed in white and in inset, gives a guided tour of his creation, The Awakening of Egypt, while it was still being built. His audience included noted politician Wissa Wassef, to his left, and to his right, nationalist leader Saad Zaghlul, who posed next to the imposing figure. 

Mukhtar then decided to return home, encouraged perhaps by his newly-found fame. He was not to be disappointed by the welcome he received. An official committee was formed to greet him upon his arrival, and shortly afterwards the Cairo Club hosted a huge reception in his honour. Al-Ahram reports, "It was held in Shubra, in an elegant marquee, in the centre of which had been erected a model of the Awakening. Presiding over the ceremonies was Ahmed Hishmat Pasha. Women sat in one row and men in another. The speeches that were delivered expressed the great appreciation felt by the Egyptian people for the statue and its creator." 

Among those to speak was Mansour Fahmi, who explained why this work reverberated so powerfully among the Egyptian people: "Since ancient times, Egypt has always preferred to inscribe its mysteries and its hopes on stone. Today, God granted one of Egypt's sons the ability to follow in the footsteps of his great ancestors, and this man fixed in stone Egypt's national aspirations. The statue's message, moreover, reaches both the learned and the unschooled, the literate and the illiterate. It reaches all people of the nation." 

Following this, a committee was created to oversee the donations drive to cover the costs of the commission and the eventual placing of the statue in one of the capital's squares. Mukhtar announced that he wanted to make the statue not out of bronze but out of the native stone of his country, "because this stone is a national element." Al-Ahram reports, "Cutting out the blocks of stone in Aswan and transporting them to Cairo was, in itself, a major undertaking. Some of the pieces weighed up to 35 tons and had to be transported using the methods adopted by Egyptians thousands of years ago. Finally, 12 huge pieces of granite reached Cairo, and from these the statue will be created according to the existing model,"Al-Ahram wrote. 

On 8 June 1922, Al-Ahram announced to its readers that within a week Mukhtar would begin work on the statue. "Its base will consist of a 14-metre-tall block of black granite; the stones used, lined up end-to-end, are between 180 to 200 metres in length and it will stand on an area of 180 square metres."

Naturally, Al-Ahram dispatched a reporter to Mukhtar's workshop to follow this great work in progress. It was a large wooden room with burlap lining its walls. The artist's assistants were "toiling industriously at the preliminary sculpting of the massive blocks of stones, which weigh in the tons. Alongside them were plaster casts of the various parts of the statue which they were copying. The plaster model was three-and-a-half metres tall whereas the completed statue will be seven metres in height." 

The reporter took the occasion to inform his readers that it would be another three years at least before the statue would be completed. But to finish it on time, the sculptor needed to double the number of his assistants. Not only that, but the LE7,000 that had been collected for the project had almost run out. "We must, with some anxiety, ask what will be the fate of this statue if the rest of the money runs out and no more funds are forthcoming to see it through completion? Will Mukhtar leave his country and return to Paris, to that milieu that appreciates works of art and where he will continue to build the splendid future that awaits him? Or should it not be our duty to study this problem, as of this moment, so we can guarantee that progress on this project proceeds rapidly, all the sooner to enjoy the sight of the statue in the best square?" 

In a letter to the editor, an Al-Ahram reader shed further light on the financial question. It cost LE3,000 to ferry five of the granite stones from Aswan to Cairo, he wrote, and the remaining pieces cannot be transported by rail. Then there was the question of transporting the stones from the dock in Boulaq to the desired location, "which would require a crane to lift them from the boats and load them onto special transport vehicles." The writer then quoted the contractor in charge of procuring the stones from Aswan as saying, "The blocks were cut from a single layer of rock in the mountain from which the ancient Egyptians used to quarry the stones for their statues. It is astounding that they had the skill, the power and the machinery to undertake such a task." 

In spite of the enthusiasm surrounding the project, The Awakening of Egypt was not immune to political winds. Not least were those that blew from the direction of the Ziwar government (1924-1926). That the statue and what it symbolized were intrinsically connected with the figure of Saad Zaghlul was a prime incentive for the pro-palace government to put hurdles in its path. It is likely that the nationalist leader met with Mukhtar in Paris, admired his work and seized that opportunity to shower him with praise. He congratulated him on his fertile imagination, fine aesthetic taste and magical artistry, and extolled the statue as an embodiment of Egypt's aspiration for independence. 

King Fouad, on the other hand, met the artist upon his return to Cairo and urged him to create a bust of himself. Could it be that His Majesty believed that he, himself, personified the "awakening of Egypt?" Mukhtar was too absorbed in his project to respond to the royal request. Whether because of this or because of the association of the statue with the figure of Zaghlul, the palace's enthusiasm for the statue and the young artist began to fade. Not that the king would display such displeasure publicly. Rather, he simply pledged to lay the cornerstone for the Awakening. 

But this was nothing compared to what was to come next. Just as the project reached its final stage, Egyptians woke up one morning to read that Minister of Public Works Hussein Sirri announced that he "knew nothing of this statue before today," and that "the remaining funds are insufficient to cover its completion." Al-Ahram was dumbfounded by the minister's statement, particularly as Sirri had been a member of the Senate when it voted to approve the allocations for the commission. Compounding the problem, it was announced that the deputy minister of public works had formed a committee to study whether it was appropriate to put a statue on the square in which Cairo's train station was located. The argument ran, "Traffic in this square has become so congested that reducing jams and bottlenecks requires taking advantage of the space that is currently being prepared for the statue." Eventually, the committee concluded that the selection of the location of the statue had to comply with the condition that "it does not obstruct the movement of traffic in the train station square and takes into account the future needs of roads and the like." 

The decision outraged Egyptians, and with them Al-Ahram which charged, on 18 April 1925, "The will of an individual or a handful of individuals is seeking to undermine the will of the entire nation!" 

Government foot-dragging on the question of the statue continued for another two years -- the life span of the Ziwar government. However, the drive to complete the statue again picked up steam with the elections of 1926 which brought in an overwhelmingly Wafdist parliament and the Adli Yakan cabinet that consisted of a majority of members of the Wafd Party. The death of Saad Zaghlul in August 1927 did not put the brakes on the project; on the contrary, the death of the national leader seemed to make its completion more urgent than ever. The growing impatience was voiced in the Senate on 16 February 1928, when a member took up the subject with the minister of public works: 

"It is the hope of every Egyptian to see the statue, Egypt Awakening, which the government has decided to erect on the square of the capital's train station, completed as soon as possible, all the more so now that a large portion of the park in that square has been dotted with wooden barricades that are an eyesore to the residents of the capital and the first sight one encounters when arriving from abroad." 

The senator did not have to wait long. Within two months, a new government was in place, headed by Wafd leader Mustafa El-Nahhas who was keen to demonstrate his nationalist credentials. Thus, preparations went into high gear for the statue's imminent unveiling. On 29 March, Al-Ahram published two front-page photographs: one of the statue resting on its base, with workers bustling around it. The second had a woman's face figuring in the statue. 

To confirm reports that all was proceeding smoothly, Al-Ahram dispatched a reporter to the site. His report was favorable. Under Mukhtar's supervision, his assistants were busy polishing up the basalt base and putting the final touches to the statue itself. "For the polishing, they are using a type of very hard rock affixed to the end of an electric-operated machine," the reporter wrote, adding that this process should be completed within a matter of days. "By mid-April," he predicted, "all should be ready for the unveiling of this glorious national monument. The first of its kind in the modern world, this statue will revive the era of ancient Egyptian sculpture and art." 

The Al-Ahram reporter was a little off in his prediction, not because of delays in the work, but because King Fouad kept putting off the day when he could attend the unveiling ceremony. Egyptians, therefore, had to wait until His Royal Majesty "deigned" to agree on Sunday, 20 May 1928. 

Al-Ahram of 21 May could be dubbed the Egypt Awakening edition. The tone was set by Editor-in-Chief Dawoud Barakat whose headline was "Egypt Awakening: a pause for reflection." This statue, he wrote, emanated from purely Egyptian traditions "which are preserved in the monuments of Saqqara, Karnak, Edfu, Dandara and Nubia, and which dictate that events and ways of life and civilization should be perpetuated in stone.

In addition to numerous other commentaries, this edition also featured a lengthy poem written for the occasion by the "Prince of Poets" Ahmed Shawqi. However, the greater portion of the newspaper was devoted to detailed coverage of the events the day before. The newspaper reported that at precisely 5.25pm, the "royal retinue" departed from Abdin Palace by automobile and arrived at the site of the statue at 6.00. "Policemen and soldiers encircled the square of the train station and lined up along the streets through which the procession passed." The ministers, headed by El-Nahhas, were already at the site awaiting the king's arrival. "When His Royal Majesty's' automobile arrived, it passed through the doorway and drove directly to the royal box. Here, the king descended, at which point all present in the pavilion rose." 

The marquee set aside for palace and government officials had been set up so that the king would preside over the proceedings from an elevated position. 

When Fouad sat down, El-Nahhas rose to deliver the opening address which, according to Al-Ahram, was inspired by the memory of the rise of the nationalist movement and Saad Zaghlul. The newspaper also noted that the speech was one of patriotic pride. Referring to the 1919 Revolution, El-Nahhas declared, "Egypt arose as one to demand freedom and independence for its citizens and entry into the fold of nations on the basis of equality and friendship. From the first day, the dearly departed Saad Zaghlul, the advocate of national resurgence and the bearer of the banner of our awakening, established these eternal truths through his force of persuasion and power of oratory, enabling the idea of resurgence to shine forth and the nation to emerge triumphant." 

Elsewhere in his speech, El-Nahhas addressed the impact of the political revival on life in Egypt in general. "Freedom is indivisible and cannot accept fragmentation in any domain it is exercised," El- Nahhas said. "Therefore, all Egyptians, men and women alike, gathered around the sweet font of freedom and drank their fill, thereby liberating their minds and spirits and opening bigger horizons for their hopes and aspirations. This has had a profound effect on all aspects of social, economic, academic and artistic life." 

One suspects that the pro-palace elements in the audience had feared that El-Nahhas would take advantage of the occasion to transform the unveiling of the statue into a commemoration of Zaghlul. Therefore, they prevailed upon the organisers to play one of those subtle tricks that politicians sometimes resort to. In Al-Ahram, we read from the correspondent who was on hand that most of the audience had great difficulty following the prime minister's speech. The podium had been positioned so that most of the audience could do little more than contemplate the back of the respected speaker without hearing him well. 

As in all such events, certain segments of society were offended, in this case women's rights advocates. In a letter to the newspaper, one reader protested against the exclusion of women from the event. She asked, "Is Egypt's revival for men alone and did men alone produce it? Or did every Egyptian, man and woman, take part in this noble and glorious endeavor? I wonder whether those who held that women should be barred from attending the ceremony thought about the Egyptian peasant woman whose determined gaze is set upon the future. I wonder if they realised that this woman, standing at the head of the Sphinx in order to wake him up, is indeed a woman and that woman is Egypt." 

Also offended were conservative religious elements who felt that the making of statues violated the tenets of Islam. Some did not voice this objection directly, but rather criticized the statue aesthetically, arguing that it lacked harmony. 

Responding to this criticism, an Al-Ahram reader, who signed himself "senior engineer," observed that any impression of disharmony was due to the fact that the spotlights surrounding the statue were poorly placed, lighting only the lower part of the statue while leaving the rest in shadows. "There is a vast difference between street lighting and the technology of using lights to cast into relief the features of a statue," he wrote. He then urged the Ministry of Public Works to readjust the spotlights so as to negate the arguments of the enemies of art. 

Another attempt to pour cold water on the occasion was made in the British press. A reporter for the Near East wrote that when he consulted experts about the statue, he was told: "It is wrong to attach value to something that does not testify to the excellence of Egyptian aesthetic taste. This (statue) is not an event that warrants commemoration."

Nevertheless, such voices were a small and ineffective minority. To the present day, Egyptians associate The Awakening of Egypt, as it is carved in stone, with "awakening" as it applies to social and political movements. It is no small wonder, therefore, that many national institutions have adopted this monument as its emblem, the most recent being the National Council for Women. 



© Kamal Katba 2007


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The September  2007 ISSUE


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