Allergic to the Wafd
Party and to its leader Saad Zaghloul Pasha, as he was well known
to be, King Fouad the First hastily accepted the Zaghloul’s
Cabinet resignation. For the King, the assassination of the Sirdar
of the Egyptian Army and Governor General of the Sudan, General Sir
Lee Stack Pasha, was a manna that came to him from heaven
(1). He looked around for a Prime Minister who would blindly
obey his directives, and his choice fell upon Ahmad Ziwar Pasha.
Senator and Prime Minister. Ziwar was born in Alexandria
to a family of Circassian origin; he was educated at the Lazaryya College
there, the Jesuit College St-Joseph in Beirut and the School
Of Languages in Cairo. He earned his Law Degree at
University in France in 1887. After working briefly as
a Prosecutor, he moved over to the Bench in 1889, serving
as a Judge and Counselor in the National Court Of Appeal
for many years. He was later appointed as Governor of Alexandria,
then Minister of Awqaf (Religious Affairs) (1917 – 1919),
Education (1919), Communications (1919 –1921 and 1923),
Foreign Affairs (1924 – 1926) and also Interior (1925 – 1926).
The Senate’s first
President under the 1923 Constitution, he succeeded Saad
Zaghloul Pasha as Prime Minister following the assassination of Sir
Lee Stack Pasha in November 1924. After the 1925
elections, in which the Wafd Party won a majority of the seats in
the Chamber Of Deputies, he formed a Coalition Cabinet of Constitutional
Liberals, Ittihad and Independents. The newly elected
Chamber was dissolved when it elected Zaghloul as its Speaker.
Backed by King Fouad, Ziwar’s Coalition amended the Electoral Law
to keep the Wafd out of power.
His Government increased
controls over the Egyptian Press, passed an Association Law to curb the
Parties’ political activities, ceded the Jaghbub Oasis (2)
to Italian ruled Libya, passed an Electoral Law raising the financial
requirements and qualifications for both voters and candidates, and muzzled
propagandists. His Governments was viewed as Palace dominated and
repressive. Its fall in January 1926 was ascribed to High
Commissioner Lloyd’s intrigues.
Chamber Of Deputies until 1930 and was appointed Senator
from 1931 to 1934. He then became King Fouad’s “Chef
Du Cabinet” until he resigned in 1935. Tall, stout,
lazy and affable with foreigners, he ignored nationalistic attacks on his
policies . (3)
was selected by King Fouad to replace the first Democratically and
freely elected Government under the 1923 Constitution; the King
jolly well that it would be a rubber stamp Government and that He would
have total control on the Ministers’ appointments and all the Cabinet’
s future decisions. In all of that it is safe to say that the King
was not disappointed.
The conflict between
Egypt and England, caused by the assassination of General
Lee Stack, gave the new Cabinet the cover to claim that it was appointed
to rescue whatever could be rescued of the bad situation inherited from
the Saad Zaghloul Pasha’ s Cabinet.
To appease the Occupying
Power, the Cabinet agreed to evacuate the Egyptian Army from the Sudan
and to submit to the request of the British High Commissioner concerning
the modification of the indemnity law, adopted by the previous Cabinet,
concerning the dismissed Foreign Employees of the Egyptian Government,
which constituted a heavy burden on the Egyptian Budget. Furthermore
the new Cabinet agreed to give full support to the British Legal and Financial
Advisers, and to “respect” the decisions of the British Authorities concerning
the “respect of law and order” at the Egyptian Ministry Of Interior!!!
with these new elections and at the request of the Ministry Of Interior
(read the British officials working over there), the Cabinet agreed to
prohibit any political demonstration and / or political speeches by school
students under the age of 21 who, according to the law, had not yet the
right to vote.
The withdrawal of the
Egyptian Military contingent from the Sudan was carried on as imposed
by the British Authorities, but, in the process of that withdrawal, 125
civilian employees working for the Egyptian troops over there found themselves
unemployed; to remedy such a situation and at the request of the Ministry
Of War the Cabinet distributed those civilian employees amongst the different
Ministries, on a temporary basis, with the understanding that their employment
would be permanent at the first openings.
On the positive side
(yes there was one) a Royal Decree was issued establishing the Egyptian
University, which comprised Faculties of Arts, Sciences, Medicine including
a Pharmaceutical branch and Law. More Faculties would be added according
to the County’ s needs; the decree stipulated that the Minister of Public
Instructions would also be the Chairman of the University Board, while
each Faculty would have its own Dean.
On March 12, 1925,
the Parliamentary elections took place under strong Government pressure,
through its different Administrations, to ensure the success of those candidates
supported by the Government. At the request of those Candidates the
electoral districts were reshuffled in such a way as to guaranty their
success; but in spite of all that and in spite of the flagrant police and
administrators’ interference, the result was a shock for the King and his
Cabinet as the Candidates of the Wafd Party obtained 116 Parliamentary
Seats while the Candidates of all the other Parties, along with the Independents
obtained 87 Seats!!!
Shamed by this result
Pasha submitted his resignation, on March 13,1925, to King
Fouad who urged him to form a new Cabinet.
The principal program
of the new Ziwar Cabinet was to deal once and for all with the popularity
of the Wafd Party and to insure the success, in future elections, of the
Unionist (Ittihad) and the Liberal Constitutional (Ahrar Doustouryoun)
On March 23, 1925,
the newly elected Parliament was inaugurated by King Fouad who read
the throne Speech prepared by the new Cabinet. That same day the
Lower House elected its Chairman and King and Cabinet were again shocked
to hear that the elected Speaker was Zaghloul Pasha who obtained
against the 85 votes of the King’s Candidate!! Again Ziwar
Pasha presented his resignation to the King who adamantly refused to
That same evening
of the inauguration, the Cabinet held an emergency meeting to discuss the
events of the day and particularly the Zaghloul victory. The
debate ended with the King issuing a decree dismissing the Parliament on
the same day of its inauguration; the decree also stipulated that a new
Parliament was to be voted in, on May 23 and inaugurated on the
first of June. Two days later another Royal Decree was issued
stopping the coming elections until the Cabinet amends the Electoral Law!!PM25a.jpg
The new Electoral
Law approved by King and Cabinet was vehemently opposed by all the
Political Parties; its reception caused so much turbulence that the British
High Commissioner intervened personally with the King to cancel
On the other side
of the coin, The newly elected Parliament refused to accept the Decree
of its dissolution, tried to force their way into the House and would have
succeeded if not for the Army intervention. Facing strong opposition
from Political Parties, Public Opinion and the High Commissioner, the Cabinet
with the King’s approval canceled the new Electoral Law and returned to
the 1924 one. The Cabinet also fixed a new date for the elections,
which would take place on May 22, 1925.
For a better control
of the different Political Parties, The King and Cabinet decreed that all
political organizations, including Political Parties, were to notify the
Government about the names of its members along with the addresses of its
main offices and different branches; but here again the Parties’ protest
was so loud that it forced the Cabinet to desist.
In preparation for
the coming elections, the Cabinet mobilized all the Government Administrations
and particularly the Ministry of Interior to do their utmost for the success
of the Pro-Government Candidates specially those of the Unionist Party,
and, it allocated a large secret fund for the use of the Ministry Of Interior
to achieve that objective. It also allocated the amount of 10,000.00
thousands) pounds as a reward for whoever would give information leading
to the arrest of the Lee Stack’s killers.
The Jebel Aulia dam, south of Khartoum,
is a large dam (started in 1933 and completed 1937) that is used to control
the flow of the Nile to aid the Aswan Dam in storing water for summer cultivation
in parts of Egypt.
On the positive side
the Cabinet allocated the amount of three millions pounds for the “JABAL
AL AWLIYA’A” dam project and two millions for the “NAG-HAMADI”
dam; only British engineering companies were to be chosen for these jobs.
The Cabinet also decided to build a new town, to be named Port-Fouad,
across from the town of Port Said, at the entrance of the northern
end of the Suez Canal.
A budget of 19
thousand pounds was authorized to buy 80 cars for the use of
the Ministry Of Interior, which would help in the rapid chasing of criminals.
The Cabinet voted the amount of 400 thousand pounds to stabilize
the price of the Egyptian cotton crop. It also accepted the (forced)
Youssef Qattawi Pasha, a leader of the Jewish
Community and the newly appointed Minister of Communications, for stopping
at Zaghloul Pasha’s home and leaving his business card on the occasion
of the feast of RAMADAN!!!
In spite of the Government’s
interference and manipulations, the results of the May 22 general
elections were shocking to say the least. The Wafd Party won
while the Government (ITTIHAD) Party won 4 seats with 72
that went to the Independents and other Parties candidates!! It was
obvious that the different Egyptian Governments at that time had not yet
mastered the art of electoral manipulations!!!
As a result of that
second failure, Ziwar Pasha had no choice but to submit the resignation
of his Cabinet to King Fouad who promptly accepted it
(to be continued)
Kamal Karim Katba
|The 1924 assassination
in Cairo of Sir Oliver (Lee) Stack, the British governor-general
of Sudan and Egyptian army commander, had dire consequences for Egypt.
The British ordered the expulsion of Egyptian troops from Sudan, then ruled
by a condominium of Britain and Egypt, while the latter was still occupied
by British forces. The incident also resulted in the downfall of the one-year-old
government of nationalist leader Saad Zaghlul, who rejected a British
ultimatum containing several demands, including the evacuation of Egyptian
troops from Sudan. The government which succeeded Zaghlul's administration
bowed to the British demands.Dr Yunan Labib Rizk gives a blow-by-blow
account based on reports published by Al-Ahram
of the most striking features of the Saad Zaghlul government, which
held office between 28 January and 24 November 1924, is the
unusual frequency and intensity of the clashes between it and the press.
From what has been described as "the people's government," one would have
expected the exact opposite; that the relations between it and the press
would have been much more harmonious than ever before and that the press
under that government would have enjoyed an unprecedented level of freedom.
In the century and a quarter, between 1800 and 1924, four
assassination attempts against top officials in Egypt succeeded.
first victim was General J B Kléber, who had been appointed
governor of Egypt in 1799 by Napoleon Bonaparte. On 14 June 1800,
Kléber was taking his daily exercise in Rhoda Gardens
when Suleiman El-Halabi, who had been posing as a beggar, followed
him to his home, assaulted him with a knife and killed him. In spite of
the appalling and dramatic end of both the victim and, as we learn from
the contemporary chronicler Abdel-Rahman El-Jabarti, the perpetrator,
the incident did not affect the fate of the French campaign in Egypt. Several
months previously, on 24 January of that year, Ottoman-French negotiations
had succeeded in reaching an agreement on the French withdrawal from Egypt.
If, for a relatively short period, the British had obstructed the implementation
of the agreement, it was eventually put into effect. Kléber's assassination
had no impact on the ultimate outcome.
second assassination took place on 14 July 1854. The victim this
time was Abbas I Pasha, ruler of Egypt from 1848 to 1854,
who was murdered by a group of his Mamelukes. Although the circumstances
surrounding his assassination are obscure, the incident falls neatly within
the category of the palace coups that proliferated during the Ottoman era
both in Istanbul and the Ottoman provinces. Thus, to the cry, "The Pasha
is dead. Long live the Pasha!" Said, Abbas' uncle, assumed the throne,
while the system of rule remained unchanged.
over another half a century later, on 21 February 1910, Prime
Minister Butros Ghali Pasha was assassinated. This tragic event has
been heavily documented, furnishing evidence that conflicts in many aspects
with commonly held impressions. It is not true, for example, that it was
a crime motivated by sectarian hostilities directed against the Coptic
minority to which Ghali belonged, as the perpetrator's testimony
makes explicit. Nor was it the case that the victim had risen to his lofty
position in government at the behest of British occupation authorities.
Quite to the contrary, British High Commissioner Sir Eldon Gorst
had initially opposed Ghali's appointment as prime minister and
only relented following considerable persuasion by the Khedive Abbas
incident did nothing to alter the existing situation in Egypt, apart from
furnishing the Khedive and the British authorities with the pretext to
intensify their clampdown on nationalist activities, a policy that had
already been initiated well before the assassination of Ghali with
the reinstatement of the Press and Publications Law in April 1909.
Under this law, albeit reintroduced under the Ghali government,
a number of National Party newspapers were closed down and several of that
party's leaders were prosecuted and sentenced to various terms in prison.
Foremost among these were Abdel-Aziz Jawish, editor-in-chief of
the National Party mouthpiece, and the leader of the party himself, Mohamed
Farid. In other words, the only effect of this assassination was to
create an atmosphere that would give greater impetus to the government's
fourth assassination, however, was to have by far the most disastrous and
far-reaching consequences. The assassination of Major-General Sir Oliver
Fitzmorris (Lee) Stack, governor-general of the Sudan and commander-general
of the Egyptian army, on 19 November 1924 precipitated a number
of radical changes, all to the detriment of the nationalist movement and
the accomplishments that had been made possible by the 1919 Revolution.
weeks of the assassination, British officials evacuated all soldiers in
Sudan, effectively rupturing the historic links between Egypt and the southern
portion of the Nile Valley. This was a major setback for one of the cardinal
demands of the nationalist movement -- the unity of the Nile Valley. The
Stack affair also brought down Egypt's first democratically elected
government -- the Saad Zaghlul cabinet that was dubbed "The People's Government."
This development, in turn, led to the revival of the autocratic powers
long sought after by King Fouad I. Ahmed Ziwar Pasha, who
succeeded Zaghlul, headed the first of Egypt's royal cabinets and
used every means at his disposal to suspend the national constitution for
the next two years. Ziwar also forced the Egyptian government to
yield to the humiliating ultimatum issued by British High Commissioner
Lord Allenby, thus fulfilling the nationalists' worst nightmares.
short, the fourth assassination of a top official in modern Egyptian history
brought an unmitigated triumph to the policies of Abdin Palace, the seat
of King Fouad, and Dubara Palace, the seat of the High Commissioner.
Allenby neatly encapsulated the situation from the British perspective
when he said, "Destiny has sent us the body of the Sirdar (the governor-general)
as a solution to a situation that was no longer tolerable." Zaghlul,
meanwhile, issued his famous statement that epitomised the sentiments of
the Egyptian people: "The bullets that were fired were not targeted at
the chest of Sir Lee Stack; they were targeted at mine."
assassination of Sir Lee Stack marked a particularly low ebb in
modern Egyptian history, and has, therefore, been the focus of numerous
and varied studies. However, Al-Ahram stands out among all these sources
for its unique and valuable chronicle of this tragic event, which we can
November 1924: "The Sirdar is Shot -- Criminal Gang Throws a Bomb and
Fires Seven Bullets at His Excellency --Sirdar Critically Wounded in Stomach
-- Adjutant and Driver Injured -- LE10,000 Reward for Information Leading
to Whereabouts of Gang," blazoned Al-Ahram in the largest and boldest font
available at the time. Under this headline, Saad Zaghlul expressed
the general horror at this act and, perhaps too, the alarm at its impending
consequences. He said, "I feel the profoundest distress at this atrocious
crime. I do not know what purpose the perpetrators sought to accomplish,
nor to which segment of the nation they belong or to which political organisation
or party they are affiliated. However, I believe that those who committed
this appalling evil aimed only to disrupt the peace and security of this
21 November: "The Sirdar Dies of his Wounds at Midnight," the newspaper
announced. "This is the most horrendous calamity that has befallen us and
the most detrimental to the honour and reputation of the country," declared
Zaghlul. The prime minister went on to exhort, "Anyone who has any
pertinent information must report it to the General Security Authority.
Every person must know that his assistance in this matter is a national
duty and a noble service to the country. All must know that the recourse
to violence and criminal activities constitutes the greatest treachery
against the nation and its holy cause."
newspaper also reported that authorities had apprehended the driver of
the taxicab in which the assailants had ridden and he pleaded that he had
thought they were ordinary passengers. In addition, the public prosecutor
lauded the courage of a soldier who had been in the vicinity of the shooting
and who, in the course of pursuing the gunmen, received bullets in his
hand and his head. The police then learned that the assassins made their
way to the Sayida Zeinab quarter where they split up and vanished.
22 November: "Progress in the Investigations into the Assassination
of the Sirdar -- Taxi Driver Confesses -- One of the Gang Members is Arrested,"
announced Al-Ahram. On this day, Mahmoud Saleh Mahmoud, the taxi
driver, in the wake of various forms of physical and psychological coercion,
admitted that he could identify the suspects. The newspaper reports that
the investigators had discovered that Mahmoud had in his possession
one pound in excess of the fare he should have earned that day according
to the taxi metre reading. When confronted with this rather unusual piece
of evidence, the driver confessed that the assassins had given him a pound
as a tip. "The government now has a grip on a thread leading to the criminal
gang," commented Al-Ahram. "We believe that every fair and impartial person,
everyone who is not motivated by spite or envy, must recognise that the
Egyptian government is not incapable of enforcing the law and bringing
criminals to justice."
commentary came in response to an article in the British Evening News,
which charged that the Saad Zaghlul government actively fostered
violence. It read, "The insane act that claimed Sir Lee Stack as
its victim was the product of the deliberate inflammation of hatred and
malice against the British. There are people in England whose softheartedness
has rendered them tolerant of and sympathetic to such provocation. Yet,
we are all aware that the party that was so quick to express its horror
at violent acts and bloodshed is that selfsame party that dedicated itself
to creating a breeding ground for murderers. Such attitudes must be met
with the greatest consternation, for those in England who tolerate them
are perhaps no less responsible than Zaghlul Pasha for breeding
the malevolence that claimed the life of a gallant soldier at the pinnacle
of his career."
though to prove that the indignation felt in Egypt after the assassination
was no less intense than that expressed in the British press, telegrams
poured into the offices of Al-Ahram condemning such acts of violence. Among
the many published in Al-Ahram were telegrams from the Rector of Al-Azhar,
the Lawyers Club, the Coptic bishop in Alexandria, the Wafd Committee in
Bulaq and Senate member Mohamed Hashish, parliamentarian Abdel-Sadeq
Abdel-Hamid, the Nubian Federation Society.
23 November: "The British Ultimatum -- Chamber of Deputies Gives Unanimous
Vote of Confidence to the Government and Entrusts it with Drafting a Reply
to Safeguard the Dignity and Rights of the Nation -- Investigations Progress
with the Arrest of Another Criminal."
these headlines, Al-Ahram reports, "At 5.00pm yesterday, the British high
commissioner called upon His Excellency the prime minister. The automobile,
bearing him and his adviser, was escorted by members of the British 11th
Cavalry Regiment with spears and swords raised. When it reached its destination,
the high commissioner went into the prime minister's residence to deliver
the official British notification. The meeting took no more than seven
minutes. When Lord Allenby emerged again, the British regiment struck
up the British royal anthem. Then he entered his automobile and returned
to his residence amidst the same militaristic pomp with which he came.
British ultimatum was indeed severe. In addition to a formal apology and
the commitment to apprehend the assassins, it demanded that the government
prohibit political demonstrations, pay an indemnity of 500,000 pounds,
order the immediate evacuation of Egyptian troops from Sudan and, finally,
acquiesce to the Sudanese use of the Nile waters to augment the land area
under large-scale cultivation.
the same edition, the newspaper reported that three hours after Allenby
delivered his ultimatum, the Chamber of Deputies met in a closed session
to discuss what action should be taken. It voted unanimously to support
the government in its rejection of the humiliating conditions of the British
24 November: "The Egyptian Government Responds to the British Ultimatum
-- the High Commissioner Notifies the Egyptian Government of Britain's
Determination to Implement the Conditions the Egyptian Cabinet Refused
to Accept -- Egyptian Forces Leave Sudan."
4.00pm the previous day, Al-Ahram reports, Minister of Foreign Affairs
Wasef Ghali Pasha called upon the High Commissioner to present the
Egyptian reply to the British ultimatum. Two hours later, in an open session,
the reply was read out to the Chamber of Deputies. The Egyptian government
denied all responsibility for the assassination and rejected out of hand
the notion that the crime was in any way the product of its actions or
comportment. The only responsibility it would assume was to take all measures
to apprehend the assassins. It refused to comply with all the British conditions,
apart from the payment of the indemnity, "as a demonstration of its profound
hours after he received the Egyptian reply, Allenby dispatched an
aide from his office to the Chamber of Deputies to convey his intention
to see the British demands implemented. Through his messenger Allenby informed
the Egyptian government that he had issued instructions to the government
of Sudan to expel all Egyptian military officers and troops and to take
the necessary measures to increase the land under irrigation. He also ordered
the Egyptian government to pay the indemnity before noon the following
on that day -- 24 November 1924 -- Zaghlul met with King
Fouad in Abdin Palace, after which he returned to the cabinet offices
and met with his ministers until 2.00pm. Then, as Al-Ahram relates, "at
3.30pm, the prime minister received His Excellency Said Zulfuqar,
the envoy of His Majesty the King." The implication was clear.
presented his resignation to the king and the king accepted it.
fall of the "people's government" brought the dissolution of the
"the people's parliament" by royal decree three days later, bringing
to a close the first chapter of the tragic consequences of a tragic incident.
four days that passed between the assassination of Stack and the
fall of the Zaghlul government were, of course, insufficient to
apprehend the perpetrators, and this onus, therefore, fell upon the next
government. The Ziwar government put all its energies into this
task, and to its advantage was the new Minister of Interior, Ismail Sidqi,
known for his strictness and perseverance. The process nevertheless took
some time, during which security authorities used every legitimate -- and
illegitimate -- means at their disposal.
the headline "LE10,000 Reward", Al-Ahram reports that 38 parliamentary
deputies, government employees and students had been taken into custody
for investigation. "Of these seven were detained by the National Public
Prosecutor and the rest by the British military authorities and the Egyptian
addition, security authorities used their powers very loosely. The London
Times, for example, remarked that "preventive detention is the best means
to suppress criminal elements, and certainly the spate of murders came
to a complete stop during these arrests."
hunt also was an occasion to clamp down on the powerful Wafd Party. A number
of Wafdist MPs and former leaders were arrested in connection with the
crime, in response to which dozens of famous lawyers stepped forward to
offer their service in their defence.
it was when one of the detainees, Mahmoud Ismail, an employee of
the Ministry of Waqfs (endowments), asked for a personal interview with
the Minister of Interior that the police were put on the proper track to
the discovery of the assassins. According to Al-Ahram, the information
Ismail volunteered led to the arrest of four individuals, and the admissions
of these, in turn, led to the apprehension of two more suspects who proved
to be central to the conspiracy.
story of the arrest of the brothers Abdel-Hamid and Abdel-Fattah
Enayat reads like a cinematic chase scene. On 2 February 1925, they
boarded the train from Alexandria to Mersa Matrouh, from where they hoped
to escape across the border into Libya. The police, who had been prepared
for such an eventuality, fanned out throughout the train and, when they
discovered the brothers' presence in one of the carriages, they brought
the train to a stop just three kilometres short of Al-Gharbaniyat. A search
of the captives revealed guns and bullets of the same type that killed
would be more than three months before the prosecution brought the two
brothers in addition to seven other defendants to trial in connection with
the assassination of Sir Lee Stack. Al-Ahram was quick to observe
that one of the defendants was Shafiq Mansur, 38, a lawyer who had
twice run as a Wafdist candidate in parliamentary elections, winning both
times, even though Wafd leaders denied all connections with him. The newspaper
also noted that the defendants faced charges of committing five politically-inspired
murders before assassinating Stack, murders which claimed the lives
of two Egyptian and three British officials in the Egyptian government.
Al-Ahram was on hand to cover the opening session of the trial on 12
May. Security surrounding the trial was strict. In addition, photographing
or sketching the procedures was prohibited, canes and umbrellas were not
permitted into the courtroom and entrance was restricted to bearers of
tickets issued in their name only.
of the lawyers present had refused to defend Mahmoud Ismail, the
Ministry of Waqfs employee who had informed on his fellow conspirators.
The correspondent also painted brief sketches of the other defendants.
Enayat, for example, was described as "an elegantly dressed, striking
figure," Ibrahim Mousa, 31, as "stern and heavily bearded," and
Mansur as "downcast, dispirited and frequently bursting into tears."
the first day's questioning, the newspaper reports, the Enayat brothers
and Shafiq Mansur confessed, while others adamantly denied any connection
with the crime. One, Mahmoud Rashed, 33, an assistant urban planning
architect, protested that "he couldn't kill a chicken." The trial also
brought to light some poignant life histories. The Enayat brothers,
the two principal defendants, had been so aggrieved when their father divorced
their mother that they were driven to "patriotic madness," or so their
all events, after weeks of depositions and pleas, the court announced its
verdict on 7 June 1925. Eight of the defendants were sentenced to death
while the ninth, Mahmoud Saleh, the driver who had led investigators
to the beginning of the thread, was sentenced to two years imprisonment
with hard labour. Upon hearing the sentences, "the defendants were stunned,"
the sentencing on 7 June 1925 brought Al-Ahram's chronicle of the
assassination of the Sirdar to a close, it nevertheless proved to be the
prologue to commentaries on the ramifications of the incident. The most
important was the way in which British occupation authorities exploited
it, ways that were so excessive that they cost Allenby his position
as British High Commissioner to Egypt.
barren oasis, hundreds of miles from nowhere, Al-Jaghbub was, nevertheless,
the site of a major power struggle in the 1920s between Egypt, where it
was located, and Italy and Britain who thought the area should be elsewhere.
Al-Ahram was, like all Egyptians, adamant that not one square inch of the
oasis be relinquished. Dr Yunan Labib Rizk* explains the significance of
this lazy but potentially explosive expanse of land
deal that was never ratified
the first quarter of the 20th century Egypt signed several agreements with
colonial powers. Perhaps the best known is the Entente Cordiale signed
between Britain and France in 1904, in which France agreed to recognise
Britain's de facto control over Egypt in exchange for a similar British
guarantee with regard to France's control over the Maghreb. Several years
later, during the post-World War I peace conference in Paris, London managed
to conclude a series of pacts with the participating countries, securing
from them the recognition of Britain's protectorate over Egypt. If the
1919 Revolution succeeded in forcing the British to admit that by1921 the
protectorate relationship was no longer satisfactory, then terminated the
protectorate in accordance with the Declaration of 28 February 1922, there
remained one colonial pact that the British could not or did not wish to
back out of. The victim of this pact was the Egyptian oasis of Al-Jaghbub.
Anglo-Italian pact over this area was sealed by virtue of two separate
agreements. The first was contained in the Treaty of London, signed in
1915, in accordance with which Italy agreed to join the Allies in the war
against the Central Powers. Article three of this treaty stated that, in
the event of an Allied victory, Italy would have the right to modify the
borders of its colonies in Cerenaica (Barqa) and Somalia. With regard to
Italy's Libyan colony it was evident that the border adjustments would
come at the expense of Egyptian territory.
second component of the pact was an exchange of memorandums between the
British secretary of the Colonial Office and the Italian minister for foreign
affairs. In the first memorandum, dated 10 April 1920, Rome declared that
the Egyptian-Libyan border would extend southwards from a northern point
10 kilometres to the west of Sallum and that "the area located within this
border will be perfectly appropriate so long as Al-Jaghbub is included
within Italian territory." The response, dated two days later, contains
the British assent to Rome's definition of the eastern Libyan boundary.
origins of this pact date to the Italian-Turkish war over Libya (1911-12),
during which the Italians captured the coast of Libya up to the 27th degree
longitude. Since the territory captured from one of the former Ottoman
provinces in North Africa encompassed Sallum, the British objected in the
name of the Egyptian crown, in response to which the Italians withdrew
from the contested area and Egyptian forces entered the important port
Al-Ahram of 6 April 1925, Lutfi El-Mandarawi, "chief interpreter for the
British forces on Egypt's western front during the Great War," discusses
the strategic significance of Sallum. The topography there formed a natural
barrier from which "any small, well-equipped force can resist a tremendous
army and navy." The author explains, "There are several reasons for this;
the most important is that it overlooks the Barqa desert and towers directly
over the port, rendering it impossible for a hostile vessel to approach
the coast without risk of destruction. In addition, the Sallum Citadel,
constructed high on the summit of Mt. Sallum, is virtually invisible to
approaching warships and, if they sought to target it, could only strike
the uppermost portion of the edifice, causing only negligible damage."
British records offer a third reason: the waters in the port were deep
enough to serve as a naval base.
British, therefore, had strong reasons to want to hold on to that strategic
stronghold and, consequently, to insist that the Egyptian-Libyan border
start 15 kilometres to the west of Sallum and to concede to Italy and Libya
Al-Jaghbub Oasis in return.
1912 to 1920, Italian colonial forces encountered considerable problems
in asserting their control over the interior of eastern Libya. According
to The Daily Telegraph, Rome was aware that members of the Senussi tribe
resided beyond the Libyan frontier in Egypt and suspected that many people
of this nomadic tribe infiltrated across the border into Al-Jaghbub, "a
sacred site in which they receive religious instruction." The London-based
newspaper continues, "Outlawed Senussis generally find a safe haven in
Al-Jaghbub. The Italians estimate that the number of guns smuggled into
it exceed 3,000 per month, ostensibly for political and military purposes,
but also because the oasis is located at the juncture of caravan routes."
issued by the Italian Ministry of War corroborate this. On 13 February
1925, for example, it announced, "Necessary military action was taken in
southern Barqa between 2 and 9 February leading to the demolition of 16
Senussi bases in nine intensive engagements. Two hundred Senussis died
in the battle while the Italians took 14,000 sheep and 400 camels as spoils.
Two Italians were killed and 10 were wounded."
Egyptians could not understand why the Italians were expending so much
energy on Al-Jaghbub. A lengthy Al-Ahram article at the time commented
that it took 45 days by camel "through scorching heat, parched and barren
desert" to reach the oasis, located hundreds of miles south of the Mediterranean
coast. "It is not a military base, there is no agriculture and there is
not enough food or drink to sustain hundreds of people. It is a small oasis
of no more than 150 people, where a Senussi elder chose to live as a recluse,
attracting a number of spiritual adherents and disciples who began to derive
their livelihood from this Egyptian oasis. As the tribal chief was a pious
and learned man, the Egyptian government in the age of the Khedive Tawfiq
had a shrine, mosque and hospice built there and sent a team of engineers
to dig wells to serve its small population, actions undertaken because
the government considered this small oasis Egyptian and the people who
lived there Egyptian citizens."
1925 the understanding London and Rome reached in 1920 had not yet been
put into effect. In the wake of the 1919 Revolution, British authorities
were reluctant to take measures in this direction for fear of fuelling
the already heated situation in Egypt. Following the promulgation of the
1922 Declaration of 28 February, the British were once again forced to
postpone the implementation of the memorandums. In a letter to the Italian
ambassador in London the British Foreign Office wrote, "The termination
of the protectorate over Egypt has entirely altered the situation. It is
no longer possible for the British government to continue its negotiations
[over this matter] without the participation of the Egyptian Ministry of
Foreign Affairs and without the cooperation of the Egyptian government."
The ball was now in the Egyptian court and the British observed closely
how Cairo would react.
the "people's government" under Saad Zaghlul assumed power in 1924, the
Italians thought the time was ripe to make a move. British Foreign Office
archives reveal that when the Egyptian prime minister returned to Paris
in the summer of that year, following the breakdown in negotiations with
his British counterpart, the Italian ambassador to the French capital secured
from him a promise to study the question of Al-Jaghbub when he returned
to Egypt prior to opening negotiations on the matter. However, the tensions
in Egypt that brought down the Zaghlul government in November of that year
precluded further talks between the two parties.
Italians resumed their pressure on Egypt following the rise of the Ziwar
government to power, lured by the fact that it was essentially brought
into power by King Fouad and easily manipulated by the Egyptian ruler who,
in turn, had a special attachment to Italy where he received his education.
However, to the Italians' surprise, the situation in Egypt was not as propitious
as they had thought for bringing the Anglo-Italian memorandums into effect.
The response of the fascist government in Rome was to bring matters to
10 February 1925 reports reached Cairo that Italian forces had entered
Egyptian territory up to a point called Al-Shaqqa, "located a third of
the way between Sallum and Al-Jaghbub and a considerable distance inside
our side of the frontier." Simultaneously, the Italian minister plenipotentiary
in Cairo demanded that Egypt recognise the Italian claim to Al-Jaghbub.
Egyptian Prime Minister Ziwar Pasha responded that Al-Jaghbub was situated
within Egyptian territory and the Egyptian minister plenipotentiary in
Rome conveyed the same message to the Italian foreign minister. Rome's
representative in Egypt then pursued another channel, asking the British
high commissioner to prevail upon the Egyptian government to submit a written
pledge declaring that Al-Jaghbub belonged to Italy. As the Ziwar government
knew that to commit itself to such a pledge would bring the already shaky
government down, it declared its refusal to recognise the Anglo-Italian
20 February 1925, Al-Ahram explained to its readers the Egyptian government's
position. Italy may have inherited the Ottoman province of what is now
Libya, but "it has no right to territories beyond what Turkey possessed."
It continues, "Although there was no official boundary between the Turkish
province and Egypt, there was a de facto boundary which was termed the
"line of distinction," or dividing line, between the two states. A map
containing this line exists in the Istanbul archives and demonstrates that
Al-Jaghbub is situated within Egyptian territory."
Italian press responded with a campaign of its own. "The Al-Jaghbub Oasis
never belonged to Egypt at any point in time; not in name and not in practice,"
declared the newspaper Epoca. "Yet Egypt, ecstatic after its independence,
has decided to take it as its own without having the slightest justification
to support this claim."
British high commissioner, meanwhile, refused to lend his good offices
to the escalating tension between Egypt and Italy. He informed the Italian
minister plenipotentiary in Cairo that he would not comply with the request
to have the Egyptian government submit the desired pledge. He asked him
to suggest to Rome that it follow a less confrontational policy, particularly
in view of the forthcoming elections in Egypt in which the Ziwar government
would have to use all its resources to compete with the highly popular
answer's came in the form of a personal letter from Mussolini to the British
foreign secretary stating that Italy had endured great sacrifices in its
quest to bring peace to Cerenaica, a task that could not be fully completed
unless it secured control over Al-Jaghbub, the centre for the Senussi faction.
Il Duce, nevertheless, took Britain's advice to put off the matter until
after the Egyptian elections. In response, the British notified Rome that,
after the elections, should the Egyptian government not take a more flexible
position with regard to the contested oasis, London would let the matter
pass (in the Declaration of 28 February Britain reserved the right to defend
Egyptian territory against any foreign aggression). At the same time, the
high commissioner, acting on instructions from the Foreign Office, "advised"
Ziwar to "bring the Al-Jaghbub matter to an end as quickly as possible,"
adding that it would be wise for the Egyptian government to resolve the
question "rather than let the Italians settle it without us being able
to offer any assistance to Egypt."
Ziwar government was caught between the pressures exerted by Italy and
Britain and the weight of Egyptian public opinion, as voiced in the press,
which rejected out of hand the notion of handing Al-Jaghbub over to the
Italians. Al-Ahram was representative of the many newspapers that called
for the Egyptian oasis to be protected, and to this end it solicited articles
from experts on the affairs of the Western Desert. One such man, Mohamed
Ibrahim Lutfi El-Masri, a former employee in the Senussi government, suggested
that from the outset the Italians had designs on Egyptian territory. In
their campaign to wrest Libya from the Turks, El-Masri writes, the Italians
occupied the port of Tripoli, proceeded eastwards to take Benghazi, Derna
and Tobruk, "then advanced towards the border and began to bombard the
nearby ports of Dagna and Marisa. Were it not for the natural defences
of these ports, the Italians would have struck with greater ferocity in
order to secure their ambitions at both ends." Later, in 1914, El-Masri
writes, the Italians opened negotiations with the Khedive Abbas II over
the purchase of the Mariout railway line, which he owned. They were ready
to pay an outlandish price for the railway, writes El-Masri, "however,
Egyptian newspapers got wind of the matter and argued that while the khedive
might own the tracks and trains, the ground on which they ran was the property
of the Egyptian government. Having found himself in an uncomfortable situation,
the former khedive decided not to sell at all."
10 April, Al-Ahram reported that the specialists whom the government consulted
on the western border were of one mind. The government "should not squander
one inch of Egyptian land which the Egyptian military commission, appointed
in the summer of 1922 to survey the western borders, regarded as vital
for technical military reasons."
the elections in March 1925, which led to a Wafd majority in parliament
and the consequent dissolution of parliament for a second time in less
than a year, the British no longer had any pretext to put the Italians
off again. Once again, the British pressured the Egyptian government to
begin negotiations over the contested territory and Ziwar agreed. To be
fair to the government, it could have easily delayed the issue. When, on
31 March, Italian representatives in Cairo approached Egyptian officials
on the subject, Ziwar said he had to dispatch a commission to the borders
to prepare a report on the strategic considerations of the subject. Although
the Italians countered that the Egyptian government had already done so
in 1922, the Egyptian government maintained its position and succeeded
in gaining a two-month reprieve.
mid-April the border commission had returned to Cairo and the Egyptian
government finished its study of the report. It was now time to resume
business with the Italians. Rome had placed considerable confidence in
the British ability to prevail upon the Egyptians to recognise the Anglo-Italian
understanding over Al-Jaghbub. The Italian negotiators were, thus, surprised
to hear from their Egyptian counterparts that they knew nothing of such
an agreement and were only aware that "there had been preliminary negotiations
between the Italian and British ministers of foreign affairs over Egypt's
western borders at a time when Egypt was still under the British protectorate.
The British government had asked the opinion of the Egyptian government
on the subject, to which Cairo never responded."
23 May Al-Ahram reported that Mussolini declared his government had insisted
on more than one occasion that Al-Jaghbub must be included within Libya's
eastern border and that it was preparing to enter decisive negotiations
that would conclude the dispute by political means. The implied threat,
in view of earlier British commitments to the Italians, was not lost on
the Egyptians and on 8 July, in response to more British pressure, the
Egyptian cabinet appointed Minister of Interior Ismail Sidqi to head the
in mid-August, the "tiger of Egyptian politics," as Sidqi was dubbed, travelled
to Rome to meet Mussolini, after which he announced in a press statement
that an Egyptian-Italian committee would be formed to study the border
question in the second half of October. The summer holiday season was the
reason he gave for the two-month delay.
Egypt's Western Border, Fatma Alameddin Abdel-Wahid discusses the negotiations,
which did begin in October, in considerable detail. It becomes clear that
Sidqi was not only a tiger but a fox. When he realised he had no alternative
but to accept the British-Italian agreement over Al-Jaghbub, the cunning
Egyptian statesman countered with several demands: the border was to be
pushed seven kilometres westward; certain places were to be respected as
sites of religious worship with free access to Muslims from Libya and Egypt
and into which Italians would not be permitted to enter; and Italy would
guarantee the security of the Egyptian frontier against possible Bedouin
raids from Al-Jaghbub.
the Italians agreed to the last two demands, as did Ziwar under British
pressure, Sidqi refused to put his name to an agreement that did not meet
the first demand as well. His stand, however, was overruled. On 6 December,
the prime minister met with senior foreign affairs officials, then held
a cabinet meeting, after which he made his way to the royal palace. Just
before 8.00pm, the Italian representative in Cairo arrived. Precisely 20
minutes later, at 8.20, the two sides signed the agreement over Egypt's
western border. Shortly afterwards, the first secretary of the high commissioner's
office stopped by to make sure things were going smoothly, then returned
to Dubara Palace to inform his superior that all had proceeded according
the high commissioner was pleased with the outcome, the same cannot be
said of Egyptian public opinion which protested this surrender to a pact
concluded by colonial powers. Under the headline, "On Al-Jaghbub Oasis,"
Abdel-Rahman Azzam, who was to become secretary-general of the Arab League
and a close friend of the Senussis, wrote, "With the disappearance of Al-Jaghbub
from the map of Egypt gone, too, is Egyptian peace and security. Now more
than ever before we must rely on British assistance. Can the Egyptians
understand that? Did British politicians plan this? Did our current ministry
really salvage what it could? Now is the time for the nation to wake up!"
less incensed was Mohamed Shawqi El-Khatib, a parliamentary delegate from
Al-Santa, who proclaimed that the oasis would "remain Egyptian spiritually,
morally and physically." He continues, "While it may have been severed
from Egypt by force, the hearts of its populace will continue to be bound
to their country and there will come a day when the colonialists will return
to their lairs and the vanquished nations will enjoy their freedom and
even the well-known satirist Fikri Abaza found himself unable to inject
his customary levity into the subject. "Adieu Al-Jaghbub," Abaza wrote.
"Farewell to the trust Islam had put in Muslim Egypt's hands. Farewell
to the meeting point for neighbours and brothers, to the refuge for visitors
and pilgrims. Good-bye, may you rest in peace."
popular outcry extended beyond the pages of the press and onto the street.
Students from the College of Education, Dar Al-Ulum, the School of Commerce,
Saadiya and Giza Secondary Schools, the Coptic, Ismailia and Al-Rashad
schools and the Faculty of Fine Arts staged big and angry demonstrations
against the agreement. The demonstrations did not mark the end of the affair.
The agreement signed on 6 December 1925 has never been ratified by an Egyptian
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.
is a frequent contributor on the Internet, including the
prestigious and oldest forum: Egypt Net.
meaningful and serious discussions about the History of Modern Egypt,
join Egypt Net group (The oldest ? continuous Egyptian forum on the internet
© Kamal Katba
Egyptian Chronicles is a co-op of Egyptian authors.
contained in these pages are the personal views, or work, of the authors,
bear the sole responsibility of the content of their work.
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AUGUST 2008 ISSUE