over the selection of all the cabinet members was only reached after 6.00pm
yesterday, following the painstaking efforts undertaken by His Excellency
the prime minister." With these words Al-Ahram of 17 March 1928 announced
the formation of the 37th cabinet in modern Egyptian history. It was a
difficult birth into a stormy political sea.
the first government formed by Mustafa El-Nahhas, the prime minister who
had the most incumbencies in the pre- revolutionary history of the modern
Egyptian government. El- Nahhas headed seven governments. Only one other
prime minister came near that record: Hussein Sirri served as prime minister
five times. But this is not the only record El-Nahhas holds. In this same
period (1878 to 1952), five royal edicts were issued to dissolve the government.
Four of these involved governments formed by El-Nahhas; the fifth dismissed
Prime Minister Fakhri Pasha in 1893. Moreover, the dismissal of the Fakhri
government was not the result of tension between it and the palace. On
the contrary, Khedive Abbas II had invited Fakhri to form a government
without consulting British High Commissioner Lord Cromer, who then forced
Abbas to dissolve it.
Of all the
governments El-Nahhas formed, only one was a coalition government, his
first. Perhaps his ordeal as the head of a coalition made El-Nahhas resolve
never again to take that kind of risk, whatever the pressure or enticements.
On 15 March,
King Fouad summoned El-Nahhas and officially charged him with forming a
new government. Following his audience at the palace, the Wafd leader headed
directly to the House of the People where he held separate meetings with
each of his party colleagues "to solicit their advice on the composition
of the new cabinet and who they would recommend in the event some of the
current ministers decided to step down." Al-Ahram continues: "Each member
offered his opinion. Their proposals centred around exerting all possible
effort towards keeping the outgoing Tharwat cabinet line-up intact, with
the exception of those ministers who could not be persuaded not to step
As has always
been the case on such occasions, there was a spate of rumours over the
composition of the forthcoming cabinet. Egyptians kept track of El-Nahhas'
movements during that short interval following his departure from the palace
and his subsequent return to present the king with his list of candidates
for the next cabinet. However, conjecturing quickly ended when the new
prime minister called upon the members of the former government, chief
among whom was former Prime Minister Tharwat himself. During this visit,
Al-Ahram writes, "the two men expressed their mutual affection and friendship
which cannot be diminished by differences of opinion, exchanged views on
political matters and affirmed that their friendship will remain unchanged."
Subsequently El-Nahhas made another important visit, to Murqos Hanna Pasha,
minister of foreign affairs under Tharwat. Alongside Hanna in the meeting
was his son-in-law, Makram Ebeid, who would enter the new cabinet as minister
As was also
the custom on such occasions, Al-Ahram featured brief biographical sketches
of the new cabinet members.
Al-Ahram, "studied law in Paris and Oxford. Upon his return to Egypt he
was appointed secretary to British adviser to the Ministry of Justice.
It was in this capacity that he submitted his famous memorandum describing
the true nature of the national spirit and which had a great impact in
political circles. He was then appointed professor of civil law at the
Royal Academy of Law. He was beloved by all students in whose hearts he
lit the fire of patriotism."
had become the number two man in the Wafd following the death of Zaghlul,
it was only natural that Al-Ahram's biography should deal at length with
his contribution to the nationalist movement, his support for Zaghlul,
his dismissal from his job, his membership in the Wafd Central Committee,
his exile with Zaghlul to the Seychelles and his membership in parliament.
account concludes, "He is a highly renowned lawyer whose law offices are
among the most famous and profitable in Egypt."
Safwat Pasha, who was to be the minister of agriculture, was "a legal expert
who rose in the ranks of the Ministry of Interior until he was appointed
deputy governor of Alexandria," but was dismissed from that post under
the Ziwar government because of his pro-Wafd leanings. In 1927 he was elected
to the senate, where "he demonstrated great enthusiasm in drawing up and
defending the reports of the Senate committees."
new face in the cabinet was Ibrahim Fahmi, former deputy minister and now
minister of public works. "He began his career as an engineer and was promoted
to chief projects engineer in Alexandria, then to director of public works
in Tanta before becoming deputy minister of public works. A skilled and
energetic engineer devoted to his profession, Fahmi advanced, by virtue
of his dedication and competence, through the ranks of the ministry faster
than his peers."
little controversy over Safwat and Fahmi who were more technocrats than
politicians. But classified British documents reveal that El-Nahhas' task
of forming a government was still formidable. In particular, he had to
contend with pressure from Liberal Constitutionalist leader Mohamed Mahmoud
whose agreement to join was conditional upon El-Nahhas discarding three
former Wafdist ministers: Fathallah Barakat, Murqus Hanna and Osman Muharram.
There was also pressure from the palace which insisted that El-Nahhas remove
former Minister of Justice Zaki Abul-Saoud.
It was perhaps
testimony to El-Nahhas' strength of character that he succeeded in stitching
together a government in only two days. The royal decree announcing the
new cabinet was issued on Saturday 17 March 1928 amidst great fanfare as
expressed in the flood of congratulatory letters and telegrams that poured
into the House of the Nation, many of which were published in Al-Ahram.
However, lest the euphoria went to the heads of the new ministers, the
newspaper was careful to strike a sober note and alert them to the duties
that awaited them. The Ministry of Interior was in need of a number of
reforms and the first task of the new minister was to purge it of nepotism
and ensure that officials in the provinces were more vigilant in assessing
the needs of the fellahin. With summer approaching, topping the agenda
of the Ministry of Public Works was the need "to concern itself from this
moment on with the equitable distribution of water." The newspaper exhorted
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to "become more active and to benefit from
its staff abroad." The Ministry of Agriculture was required to increase
agricultural and livestock exhibitions while the Ministry of Economy had
to actively monitor the expenditures of all government departments and
draw up a national economic programme.
On 19 March,
El-Nahhas delivered the new government's address to parliament. That his
speech was peppered with frequent references to "our constitutional king"
was clearly intended to caution Fouad against attempts to undermine his
constitutionally-formed government. He also sought to reassure the Liberal
Constitutionalist Party: "This government will spare no effort to promote
and consolidate the coalition of political parties and to foster a climate
free of resentment and rancour."
however, were El-Nahhas' statements regarding Egyptian-British relations,
main reason why the previous government had resigned. His government, he
said, was determined "to safeguard our full rights in Egypt and in Sudan
in a manner commensurate with our dignity and the glory of our national
revival." Referring to the Tharwat--Chamberlain negotiations of the previous
year and the results that were reached, he said they conflicted with the
independence and sovereignty of Egypt and, therefore, did not form a feasible
basis for negotiations between the two countries. Egypt wishes to reach
an agreement with Britain but "an agreement between friends, not between
master and slave," he declared.
these portions of Tharwat's speech rankled in British colonialist circles
as was evident from the British news commentaries that Al-Ahram relayed
to its readers. The Times, noted for its close connections with Foreign
Office circles, observed that the address had "an effect that was frustrating"
and that "it emulated the speeches of Saad Zaghlul." It added, "The current
parliament is reminiscent of the one in which Zaghlul was prime minister."
the Daily Telegraph saw some positive points in El- Nahhas's speech, it
remarked, "The Wafd Party has not moved a hair's breadth away from its
original programme as outlined by Zaghlul, and now El-Nahhas Pasha has
driven this home once again. The Wafd policy in 1924 was to bide its time
until British public opinion had come around to accepting the full or partial
dismantling of Britain's place in Egypt as the cost of resolving the Egyptian
problem. Meanwhile, the Wafd would extract the most from this position
through its control of the executive authority, whether its leader was
in power, as is the case today, or whether the prime minister was of another
party directed by the Wafd behind the scenes. In short, the Wafd believes
that time is on its side."
prompted the Al-Ahram editor-in-chief to respond with an editorial under
the headline "British policy and El-Nahhas Pasha," in which he charged
that the British attitude towards Egyptian leaders was arrogant. "However,
whatever the British may think, El-Nahhas is a man of unique calibre and
it will be futile to try to bend him to their will, by enticement or intimidation,
to force him to accept the treaty and persuade Egyptian public opinion
to accept it."
in an appeal to rationality on the basis of the higher interests of both
sides, Dawoud Barakat presented an analysis of the current state of Anglo-Egyptian
relations. An impartial observer must concede that the British high commissioner
had been hostile to every cabinet, he wrote, and every contact that a British
official had with a representative of the Egyptian government was inevitably
laden with threats, cautions and warnings. "As for concord, calm, civility
and cooperation between the two countries, no one can recall such a state
ever existing." This is why Egyptians perceived that the high commissioner
had only one function in Egypt: "to usurp Egyptian rights and intimidate
those in charge of the affairs of government," whereas the proper task
of every ambassador and political envoy is "to seek reconciliation, overcome
differences and clear the air of all anxiety and tension."
focused on the Egyptian-British problem, El-Nahhas moved to strengthen
his hand against the dual forces of the palace and the British authorities.
Towards this end he pursued a course that set a precedent for future government
leaders. Up until then, several barriers were thrown up in front of journalists
wishing to interview any minister, let alone the prime minister. Within
days of becoming prime minister El-Nahhas met all editors-in-chief of the
major newspapers, "without showing prejudice to their diverse political
colours and creed." He told them that he intended to establish a new practice
which would apprise them of all matters of importance in government affairs
"because you are the intermediaries between the government and public opinion
and are responsible for presenting the public with the facts."
the representatives of the press applauded the new system which served
the welfare of the nation before the welfare of the press. It would liberate
Egyptian newspapers from their reliance on reports in the British press,
with its inherent bias towards Egypt's most crucial affairs. In addition,
it demonstrated "respect for the public, which has the right to know all
the facts, and for transparency and freedom of expression."
of this commitment is that El-Nahhas had not yet attained the stature of
Saad Zaghlul and he knew that in his forthcoming battles he would need
to mobilise public opinion on his side and that the Egyptian press held
the key to that goal.