The resignation of the Tharwat Pasha Cabinet on March 4, 1928, and its acceptance by King Fouad resulted with tumultuous popular demonstrations all over Egypt in support of its Constitution and the Wafd Party, which held a large parliamentarian majority.  The situation deteriorated so badly that the British High Commissioner expressed his deep concern to his Government.  To calm down the national anger, the British Government shelved its imperial and imperious attitude towards Egypt and the Egyptian Monarch shelved (temporary) his plan to amend the Constitution in general and the electoral law in particular!!  With the approval of the British High Commissioner, the King engaged a consultation with Mustafa Al-Nahhas Pasha, the leader of the Wafd and its Parliament majority for the purpose of forming a new coalition Cabinet composed of both the Wafd and Liberal Constitutional Parties.  Nahhas Pasha accepted the King’s offer and proceeded to form his first Cabinet.







Born to a petit bourgeois family in Samanud, Gharbya Province, where his father was a lumber merchant, Nahhas began his education at a French language Coptic school.  Moving to Cairo, he graduated from the Naseryya Elementary School and the Khedivial High School in 1896. After receiving his Law Degree from the Khedivial Law School in 1900, he worked in Mohammad Farid Law Office before opening his own law practice in the city of Mansoura.  In 1904 Nahhas was nominated a Judge at the Tanta National Court by Abdel-Khalek Tharwat Pasha.  He was dismissed from the bench in 1919 after he joined the Wafd to represent the National Party, which he had quietly backed.  Exiled with Saad Zaghloul Pasha to the Seychelles from 1921 to 1923, he was chosen upon his repatriation to represent Samanud in the first Chamber of Deputies elected under the 1923 Constitution. He became Communications Minister in 1924.  Reelected to the 1926 Chamber as a Deputy from Abu Sir Banna (Gharbya) and barred by the British from a Cabinet Post, he was elected one of the two Chamber’s Vice-Presidents and, in the following year, its President.  After Zaghloul died, he defeated his nephew in the contest to lead the Wafd Party.  He would become a Prime Minister on several occasions; in most of these Cabinets he was also Minister Of Interior but in 1942 to 1944 he was Foreign Minister.  He headed the Egyptian Delegation in talks with Britain that produced the 1936 Anglo-Egyptian Treaty.  The popularly elected Nahhas Government also negotiated with success, at Montreux, to end the Capitulations and the Mixed Courts.  His Government also persuaded the Suez Canal Company to admit two Egyptians to its governing board; he set up Military Schools for aviators and mechanics and expanded the Military Academy by opening it to Secondary Schools graduates who could pass a competitive examination, thus admitting many of the future Free Officers.  However Nahhas was almost assassinated in November 1937.  When his hastily formed Youth Group, the “Blue Shirts” broke into the Saadist Party Clubhouse to intimidate its members and staged a noisy demonstration in front of Abdine Palace, King Farouk seized this chance to oust the Wafdist Cabinet.  The King installed a coalition Government of the rival parties and called an election held in 1938, which was boycotted by the Wafd.
 

World War Two drove Nahhas into a coalition with his erstwhile foes, the British, who made Farouk appoint Nahhas as the head of an all Wafdist Cabinet.  Soon after this incident, which tarnished his nationalist credentials for many Egyptians, Nahhas was further discredited by the defection of the Wafd General Secretary, Makram Ubed Pasha, who denounced Nahhas’ policies and exposed his corruption in the “Black Book”. Nahhas wartime Cabinet tried to resolve some social issues by raising the farms workers minimum daily wage, abolishing fees for the Government elementary schools, lowering the taxes on small landowners and legalizing labor unions. 

His major achievement was to initiate the Arab League by convoking the Arab Leaders’ Conference that wrote the Alexandria Protocol, thus committing Egypt to Arab Nationalism.  On the day after the Protocol was signed Farouk asked Nahhas to resign.  By the time Nahhas resumed the leadership of Egypt’s politics, the country’s tie to the Arab World had been tightened by its involvement in the Palestine War.  Its defeat had discredited both the King and the constitutional system generally, but the old order made its bid for popularity by calling a general election for January 1950.  The Wafd won most of the Parliamentary seats but with less than half the voices cast, and Nahhas managed to form a Wafdist Government that lasted for almost two years. 

It passed new laws to benefit poor people, notably one that distributed a million acres to landless peasants; but his main aim was to persuade Britain to renounce its 1936 Treaty, leave its Suez Canal Base and hand the Sudan over to Egypt.  He failed after nineteen months of fruitless talks.  Nahhas unilaterally abrogated the Treaty that he had signed on Egypt’s behalf in 1936 and also the 1899 Sudan Convention

The British Troops did not leave, but one hundred thousands Egyptians stopped working for them in the Canal Zone, the remaining British teachers and civil servants in Egypt were summarily dismissed and extremists began harassing British Forces.

A shooting incident on January 25, 1952, led to the death of more than fifty Egyptian Auxiliary Policemen in Ismailia, causing protest demonstrations the next day and the burning of much of downtown Cairo. Farouk gave Nahhas emergency powers to quell the riots but dismissed him next day for failing to maintain order.

Six months after the fires of Black Saturday had illuminated the breakdown of Egypt’s political institutions, the Free Officers seized control of the Government.  Nahhas, vacationing in Europe, hastened back, expecting to be invited to head a new Cabinet; Najib and Nasser met him at length before deciding that the power he sought for the Wafd were more than they cared to give. 

In September 1952 the Officers ordered all Parties to purge themselves of their leaders, Nahhas defied the order but the Officers managed to split the Wafd.  Four months later they abolished all Political Parties and seized their assets.  The Officers arrested Nahhas and his wife, assuming that she had taken control of the Party; both were tried.  He was censured for condoning corruption, she was fined for rigging the Alexandria cotton market, and both were deprived of their political and civil rights until 1960 and confined to their Cairo villa, where they lived in relative obscurity. Nahhas’ death in 1965 occasioned a larger funeral than Nasser’s Government had wanted.  The Regime refused to bury Nahhas next to Saad Zaghloul and banned popular demonstration in his memory.
 

Personally honest but easily swayed by less scrupulous colleagues, sometimes jealous of people richer or better connected than himself, principled to the point of obstinacy, Nahhas remained popular because of his solicitude for poor people and his unflinching patriotism.  (1)
 
 





In all the Egyptian Cabinets’ history, from the first Cabinet, in 1878 until the Revolution of July 23, 1952, Mustafa Al-Nahhas Pasha (2)held the position of Prime-Minister seven times, a record!!  It is interesting to note that most of his Cabinets ended in dramatic circumstances and only his first Cabinet was a two parties coalition, an experience he vowed never to repeat again.

During this short lived Government, three months and nine days, the newly appointed Premier had to tackle two important problems, the first being the relationship with the occupying power and the second was to maintain a healthy coalition.  He failed in both.  Regarding the first problem cause of conflict with the British High Commissioner was the project of law concerning public meetings and demonstrations, that was presented to the Parliament by the Tharwat Pasha’ s Cabinet in spite of the then vehement objection of the British Authorities, which claimed that the promulgation of such a legislation would certainly erode the power and authority of the law and order forces and the protection of lives and properties of foreigners residing in Egypt.  A short time after his appointment, Nahhas Pasha received an ultimatum from the High Commissioner ordering the Cabinet to withdraw that project of law from the Parliament within seventy two hours or else…  The newly formed Government informed the Brits that, in a spirit of compromise, it asked the Senate to postpone the study of the law for an undetermined time.  The British Government accepted the Egyptian position.

As far as maintaining a strong and united coalition Government, it became kind of mission impossible to the Prime Minister, from the first few days of the Cabinet.  The Liberal Constitutional members who were appointed to the Cabinet joined the Government with the hope that the sudden death of Saad Zaghloul Pasha would certainly erode the national popularity of the Wafd Party and increase theirs; they even hoped to eventually sideline Nahhas, unite the Wafd to their Party and assume its leadership.  They secretly plotted with King Fouad to achieve that ambition and did their utmost to prevent the Cabinet from fulfilling the program it was appointed to achieve by encouraging the resignation of three of their Cabinet members; they also invited Wafdist Ministers to also resign to weaken the Government.  As a result of this mutiny, four Cabinet members resigned out of ten!!

During its short tenure the Cabinet agreed to reorganize the primary schools system making the admission to primary education only for those pupils who had finished their kindergarten programs or those who succeed in an Arabic language and math. test.  The primary education was to last four years after which students could join the secondary education.  The secondary was to last five years, three years out of which would be a general curriculum and the last two years to be divided between a general art section and a sciences section.

Because of the growth of population the Cabinet decided to raise the number of electoral districts to two hundred and twenty five; it also decided to reorganize the provinces’ council (majlis al Moudiryat) by having it composed on the basis of two elected representatives for each electoral district.
 
 

On May 14 1928 the Cabinet agreed to buy the tramways system of the city of Alexandria from its owning company and let the City Council to run it.  It also allocated the amount of forty thousand pounds for the restoration of the Ibn Touloun  Mosque and the amount of four thousand pounds for the modernization of the Saint Barbara Church.
 
 

Since the resignation of four Cabinet members and other kind of intrigues did not lead to the dismissal of the Cabinet, a sudden document indicating that Nahhas Pasha and two other lawyers accepted a phenomenal fee of one hundred and thirty thousand pounds to have a court order, freezing the assets of Prince Seif-El-Dine, a Prince of the Royal Family, annulled, was suddenly published causing uproar within the Palace Circle, particular that King Fouad himself was nominated by the Court as custodian of the Prince’s assets.  In spite of the fact that the document was proven to be a fraud, the King asked Nahhas Pasha to submit his resignation and that of his Cabinet on June 25, 1928.
 
 

(to be continued)
 

Kamal Karim Katba
 
 

 

 

 

(1)


 
 

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.) 

 


 
 
 




 
 
 
 
 

(2)

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
"Agreement 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. 

This was 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 down." 

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 of transportation. 

As was also the custom on such occasions, Al-Ahram featured brief biographical sketches of the new cabinet members. 

Ebeid, writes 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." 

Since Ebeid 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. The account concludes, "He is a highly renowned lawyer whose law offices are among the most famous and profitable in Egypt." 

Mohamed 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." 

The third 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." 

There was 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."

More important, however, were El-Nahhas' statements regarding Egyptian-British relations, the 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. 

Naturally, 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." 

Although 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." 

These commentaries 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." 

Simultaneously, 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." 

As attention 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." 

Naturally, 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." 

Our explanation 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. 

 


 


 

© Kamal Katba 2009


 

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