Mahmoud, four times Egypt's prime minister, had a legendary firmness by
which he formed his first government in 1928. However, by the time of his
last Cabinet in 1939, Mahmoud's stature had diminished to something much
less. Professor Yunan Labib Rizk traces Mahmoud's political life, from
strength to weakness .
I am honoured
to convey to Your Majesty that the doctors have ordered total rest for
a period of time. Yet the precarious state of international conditions
imposes upon me continuous effort my health can no longer bear. And therefore,
I have the honour of submitting my resignation to Your Highness and Majesty,
hoping that you are graciously disposed towards accepting it. I will not
forget the signs of sympathy and satisfaction I received from Your Majesty
during the term of my government, nor the manifestations of trust and support.
My heart and tongue will not tire from repeating the most sincere praise
of and affirming the most faithful loyalty to your noble self. I strongly
hope that the country, under the protection of Your Majesty and thanks
to your love of it and your long hours working for its good, will move
forward on the path of advancement and glory.
grant you a long life... etc -- Mohamed Mahmoud
the text of the resignation of Mohamed Mahmoud Pasha's fourth and final
government as published in Al-Ahram 's 14 August 1939 issue. Mohamed Mahmoud
had gained renown for having a "strong hand" during his first government
formed in 1928. The texts' statement about his poor health was not a pretext
to save face as he departed the government; it was true this time. The
man lived for less than 18 months after that, most of which he spent in
his sickbed until passing away on 1 February 1941.
was a unique personality among Egyptian political figures, and his uniqueness
stemmed from a number of sources. He was born to a family considered political
by the understanding of that age. His father, Mahmoud Pasha Suleiman, was
deputy head of the Law Consultation (Shura) Council and a large agricultural
landowner in Upper Egypt, on Salim bank in Assiut. He inherited 1,600 feddans
of land there, and became the head of the Umma Party when it was formed
this beginning, Mohamed Mahmoud earned a distinguished education. While
the prominent personalities of the age usually sent their children to complete
their education in French universities (Sorbonne and Montpellier received
the greatest number, particularly in their law colleges), the most prominent
notable of Upper Egypt, Suleiman Pasha, sent his grandson to Oxford University.
There he specialised in history.
social status and unique education, the young man formed strong relationships
with the men of the British occupation administration in Egypt. He worked
as an assistant to consultants to the English in the ministries of finance
and the interior. He then leaped ahead and became the director of Beheira,
but did not succeed in cooperating with the English officials in the directorate
and soon lost his post. This marked the beginning of his political career.
Revolution was the golden door through which Mohamed Mahmoud entered to
form his career. As most of the leaders of this revolution had come from
the leadership of the Umma Party, which had halted its activities with
the start of World War II, it was natural for the son of the party's president
to join them. This was underlined when Mahmoud was among the three who
were exiled in March 1919 with Saad Zaghloul to Malta, one of the most
important causes of the revolution.
the exile not surpassing a month, signs of Mohamed Mahmoud's special status
began to show in Valleta, the island's capital. This was aided by the fact
that he was the youngest, for he had only passed the age of 40 by two years
while Ismail Sidqi was two years older than him and Hamad El-Sabil was
seven years older. The age difference between him and Saad Zaghloul was
almost 20 years. This was also aided by the fact that he was the wealthiest
and descended from the most established social standing.
perhaps what led him to some forms of behaviour that were the source of
complaints made by Saad Zaghloul in his memoirs, such as his insistence
on sleeping in a private room, having a special lunch and other daily behaviour
stemming from a sense of distinction. This was exacerbated by his command
of English in contrast to Zaghloul and Sidqi with their French education,
and El-Basil, who belonged to neither English nor French culture. He was
their only source of information to the outside world through his reading
of an English-language newspaper issued in Malta.
authorities permitted the four leaders to travel to Paris after the reconciliation
conference had acknowledged the protectorate over Egypt. This recognition
had been shared by the American President Wilson, whose principle of the
right to self-determination Egyptians had pinned high hopes on. This drove
the Wafd Party to send Mahmoud to the United States of America to work
with the American judge Falk on promoting the Egyptian cause.
graduate's importance was highlighted again when Lord Milner agreed to
open the door to negotiations with the Egyptian delegation, leading the
Wafd Party to summon Mahmoud from America to travel to Paris and participate
in the negotiations. He soon headed the four sent by the delegation to
Egypt to discern the opinion of Egyptians on the British proposals that
Saad Zaghloul had decided to reject through his communications with the
delegation's secretary in Cairo, Abdel-Rahman Bey.
did not please Mahmoud and his companions, who left Zaghloul's Wafd Party
in the first split in its history. This was the split that paved the way
for the subsequent formation of the Liberal Constitutionalists Party, particularly
following the escalation of the dispute between Zaghloul and Adli Yeken
over the presidency of the delegation negotiating with the English.
remained the strongest personality in the new party even though he did
not assume its presidency until a late stage (1929). During the period
stretching from the issue of the 1923 constitution and the subsequent elections
in which the Wafd Party secured a crushing victory, on the one hand, and
1939 when he withdrew from political life for good after having led the
government for two terms, on the other, this Upper Egyptian politician
did what no one before him had done, not even Ismail Sidqi, renowned for
his departure from the rules of the constitutional game.
was the only one of the old-time Wafd Party men to have sought to take
control of the Wafd Party from within. He grasped the opportunity of Saad
Zaghloul's death in 1927 and the ensuing struggle over the presidency of
the Wafd Party, holding that he was the most deserving of its presidency
among the contenders until Mustafa El-Nahhas won it.
He was the
only government man to have dared to suspend the entire constitution and
declare that he would rule with firmness to put an end to the muddled conditions
resulting from partisan rule. The speeches he gave during this period,
which were later collected in the book "The strong hand", indicate the
man's insistence on overlooking constitutional rule. This is exactly what
took place in 1928 and 1929.
something the king did not dare do through his man Ahmed Ziwar (1924-1926).
All he did during the term of Ziwar's governments was to delay elections
under the pretext of making constitutional amendments. Nor did Ismail Sidqi
(1930-1934) dare to do this. His term saw attempts to amend the 1923 constitution,
and ended with its replacement by a new one, but he never suspended the
period prior to Mohamed Mahmoud undertaking his third government in early
1938, Egypt experienced a range of administrative interference in elections.
The most serious was that which took place in the 1925 elections when Ismail
Sidqi was the minister of the interior and put all the pressure possible
to bring down the Wafd Party candidates, an attempt that ended in failure.
Yet Mahmoud proved unique again after undertaking the above-mentioned government,
for he used the administration to conduct frank forgery in order to bring
down the Wafd Party nominees. This formed a precedent in the forgery of
parliamentary elections in Egypt, something done by numerous governments
Mohamed Mahmoud Pasha did what no one before him had done. And hence came
the name he gave himself, that he had a "strong hand" seemingly incapable
of giving in. This was in fact true some of the time, but not all of the
MISTAKE our friend fell into was dealing with the rule of King Farouq as
though it were an extension of the rule of his father. He did not sufficiently
comprehend the changes that had taken place on the political map.
changes was the fact that the palace had grown freer from the control of
the high commissioner's headquarters than before, when the high commissioner
had interfered in all matters large and small and particularly in the relationship
between the wearer of the crown and his government. And thus the Wafd Party's
figuring that the 1936 Anglo-Egyptian Treaty would be in its favour was
not correct. Britain's representative in Egypt no longer put his nose into
domestic affairs except but a tad, allowing the young king the opportunity
to dismiss the Wafdist government on 30 December 1937, a dismissal that
countered all expectations.
also a change in the map of relations within Abdine Palace. Farouq was
certainly not an extension of his father's rule, for Fouad was always careful
to be the first and final lord of the palace. When he used one of his men,
it was usually not one with a political character in the palace. He used
the royal minister, Zaki Pasha El-Ibrashi, or Hassan Pasha Nashat, secretary
of the royal court who was promoted to the post of deputy of the Royal
Cabinet, which was not a political post by any means.
It was the
opposite case during the rule of Farouq when Ali Maher undertook leadership
of the Royal Cabinet. He was a politician from the top of his head to the
tip of his toe. It is sufficient that he was the prime minister during
the final years of King Fouad, and that he transferred rule to the Wafd
Party following the re-institution of the 1923 constitution. When Ahmed
Hassanein Pasha undertook the same post, he was in turn a first-class politician.
He had begun work in the diplomatic corps and grown close to the palace
after Fouad chose him as a teacher to the crown prince.
to Mohamed Mahmoud's dealing with Abdine Palace being more complicated
than it had been during the government of the strong hand. Yet Mahmoud
did not understand this well enough when he formed his second government
in 1938, after heavy waters had swept beneath the bridges.
the partisan map was not what it had been in 1928-1929. The Wafd Party
was at its strongest following its success in signing the 1936 Anglo- Egyptian
Treaty which was referred to as a treaty of honour and independence after
it had done away with the foreign capitulations in the famed Montreaux
Convention. Then there were the armed militias of their various colours
-- the green shirts established by the men of Misr Al-Fita and the blue
shirts of the Wafd Party. There was also another large party competing
with the Liberal Constitutionalists for its place, the Saadist Union Party
formed by those who split from the Wafd Party and which included Ahmed
Maher and Mahmoud Fahmi El-Nuqrashi Pasha. In other words, Mahmoud was
not playing alone on the field this time.
It can be
said that while the man with a strong hand had stood as a clear rival to
the palace in his previous experiences, he could not undertake the same
role this time. In fact, Farouq's men, led by Ali Maher, succeeded in using
Mahmoud twice. The first was when they drove him to commit the mistake
of openly forging the elections held in early 1938. It is ironic that when
Mahmoud realised that the Wafd Party had suffered a significant defeat
following the results of Upper Egypt's elections to the point that Makram
Ebeid had lost the district he had always won with the minimum of effort,
and that the Liberal Constitutionalists had gained a major victory, the
prime minister thought that he was to thank for that. He wanted to repeat
this game in Lower Egypt, but the Royal Cabinet, led by Ali Maher, did
not permit this. The results were not as he had wished for, with the Saadist
Union Party winning the most votes and Mustafa El-Nahhas losing his district
in Samanud. This proved that the palace had the upper hand.
time was when the palace intervened in the formation of the government
and Mahmoud was not the only strong figure in it as he had been in the
previous government. It included prominent personalities that were inimical
to the Wafd Party, including three former prime ministers -- Mohamed Mahmoud
himself, Ismail Sidqi and Abdel-Fattah Yehya. It also included three heads
of parties, for in addition to the head of the Liberal Constitutionalists,
there was the head of the Shaab Party loyal to the palace and Hafez Ramadan,
the head of the old Watani Party. Some of the newspapers even described
it as a government of "prominent personalities".
taken place in the political map did not mesh with the personality of Mohamed
Mahmoud with its unilateral nature. This was particularly true after Ali
Maher used the Saadist Union Party's majority in the Council of Representatives,
which was approximately equal to that of the Liberal Constitutionalists,
in order to execute policies desired by the palace and to prevent what
the prime minister wished for from taking place. In the end, this resulted
in his government lasting less than four months. He was forced to submit
its resignation and form his next government following a ministerial crisis
that lasted for three weeks due to a difference over the distribution of
ministerial posts between Mahmoud's men and those of the palace, or, more
precisely, Ali Maher's men.
this government lasted less than two months when its resignation was submitted
on 24 June of the same year. The man with the strong hand had grown weak
and found no escape from reforming his government, this time bringing in
the Saadists. This led to the formation of his fourth government, the one
that saw the end of the strong hand legend.
began with the first moments in which the man commenced consultations for
the formation of his government, a process that did not at all end as he
had wished. He had no choice other than to let go of representatives of
small parties such as the Union Party and the Shaab Party who were able
to fulfill his wishes. He also had to oust Ahmed Lutfi El-Sayed, one of
the major leaders of the Liberal Constitutionalists, to make way for a
worse was that these latter insisted on a strong presence in the government.
It was agreed that each of the two coalition parties would be represented
by five ministerial posts, and that the two ministries the Saadists would
gain would be the most important following the post of president. The Ministry
of Finance would be undertaken by Ahmed Maher and the Ministry of the Interior
would be undertaken by Mahmoud Fahmi El-Nuqrashi. If we add to that the
popularity enjoyed by these two men, both while they were in the ranks
of the Wafd Party and after they left it, we can appreciate the extent
of Mohamed Mahmoud's loss, after which he could no longer claim being strong.
We can also
add to that the enemy laying in wait for the government in the leadership
of the Royal Cabinet, Ali Maher Pasha, who had ambitions to get rid of
Mahmoud Pasha and take his place. He never tired of planning conspiracies
against the government as long as he was able to. The matter reached the
point of his meeting with Mustafa El-Nahhas in his home in Ramel, Alexandria.
While this meeting did not produce an agreement, the head of the Royal
Cabinet sought to either frighten or incite Mahmoud, as confidential British
documents state. This worried him a great deal.
In the secret
battle waged between the two men revealed by the same documents, Mahmoud
was inflicted with hardship by the head of the Royal Cabinet, naturally
with the knowledge of King Farouq. Among the troubles caused was that which
took place during the days of the formation of the third government, when
Ali Maher was determined to bring in Mohamed Kamel El-Bendari Bey, the
minister of health, in the resigned government. Mahmoud insisted on distancing
him, which made it known that the man transmitted to the palace everything
that took place in the cabinet meetings. Ali Maher was not able to counter
this insistence other than by appointing the rejected minister as undersecretary
to the Royal Cabinet. This surely did not please Mahmoud, especially as
Ali Maher soon found an alternative for transmitting the government's news
to him. This time it was Ahmed Khesheba Pasha, the minister of justice,
who threw obstacles in the way of the smooth running of the government's
and last of the battles, after which Mahmoud could not long bear continuing,
was the parliamentary battle that took place between the councils of the
senate and the representatives during August 1939. This battle was over
the budget, for the financial committee of the senate council opposed annexing
a tax on bequests to it.
a new battle by all standards. It was new regarding the dispute between
the two councils over the budget, as it was assumed that after it had been
prepared by the government and passed by the Council of Representative's
financial committee, its approval by the senate council was a given. Yet
this did not happen this time due to the considerable percentage of Wafdists
in the "big council" that had not been touched by forgery since its membership
lasted 10 years rather that the five of the "small council". It was also
new because it was clear that Ali Maher's hand was not far removed from
the intimation to some senators to take an inimical stance towards the
government. All of this took place while the man previously known for his
toughness was not able to effectively participate in the battle due to
his health. He did not even attend the cabinet sessions presided over by
Abdel-Fattah Yehya Pasha, or the sessions of the two council's financial
committees who turned the issue into a raging battle. It seemed as though
matters were slipping out of his hands.
It was under
these circumstances that rumours spread that Mahmoud was on his way toward
submitting his government's resignation, this time out of obligation rather
than by choice as had happened in 1929 when he had done so to make way
for a freely elected government. This government would continue the negotiations
that had begun with Mr Henderson, the British foreign secretary, and which
had met with significant success.
of these developments, it was not out of the ordinary for readers of Al-Ahram
's Sunday 13 August issue to find the following bold print headline on
its first page -- "His Majesty the King accepts the government's resignation
-- Mohamed Mahmoud Pasha meets with the King -- his discussion with Al-Ahram
following the meeting -- the nominee to form a new government".
narrated the details of what took place that day, and mentioned that Mohamed
Mahmoud had gone to the government headquarters in Bolkili, where the last
of the cabinet's meetings was held. The issue of the resignation was discussed
and Mohamed Mahmoud simplified his perspective on the situation. They unanimously
agreed that continuing to work would wear out his health. Then the discussion
turned to the formulation of the resignation letter, which they settled
on in the form published at the beginning of this issue of the Diwan.
session closed, Al-Ahram 's reporter in Alexandria rushed up to Mohamed
Mahmoud, who responded to his question by saying that he still insisted
on resigning. As always occurs on occasions such as this, all the ministers
went to their ministries to collect their private papers and then left
after bidding farewell to their office employees.
Mahmoud Pasha went to Al-Muntazah Palace "where he was greeted by Said
Zulfiqar Pasha, the master of ceremonies." He then had the honour of meeting
with the king, a meeting that lasted from 6.30 to 7.00pm in keeping with
custom despite the feelings of hatred between the two men. The departing
prime minister then paid a visit of protocol to the head of the Royal Cabinet.
Also in keeping with custom, Mohamed Mahmoud Pasha called upon the general-secretary
of the cabinet and requested that he write a letter to each and every minister,
thanking him for his cooperation and support in undertaking the government's
burdens during the time that he had assumed governance.
newspapers bid Mahmoud farewell with malicious joy, as is always rained
down upon those who fall from their posts. Al-Wafd Al-Masri wrote under
the headline "Fate has struck and cast the dye and the ministry of Mohamed
Mahmoud is a thing of the past", that until the day before, the government's
rented papers had said that nothing was going on and that the government
had never been stronger or more fixed on staying put than it was at that
time. Meanwhile, the paper wrote, Alexandria's horizons were filled with
news about the end of the "upright rule" and the resignation of the prime
minister, and those other papers had lied until the last moment as the
government was in fact in its final death throes.
accused those it called "of the government" of wanting to cover up the
catastrophe expected to befall their government and said that it would
not resign except for the reason of Mahmoud Pasha deciding once and for
all that care of his health must come first.
with the opinion of this paper, which was the most loyal to the Wafd Party.
The situation was indeed sad when the legend of the "strong hand" ended
in a manner that no one had expected.
sum of LE100,000 -- by the standards of the 1920s -- which was donated
by a certain Abdel-Rahim El-Demerdash to build a charity hospital, was
a magnanimous gesture in 1928, the largest donation made by an Egyptian
in living memory. Donations for philanthropic institutions was not a Western
concept but had Islamic roots, institutionalised in the form of waqf, or
religious endowments. So while unprecedented in scale, El-Demerdash's donation
was not an isolated case. Al-Ahram cited the names of several citizens
in earlier decades who had provided generously for the founding of hospitals.
El-Demerdash's generosity, however, was the most widely publicised, and
led to the beginning of community work and a scramble to emulate him. Professor
Yunan Labib Rizk* profiles the great benefactor
Abdel-Rahim El-Demerdash invited to his home in Ramla the prime minister
and other members of government to present them a letter whereby he donated
LE25,000, his daughter LE50,000 and his wife LE25,000 in addition to a
15,000 square- metre plot of land located on Queen Nazli (currently Ramses)
Street. The land has been dedicated to the construction of a charity hospital
which shall house 75 beds. The hospital cost is estimated at LE40,000 and
the remainder of the donation -- LE60,000 -- is to be allocated to running
the hospital on condition the government covers any deficit."
appeared in Al-Ahram of 5 August 1928. The report added that El-Demerdash
Pasha had also stipulated that the hospital contain a prayer room as well
as a chamber for his eventual burial. "He also pledged to pay the LE40,000
construction cost as soon as he was presented the bill which the government
pledged would be given to him in two months."
could not allow such a magnanimous gesture to pass without comment. It
conveyed the gratitude of the nation for this "noble deed," adding, "Never
has a benefactor made such a large donation. We hope that our nation's
top officials and eminent writers will accord this deed the esteem and
dedication it merits and do their utmost to encourage others to embark
on this course of charity and good works."
some believe that giving donations for the creation of philanthropic institutions,
such as hospitals, was originally a Western phenomenon later imitated in
the east, a look into Arab history confirms it had Islamic roots. Such
donations were institutionalised in the form of waqf, or religious endowments.
Mohamed Afifi's exhaustive study, The Awqaf in the Economic Life of Egypt
in the Ottoman Era, furnishes a detailed description of the role this system
played in the public services not provided by the government. Under the
feudal system of Ottoman rule, the government was primarily responsible
for security and defence and tax collection. Other services were left to
the governed who put land or other forms of wealth in trusts dedicated
to the construction, maintenance or refurbishment of mosques, religious
educational institutions, hospitals, general and mental hospices, asylums,
bathhouses and sabils or public water fountains.
the economic stagnation which Egypt went through in the Ottoman era, the
waqf tradition persisted, as is evidenced by the deeds registered with
the religious courts. As Mohamed Ali built up the modern Egyptian state,
the waqf system continued to operate. The injunction of the Prophet's saying
-- "When a person dies his work is carried on in only three manners: a
continuing charity, an imparting of knowledge and a virtuous son who prays
for him" -- provided the moral stimulus for its perpetuation. Then, as
the system of private land ownership stabilised in the last quarter of
the 19th century, leading to the rise of an indigenous landed gentry, the
material mechanisms also came into being, not only sustaining but increasing
the practice. By the early 20th century, the number of waqf trusts had
grown to the point where, in 1913, it was deemed necessary to turn the
Waqf Authority into a ministry.
significant change was bound to occur as the social service institutions
of the Ottoman era gradually ceded to modern social services in the form
of public or privately funded schools, charity organisations and modern
hospitals. Al-Ahram took the occasion of El-Demerdash's donation to list
the number of hospitals founded through waqf endowments established by
Egyptian notables over the previous 20 years:
El-Shawarbi Pasha founded a 60-bed charity hospital in Qalyoub. Out of
its LE3,700 annual running costs, LE1,400 came out of his waqf. There then
followed the hospitals founded by El-Minshawi and El-Badrawi Pashas in
Tanta and Samannoud."
said, "Between 1923 and 1928 the founding of hospitals by private benefactors
increased dramatically. In 1923, the inhabitants of Tahta collected a large
sum of money with which they built a hospital that could hold 15 beds.
In 1925, Saleh Lamloum Pasha founded a 12-bed hospital in Maghagha. He
also pays LE800 per year towards its expenses while the government pays
LE1,000. In 1926, the inhabitants of Malawi donated money for a 16-bed
hospital, the annual running costs of which were LE1,600. In the same year,
El-Shurbagi Bek Badar funded a 30-bed hospital. The following year, the
residents of Mit Ghamr collected enough funds to build a 24-bed hospital,
Abdel-Aziz Bek donated money to build a 16-bed hospital in Zawiya Al-Naoura
and the inhabitants of Al-Fikriya in Abu Qirqas collected money for a 25-
bed hospital. In addition, the wife of Minshawi Pasha founded a 20-bed
pediatric hospital in Abbasiya and dedicated the income from her waqf to
its operating costs. Similarly, before he died, Ahmed Talaat Bek bequeathed
his large home in Al-Suyufiya to be transformed into an orphanage for the
crippled and infirm. It houses 30 beds and its expenses are paid for from
As for the
most generous benefactor to date, Abdel-Rahim El- Demerdash was the sheikh
of an ancient Sufi order, the Demerdashiya order, founded by Mohamed El-Demerdash
El- Mahmoudi in 1522, shortly after the Ottoman conquest of Egypt. Since
that time, the position was passed down the El- Demerdashi line. Abdel-Rahim
inherited from his father Mustafa at the age of 30. Al-Ahram writes that
when Abdel-Rahim's father died, the order consisted only of a handful of
merchants, notables and ordinary people who kept its rites alive in Thursday
evening prayer meetings and the zikrs, or Sufi chanting sessions, that
were held in the Abdallah Mohamed El-Demerdash family tomb. However, the
newspaper continues, "in spite of the preoccupations that took up so much
of Abdel-Rahim's time, membership in the El-Demerdash order increased manifold
compared to the age of his noble ancestors. Moreover, now the order includes
the most eminent scholars, merchants and manufactures, the most select
group of Sufi members in all of Egypt."
adds that the Demerdashiya order possessed major religious trusts, the
annual income from which exceeded LE4,000. Although such earnings were
considerable by the standards of the time, there are reasons to believe
that Abdel-Rahim El-Demerdash had other means to augment his personal fortune.
In his memoirs, Ahmed Shafiq, the director of the Waqf Authority before
it became a ministry, tells the following story:
leaving my post in 1913, I left a report with my successor drawing his
attention to certain important legal and administrative matters. One matter
involved the suit brought against Abdel-Hamid Pasha El-Demerdash over a
plot of land near Hadayiq Al-Qubba. Pursuant to the instructions of the
khedive, I submitted the relevant documents to Minister of Interior Mohamed
Said Pasha so that he could determine whether the Waqf Authority had the
right to file this suit." Shafiq said that when his successor asked Said
Pasha to return the documents, the minister said he had given them to his
deputy minister and that the documents were no longer in his office. One
suspects that those papers somehow found their way back to the home of
minutes reveal that El-Demerdash had been elected one of the four representatives
of Cairo on three parliamentary advisory commissions from 1891 to 1894,
from 1902 to 1907 and from 1909 to 1912. He was also elected as a deputy
in the Legislative Assembly from 1913 to 1914. In other words, El-Demerdash
was a member of parliamentary bodies almost throughout his career. Although
the khedive had sought to have him removed, particularly after he joined
the Umma Party, the influence El-Demerdash wielded as head of a Sufi order
and through his personal fortune would ensure his return. Ahmed Shafiq
recounts that in 1908, Khedive Abbas II selected one of his men, Ibrahim
Ragi, to run against El- Demerdash. However, the latter assembled the leaders
of all the Bayoumi orders, of which the El-Demerdashi order was one, and
had them take an oath not to back any other candidate but him. His strategy
succeeded, earning him 120 votes to 60 votes for the khedive's candidate.
The strategy worked a second time when he fielded himself in the legislative
elections as deputy for the Al-Gamaliya constituency, a popular quarter
in which the influence of the Sufi orders ran high.
On 8 August
1928, Al-Ahram published the statement of the El- Demerdash donation which
took the form of a letter addressed to the prime minister. In view of the
insight such documents give into the times, we reprint it here in full:
undersigned -- Abdel-Rahim El-Demerdash, his wife and his daughter Qout
El-Qulub El-Demerdashiya -- are honoured to present the following to Your
"It is our
resolve to found a charity hospital to be located on Queen Nazli Street,
in the El-Demerdash quarter of Abbasiya, El-Wayli precinct, and to be administered
by the government. Towards this end we donate the following:
a plot of land in that location from our estate covering approximately
15,000 square metres;
the sum of LE40,000 to cover construction costs. The money is to be allocated
after we have been presented with and approved the preliminary estimate;
the sum of LE60,000 which we pledge to the government forthwith upon the
completion of the hospital. If the money from this sum is insufficient,
the government shall pledge to pay the remaining costs annually.
we make the following stipulations:
be a public hospital for the treatment of all illnesses apart from epidemic
diseases, and that it contain all necessary departments and an out-patient
admits the poor free of charge, regardless of national or religious affiliation;
be permitted to admit patients with the financial means who will pay the
hospital be named Abdel-Rahim Mustafa El- Demerdash and Family Hospital,
to be written on a marble plaque placed at the main entrance;
room to be built in the courtyard of the hospital to allow prayers to be
performed on the hospital grounds;
to be constructed inside the prayer chamber for the sole use of the undersigned
and no one should be accorded burial in that mausoleum apart from us;
bust be erected in the hospital reception hall to be inscribed on its base:
Al-Sayyid Abdel-Rahim El- Demerdash Pasha, founder of this hospital;
publicly pledge to undertake the maintenance of the hospital and to conduct
any necessary refurbishment or reconstruction should part or all of the
hospital be destroyed or require renovation on condition that such reconstruction
does not obstruct medical treatment in the hospital except when meeting
the absolute exigencies for the completion of work;
commemorative ceremony be held in honour of Abdel-Rahim El-Demerdash on
the anniversary of the inauguration of the hospital. On that day, sweets
shall be distributed to the patients and a portion shall be set aside to
offer guests attending the ceremony;
to attend the inaugural ceremony be issued by Abdel-Rahim Pasha El-Demerdash."
edition of Al-Ahram also published the response of Prime Minister Mohamed
received your letter in which you have kindly informed us of the noble
gift which you and your honourable family have bestowed upon the nation
out of compassion for the poor and ailing.
munificence in the spirit of mercy, charity and piety towards God shall
ensure the highest praise and commemoration of your name for all time and
constitutes an outstanding model for the country's wealthy to emulate and
a powerful appeal to the cause of good deeds and self-sacrifice for the
sake of the public welfare. In addition, your action shall remain a source
of pride for Egypt as long as nations boast of their great benefactors."
the cabinet met to discuss the conditions stipulated by the magnanimous
benefactor. They agreed to them all without reservation, after which all
the necessary measures were put into effect to make El-Demerdash's "noble
gift" a reality.
On 13 August
1928, El-Demerdash Pasha presented the prime minister with a letter from
the German Oriental Bank declaring its authorisation of the benefactor's
instructions to place LE40,000 at the disposal of the Ministry of Public
Works for the purpose of covering the construction costs of the hospital.
The newspaper added, "We have been given to understand that the blueprint
for the hospital was drawn up by the Building Authority in cooperation
with the Public Health Authority and that this hospital is to be the best
health-care facility in Egypt."
hospital, Al-Ahram reported, would be built on 12,400 square metres of
land, hold as many as 90 beds and have the following sections: quarters
for a resident physician and chief nurse, two wards, a surgery unit, out-patient
clinic, a laboratory, kitchen, laundry room, isolation ward, an autopsy
department and a mosque containing the mausoleum for the El- Demerdash
on 25 November, a throng of officials and public personalities gathered
to lay the foundation stone of the El- Demerdash Hospital. Al-Ahram's reporter
on the scene writes, "It is futile to attempt to list all the names of
those present. Suffice it to say that they included present and past ministers
and deputy ministers, religious officials and others of prominence and
stature. Not a single class of society was without a representative in
this gathering." Those present also found the two most powerful figures
in the country in their midst: Lord George Lloyd, the British high commissioner
who was greeted with applause, and Prime Minister Mohamed Mahmoud Pasha,
popularly referred to as "the man with the iron fist."
important speech of the day, of course, was that delivered by the "great
benefactor." El-Demerdash declared that his purpose was "to alleviate the
sufferings of the ill" and that he had been moved to perform this deed
"out of deference to the call of my conscience and in fulfillment of the
loftiest calls of Islam which exhorts us to comfort the ill and assist
the wretched. The pleasure I feel at this moment exceeds all other joys
that life has brought me in rank, wealth, lineage and the like."
correspondent observed that on the table before which El-Demerdash had
delivered his speech lay a bricklayer's tools, a tin vessel containing
an Egyptian coin, a silver vessel containing a silver trowel and a VIP
book made of gazelle parchment which was signed by all the senior officials
present. All then stood as Mohamed Mahmoud placed these objects in the
hollow that had been carved out of the cornerstone, placed the cover over
the opening and affixed it with a lock which was then secured by wire mesh.
such a high-profile act of charity gained widespread acclaim from many
quarters, the press above all and Al-Ahram specifically. On 9 August, under
the headline "LE135,000 -- cooperation is the foundation of the life of
nations," Al-Ahram commented, "Those who know Abdel-Rahim Pasha El- Demerdash
and those who do not, and those who love him as well as those who hate
him, say in one voice, 'You have done well, donator of thousands, and with
your gift you have endeared yourself to all hearts. Those who remember
you tomorrow will recall from your lengthy life's record only this generous
act of charity and when people remember all the great benefactors of the
world and civilised nations, the name of El-Demerdash will be foremost
in the mind of every Egyptian.'"
of the above article took note of an important development in charitable
activity "in a nation that for centuries has only known the construction
of mosques and houses of worship. The age of decadence caused people to
forget the works of their righteous forefathers and all methods of performing
good deeds apart from the construction of temples." Now, however, "The
advocates of reform and the prophets of revival have roused us to the realisation
that charity can be performed through other means."
manifested itself in "community work," or what we might term today NGOs.
Or, in the words of the article, "No sooner did that voice call out to
the nation than people poured forth money to establish charitable societies,
of which we now have more than 80, to build schools for the poor, shelters
and hospitals. And with every passing year those with the means take yet
another big step forward in charitable works, to the extent that within
a quarter of a century we will stand among the ranks of civilised nations."
the importance of the "great gift," Al-Ahram published reports from the
British press: the Times, which covered the opening ceremony, and the Near
East, which praised the "splendid donation" of an amount unprecedented
in Egypt. It added, "It is to be hoped that many people of means will emulate
this noble example."
society expressed its appreciation of the donation through a spate of receptions
and ceremonies in honour of El- Demerdash. More significant was the rush
to keep up with the El- Demerdashes in charitable donations. Of the new
benefactors, some appeared more sincere than others.
On the one
hand, for example, there were individuals such as Mohamed Bek Sultan and
Mohamed Badrawi Pasha Ashour. The former put into effect a provision in
his father's will to found a hospital in the northern part of Minya, "an
area which, despite its importance, is bereft of hospitals." Construction
of the hospital was estimated to cost LE25,000 and the land upon which
it was built was estimated at LE5,000, all paid for by the father's estate.
"All that remains is for the fixtures to be mounted and the walls to be
painted," wrote Al-Ahram, adding, "This noble humanitarian deed ensures
lasting and heartfelt gratitude to the late Omar Pasha Sultan and his son
Mohamed Bek Sultan." In a similar philanthropic spirit, Ashour dedicated
a 300-feddan plot of his estate and a significant ongoing waqf trust for
a hospital in Talkha.
On the other
hand, there were others who made promises but failed to keep them. Ibrahim
Murad Pasha, for example, announced that he intended to found a hospital
in Bilbeis, towards which end he would put 60 feddans of land in trust.
Although the pledge was greeted with great fanfare, after a considerable
period of waiting, Al-Ahram was forced to comment, "It is our belief that
the pasha will put into effect this charitable deed, which will preserve
his name among the ranks of magnanimous benefactors. However, up to now,
no measures have been taken to fulfill his pledge, for which reason we
renew our plea to the pasha to take steps towards the implementation of
his noble intention." After it noticed still no signs of progress, Al-Ahram
gave up and fell silent on the matter.