What looked like a resignation of the Nahas Pasha Cabinet was in fact a polite firing by King Fouad.  The King, in consultation with the British High Commissioner, chose Mohammad Mahmoud Pasha to form a new Cabinet on June 25, 1928.  The King’s choice was based on the fact that Mahmoud Pasha, who was the Minister of Finances in the Nahas Cabinet, was also the main architect of that Cabinet dissolution (with the King’s encouragement and blessing).  On the other hand, the British quick agreement was based on the fact that Mahmoud Pasha was an Oxford Graduate, an admirer of British customs and style of life with whom the Brits can do business!!

The newly appointed Prime Minister was tasked by the King to erode the power of the Majority Party (the Wafd) by enticing some of its leaders to join his Cabinet and possibly his Political Party which was the Liberal Constitutional Party (HIZB AL AHRAR AL DISTOURYENE).


Politician, Cabinet Minister and Premier.  Born in Sahel Salim (near the city of Asyut) to a wealthy Egyptian family (he inherited a thousand six hundreds feddans from his father Mahmoud Sulayman, and increased his landholdings during his lifetime).  Mohammad was educated in Asyut, Cairo, and at Balliol College, Oxford.  He held various administrative positions, becoming Governor of Fayyum, the Suez Canal District and Buhayra.  He joined the Wafd during the 1919 Revolution and was interned with Saad Zaghloul Pasha in Malta.  He soon broke with Saad, however, and became one of the founders of the Liberal Constitutional Party in 1922, serving initially as its Vice President and becoming its President in 1929.  He entered the Cabinet in 1926, became Finance Minister in 1927 and Prime Minister in 1928 1929.  During his term of office, he reached a tentative Agreement with the British Foreign Office, but Britain insisted on having the approval of the Wafd Party, which demanded the restoration of the Parliamentary Democracy under the 1923 Constitution; so Mahmoud resigned in 1929.  He was a member of the coalition of politicians that negotiated the 1936 Anglo-Egyptian Treaty.  After King Farouq dismissed the Wafdist Government in 1937, Mahmoud formed a caretaker coalition Cabinet.  His Constitutional Liberal Party regained power in the 1938 parliamentary elections boycotted by the Wafd, and he became Prime Minister in 1938-1939.  He published a volume of his speeches under the title of “AL YAD AL QAWIYYA” (the strong hand), and a memorandum on the 1929 Anglo-Egyptian negotiations.  He was intelligent and patriotic but nervous and intolerant of opposition.  In 1927 a British observer remarked:  “He is at times held back by the fact that he does not consider any Egyptian but himself clever enough to run the Country without the English, and so wants to keep here till he has maneuvered himself to head the affairs.”   (1)

As soon as he was nominated to form a Cabinet, Mohammad Mahmoud Pasha (2) realized that those who accepted to join his Cabinet represented a minority in the House Of Representatives, which led him, on the second day of his nomination to request and obtain a Royal Decree freezing the activities of the House and, at the end of this period, he asked for and obtained a second Royal Decree dismissing both the House and the Senate with no further elections to take place for a period of three years.  The Decree claimed that the Parliament, with its Wafdist Majority, led the Country into a state of anarchy, that would certainly derail the Country and its Constitution, paralyze the Parliament and jeopardize the safety and security of the land!!  In plain English, the decree meant that Royal Decrees would govern the Country for at least three years to come. 

Needless to say that the Royal decree was met by a general disapproval and discontent; the Wafd Party, along with the National Party (AL HIZB AL WATANI) issued a joint communiqué condemning the new Cabinet action, and the speaker of the House and Vice-speaker of the Senate requested from the Minister Of Interior the authorization to hold a joint session, on July 28, 1928, to discuss the matter.  The request was refused and a large contingent of Security Forces prevented the requested meeting.  Deputies and Senators met nonetheless in the private residence of one of its leaders and voted to withdraw their confidence of the Cabinet and accused the Government of sabotaging the 1923 Constitution.  As a reaction to the Parliament decision, the Cabinet agreed to amend the Constitution of the Lawyers Society and to arrest Nahas Pasha. 

On December 1928 Nahas Pasha and two other lawyers were accused and tried by the Lawyers Society for committing acts dishonoring the profession in the case of Prince Ahmad Seifeldine that was mentioned in the previous episode.  The Court declared the accuseds not guilty and confirmed that the accusation documents were fraudulent and so were the declarations of the Government’s witnesses.  In retaliation the Government withdrew from the Lawyers Society the right to put its members under trial and conferred that right to the Supreme Court (“MAHKAMET AL NAQD WAL IBRAM”).  The Cabinet also issued a decree to arrest and put under trial whoever incite the hatred of the system of Government established by the Royal Decree of 1928.  The Cabinet also reinstated the Press Law of 1881 thus reestablishing a press censorship and the right to stop the publication of any newspaper or magazine that cultivate hatred.  Dozens of publications permits were withdrawn as a result of this law.  The Cabinet also decreed to amend the regulations governing the Public Employees by prohibiting all those employed by the Government to attend political meetings or to contact the press; any contravention to that decree would be punishable by firing.  Another decree prohibited students of public schools and teaching institutions, including the “AZHAR” to get involved in politics and/or to participate in any political demonstration.  These last decrees were worse than martial law since it was well known that, in that period of the history of Egypt, that it was the students and Government employees who organized and led most of the political demonstrations.  The Cabinet did not stop at punishing the living opposition it also punished the dead by reducing the budget previously agreed upon, for the Saad Zaghloul Pasha memorial, from one hundred and six thousand pounds to thirty five thousand!!

On the positive side the Cabinet decided to form a committee to study and implement the project of supplying a number of towns and villages with potable water; a foreign specialist was hired for that purpose.

A budget of one hundred and seventy six thousand pounds was allocated by the Cabinet to build a total of one hundred and fifty hospitals, fifty of which would be built in cities and one hundred in villages.

On August 14 1928 the Cabinet thankfully accepted the gift presented by Abdel Rahim El Demerdash Pasha (3) and his family to the people of Egypt; the gift consisted of fifteen thousand square meters, along with one hundred thousand pounds, to build a hospital bearing the family name on Queen Nazli Boulevard with the understanding that all treatments in that hospital would be free of charge.

The Cabinet agreed to build healthy lodgings to the workers of the Egyptian Railroad Organization.  It also agreed to reorganize the medical profession by strictly confining it to those who graduate from medical schools and are bearers of medical licenses.

A budget of four million pounds was agreed upon by the Cabinet to advance loans to small farmers with an interest not exceeding four percent; it also agreed to distribute two thousand feddans amongst small farmers, in the Province of Fayyum, at a minimal price to be paid over thirty years.

The Cabinet, with the help of religious leaders, reviewed the Personal Status Laws organizing divorces and other marital matters and amending them in conformity with the four Moslem Legal Schools.  A Royal Decree was issued adding more honorary titles to the grandees of the land according to the official medals they earned and the ranks they held in their political, military or administrative careers (such as “SAHEB AL MAQAM AL RAFII, SAHEB AL SAADA and SAHEB AL IZZA”).

On June 13, 1929, Mohammad Mahmoud Pasha, the Prime Minister, made a trip to England to receive an honorary Doctorship from the Oxford University.  While there he carried some negotiations with the newly formed British Government led by minister Macdonald, and particularly with Mr. Henderson the Foreign Minister, for the purpose of solving once and for all the Egyptian Question by signing a convention giving Egypt full authority over the protection of foreigners living in Egypt and their properties while Great Britain could keep some military contingents to help protecting the important strategically sectors such as the Suez Canal; it would be understood that such military presence would not be considered as army of occupation, which would ease Egypt’s access to the membership of the League Of NationsMahmoud Pasha was encouraged in his dialogue by the fact that the new British Cabinet had instructed its High Commissioner in Egypt to strictly reduce his interference in the Egyptian interior matters.  Once the news of these negotiations reached Egypt, the leaders of the disbanded Parliament, and particularly the Wafd Party, announced their objection to such talks on the basis that Mahmoud Pasha did not represent the will of the Egyptian electorates.  They even went as far as sending cables of protest to the British Prime Minister and his Foreign Minister.  The Wafd Party went even further by proclaiming that there could never be genuine negotiations with Great Britain unless and until a popularly elected Parliament and Constitutional Government would be reinstated in Egypt.

Facing the resistance of the Wafd Party and its refusal to participate in a coalition Government and the interference of the newly appointed British High Commissioner, Sir Percy Lorraine, who announced to the Egyptian Prime Minister that no Treaty could be concluded with the Egyptian Government without the approval of the Wafd and the majority it represents, Mahmoud Pasha presented his Cabinet resignation to King Fouad on October 2, 1929

(to be continued)

Kamal Karim Katba






Arthur Goldschmidt Jr., is Professor Emeritus of Middle East History at Pennsylvania State University. He is (with Lawrence Davidson) the author of A Concise History of the Middle East, Eighth Edition, and is the author as well of Modern Egypt: Foundation of a Nation-State, Second Edition. He is the recipient of the Amoco Foundation Award for Outstanding Teaching and the 2000 Middle East Studies Association Mentoring Award. Goldschmidt has been known during his years at Penn State for having created a series of courses that stimulated undergraduate interest in Middle Eastern history and culture. Educated at Colby College and Harvard University, Goldschmidt has held fellowships from the Social Science Research Council and the Fulbright Faculty Research fund, among others. He is author of numerous books and many articles and essays on Middle Eastern history. He was an elected faculty senator, chaired its committee on student affairs and served as secretary. He chaired the Middle East Studies committee for 25 years. He also was instrumental in helping to devise courses in non-western history and in developing the successor to those courses for the general education curriculum.

In addition, he is one of the most respected authorities on Egypt's Modern history. Prof. Goldschmidt is a frequent contributor on the Internet, including the prestigious and oldest forum: Egypt Net.


For meaningful and serious discussions about the History of Modern Egypt,  join Egypt Net group (The oldest  continuous Egyptian forum on the internet since 1985.) 




Mohamed 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. 

Mohamed Mahmoud 

May God grant you a long life... etc -- Mohamed Mahmoud


"This was 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.

Mahmoud 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 in 1907.

Following 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.

With this 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. 

The 1919 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.

Despite 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. 

This is 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.

The British 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.

The university 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.

This situation 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. 

Mahmoud 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.

Mahmoud 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.

This is 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 constitution. 

During 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 since.

In short, 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 time.

THE FIRST 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. 

Among these 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.

There was 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.

This led 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.

Moreover, 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.

The second 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".

What had 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.

One again, 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.

THIS END 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 Saadist minister.

What was 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 work.

The worst 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. 

This was 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. 

With all 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".

Our paper 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.

After the 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.

At 5.30pm, 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.

The Wafdist 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.

Al-Masri 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. 

We agree 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.


The extraordinary 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 

Last night, 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." 

This announcement 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." 

Al-Ahram 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." 

Although 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. 

Despite 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. 

However, 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: 

"In 1906 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." 

The article 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 his waqf." 

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." 

The article 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: 

"Before 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 Sheikh El-Demerdash. 

Parliamentary 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: 

"We the undersigned -- Abdel-Rahim El-Demerdash, his wife and his daughter Qout El-Qulub El-Demerdashiya -- are honoured to present the following to Your Excellency: 

"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: 

"First, a plot of land in that location from our estate covering approximately 15,000 square metres; 

"Secondly, 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; 

"Thirdly, 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. 

"Further, we make the following stipulations: 

"That this 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 clinic; 

"The hospital admits the poor free of charge, regardless of national or religious affiliation; 

"That it be permitted to admit patients with the financial means who will pay the set fees; 

"That this hospital be named Abdel-Rahim Mustafa El- Demerdash and Family Hospital, to be written on a marble plaque placed at the main entrance; 

"A prayer room to be built in the courtyard of the hospital to allow prayers to be performed on the hospital grounds; 

"A mausoleum 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; 

"A commemorative 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; 

"The government 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; 

"An annual 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; 

"Invitations to attend the inaugural ceremony be issued by Abdel-Rahim Pasha El-Demerdash." 

The same edition of Al-Ahram also published the response of Prime Minister Mohamed Mahmoud: 

"We have 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. 

"Such rare 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." 

Soon afterwards, 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." 

The planned 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 family. 

At 3.30pm 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." 

The most 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." 

Al-Ahram's 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. 

Naturally, 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.'" 

The writer 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." 

This development 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." 

To emphasise 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." 

Egyptian 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. 




© Kamal Katba 2009


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