Mohammad Mahmoud Pasha being reluctant in withdrawing his resignation and that of his Cabinet, King Fouad The First, listened to the discreet advice of Sir Percy Loraine, the new High Commissioner to Egypt, appointed by the British Labor Cabinet with strict instruction to keep as low a profile as possible.  The British diplomat conveyed to the King his Government’s wish to see the Constitutional life resumed in Egypt and suggested that a new neutral Cabinet should be appointed for the purpose of calling a new general election in the Country.  Both agreed that Adli Yakan would be the best candidate for that job.

 (November 5, 1880-May 23, 1961)

British High Commissioner to Egypt from 1929 to 1933Sir Percy was educated at Eton and New College, Oxford, and fought in the Boer War.  He joined the Foreign Service in 1904 and served in Istanbul and Tehran then in Rome, Peking, Paris and Madrid.  He attended the Paris Peace Conference and later served as Minister in Tehran and then in Athens.  He succeeded Sir George Lloyd as High Commissioner for Egypt and the Sudan but his policy of letting King Fouad control the Government led the Foreign Office to remove him in 1933 Loraine was sent to Ankara where he developed close ties with Kemal Ataturk and strengthened Anglo Turkish relations.  In 1939-1940 he served as Ambassador to Italy before it joined World War 2.  During World War 2, Winston Churchill made no use of his Middle East experience and he retired from public life.  He was made a Knight Commander of the Orders of Saint Michael and Saint George in 1925 (1)

After several meetings between King Fouad, Sir Percy Loraine (2), on one side, and Mustafa El Nahas Pasha on the other, Nahas stubbornly refused the participation of his Wafd Party in the Yakan Pasha Cabinet that was still under formation.  Royal Instructions were thus issued to the appointed Prime Minister to form a Cabinet of technician members belonging to no Political Parties with the purpose of supervising new general elections.

Shortly after it was sworn in, the new Cabinet obtained a Royal Decree, re-activating the frozen 1923 Constitution and on November 2, 1929, another Royal Decree fixed the election date with the understanding that the new Parliament to be elected was to be inaugurated on January 11, 1930.

The election took place on the agreed date with the participation of all the then existing Political Parties except The Liberal Constitutional Party of Mohammad Mahmoud Pasha that refused to be part of the process.  As predicted, the Wafd Party obtained a huge majority in the House Of Deputies with over 90% of the seats (212 seats out of 235).

Since the Cabinet achieved the objective for which it was elected, Yakan Pasha felt it was his duty to submit the resignation of his Cabinet to the King, which he did on December 29, 1929, after less than three months on the job.  The king accepted the Cabinet resignation on January 1, 1930.

During that short period of its tenure, the Cabinet held six meetings during which the following important decisions were adopted: 

On December 17, 1929, the Cabinet decided to distribute five thousands feddans, from the Royal Domain in the Gharbyeh Province, amongst landless cultivators with the understanding that farming was their only source of living.  The Cabinet allocated the amount of four millions Egyptian Pounds as a loan to cotton farmers, particularly after the Government’s decision to participate as buyer in the cotton market. 

A budget of four millions and three hundred thousand Pounds were decreed to raise the Aswan dam and increase its potential.  It also agreed to transform the Alexandriatelephone central from manual to automatic with a cost of thirty thousand Pounds.  It also decided to buy the palace of Princess Fatima Hanem Ismail, in Boulac Al Dakrour, and turn it into an Agricultural Museum with a cost not exceeding thirty four thousand Pounds to be deducted from the Ministry Of Agriculture Budget.  Finally, the Cabinet accorded the Egyptian Citizenship to Rabbi Naoum Efendi, the Judaic Chief Rabbi in Cairo (3).

While accepting the Yakan Pasha Cabinet resignation, the King, with the discreet urging of Sir Percy, felt that the result of the election called for the appointment of a wafdist Cabinet.  At first, the King well known for his dislike of Mustafa El Nahas Pasha, the leader of the Wafd, thought of inviting Ali Al Shamsi Pasha (a moderate Wafdist) to form a new Wafdist Cabinet but at the advice of the British High Commissioner who wanted to establish a new smooth relationship with Nahas and the Wafd for the purpose of proceeding with the negotiation started with Mohammad Mahmoud Pasha, the King reluctantly invited Nahas Pasha to form a new Cabinet.

Here was finally a Cabinet representing the majority of the Egyptian voters for the purpose of negotiating a new treaty with the British Government that would cement the relationship between the two countries and turn it into an honorable alliance that would generate great benefits for both.  Furthermore the Nahas Pasha Cabinet, with its strong majority in the Parliament, had a clear mandate to represent the Country in these negotiations.  It was therefore understood that the main purpose of the Cabinet, if not the only one, was to nominate the Egyptian Delegation that would accompany the Prime Minister to London for the task of immediately starting the talks and reaching, as soon as possible, an agreement favorable to both sides; but it was not to be that way!!! 

As soon as the Cabinet was sworn in and the Parliament inaugurated on January 11, 1930, it showed zeal and dynamism unknown until then.  Prior to nominating the negotiating team, the Cabinet held at least two meetings daily, one in the morning and one in the afternoon the results of which were an avalanche of decrees.  It promulgated a law establishing new customs duties and amending existing ones for the purpose of protecting Egyptian made goods against foreign competitors. 

An extra amount of eight million pounds was decided to loan the farmers with repayment after the sale of their cotton crops (4).  The Cabinet canceled the expense accounts of five hundreds Pounds a year allocated to each Cabinet Minister, from the Cabinet budget, and three hundred Pounds from the Budget of each Ministry.  The Cabinet raised the starting salary of University Degree holding Public Service employees to fifteen Pounds monthly with an extra five pounds to those with a Medical Degree.

Finally the Cabinet constituted the Negotiating delegation which was to accompany Nahas Pasha to London and allocated the amount of thirty five thousand Pounds which would cover the travel expenses of the team; an extra five thousands pounds were set aside to cover the possibility of sudden unexpected situations.

The Negotiations started in London on March 31 and abruptly ended on May 8, 1930.  Both sides agreed about all articles of a final Treaty except those concerning the status of the Sudan and its future!!  The Egyptian Delegation accused the British side of writing the articles concerning the Sudan in such an obscure way that it would certainly cause lots of conflicts between the two Countries; the Egyptian side urged a rewriting of those articles in a simple and clear way to prevent any misunderstanding in the future, but the British side adamantly refused. 

At the return of the Egyptian Delegation home, all the Opposition Parties, led by the Liberal Constitutional Party, united in their attacks against the Majority Government and their Press accused the Wafd of sabotaging a Treaty that could have been to the advantage of the Country!!  The opposition called for the dismissal of the Cabinet on the ground of its Negotiations abysmal failure, since the sole purpose of the Cabinet’s appointment was to lead the Negotiations to a successful end; they even went as far as urging the British High Commissioner to join them in their campaign for the dismissal of the Cabinet!!

Meanwhile, King Fouad who never liked the Wafd and its popularity waited patiently for an opportunity to fire his Prime Minister; he did not have to wait for too long and was spared the unpopular decision to fire his Cabinet. Nahas Pasha came with two projects of law to be signed by the King; the first project was about a list of Candidates for Royal appointment to the Senate and the second was about taking Cabinet Ministers to Courts in account of any eventual misdeeds.  At the King’s refusal to sign, Nahas Pasha threatened to resign his Cabinet hoping that His Majesty would reconsider, but, for the King, that was an opportunity he could not miss and the Cabinet’s resignation was made public on June 19, 1930.

Thus ended Egypt’s bitter experimentation with a Democracy based on Constitutional Monarchy.  The text of the Belgian Constitution, from which the Egyptian 1923 Constitution was borrowed, was there, but the spirit was not.

(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.) 




 After four lean years starting in 1929, the summer of 1933 brought signs of relief for the Egyptian nationalist movement. Prime Minister Ismail Sidqi was on a lengthy convalescence in Europe and there was reason to believe that the end of his heavy-handed era was at hand. Strengthening this hope were a number of crises that blew up in the face of this government, compelling a cabinet reshuffle. Then it was announced that as Sidqi's reward for producing those lean years, British High Commissioner to Egypt Sir Percy Loraine was to be transferred. His successor, writes Professor Yunan Labib Rizk*, would give a clue as to British intentions in Egypt 

Sir Percy Loraine 

The news appeared on page six of Al-Ahram of 14 August 1933. "Sir Percy Loraine appointed British ambassador to Ankara. Who will succeed him here?" read the headline. Naturally, the following day's editorial would focus on this subject, specifically on "Sir Percy Loraine and his policy in Egypt". The article relates that Sir Percy, the British high commissioner to Egypt, had arrived in the country when Mohamed Mahmoud was prime minister. Mahmoud had succeeded in hammering out an agreement with London over various aspects of the British military presence and level of diplomatic representation in Egypt. However, the British felt that any such agreement with Cairo needed popular backing which only the Wafd Party could provide. Mahmoud was compelled to step down and elections were held, bringing to power a Wafd government headed by Mustafa El-Nahhas. Then, "His Excellency El-Nahhas Pasha and his delegation travelled to London and resumed negotiations until the process was broken off entirely." 

The collapse of negotiations in May 1930 brought the collapse of the Nahhas government, the suspension of parliamentary life the following month and the "Sidqi coup". In the opinion of the Al-Ahram editorial, the installation of Prime Minister Sidqi and his pro-palace government could not have taken place without some form of assistance on the part of Sir Percy. "Although many are unable to pinpoint the role he played, they maintain that as the agent of the occupying power and thus responsible for its interests and the interests of foreigners in the country, he would have refused to have his hands tied while the country was in turmoil and blood was being shed." Although the commentator, too, rejected Sir Percy's claims that he was adhering to a policy of non- intervention in Egypt's domestic affairs, he felt that the high commissioner's strategy was to sit back and let Egyptians fight it out with one another, "in anticipation of the spoils to be gained from the victor, regardless of which team won". He explains, "If Loraine had entered the fray in the name of Britain and the British, the Egyptians would have rallied and turned their attention to the struggle against Britain. However, he did not because he had great political cunning, the same political cunning he brought to all events and affairs during the three or four years he has been here." 

The editorial goes on to give a final account of Loraine's term in Dubara Palace, the British high commissioner's headquarters in Cairo. The assessment did not reflect well on the Egyptian nationalist movement. The unity of the Nile Valley had long been a nationalist demand, and on this issue the editorialist comments, "All forms of communications have been severed between Egypt and Sudan. Even in the Jabal Al- Awliya' talks the British governor-general of Sudan was given the right to speak on behalf of the Sudanese and to stipulate what he wants and whom he wants where. The same applies to all relations with regard to customs, commerce and other economic affairs, in spite of the fact that throughout this critical period Egypt was ever generous with the money it had dedicated to the revival of Sudan, regardless of how desperately Egypt itself needed that money." 

Turning to other bones of contention between Egypt and Britain, the author wrote: "Nor did he provide the help he led us to believe he would give with regard to the national debt and the linkage between the Egyptian and British pounds, or with regard to the question of the Capitulations System. If it is indeed true that his sole virtue was his commitment to neutrality in Egyptian domestic affairs, we would have rather he had assumed the greater credit for turning this policy to the benefit of Egypt and the Egyptians' pursuit of their national rights. Then we might have felt that Britain, through its high commissioner, was keen to extend the hand of aid and cooperation." 

Earlier that year, Al-Ahram had announced that Loraine had left Egypt on 25 February 1933 over family concerns following the death of his mother. In early April it was reported that Percy would be returning to Egypt on the 24th of that month. However, the Al-Ahram office in London had learned from "informed sources" in the British capital that the high commissioner would be transferred to another posting and that among those being considered as his replacement in Egypt were the governor-general of Sudan, the British ambassador to Iraq Sir Humphreys and the British minister- plenipotentiary to Tehran. 

While the transfer rumour proved correct, none of the three nominees would end up in Dubara Palace. Nevertheless, that these names were being mooted at all gave a clue to British intentions in Egypt. "Britain wants to change to a military skin, which is to say to adopt a 'do as you're told' approach to our affairs. It is difficult for the diplomat to transform into a military man and vice versa because each approach has its own intrinsic codes and morals." At the same time the newspaper counselled against "seeking inspiration and looking for portents of good and evil from the skies over London". Rather, it was to the skies over Cairo that eyes should turn, for it was "the Egyptian people who must say what they want and what they do not want. Only then will they be respected." 

Although the Egyptian press in that scorching month of August 1933 was filled with rumours regarding the changing of the guard in Dubara Palace, the British had yet to give Cairo official notification. Apparently it was deemed sufficient that Deputy High Commissioner Ronald Campbell whispered the news in King Fouad's ear while paying a courtesy call on the royal stalls in the Racing Club. 

In Cairo it was simply accepted that Loraine was getting a promotion. After all, as British representative in Egypt his rank was minister-plenipotentiary whereas in Ankara he would be a full-fledged ambassador. However, the British press was of another opinion. Commenting on the importance of the high commission to Egypt, one London- based newspaper remarked, "Some imagine that the mission of this post is restricted to Egypt and Sudan. The reality, as we have learned from the memoirs and activities of previous high commissioners, is that the high commissioner is also the commander-general of the occupation army in Egypt, a duty that could extend its influence to all or most other Arab countries. Egypt is viewed internationally as a political pivot in the world. An indication of this is that when Britain declared Egypt a protectorate, it called upon international capitals to recall their political consuls and restrict their representation to the level of commercial consuls, as is the case with other protectorate countries. The response of these countries was that the case of Egypt was unique, located as it is at a vital political and geographical juncture in the world and that no nation can dispense with a political man in place in Egypt from where he can oversee developments in the surrounding environment, the path to which leads through Egypt." 

Given the importance of this position, it was only natural that attention would turn to Loraine's successor. In the opinion of the London-based Financial Times, whoever that person turned out to be, his task would be easy in some respects and very difficult in others. The departing high commissioner, it wrote, "filled his arduous post with great skill and restored to it the dignity that was needed by the Egyptian government and that was often feared to be at risk. Percy received his appointment to Egypt at an inopportune time. His predecessor Lloyd George had just been recalled in a manner equivalent to a public rebuke, contrary to Sir Percy Loraine who leaves Cairo to the sound of fond farewells and best wishes." Nevertheless, if Sir Percy's successor would encounter a more favourable climate, he would still have before him the task of pursuing the stalled agreement between Cairo and London and of enhancing political relations between the two countries in general. 

Finally, after much speculation in the press, the question of who the next high commissioner would be was resolved. On 19 August, Al-Ahram's London correspondent dispatched the following report: 

"Upon his return from holiday in Britain, British Prime Minister MacDonald met with the permanent deputy of the Foreign Office to discuss the appointment of the new high commissioner to Egypt. In spite of the official silence surrounding the issue, informed sources have indicated that Sir Miles Lampson is the person to be selected." 

Apparently the "sources" were so close to the decision- making centre in London that the Al-Ahram correspondent felt confident enough to furnish a brief biography of the man he believed would be the next incumbent of Dubara Palace. Born on 24 August 1880, Lampson was educated at Eton and joined the Foreign Office in 1903. His first posting was as second secretary in the British Embassy in Tokyo from 1903 to 1910, after which he was posted to Sophia, Peking and then, in 1920, to Siberia as high commissioner. In 1921, he served as a member of the British delegation at the international disarmament conference in Washington and in 1925 he represented Britain in the Locarno Conference. The following year he was appointed minister plenipotentiary at the British embassy in Peking, from where he would now be heading to Cairo. 

We also gain some insight into the character of this long- term member of the diplomatic corps. "His acquaintances describe him as mild-mannered, even-tempered and resourceful... From his experiences in the Far East it is clear that the power of his sagacity enabled him to become an arbitrator in many affairs, especially at the height of the Sino- Japanese crisis when the Japanese fleet entered Chinese territorial waters and ports." 

That the British press did the same as its Egyptian counterparts further confirmed the Lampson appointment. The Evening Standard provided a verbal portrait of the next high commissioner to Egypt. At six foot five inches -- nearly two metres tall and 95 kilogrammes, he was of strong and sturdy build and considerable equanimity. "Far from nervous in temperament, he is one of the most competent officers and top crisis solvers ever to come out of the Foreign Office. He combines many fine traits, among which are an impressive composure and ability to influence others. His passion for work is such that he needs an entire team of secretaries working in rotation in order to keep up with his indefatigable activity." 

Amidst all this praise for the forthcoming high commissioner, many in Egypt began to protest against the impending fait accompli. Among these was MP Abdel-Latif Helmi Ghanam, representative of Talkha who, in a letter to Al- Ahram, complained, "It is as though Egypt does not even exist, as though it is not an independent sovereign nation, as though it does not have a great king who is bound by nothing but the provisions of the constitution in his conduct of the domestic and foreign affairs of the state. It is as though it does not have a standing parliament that represents the people who are the sole source of authority and that confers its confidence to the government or withdraws it if the situation demands. It is as though this high commissioner is the people and the government wrapped up in a single individual and all the Egyptian government can do is to readjust and reshape itself whenever that individual changes." 

Al-Ahram could not help but agree with Ghanam. British tyranny, it wrote, had never had to confront a successful passive resistance. "If our governments were founded on this principle, and if individuals and parties would refuse to accept power except in response to the express will of the people, then Egypt would attain the goal to which it aspires. However, as long as the aim of politics is merely to get into government, the British will be able to impose their will and their high commissioner will issue his dictates, while every contending camp scrambles to help him in the hope of attaining positions of power." 

In spite of this declaration, Al-Ahram appeared reconciled to the fait accompli and joined others in the attempt to interpret the change in high commissioner. On 28 August 1933, under the front page headline, "The appointment of the new high commissioner and British policy in Egypt," Al-Ahram's London correspondent remarks that the adamancy with which British officials claim that London's policy towards Egypt would not change suggests that the opposite would be the case. The new incumbent in Dubara Palace was coming in order to put an end to that vicious cycle of a Wafd government followed by an anti-Wafd government, then a neutral interim government followed by a Wafd government again, "while on the British side, the iron fist alternated with the velvet glove, with moments of biased neutrality in between". 

That Lampson was perceived as the person to break this cycle was based on the fact that he had no past history with Egypt. "He is coming to Cairo from the Far East with an open mind. He is also the type of person who immediately sets about to thoroughly familiarise himself with local affairs. It is known, for example, that when he first arrived in Japan and China he undertook to study the languages of those countries, languages, we might add, that are not easy for Europeans to learn. It is therefore not odd to hear that he has already begun to study Arabic. In all events, his arrival in Egypt is certain to prelude increased British interest in Egyptian affairs." 

On this latter point, the newspaper was more explicit when, several days later, it asked, "Will the new British high commissioner bring with him a new policy?" The writer had little doubt that he would. After all, the transfer of Sir Loraine had not occurred out of the blue. The former high commissioner and his policies had come under harsh criticism by his British compatriots in Egypt. "Many of them had accused him of ruining British prestige in the Nile Valley and weakening Britain's control over Egypt. Some British visitors to Egypt supported this view and, upon their return to Britain, aired their criticisms of the current order in Egypt and demanded a change in policy that would at least partially restore British control to its earlier level." 

As only the new high commissioner would be able to confirm such conjectures, all awaited his arrival. Little did they expect that when the SS Esperia docked in Alexandria on 11 October 1933 it was not Sir Lampson who stepped out but rather Percy Loraine. This did not prevent the reception from proceeding according to protocol: "Mr Ronald Campbell, acting high commissioner, and General Wales Pasha, director of the Port Authority, greeted Sir Percy as the regimental band of the British garrison struck up the British royal anthem and an army column issued an honourary salute as per custom." 

Egyptians were naturally dumb struck and in an attempt to unravel this mystery Al-Ahram surmised that Loraine's return did not necessarily mean that the British government had changed its mind about his transfer. Firstly, it explained, the decision to transfer the high commissioner had only been made relatively recently, in fact after the Foreign Office announced its annual postings. Meanwhile, Loraine had been on sick leave for many months, during which period Campbell had shouldered his responsibilities and was now due his annual leave. Secondly, London had learned that Prime Minister Sidqi, who had also been in Europe for health purposes that summer, was planning on tendering his resignation. "As the Foreign Office expected some development, whether large or small, to occur in Egyptian politics in the coming months, it felt it wise not to leave the high commissionership without a senior official to monitor events and take action if necessary." Thirdly, the Foreign Office did not want Lampson to arrive in Egypt before the political situation had stabilised somewhat, "so that he can have the opportunity to study local circumstances in a climate of relative calm". The article explained, "The Foreign Office recalls that when Loraine arrived at the end of 1929, he had to immediately contend with a number of new developments, such as the proposed treaty, the end of the dictatorial period and the holding of new elections, without having had the opportunity to acclimatise and familiarise himself with Egyptian affairs." 

As predicted, Loraine spent just over two months back in the country, giving Campbell the opportunity to go on leave and recover from an illness that had struck him. Those two months was a crucial period for Egypt. Sidqi had resigned on 27 September, marking the first time a high commissioner had no say in a prime minister's departure. This went strongly against the grain of how the British liked to run affairs in Egypt, which explains why one of Loraine's first actions upon his return was to raise the issue with the king. Fouad's response, we learn from British Foreign Office archives, was that Sidqi's influence had become so strong that it was feared he would become a dictator and that he -- the king -- did not approve of so much power being concentrated in the hands of a single individual such as Sidqi. Loraine then went to Sidqi to get his version of the story. The former prime minister responded that his resignation was the price he had to pay for having worked to enhance the powers of the king, the result of which was that the palace was now meddling too much in the government's affairs which was unacceptable in view of the "lack of effective constitutional controls over the actions of the king". 

Subsequent to these interviews, Loraine set about what was undoubtedly the main purpose of his brief return to Cairo: reasserting his presence and preparing the ground for his successor. 

After Loraine's departure, Dubara Palace prepared to receive its new master. Unusually, the handover took place in two phases, which we might term the assumption of the post and the assumption of responsibilities, with approximately a month separating the two. The reason: Lampson was coming direct from his posting in China but he was still owed home leave. Thus, barely two weeks after his predecessor left, the new high commissioner stepped off his homeward bound ship once it docked in Port Said and headed straight for Dubara Palace in Cairo. Much to everyone's surprise there was no official reception. Moreover, contrary to the custom upon the arrival of other foreign diplomatic representatives, he did not present letters of accreditation, causing Al-Balagh to remark that this implied that the British still perceived Egypt as part of the realm of the British crown. 

Lampson's second arrival a month later was even more unusual. It was the first time since the occupation that Britain's representative to Egypt arrived by air. The new high commissioner flew by aquaplane to Alexandria where he transferred to another aquaplane that landed on the Nile, in front of Dubara Palace in Garden City. The arrival made for considerable jest in the Egyptian press, which spoke of the high commissioner who descended from the heavens. Aside from the humour with which Egyptians famously greet such oddities, it was quickly noted that Lampson's arrival by air was a smooth way to avoid the protocols other foreign representatives had to observe when assuming their posting in Egypt. That the new government, headed by Abdel-Fattah Yehia, appeared to sanction this came under heavy criticism from the opposition Wafd Party, and the fallout from that controversy would be the first problem Lampson would have to face. Evidently, his new posting was not destined to begin as smoothly as he and the Foreign Office had hoped. 


In 1923, Rabbi Naoum received an invitation from Moise Cattaoui Pacha,head of the Jewish community in Cairo, to become the Chief Rabbi of Egypt

Naoum Effendi was appointed to serve as a Senator in the nation's Legislative assembly and helped to found the Royal Academy of the Arabic language. One of his major schorlary works, commissioned by the King himself, was to translate into French all of the Ottoman Turkish firmans ( Imperial decrees and laws) which had been sent to the rulers of Egypt since the 16th century when Egypt had first passed under Ottoman imperial rule. 


According to a government law of 1899, taxes are pegged at 28.64% of rent. In practice direct and indirect government taxes are much higher, weighing very heavily on the Egyptian peasantry, which is abjectly poor as it is. In 1928 the Egyptian fellah paid an average of 947 Egyptian piastres [= £E9.47] in government tax on each faddan, as well as 20 piastres for each qintar of cotton, and many various other taxes on buildings, fruit-trees, etc. In total, government taxes, including direct and indirect ones, take up about 25–30% of the gross income of an Egyptian fellah.

The burden of taxation oppresses the peasantry in Egypt ever more harshly. Government taxes keep increasing, not just relative to the diminishing income of the fellah but also in absolute terms. Here are some figures that illustrate this clearly: in 1905 the average price of a qintar of cotton was £E2.79, and the direct and indirect taxes paid by the peasantry totalled £E7.5 million. And in 1932–33 the average price of a qintar of cotton was only £E2.5 and the taxes amounted to £E21.6 million. (In fact, these levied taxes are not spent on improving the living conditions of the masses of taxpayers, but benefit mostly the feudal and capitalist classes in Egypt, and predominantly flow into the pockets of the English capitalists and government as debt repayment. A small illustration will show this fact clearly: in the budget year 1928/29 the expenses of the court of King Fuad were £E716,709, and the budget for public health was £E1,051,984 Egyptian Pounds. Vast sums of the Egyptian treasury, squeezed out of the toiling masses, were spent on constructing the Nile dams in Aswan, on the conquest of the Sudan, etc. – actions that sustain the English government and its rule over Egypt.

In addition to the impoverishment of the Egyptian village caused by the fall in the prices of agricultural produce, the growing burden of rents and government taxes, the Egyptian fellahin suffer from an unbearable burden of debts, which must be repaid with usurious interest.

The high interest rates and the harsh terms imposed on loans to the masses of fellahin are a consequence of several fundamental economic conditions that prevail in the Egyptian village economy:

the hardship of the peasant, who is forced to borrow no matter on what terms; the high risk involved in lending to the peasantry, especially at a time of severe crisis such as the current one, causing lenders to demand a high interest rate; the concentration of loan capital in a small number of banks, which leads to a monopoly, allowing the lending banks to raise interest rates. 

The high risk involved in lending to the peasantry is primarily due to the fact that the peasant does not have sufficient and valuable collateral that could secure the repayment of the debt. The only thing that could be mortgaged as security is the land (as the value of the inanimate and animate stock, buildings, livestock etc. is nugatory) – which in most cases belongs not to the fellah who tills it but to the estate owner, to the waqf [Muslim religious endowment] (15% of the arable land in Egypt) or to the government.

The average amount owed by an Egyptian fellah’s family is £E40.5. Such a debt is a heavy burden on the back of the poor peasantry even in ordinary times, because the average seasonal income of a fellah’s family (of four) is £E7.2, and it is impossible for these impoverished fellahin to free themselves totally from the mounting debts as long as their net income is so meagre. Even in Palestine, where the average income of an Arab fellah’s family is over three times higher than that of an Egyptian fellah’s family (the average annual income of an independent Arab fellah is £P35.2, and that of a tenant is £P20, according to the Johnson-Crosby Commission Report, p.18), a debt of £P27 per Arab fellah’s family is a central and vexing problem in the life of the Arab village. Much more so in Egypt: as the net income of the peasantry is extremely meagre, especially during the crisis, the problem of debt is at the centre of economic life.

In European countries the bourgeois revolution destroyed the loan system that had suited the primitive feudal economy and no longer suited the needs of a developed capitalist economy, a fundamental prerequisite for whose development is the ability of capital to flow easily and freely from place to place, and a broadening of the mortgage base by abolishing feudal ownership that severs the lending farmer from the land (which belongs to the feudal lord) and cannot, therefore, provide a basis for convenient loans to the farmer. [2] The abolition of the feudal loan system requires a broad agrarian reform that would transfer ownership of the land to the farmer who tills it. In Egypt, the bourgeoisie cannot perform this historical task, and it will be the proletariat that will abolish the Egyptian rural debt and the feudal loan system that dominates it.





© Kamal Katba 2009


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