no political figure in Egyptian history before 1952 stirred up as much
conflicting opinion as Ismail Sidqi. Though he was hugely unpopular some
have credited him for his pragmatism and willingness to seek practical
solutions to the country's problems instead of trying to curry favour with
the people. Professor Yunan Labib Rizk* profiles a man of many sides
Ismail Sidqi was one of the
few politicians who rejected demagoguery in an era when inflaming the passions
of the masses was common currency. Yet in many circles he was despised.
What gave rise to such a polarisation of opinion over this figure, the
protagonist of the "Sidqi era", which lasted five years (1930- 1935) out
of the 30-year history of the post-constitutional parliamentary system
From the outset of his term
as prime minister, Ismail Sidqi did not sit well with the public. But then,
there was little in his past to inspire confidence. Sidqi was born in 1875,
in the heart of the Egyptian countryside, in the village of Al-Gharib,
in the district of Zifta. His father, Ahmed Shukri Pasha (Ismail Sidqi
had two first names) had been a senior government official in the age of
the Khedive Ismail. Educated in France, Shukri rose through the government
ranks until he became governor of Cairo and then deputy minister of interior.
His mother, Fatma, was the daughter of Mohamed Sayed Ahmed Pasha, head
of the royal cabinet under Said Pasha.
Sidqi relates in his memoirs
that his father had originally named him Ismail Seddiq, after a prominent
minister under Ismail, but changed his name to Sidqi after Seddiq fell
out with the khedive for fear that the monarch's anger might somehow rub
off on his son.
Educated in French schools,
Sidqi obtained his baccalaureate at the age of 14, which presented a problem
upon applying to the Royal School of Law, with its minimum age qualification
of 15. The problem was easily overcome, however, through the intercession
of his father with the minister of education, Ali Mubarak. In his memoirs,
Sidqi boasts that he came out at the top of his class in the licentiate
He devoted a considerable
portion of his memoirs to his meteoric rise in government. Beginning in
the office of the public prosecutor at an annual salary of LE5, Sidqi's
career advanced quickly. He was taken under the wing of Mohamed Said, chief
public prosecutor of Alexandria and later prime minister. Consequently,
it was not long before he leaped from the prosecutor's office to the post
of administrative secretary of the Alexandrian municipal board at a salary
of LE30. He remained with the board for 10 years, during which he was promoted
to its secretary- general.
When Said became minister
of interior under Boutros Ghali (1908), he created a post especially designed
for his protégé. As "secretary-general" of this ministry,
at the age of 33, Sidqi was given the powers of a deputy minister. Then,
two years later, when Said became prime minister after the assassination
of Ghali, Sidqi became the actual deputy minister of interior.
Surprisingly, Said's fall
from power in 1914 did not affect Sidqi. On the contrary, he became minister
of agriculture under Hussein Rushdi -- testimony both to his abilities
and to his class affiliations, which generally protected such individuals
from political fluctuations. It was also, perhaps, testimony to the meritocracy
that was prevalent in those times.
With the declaration of the
British protectorate over Egypt later that year and the reshuffling of
the Rushdi cabinet, Sidqi was handed the portfolio of the newly-created
Ministry of Awqaf (religious endowments). However, Sidqi remained in this
position for only a few months. In his memoirs, Sidqi relates: "The late
Hussein Rushdi Pasha was a friend of mine, and I had accompanied him into
government, firstly in the Ministry of Agriculture and then in the Ministry
of Awqaf. When I resigned during the war, distancing myself from the constraints
of government, he sought to benefit from my expertise and chose me as chairman
of the Committee for Trade and Industry."
Official documents are obscure
about the circumstances of Sidqi's departure from that office: a mere one-line
decree from Sultan Hussein Kamel states, "Ibrahim Fathi Pasha, director
of Al- Gharbiya, has been appointed Minister of Awqaf, replacing Ismail
Sidqi Pasha who has resigned." However, the British Foreign Office file
on Sidqi tells another story. The young minister became embroiled in an
amorous affair with the daughter of Yehia Ibrahim and the woman committed
suicide. Although martial law, which the British had declared upon the
onset of the war, prevented the press from publishing the scandal, the
rumour mill could not be stopped. That Sidqi, in his capacity as minister
of awqaf, had an important religious function, rendered the scandal all
the more appalling. To our knowledge, Ismail Sidqi was the first minister
to have been caught in dalliance with a woman.
Although his contemporaries
thought that this scandal marked the end of his career, Sidqi proved them
wrong. In 1918, he surfaced again as one of the leading figures in the
national independence movement, becoming one of the three to be exiled
along with Saad Zaghlul to Malta in March 1919. He then became one of the
members of the Egyptian delegation that went to Paris to present the Egyptian
cause to the peace conference. But in this capacity, too, he did not last
long -- three months later the Wafd dismissed him. The reason, according
to Sidqi: "I found that my opinions on how to handle matters were at odds
with those of my colleagues. I was not inclined to let emotions rule. Rather,
my policy has always been to defer to the practical."
Historical works relate that
Sidqi, along with Mahmoud Abul- Nasr, took such strong issue with Zaghlul
and the rest of the delegation over whether to bring up the outrages committed
by British forces in Nazlat Al-Shawbak and Al-Aziziya that they decided
to withdraw from the delegation. British archives, on the other hand, indicate
that Zaghlul and his colleagues were uncomfortable with Sidqi's membership
in the delegation because of the scandal still attached to his name and
had been waiting for an opportunity to get rid of the man with a past.
Certainly Sidqi's pragmatism
asserted itself after this when he agreed to assume the Ministry of Finance
portfolio in Adli Yakan's first cabinet (1921) and to take part in the
negotiations with Curzon. Indeed, he boasts in his memoirs of being one
of the contributors to the Declaration of 28 February 1922, recognising
Egypt's formal independence, and to the constitution that was promulgated
the following year. However, he met disappointment, again, in the first
constitutional parliamentary elections, having been bested in his constituency
by a relatively unknown candidate from the Wafd Party.
Not one to remain out of
the limelight for long, Sidqi reappeared as a member of the Ahmed Ziwar
cabinet that assumed power following the collapse of the Zaghlul government
in 1924. As minister of interior, Sidqi built up a notoriety that would
ensure his widespread unpopularity. It was he who set the precedent for
direct government intervention in the 1925 parliamentary elections. In
addition to the redrawing of 106 out of 214 voting constituencies in order
to hamper the chances of the Wafd, he issued instructions that ballots
were to be filled out in pencil rather than ink -- clearly a sign of the
government's intent to forge. He also held meeting with governors and directorate
chiefs to urge them to do what they could to prevent individuals known
for their Wafd affiliations from fielding themselves as candidates. His
campaign dropped to its lowest point with the edict he issued in the week
of balloting, prohibiting public assembly in the areas near the polling
stations, establishing roadblocks in the vicinity of the polling stations
and prohibiting rallies and demonstrations on election day itself. The
decree further threatened legal measures against students who participated
in the electoral campaign if they were not registered in the electoral
lists. Naturally, none of these precautions succeeded in keeping the Wafd
from sweeping the polls but they did establish Sidqi as an implacable enemy
of the powerful populist party.
In 1925, Sidqi headed the
Egyptian negotiating team in the talks with the Italians over Egypt's western
borders. In his memoirs, he boasted of having gained for Egypt the strategic
area of Sallum in exchange for only the few acre-wide Jaghboub Oasis. Although,
he refused to sign the agreement that resulted from these negotiations,
leaving that task to Ziwar, he has gone down in Egyptian history as having
needlessly squandered a portion of the nation's territory.
If Sidqi's record tells anything,
it is that if he fell off his horse he would hasten to get on again, but
also that he had no compunction about changing horses midway. This characteristic
is evident during his term as MP at the time when Zaghlul was speaker of
the house. Although he maintains in his memoirs that he was very close
to Zaghlul, this did not prevent him, along with others, from aspiring
to fill the vacuum the nationalist leader left upon his death in 1927.
Sidqi was, above all, an
ambitious man. His name had been put forward as a candidate for prime minister
following the resignation of Mustafa El-Nahhas's first government. Although
the position fell to Mohamed Mahmoud, he bided his time until the opportunity
arose again. This was not long in coming.
Early in the summer of 1930,
El-Nahhas threw the gauntlet down in the form of his resignation he presented
to the king. Fouad took up the challenge and, just as the Wafd was preparing
huge mass demonstrations in support of El-Nahhas, he issued a statement
accepting El-Nahhas's resignation and charging Sidqi with forming Egypt's
41st ministerial cabinet. Sidqi had much in his favour -- royal patronage
and British approval -- but his past pursued him.
At the same time, it must
be said, the circumstances were not propitious for any new prime minister.
Expressing the general consternation at the time, Al-Ahram remarked, "We
are without a doubt in the midst of a grave crisis; it is not merely a
ministerial crisis. Were it such, matters would be much simpler. However,
the crisis is political and constitutional and, as such, it compels lengthy
and profound contemplation."
The editorial continues,
"If this new government that has come to power today is unconstitutional,
then for the sake of what it hopes to accomplish tomorrow it must not lend
itself to political action in the absence of parliament. Its task must
be to resume what has been interrupted, thereby demonstrating its virtue
and the nobility of its intent." Al-Ahram was overly optimistic, as the
following days would prove.
The next day, Al-Ahram announced
the composition of the Sidqi government. It would have done little to assuage
the public's apprehension to learn that, in addition to being prime minister,
Sidqi also handed himself the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Finance.
Although some assumed that this was because of the short time he was given
to form a cabinet, time confirmed that Sidqi was determined to retain his
grip on the reins of power. As already noted, he had demonstrated his prowess
in the interior during the 1925 elections, but he also had considerable
economic expertise to bring to bear on the repercussions Egypt was suffering
from under the global economic crisis. Before becoming prime minister,
he had executive positions in 11 important companies: chairman of the board
of directors of the Egyptian Electricity Company, general director of the
Kom Ombo Company, chairman of the board of directors of the German Oriental
Bank, president of the Egyptian Pharmaceutical Company and deputy chairman
of the board of directors of the German Depot Company in Port Said, to
name a few.
In its declaration of purpose,
appearing in the same day's issue of Al-Ahram, the new government pledged
to "instill peace of mind among the people and to work towards ensuring
public order and safety. To achieve this end, the government intends to
ground its actions on a solid foundation of justice and fairness towards
all segments of society, whereby none shall have undue influence upon the
government at the expense of another, for all shall be equal. The government
is, therefore, resolved to maintain absolute political neutrality, and
neither it, as a whole, nor its individual members shall have affiliations
with any political organisation." So saying, Sidqi resigned from the Liberal
Constitutionalist Party, as did his minister of foreign affairs, Hafez
Afifi, while Ali Maher and Mohamed Tawfiq Rifaat resigned from the Ittihad
Al-Ahram welcomed the government's
declaration of neutrality and its members' decisions to resign from their
parties under the headline, "Cabinet is national, not partisan". However,
the newspaper had its own interpretation of this development, one that
was consistent with Sidqi's record. The new government, it wrote, intended
to treat all Egyptians equally, regardless of their political differences
and their party affiliations. "Zeid will not be at an advantage because
he is a Liberal Constitutionalist and Bakr will not be disadvantaged because
he is a Wafdist or National Party member. If, indeed, there can be a skilful
way of inaugurating rule, then this declaration is without a doubt very
But the editorial could not
help but notice the subtly couched warning in the declaration. The government
"fervently hoped that circumstances would not compel it, in spite of itself,
to pursue means and measures contrary to its intent," it said. Did this
imply "a svelte glove concealing an iron hand?" Al- Ahram asked.
Such apprehensions were spelled
out more explicitly in a Daily Herald commentary that Al-Ahram relayed
to its readers. According to this British newspaper, King Fouad was averse
to parliamentary rule. "He has always sought dictatorial rule, largely
as the result of Fascist influence. The king was brought up in Italy, speaks
Italian better than Arabic and is a great admirer of Mussolini. He saw
for himself the enthusiastic mass reception that was accorded him upon
his visit to Rome in 1927, which persuaded him that dictatorial rule is
a marvelous system for monarchs to emulate."
This analysis would be born
out through Sidqi. Only a day after forming the new cabinet, the prime
minister issued an edict postponing the opening of the Wafdist-majority
parliament for a month. When Speaker of the House Wissa Wassef and Speaker
of the Senate Adli Yakan insisted that the edict be read out to a joint
meeting of both assemblies, Sidqi agreed, but on one condition: that no
member of parliament be permitted to speak following the recitation. Wassef
objected, saying that such a condition constituted unwarranted interference
on the part of the executive in the area of his jurisdiction. Sidqi countered
by ordering the doors of parliament chained closed and armed troops stationed
around the premises to prevent representatives and senators from entering
the building at the appointed time. Six pm on Monday, 23 June 1930 marked
an historic moment in Egyptian history, observed Al-Ahram's parliamentary
correspondent who was on hand at the scene:
"Police began to surround
the parliament building at 2.00pm this afternoon and soldiers lined up
at each of the four junctions leading to parliament, wearing their familiar
helmets and spaced a truncheon's width apart. Police and soldiers remained
standing in their positions while the surrounding area remained empty until
after 5.00 when the MPs began to arrive."
Soon the numbers swelled,
"creating a large throng that began to shout out in protest, as one thought
began to process them, which was to break the doors down. Then the leaders
of the Wafd appeared: El-Nahhas, Makram, El-Nuqrashi, Bahyeddin Barakat.
The first of these declared that the speaker of the house, when he arrived,
had the right to order the police to unlock those doors because they should
only take orders from the speaker of the house or senate."
The drama reached its climax
with the arrival of Wassef at precisely 6.00pm. After briefly consulting
with El-Nahhas, "the speaker of the house called over the chief of the
police force and asked the meaning of locking closed the doors of parliament.
The officer responded that it was not his affair, upon which the speaker
ordered him to break the chains. The officer immediately summoned two sergeants,
normally stationed in parliament as a precaution against fire. They had
an ax which they hit the chains with until they broke. Wassef then pushed
open the doors and signalled to the members of parliament to enter, which
they did, chanting and clapping as they headed directly to the assembly
hall and took their seats as normal."
Things were not proceeding
as Sidqi had planned. True, order prevailed as he read out the decree postponing
the opening of parliament. However, instead of remaining silent, as he
had hoped, the members of parliament responded by reciting their oath "to
defend the constitution with all the power, money and spirit of sacrifice
I possess". Following this, the Al-Ahram correspondent reports, "there
resounded throughout the chamber calls for the downfall of the new government."
"The day of breaking the
chains," as these events were dubbed, was the subject of considerable commentary
in the press, and not just the Egyptian press. Describing the atmosphere
in Cairo that day as "electrified" and "gloomy", the Daily Telegraph correspondent
in Cairo observed that violence had only been averted "by accident". He
added, "It is well known that Sidqi Pasha does not like anyone to defy
him." That certainly was the case that day. Following the parliamentary
meeting he issued a statement claiming that the only reason the members
of parliament had been able to enter the building was because he had issued
"strict orders to the police to respect the MPs and not to intervene with
Three days later, in the
Saadi Club, the Wafd held a national conference. Outside, security was
tight, with "forces armed with rifles and truncheons stationed at the entrances
to Qasr Al-Aini, Saad Zaghlul, Al-Falaki and Maglis Al-Nawwab streets".
Al- Ahram continues, "In addition, a detachment of cavalry and motorcycle
corps were deployed in those streets, under the command of the chiefs of
Sayyida Zeinab, Abdeen and Helwan police stations and many police officers,
both foreign and Egyptian, foremost among whom was Baker Bek, deputy police
commissioner of the capital."
Commenting on the government's
siege of the conference, Al- Ahram held that political parties had the
right to convene for the purpose of deliberation and to publicise their
principles and platforms. "Such is the course adopted by all constitutional
countries", the newspaper wrote. But then, Al-Ahram could not have known
what surprises Ismail Sidqi had in store, not only for political parties
but for the constitution itself. That was a chapter yet to come in the
life of this extremely controversial figure.
Egypt Air was established
in May 1932 to become the seventh carrier in the world and began its operation
the next year with a Spartan cruiser from Cairo Almaza airport to Alexandria.
The Spartan Cruiser was a 1930s British three-engined monoplane transport
plane for 6 passengers built by Spartan Aircraft Limited at East Cowes,
Isle of Wight.
The Egyptians themselves
were keen to enter the new age of air transportation and in the spring
of 1924 the Ministry of Transportation formed a committee to study the
possibilities for commercial aviation in the country. Among its preliminary
recommendations was the creation of a civil aviation authority, its function
to supervise everything pertaining to air traffic control, airport construction
and administration and implementation and conformity to a variety of relevant
However it was not until
May 1932 that Misr Air Work was established in association with the Air
Work company and in August 1933 it began commercial operation with a Spartan
Cruiser from Cairo to Alexandria. By 1935 a total of 12 De Haviland aircraft
were added to its fleet.
During the 1930s commercial
flights were quickly developed and many "first flight" covers were produced;
these may be found with Egyptian stamps for routes passing through or originating
in Egypt. Imperial Airways was soon joined by KLM, which was keen to form
air routes to Dutch East India, and by 1932 it had reached as far as the
East Indies, two years before Imperial Airways.
Egypt Air was one of the
pioneer airlines in the world and the most important in the Middle East
and the Arab countries. It was established in May 1932 in association with
Air work company under the name of Misr Air work . Its main object .Its
main objective was to promote the spirit of aviation among Egyptian youth
. Using Gypsy Moth air planes, the company taught the art and science of
flight and aeronautical engineering.
In August of 1933 Misr Air
work commenced commercial operation with a Spartan Cruiser from Cairo to
Alexandria. By 1935 a total of 12 De Haviland were add to its fleet.
During the Second World War, the Egyptian Government took over the airline
and changed its name to Misr Airlines. During the Second World War,
the Egyptian Government took over the airline and changed its name to Misrair
in 1949. In 1949 MisrAir bought 10 Vickers Vikings and the following year
put into service a French Aircraft, the Languedoc. In 1958 MisrAir got
merged with Syrian Airlines forming a new identity "United Arab Airlines-UAA".
was created in December 1958, following the union between Egypt and Syria
(United Arab Republic). Misrair gradually adopted this name and Syrian
Airways was merged into the airline but left in the autumn of 1961 .
In 1960 UAA enhanced the fleet with Comet 4-c jets becoming the first Carrier
in the Middle East to use the jets.
1968 witnessed the introduction
of the Boeing 707-320c to cope with the growing international traffic and
to operate longer routes and the next year UAA became the first Airline
in the Middle East to fly Boeing 707s. After the death of Nasser
in 1970, the UAA changed again its name to EgyptAir.
Today EgyptAir is a state-owned
company with special legislation permitting the management to operate as
if the company were privately owned without any interference from the government.
The company is self-financing without any financial backing by the Egyptian
In 2008, EgyptAir's passenger
traffic increased by 6% to 8.2 million passengers. As of November 2009,
the EgyptAir Holding Company fleet (which includes EgyptAir Airlines, EgyptAir
Express and EgyptAir Cargo) stood at 64 (+ 22 orders and 3 options).
EgyptAir wholly owns EgyptAir
Express and Air Sinai. The airline has stakes in Air Cairo (60%) and Smart
Aviation Company (20%). As of June 2007, the EgyptAir Holding Company had
20,734 employees of which 7,600 worked in EgyptAir Airlines.
The EgyptAir Holding Company
has recorded substantial profits in past years, reaching US$170 million
during the 2007/2008 financial year. This is fortified by huge assets of
more than US$3.8 billion. The airline's financial year is from July to
June. For the fiscal year ending 31 July 2007, EgyptAir achieved
a record total revenue of US$1,143 billion. Total group revenue grew by
14%, as compared with the previous year.
EgyptAir wholly owns EgyptAir
Express and Air Sinai. The airline has stakes in Air Cairo (60%) and Smart
Aviation Company (20%). As of June 2007, the EgyptAir Holding Company had
20,734 employees of which 7,600 worked in EgyptAir Airlines (the airline
subsidiary of the group).
The EgyptAir fleet has an
average age of 5.2 years and consists of the following aircraft (at November
2009). Totalof 48 airplanes; including 13 Airbus A320-200, 4 Airbus
A321-200, 7 Airbus A330-200, 4 Boeing 737-500, 12 Boeing 737-800,
3 Airbus A340-200. 25 additional airplanes are on order.