The Cabinet of Aly Maher Pasha that was in charge of the Government at the death of King Fouad, on April 28, 1936, announced the death of the Sovereign and proclaimed his son Farouk the First as the new King of Egypt; but, because the new King was not yet 18 years of age, the Cabinet issued a decree assuming the duties of the King until the formation of a Council of Regency.  On Friday, May 8, the newly elected Parliament held a general meeting of its two Chambers and, after confirming the Cabinet Decree and swearing its allegiance to the Country, its new King and its Constitution,  proceeded to appoint the Council of Regency, discarding those nominated by the late King in a testament about 15 years old. 

The choice of the two Chambers of the Parliament fell on a Council of Regency composed Of Prince Mohammad Aly Tawfiq, Abdel Aziz Ezzat Pasha and Mohammad Cherif Sabry Pasha, the brother of Queen Nazli.

The newly appointed Council of Regency was invited to attend that Parliament extraordinary session, that same evening, to swear obedience to the Constitution.  The Council of Regency having been confirmed, Aly Maher Pasha submitted the resignation of his Cabinet thus allowing the Council to appoint a new Cabinet that would genuinely represent the will of the people represented by the freely elected Parliament. 

Since the General Election carried on by the Aly Maher Cabinet resulted with a strong Wafdist majority in the two Chambers, the Council of Regency called upon Mustafa Al Nahas Pasha, the leader of the Wafd Party, to form a new Cabinet. Nahas Pasha accepted and formed his Cabinet on April 9, 1936 keeping for himself the important Ministry of Interior beside the Premiership.


 

In his letter of acceptance addressed to the Regents, Nahas Pasha vowed to present to the Parliament his Cabinet’s Program which aimed at obtaining the complete independence of the Country, by signing the new Treaty (1) reached with the British Government ; the new Cabinet would also do everything in its power to protect the Constitution and abide by it and to lead the Country in the road of progress; he also promised to raise the standard of Egypt’s farms hands (FELLAHINE) which were Egypt’s main source of wealth; he would also establish the positions of Under-Secretaries Of State for Parliamentarian Affairs and a new Ministry in charge of Liaison with the Royal Palace.

The newly formed Cabinet confirmed the tradition of declaring Alexandria as the summer Capital of Egypt with all its meeting to be held in Bulkley during the three months of summer.  To promote tourism in the Country’s second city, the Cabinet reduced by 50% the railways fares to Alexandria.(2)

This would also encourage many of the Egyptians to go to Alexandria and give hero’s welcome to members of the Egyptian Negotiations Delegation returning from England after successfully concluding its sacred mission.  Finally, the Cabinet declared the date the Treaty of Friendship and Alliance with England was signed which was the 26 of August, a National Independence Day to be celebrated each year.

On Monday, November 2, 1936, the two Chambers of the Parliament, in an extraordinary meeting, ratified the Treaty with a huge majority.  The official Treaty Documents were exchanged with the Representatives of the British Government on December 22, 1936, which was also the date when the new Treaty was implemented.

The Treaty of Friendship and Alliance  (3) with England confirmed the end of the British Military Occupation of Egypt and the establishment of a Diplomatic exchange between the two countries similar to that England had with other independent nations; it obtained the support of England to facilitate the entrance of Egypt into the League Of Nations.  The Treaty authorized the presence of a British Military contingent not exceeding ten thousand soldiers and officers and a number not exceeding four hundred aviators for the purpose of protecting the free passage in the Suez Canal which was considered as an International Waterway; Egypt also promised to provide the land and barracks to house the British troops.  On the other hand, Egypt assumed the physical and properties protection of all foreigners living and working in the Country, like the protection accorded to Egyptians, thus abolishing the special status enjoyed by those foreigners prior to the signature of the Treaty. (4)

As a consequence of the Treaty, the Cabinet agreed to important changes in the Egyptian Armed Forces such as appointing an Egyptian Commander-in-chief; as a result, the Cabinet appointed General Mahmoud Choukri Pasha as a Chief of Staff, on the same day a British Military Training Mission arrived to help in training and modernizing the Egyptian Forces.  A budget of four hundred and ten thousands Egyptian Pounds was allocated to build a road from Cairo to the city of Ismailia, on the Suez Canal and a road from Abbasya to Alexandria.

In early 1937, the Nahas Pasha Government invited the Countries, whose citizens enjoyed special status in Egypt during the British occupation, to attend a Conference in Montreux, Switzerland, for the purpose of cancellation of those special statuses.  Nahas Pasha himself led the Egyptian Delegation to that Conference which was attended by Representatives of The United States, England, France, Belgium, The Union Of South Africa, Denmark, Spain, Greece, Italy, Norway, Holland, Portugal and Sweden.  The Conference was crowned with success and all the participating Nations signed the Montreux Treaty, on May 1937; according to that Treaty, their citizens residing in Egypt would be subjected to Egyptian Laws, according to the International Laws, as from the date of the Treaty signature; the Treaty also stipulated that the “Mix Courts” (Tribunaux Mixtes) would operate in Egypt until October 14, 1949.  That Treaty, which was considered as a “victory” to Egypt, was ratified by the Egyptian Parliament on July 1937.

On May 26, 1937, the General Assembly of The League Of Nations unanimously agreed to accept Egypt as a full Member of the League, which was celebrated in Egypt as another great victory.  Adding to its international successes, the Cabinet agreed to resume the tradition of sending the “MAHMAL” to the Holy City of Mecca, during the Pilgrimage season and a budget of thirty three thousand pounds was allocated for that purpose. 

The Egyptian Government negotiated successfully a new deal with the “COMPANIE INTERNATIONALE DU CANAL MARITIME DE SUEZ” according to which the company raised the percentage of its Egyptian employees reaching thirty three percent of its total manpower.

The Cabinet approved the 1936/1937 budget as follows: expenditure thirty five millions and one hundred and fifty thousand pounds against a receipt of thirty five millions and one hundred and fifty three thousand pounds thus achieving a little surplus in spite of Egypt international activities during that period.  The Cabinet also agreed to raise the monthly salaries of the Deputies and Senators from thirty pounds a month to forty.

Last but not least, the Cabinet, being a Wafdist Cabinet, ordered the burial of Saad Zaghloul Pasha’s corpse, the founding father of the Wafd Party, in the monument erected for that purpose near his house where his widow, Safya Hanem (OM AL MISRYEENE), was still living, it also decreed that only Zaghloul Pasha and his widow would be buried in that monument.  It is interesting to note here that when Ismail Sidky Pasha was Prime Minister of Egypt in the early thirties, his Cabinet decreed that the Mausoleum erected for the burial of Zaghloul Pasha would be instead used for the burial of ancient Egypt’s pharaohs!!!  The Nahas Cabinet decided to change the name of the street, where the mausoleum was erected, from “NAZER AL GUEISH” street into “DARIH SAAD” street; it also agreed to appoint a custodian to look after the mausoleum with a monthly salary of thirty pounds (a little bit less than a Parliamentarian)!!!

On June 29, 1937, King Farouk having reached the age of eighteen years, which was the constitutional age to assume his kingly duties, the Regency Council resigned its duties and so did Nahas Pasha Cabinet which was appointed by the Regency Council.
 
 
 

(To be continued)

Kamal Karim Katba



Qayt Bay forteress, Alexandria
 

 

 

(1)


11.30. Meeting at Zafaran with al-Nahhas. With him once more was Amin Osman. I had with me as usual the General, the Air Vice-Marshal, and the Rear-Admiral. I told Nahas straight away that we were still sitting waiting for our instructions. I regretted the delay but actually the British Government had many problems on its hands and I knew he would not be surprised that they had not had time so far to tackle the various Egyptian problems I put up to them in connection with the treaty.  Continuing discussions in London had in fact revealed serious disagreements about the treaty talks. These disagreements were concerned less with the occupation of Cairo and Alexandria (although there was still a disposition by the WO and Admiralty to insist on Alexandria) than with the question of the duration of the treaty and the prospect of an intervention by the League of Nations if Britain and Egypt could not agree on a new treaty at expiry.

Art. 14 of the 1930 treaty had set a 20 year duration and provided for League intervention. In a report dated 9 April the COS sub committee of the CID stated `the main and overwhelming consideration in any treaty is the continuing security in all circumstances of our maritime communications through the Suez Canal and of our air communications in Egypt. All other military considerations are contributory to this. 

The British right to protect the Canal must be permanent and so no time limit or League reference could be permitted. (COS 458, copy in FO 371/20104/J3027). 
Lampson, supported hesitantly by the FO, said that Egypt would not accept any substantial deviation from Art.14 of 1930 and Eden, in the last analysis preferred a treaty with Art. 14 to no treaty at all.

Campbell argued (Minute, 2$ April 1936 FO 371/20105/J3548) that the COS were haunted by fears of emergencies during which the Canal would be vital for imperial communications but they failed to give sufficient; weight to the prospect of a hostile, dissatisfied Egypt on the flank of the Canal position, a circumstance which would require the diversion-of large numbers of troops, up to ten per cent of Britain's standing army, in order to hold down the Canal. Furthermore, Campbell' continued, the possible effects that the spectacle of Britain holding Egypt by force would have on other Arab countries must be taken into consideration. 

The matter was re-examined by Cabinet on 22 April and by the CID on 27 April (Min '' of meetings in FO 371/20106/J3998). Following the CID meeting Sir John Simon accepted the need for a treaty to legalize Britain's position on the Canal and therefore the necessity of concessions `which would otherwise be most difficult to justify either on merit or in the face of Parliamentary criticism.' He proposed a new draft article recognizing Britain's perpetual interest in the Canal (FO 371/20106/J3672).

At Cabinet on 30 April Simon suggested a 20 year treaty with no reference to the League and no provision for what would happen in the Canal Zone and in Alexandria at expiry. `I do not believe,' he wrote to Eden on 30 April, `that the FO can ever get through Parliament a clause which now says that in twenty years time the League of Nations shall decide our future in relation to the Canal. (FO 371/ 20106/J3777)

The Cabinet was sufficiently persuaded by Simon's arguments and by Services' insistence and it rejected Eden's proposal (based on a subtle formula devised by Eric Beckett) for dealing with the problem in a new way. Beckett claimed that the Cabinet had not understood the effect of his formula. (Minute, 30 April 1936, FO 371/20106/J3777). The FO clung to Beckett's formula and there was deadlock. In Egypt Fu'ad died and Eden was asked to supply the Cabinet with a report on the effects of this event on the treaty discussions.

On 30 April Lampson was informed that Britain would insist on garrisons in the Canal Zone and in Alexandria, that there was a very strong feeling in the Cabinet in favour of the inclusion in place of Art.14 of 1930 of a new clause providing (in any future treaty) for recognition of the continuing right of Britain to protect the Canal, and very strong feeling also against any reference to the League. (FO 371/20106/J3688). 

Lampson replied on 3 May saying that it would be very difficult to obtain Egyptian agreement to the continued occupation of Alexandria, and that there was practically no chance of Egyptian acceptance of a clause on the lines described above without the inclusion of provision for a reference to the League, although there was a slight chance that Egypt would accept such a clause if the League reference was retained.
By 6 May sufficient results were declared to show that the Wafd had won 157 of 213 seats. In the final result the Wafd obtained 179 seats in the Chamber of Deputies against 53 for its opponents, and 65 against 14 in the Senate elected seats. Keown-Boyd thought the elections were the most free ever held in Egypt. (See FO 371/20107/J4185 and J4538).
 

(1) Friday , July 25th [cairo]

6.15 pm. Down to Zafaran where all the Egyptian Delegation were assembled. As usual al-Nahhas was late, keeping everybody waiting for at least half an hour - he is incorrigible. Pending his arrival I had little talks with Hafez Afifi (Capitulations), Abdel Fattah Yehia, Mohamed Mahmoud, Hilmy Issa, and one or two others. When al-Nahhas arrived he and I had a little talk apart in a separate room during which he enthused on the helpful way in which we on our side had met all his contentions He wished to assure me that it was largely owing to his personal regard for myself that he had been able and willing to get many of the concessions on his side through to meet us. I smiled and bowed and made suitable acknowledgements. 

He then said that as the heat was so stifling he felt that it was most essential that we should move down to Alexandria. I said: far from me to oppose such a suggestion, but how was it to be combined with the essential need for speed? With Parliament sitting I did not see how the Ministers could get away from their Parliamentary duties. al-Nahhas said they would be down there anyhow for a few days in the week; and suggested that we should meet in Alexandria on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. I said, very well, I agreed to that on condition that we should all return to Cairo on Thursday and work hard at it. To this he agreed. I am afraid it is going to be difficult to work, but I thought that was the only thing to do.
 

And so we went in and had our full plenary session. AL-Nahhas led off with a formal little speech which he read saying how pleased he and his colleagues were, etc., etc.; what fine fellows the members of the Egyptian Delegation were; and what magnificent creatures we on our side were. He wished to make the point once more that every point in the treaty was dependent on agreement on all points, and he ended up by appealing to us to make up for the many Egyptian concessions to us on the military clauses by making equally striking concessions to the Egyptians on the Sudan and Capitulations clauses! 

I replied extemporarily; first of all suitable acknowledgements and then a tribute to he friendly way in which we had discussed things as they came along. I could not remember a single occasion in which anything but the utmost good humour had prevailed. We had taken a great step forward and, as we alt knew, the French proverb says `it's the first step that costs [sic]'. It had taken us 20 weeks and 4 days to get through the military clauses. If we allowed the 4 days interval between the inaugural meeting and the first business session, that meant E that it had taken us just 5 months to reach the events of this evening. However, I for one did not regret that long time.

The products of our labours were certainly worth it but this was not to suggest in any shape or form that I had any desire that the remaining items should take a similarly long time. I took note of the Pasha's point about the interdependence of all parts of the treaty and assured him once more, as I had done at the first opening session, that that was precisely our own attitude. Finally, as regards the remaining items, I had no doubt in my own mind that a tonight's proceedings were going greatly to facilitate what still remained to  be done. It paved the way and I felt sure that on both sides our future discussions would be marked by the same spirit of friendly accommodation. 

Before closing, I wished with al-Nahhas' permission to pay a tribute to the Secretary-General of the Egyptian Delegation, Amin Osman. Everybody knew that when two large wheels in complicated machines interlocked it was always necessary, however well they fitted, to have some lubricant. Speaking on behalf of all my colleagues of the British Delegation I wished to say to the full Egyptian Delegation how grateful we were for the assistance consistently rendered to both Delegations by Amin Osman.

After this exchange of amenities al-Nahas and I duly signed the texts and so the map attached thereto.
 

(2)

Since then the population of Alexandria has increased very much and naturally a great deal of building has been necessary to accommodate the newcomers: Not only had many empty spaces been filled in, but `many large blocks of flats have taken the place, both in town and in Ramleh, of self-contained houses, and the result in Ramleh is naturally a decrease in the number of gardens: The hill of Abou el Nawatir was now largely built over Stanley Bay in 1930s. 

In the early 1930s the seasonal beach cabins at Stanley Bay were replaced by tiers of concrete boxes, a transformation that coincided with the extension of the Corniche from the Eastern Harbour all the way out through Ramleh.

Lake Hadra had been drained, while along the Mahmoudiya Canal, where in Forster's day were old, ruined or at least decaying houses and large neglected gardens, there are now factories or store houses, for the road has become the chief industrial quarter of Alexandria.

If Alexandria had greatly changed in the last fifteen years or so, this change is nothing compared with the metamorphosis of Ramleh in 1930's, and it must be very difficult for one who has not seen it during that time to form any picture of what it is like today:

The motor car and the bus and the great extension of the bathing habit had contributed to the changes and were promoted in turn by the construction of the new Corniche road running twelve miles along the Mediterranean seafront from the Eastern Harbour to Montazah. From the grandiose Italian Consulate the fine New Quays are attracting no buildings to their curve; there were now some Venetian-style buildings on one side, the Hotel Cecil on the other, and indeed the entire sweep of the Eastern Harbour was handsomely built up. From Silsileh onwards, between the road and the sea, except in a few places where the rocks make bathing impossible, 

This aerial view of Alexandria in the 1930s shows new buildings, including the Hotel Cecil, along the Eastern Harbour Corniche. Large warships of Britain's Mediterranean Fleet can be seen in the Western Harbour are rows of bath cabins.

The Municipality has completely civilised Stanley Bay. It is now an amphitheatre of ledges of cement, on which are placed rows of standardised bathing boxes painted in appropriate shades of green and white.  any hundreds of boxes there were built  at Stanley Bay alone; while here and elsewhere along the Corniche were restaurants, cafes, bones de nuit.

(3)





 


 


 



(4)


 
The Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 26 August 1936 established Egypt as a sovereign state. The Anglo-Egyptian Treaty signed in London in 26 August 1936 proclaimed Egypt to be an independent sovereign state, but required Britain to remove all troops except for those deemed necessary to protect the Suez Canal – the UK government determined to protect Britain’s financial and strategic interest in the canal , declared that it would require around 10,000 soldiers and 400 Royal Air Force pilots to do so, until 1956.  At which time the need for their presence would be re-examined and, if necessary, renegotiated.

The legitimacy of stationing British troops on Egyptian soil for the defence of the Suez Canal, and maintaining a base in the Near East, were Britain's special requirements in Egypt. Accordingly, the security of these two vital imperial interests was the motive that dictated Britain's policy towards Egypt. The political pattern in the country, reflecting a continuous struggle between those two significant forces, the popular nationalist Wafd party and an autocratic palace, largely determined the course of Anglo–Egyptian relations.

On 26 August 1936, a treaty was signed after discussions resumed between the Egyptian and British counterparts on the 4 issues that had remained unsolved since Egypt gained her independence in 1922. Nahas led the Egyptians, while the British were lead by their high commissioner Miles Lampson.

The treaty includes

Alliance between armies of British and Egyptians British thus allowed to retain 10 000 soldiers in Suez Canal region.No more capitulation and mixed courts British controlled Sudan virtually (Contradiction of 1899 agreement of joint control of Sudan)

There was great dissatisfaction within the Egyptian Army at this puppet status imposed on their country.  A revolutionary movement began to fester.

1936 was the year the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty was signed. It is the decisive event of 1936 that concerns us here, the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty. This document inspired much writing, ranging from that penned by politicians to academic theses. The most famed of the former was Mahmoud Suleiman Ghanem's The Anglo-Egyptian Treaty: A Scientific Study and a published example of the latter is Mohamed Farid Hashish's The 1936 Treaty.

Yet most of the written treatment of the 1936 Anglo- Egyptian Treaty is limited to either its signing and defence of it (Ghanem) or tracing its effects on Egyptian-British relations in the following period, as Hashish's work did up until 1945. None of those concerned with the treaty, whether politicians or academics, noticed some of its particular consequences that were overlooked with the exception of certain small details sometimes taken out of context.

Among these consequences were the events that took place following the Montreaux Convention when the Egyptian delegation travelled to Paris, home to the headquarters of the international Suez Canal Company, to reach an understanding with its officials on the nature of its relationship with the government in light of the new political and legal circumstances. Another consequence was what came of the treaty's treatment of the Suez Canal and Italy's concerted efforts to get a foothold into that channel that had become a vital artery between it and the empire it established at that time in Africa. 

Al-Ahram took a special interest in those neglected events that were given short shrift in the well known writings on the treaty. Let us then follow the events as they were portrayed in Al-Ahram 's pages, beginning with the first overlooked consequence. 

ON THE FRONT PAGE of Al-Ahram 's Sunday 30 June 1937 issue was an article headlined "The canal is Egypt's, Egypt is not the canal's". On the occasion of the agreements signed between the Egyptian government and the Suez Canal Company, Al-Ahram covered a particular aspect of the history of this venerable water channel. As the newspaper wrote, the Suez Canal Company was a state company founded by a royal decree issued by Mohamed Said Pasha, Egypt's wali, in 1854. It was officially inaugurated during the reign of Khedive Ismail in 1869, with a full exclusivity period of 99 years, to end on 17 November 1968. "Efforts were made prior to the war to extend the exclusivity rights another 40 years to 2008, but to no avail. The company's profits from this exclusivity are immense. Its administrative board in Paris includes 21 Frenchmen, 10 Britons, and one Dutchman."

Al-Ahram then digressed to the Constantine agreement signed on 29 October 1888, which stated that the canal would "always remain free and operative, whether in times of war or peace, for all ships, commercial or military, without any discrimination between nationalities. The contracting states therefore agreed not to intervene in the free use of the canal."

Despite the extreme economic importance of the Suez Canal, the author of this particular article, who was likely the paper's editor-in-chief, took special interest in its political significance, which he outlined in six points:

- The company had certain advantages in Egypt due to its exclusivity rights.

- In 1875 the British government bought out the Egyptian government's shares in the company, which numbered 353,204. The company's total shares came to 80,000, and so the British government owned 44 per cent, in addition to the holdings of British individuals, although the major influence in the company remained French.

- Before long the canal became a major channel for British transport, and its defence became a political priority for the Empire of Great Britain.

- The 1936 Anglo-Egyptian Treaty addressed the Suez Canal in Article 8, which stated that "the Suez Canal is an indivisible part of Egypt, and at the same time an international channel between the various divisions of the British Empire. His Majesty the King of Egypt licenses His Majesty the King of England and the Empire to position forces on Egyptian territory beside the canal to cooperate with Egyptian forces in defending it...".

- When relations between Britain and Italy became strained in 1935 because of the Ethiopian problem, serious considerations were made in London and Geneva (the League of Nations headquarters) on punishing Italy and closing the canal to its ships. Those who called for this measure argued that the charter of the League of Nations replaced the 1888 Constantine agreement because one of its articles annulled all treaties that contradicted its text.

- As for how these conditions affected Egyptian interests and relations between the government in Cairo and the international Suez Canal Company, they were summed up by the issue of two decrees. The first was issued in May 1935 and abrogated the condition of gold for international contracts. The second, issued on 28 April 1936, increased passage fares for the canal. In exchange, the company agreed to increase the number of its Egyptian employees until by 1958 they made up 25 per cent of the company's staff; to appoint two Egyptian members to the administrative board; and to pay LE200,000 annually to the Egyptian government.

All these developments took place under the government of Ali Pasha Maher, two weeks before the Wafd Party took over and four months before the signing of the 1936 Anglo- Egyptian Treaty. It was not expected for the situation to remain as it was after all these significant changes.

The canal remained present in the Egyptian national consciousness, a fact bespoken when the members of the Egyptian delegation to the Montreaux Convention left for London and then Paris following the signing of the treaty on 8 May. The reason for their trip was to negotiate with the Suez Canal Company on the initial agreement between it and the previous government in light of the changes that took place following the signing of the treaty. Another impetus was the fact that the negotiator this time was a majority government able to comply with the agreement, as opposed to the interim government of Ali Maher, which did not enjoy any popular legitimacy.

Al-Ahram 's special correspondent in the French capital was the first to reveal the nature of the agreement reached between the Egyptian government, represented by prime minister Mustafa El-Nahhas Pasha and minister of finance Makram Ebeid Pasha, Egypt's minister plenipotentiary in Paris, and the Suez Canal Company, represented by the director of its administration board the Marquis de Fougee and several of the board members. The agreement was revealed in a report published on page nine of the 8 June 1937 edition of Al-Ahram.

In this report, the Paris correspondent noted the company's increased income, pointing out statistics showing that in the first three months of 1936 a total of 1,552 ships passed through the canal and during the same period in 1937 that number had increased to 1,679. The correspondent then went on to discuss the efforts made by Makram Pasha to review the prior agreement signed with the Maher government and revealed that the discussions revolved around the following three points:

Firstly, the parties discussed raising the amount the company had agreed to pay annually to the Egyptian government, which was LE200,000 according to the previous agreement, to LE300,000, while Egypt would also receive LE3 million, "a significant amount not to be taken lightly," during the 30 years remaining of the exclusivity rights. Of course, they didn't realise at the time that Egypt would take over the entire company before two decades had passed.

Secondly, a military road was to be constructed between Port Said and Suez. Some sources reported that, according to statements made by the marquis in the annual shares meeting, the company would make a large contribution towards the costs of building this road, although the exact amount was not determined. Al-Ahram 's correspondent, however, confirmed that "among the reliable information I secured last night is that the company will in fact cover the entire expenses of constructing this road. It is understood that His Excellency Makram Pasha requested during his negotiations in Paris an amount of money from the company that would be sufficient to cover the costs of the new road. It is also understood that the company is free, in this matter, to either repair the existent road or construct a new one to replace it." The correspondent then revealed the relationship between this and the 1936 Anglo-Egyptian Treaty. "It is indisputable that this is another victory for the government that will save the Egyptian treasury a large sum of money it was supposed to spend on construction of this road, which is one of the military roads stipulated in the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty."

And finally, the negotiations in Paris addressed the issue of significantly raising the percentage of Egyptian employees serving in the company from 25 per cent, "which is the percentage that was agreed to be raised during the government of Maher Pasha". The correspondent did not pinpoint the number of this ultimate raise, stating only that it would be at least a third, which in fact turned out to be correct.

A week later the news report became fact when Al-Ahram published on the front page of its 15 June issue, in bold print, "On the Egyptian government's agreement with the Suez Canal Company," followed by the text of two statements issued by Makram Ebeid Pasha to the Senate and the Marquis de Fougee to the company's general assembly meeting.

The Egyptian minister of finance's statement did not add much to the previous report except for providing some additional details, such as that the company's initial offer was limited to the amount of increased payments made to the government. These payments were called itawa, or tribute, but it was not clear who was levying the tribute on whom -- those with rights or those whose rights had been usurped.

Makram Pasha added that the Egyptians had put forth two other demands the company agreed to: to "assume responsibility for constructing a road along the length of the canal in accordance with the conditions stipulated in the Anglo- Egyptian Treaty and to cover its costs up to LE300,000." It is natural that the first demand was not present in the previous agreement because the treaty had not yet been promulgated. As for the second demand, it called for an increase of Egyptian employees in the company to 33 per cent, a full third, the same figure Al-Ahram 's special correspondent in Paris had predicted.

As for the statement by the Marquis de Fougee, it admitted that the agreement reached was based on two significant events. The first was the signing of a treaty of friendship and alliance between Egypt and Great Britain, "a positive step towards the desired goal of independence", and the second was the gains made by the Egyptian government at the Montreaux Convention, "the crowning victory of which was Egypt's inclusion in the League of Nations".

In romantic prose the marquis expressed the company's delight over Egypt's gains, for the company and Egypt had friendly relations. This led the company to, in his words, view what had taken place as good reason to share the government in its joy. He also confirmed that the large profits of the company were set to increase, and provided statistics showing that the cargo of ships passing through the canal during the first quarter of 1936 and 1937 had increased from 6,055,000 tonnes to 7,861,000 tonnes, a 30 per cent rise. 

The two chambers of Egypt's parliament approved the agreement that was reached in Paris, while the company's general assembly agreed unanimously on it after hearing the above statement by the director of its administrative board. But as we are approaching this issue as a consequence of the 1936 Anglo-Egyptian Treaty, we must also look at the position of the other party to the treaty -- Great Britain.

Al-Ahram 's correspondent in London noted that a number of the members of the House of Commons directed questions to the ministers of foreign affairs and commerce following the agreement. Sir John Miller asked if the opinion of the British government had been taken into account when amending the agreement. The response from minister of foreign affairs Anthony Eden was that the canal company was a private enterprise "and therefore there is no need for the agreement of the British government or otherwise on decisions made by the company's administrative board".

In response to another question about the value of fees paid by British commercial ships, the minister of finance explained that the cargo of ships that had passed through the canal during 1936 indicated that LE5 million had been paid, excepting fees paid by travellers.

A final question concerned the British government's delegates to the company's administrative board, the number of sessions held by the board during the last 12 months, and the compensation it received during that period. The response was that there were three delegates appointed, in 1920, 1922, and 1926, and that the "company's administrative board meets every month and the entire amount distributed during 1936 among all members of the company's administrative board, which is composed of 22 directors, was 12,515,800 francs."

The only other issue Al-Ahram mentioned with regard to this agreement was a reference to the company's acceptance of the request to appoint two Egyptian members to the administrative board. The Egyptian government proposed appointing Sherif Sabri Pasha, a member of the Regency Council whose term had ended, and Mahmoud Fahmi El-Nuqrashi Pasha, the minister of transport, as compensation for being let go from the new government formed after Farouq assumed his constitutional powers. He was not, in fact, satisfied by this compensation, but that's another story.

THE SECOND OVERLOOKED CONSEQUENCE of the 1936 Anglo-Egyptian Treaty had to do with Italy's position vis-à-vis the Suez Canal when its interests grew following its 1935 invasion of Ethiopia and the formation of an empire in East Africa that included Eritrea and Somalia. This development increased its commercial and military transport along the canal, a fact confirmed by statistics published by Al-Ahram in its 21 January 1938 issue about the movement of ships through the Suez Canal during the previous month. The total number of southbound ships was 244, with Britain taking the lion's share (118) followed by Italy (44), and France in sixth place (with 11 ships) after Germany, Holland and Norway. As for Egypt, it came in at the tail end with only one ship, as did Romania and Russia. Northbound ships totalled 270, with Britain again taking the lion's share (134), again followed by Italy (43) and France in fifth place this time after Germany and Holland.

It was therefore not unusual that Al-Ahram 's special correspondent in Rome sent a dispatch in late February of that year indicating that Egypt was not far removed from the negotiations intended to be held between Italy and Britain on the general state of affairs in the Mediterranean Sea. It also mentioned that the British government was surprised by the news being circulated about the Italian government insisting that the interests of its East African empire meant that it had the right to participate in defending the Suez Canal.

The Egyptian authorities shared Britain's surprise, and asserted that the defence of the canal was a matter solely concerning the Egyptian government. The argument went that Egypt was the sole authority in determining how the canal would be defended, and that "in fact, the British right to its defence is determined by the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty and is limited to the short but necessary interim period to allow for the re-organisation and strengthening of the Egyptian army."

International developments increased Egypt's doubts over the true intentions of Mussolini's government towards the Suez Canal. These developments were one of the most important reasons for speeding up the signing of the Anglo- Egyptian Treaty, in particular those concerning the Italian presence in Libya and on the Western borders of Egypt, which had begun to form a threat to Egyptian territory. Another influential development was the Italian presence in the Ethiopian foothills, where the source of the Nile lays, providing Egypt with its primary water needs.

The year following the signing of the treaty, Chamberlain's government was formed and, to maintain peace, preferred to make concessions in Czechoslovakia to the Nazi government in Germany. It also attempted to return to the old alliance with Italy to prevent Mussolini from allying with Berlin, particularly as the Spanish Civil War had brought the two closer after they had both supported the Falange government led by Gen Franco. This policy of the new prime minister caused conflict with the minister of foreign affairs, Eden, who resigned a few months later. 

In light of all these developments, on 18 February 1938, the Italian ambassador to London, Count Grandi, sent to the minister of foreign affairs a memorandum whose contents officials refused to reveal. Al-Ahram thus relied on what was published in the British papers. Quoting The Daily Telegraph it stated that Italy held that its newly established empire in East Africa gave it the right to defend the Suez Canal and in fact made its participation in doing so a given certainty. To lighten the import of Italy's demand, the Daily Telegraph added that the Italian memorandum had also granted the same right to France.


Italian Troops passing through the Suez Canal en route to Abyssinia

"Had it come at the time to war between Britain and Italy no doubt the Canal would have been closed to Italian shipping on grounds of the defence of Egypt as well as the Canal under Article X of the Convention. The Italians were well aware of this, and it was one of the considerations that led them afterwards to make claims for representation on the Board of the Suez Canal Company. One of their writers later pointed out 

" It would be illusory to suppose that in case of a conflict the Convention would be respected, all the more since the expression ` defence of Egypt' in Article X might give rise, in case of need, to the most tendentious interpretations against the right of anyone. The defence of the Canal deserves therefore to be examined and solved in a way favourable to us, if only to enable us to be on the spot and to have guarantees as to the non-existence of works which under the pretext of defence would in fact be aimed against us."* The strict and quite proper adherence to the Suez Canal Con- vention by Great Britain made the Limited Sanctions which were imposed so utterly futile and ridiculous that before many months they had to be called off. It was only too patent that there was no heart or drive behind them, and the Dictators rightly felt that hence- forth they could snap their fingers at the League and at the Collec- tive Security system. Writing in 1938, Madame Tabouis was quite convinced that the European catastrophe really dated from that ineffective year 1935. On page 265 of the book already quoted she has this pregnant statement 

" What the situation needed was that Great Britain and France, forgetting past quarrels and mindful of their obligations as guardians of the peace, should have left in the mind of the aggressor no possible lop doubt as to their common resolve, integrally and without faltering, to apply those sanctions to which they were pledged, whether military or by the stoppage of petrol supplies, in the latter of which they were assured of the co-operation of the United States. " There was also the possibility of closing the Suez Canal to Italian shipping, a measure, however, whose validity, in view of the 
1888 Convention, appeared doubtful to international jurists. On the other hand, it could be argued on the theory of reprisals that Italy's violation of international justice condoned a violation of the 1888 Convention as a consequence. 'Article in the Italian Review Gerarchia. February, 1939

In light of the agreement between the British and Italian governments to negotiate over this demand, Al-Ahram 's special correspondent in London wrote that political circles in the British capital had called on Egypt to remain alert. According to them, it was not unlikely that Italy would stipulate, due to the reduction of its military garrison in Libya, to undertake a share in the responsibility for the security of the Suez Canal. They held that it would do so on the argument that its lack of such an advantage would otherwise make it necessary to maintain massive Italian forces near the Egyptian borders to secure the safe passage of its transport to and from East Africa. These political circles added that the Italian government had asked Britain to act as an intermediary with the Egyptian government on this regard.

Yet as British-Italian negotiations were under way, a fierce internal battle was taking place between the government led by Mohamed Mahmoud Pasha and the Wafd Party, whose newspaper had waged a harsh campaign against the government for accepting the fact that the two negotiating parties had overlooked it. This drove the prime minister to look into the matter, "whereby His Excellency the minister of foreign affairs provided the assembled ministers with the information at hand on this matter. The ministers then discussed the right of Egypt, in accordance with the treaty, to enter as a third party into these agreements, which have a direct connection to Egyptian interests. The cabinet decided to take urgent diplomatic measures in order to officially examine the details of the negotiations under way so that Egypt can form a position on them."

The Egyptians had no other option than to depend on what the British newspapers published on this issue. Al-Ahram quoted The Daily Herald as saying that if the British government did not gently warn Mussolini, two interrelated issues would come up in his talks -- the British occupation of Egypt and the defence of the Suez Canal. According to the paper, Mussolini would argue that Egypt's security could be safeguarded jointly by Britain and Italy, which both ruled countries that border Egypt, and which together constituted the strongest powers in the Mediterranean Sea. 

The Daily Herald 's foreign desk editor added that in the Italian government's opinion, such safeguarding would make a large foreign military presence unnecessary, especially given that it was said the British military garrison's presence on the two banks of the canal would always be considered a threat to Italy, the freedom of whose passage to and from the Mediterranean via the canal had become a matter of life and death.

But Al-Ahram held that this demand had neither basis nor justification, particularly as Egypt had respected the right of military ships to pass through the canal during the Ethiopian war, which had enabled the Italians to send their forces to successfully invade the country. "There is no doubt that Egypt rejects another state participating in defending the canal and will oppose any such request as it views it as threatening its independence," wrote the newspaper.

Egyptians were not reassured until early March 1938 when news arrived that the British government had resolved to seek the opinion of the Egyptian government in negotiations with Italy "and thus all traces of worry vanished. The Egyptian government was reassured of the results of the preliminary measures it had taken towards joint work with the allied state."

Britain kept its promise and reported the results of the talks as they took place to the Egyptian consul in Rome, while Sir Miles Lampson himself, the British ambassador in Cairo, remained in constant contact with the prime minister. The matter came to a close when the Egyptian government issued a statement on 18 April confirming that the Suez Canal was not up for negotiations, and that the accord that had been reached between Britain and Italy was based on respect for the Constantine agreement ruling on the freedom of shipping, as the two countries were keen to stress to Egypt. Yet Italy did not come out with nothing, for it succeeded in securing an agreement from the Suez Canal Company to allocate seats for Italian delegates in its administrative board.

The middle of the decade was rightly dubbed "The Years of Youth Rebellion"; schools and universities were breeding grounds for militant activism (See above photo; 1936 demonstrations).  hey were also years of disenchantment with political leaders and of fear for the students' professional future. For while the population had grown, the capacity of the country to absorb them had not and by 1937 Egypt suffered the problem of unemployment among intellectuals in a country that was largely illiterate. 7,500 baccalaureate holders and 3,500 university graduates were jobless. Those who graduated from foreign schools and spoke foreign languages found jobs in foreign firms, but since members of minorities were the ones who frequented foreign schools, that simply added to the bitterness of the native Egyptians. When violence reached uncontrollable heights, a caretaker government with Ali Maher at its helm was formed to prepare for general elections, which brought in the Wafd in May 1936. 
 

The preceding month had seen the death of King Fouad; he was succeeded by his son Farouk, who was only crowned in July of the following year, as he was a minor at the time of his father's death (main picture, top: King Farouk sworn in before parliament). 

From the time of El-Nahhas's accession to power, he had been busily engaged in negotiations with Lampson to reach a treaty, which was concluded and ratified by parliament in November. The Anglo-Egyptian Treaty (third from top) granted Egypt independence, but included four restrictive clauses pertaining mainly to the presence of British troops in Egypt. Miles Lampson became ambassador, and Egypt joined the League of Nations as an independent country in 1937. The same year, the Capitulations were abolished. 

The turbulent '30s had left their mark on political life: small parties, splinter groups and secret organisations mushroomed. Egypt was hardly united on the eve of World War II, in 1939. These divisions in the political life of the country inspired the decision by Al-Musawwar's editor, Fikri Abaza, to carry a photo-montage in which the nation's leaders were united at last (second ftom top). Alas, it was only a dream. Martial law and a state of siege were imposed by the British in October, as Britain entered the war. 


 
 

REFERENCES

 
 

 
 

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.) 

 


 

© Kamal Katba 2010


 

The Egyptian Chronicles is a co-op of Egyptian authors. 
Articles contained in these pages are the personal views, or work, of the authors, 
who bear the sole responsibility of the content of their work.

BACK TO MAIN PAGE
SEPTEMBER  2010 ISSUE

 

For any additional information, please contact
the Webmaster of the Egyptian Chronicles:

DESIGNED BY