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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Troops passing through the Suez Canal en route to Abyssinia
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
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.