In spite of the strong majority that the Wafd Party had in both Chambers, the House of Deputies and the Senate, Mustafa Al-Nahas Pasha, the Prime Minister and leader of the Wafd, submitted his Cabinet’s resignation to young King Farouk the First, who had just reached the Constitutional ruling age.  The King requested Nahas Pasha to form a new Cabinet.

Egypt’s last reigning King from 1936 (under a Regency up to his eighteenth birthday) until he was forced to abdicate on July 26, 1952.  Born in Cairo, Farouk was educated by tutors and briefly attended the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich, England

Initially charismatic and popular, he was the first member of his family who could make a formal speech in Arabic. He occasionally led Friday congregational worship at Mosques, traditionally a Caliph’s prerogative.  Some Egyptians, notably Mustafa Al-Maraghi, hoped to revive the Caliphate which was abolished by Mustafa Kemal (ATATURK) in 1924, so that Farouk could be given the position. 
His marriage to Safinaz Zulfiqar, whom he renamed Farida, was popular.  He competed with the Wafd, which controlled the Cabinet until December 1937, which he dismissed for sponsoring demonstration near Abdine Palace, and appointed a ministry made up of politicians from other Parties.  A rigged election, boycotted by the Wafd, gave these Parties control of Parliament in 1938.

When the British declared war on Germany in 1939, they asked Egypt to follow their example and sent additional troops to defend the Suez Canal. King Farouk and his Ministers opposed fighting against Germany, which many Egyptians viewed as a potential liberator of their country from Britain While the Allies seemed to be losing the war in 1940 – 1942, Britain’s Ambassador to Egypt, Sir Miles Lampson, wanted to depose Farouk and to install a Cabinet headed by Mustafa Al-Nahas that would uphold the 1936 Anglo – Egyptian Treaty. Farouk hoped to unite Egypt’s leading politicians in opposition to British interference, with Aly Maher Pasha as his Prime Minister.  Needing to secure British control over Egypt, Lampson told Farouk he was obliged to appoint Nahas to head a Wafdist Cabinet or to resign. Farouk gave in and then withdrew from politics, devoting himself to gambling and sexual adventures.  He had a serious car accident in 1943.  Many Egyptians think that during his prolonged convalescence in a British Army hospital, medical maltreatment affected his glands, causing his eccentric behavior, although his confrontation with Lampson is the more likely cause.

After Farouk dismissed the Wafdist Cabinet in October 1944, he reentered the political fray with a succession of Palace dominated governments.  Discontent spread after World War Two as popular pressure mounted to renounce the 1936 Anglo – Egyptian Treaty, force the British to evacuate Egypt and annex the Anglo – Egyptian Sudan.  Although sympathetic to these aims, Farouk could only distract the public with an enhanced enthusiasm for Arab unity.  After the United Nations General Assembly accepted the 1947 Partition Plan for Palestine, all the Arab Governments vied to show support for the Palestinian Arabs and defiance of the UN decision.  Even though Farouk’s Ministers and Generals privately advised him that the Egyptian Army was unready for war, he committed Egypt to fight in Palestine.  Ill equipped and badly led, the Egyptians were soon thrown back. In February 1949 Egypt signed an armistice with Israel, the first Arab State to do so.  At the height of the war, Farouk divorced the popular Queen Farida, and his picture was hissed for the first time at a Cairo cinema.

Late in 1949 Farouk finally agreed to allow free parliamentary elections and the Wafd returned to power.  As Nahas and his Cabinet proceeded to institute some reforms, Farouk came to be seen as marginal, although the Wafd changed his title to “King of Egypt and the Sudan” upon abrogating the 1936 Treaty.  His second marriage in 1951 to 16 years old Narriman Sadiq, followed by a three-month honeymoon cruise, appalled Egyptians.  During the burning of Cairo on 26 January 1952, Farouk was hosting a luncheon to celebrate the birth of his first son.  After the fire he dismissed the Wafdist Cabinet and appointed a series of Governments but could not restore political control. 

His attempt to rig the elections for the Officers’ Club presidency alienated the Egyptian Army, traditionally royalist, and his appointment of his brother in law, Ismail Shirrin, as War Minister, proved to be the last straw.  On 22-23 July 1952, the Free Officers seized control and decided to depose Farouk.  Denied support by the British and the United States Ambassador, he abdicated in favor of his infant son and left Egypt.  He spent the rest of his life in Europe.  His death in a Rome night club (1) may have been caused by Nasser’s Secret Service.  Although bright and charming (2), Farouk lacked education and mental discipline.  Unable to discriminate among his would be advisers; he failed to lead his people.  When he returned from England to succeed his father as King, Farouk had no enemies; when he left Egypt he had no friends.  (3)

King Farouk ruled Egypt from July 29, 1937, until July 26, 1952; his reign witnessed the formation of 23 cabinets in just fifteen years which indicates a period of political instability caused by the advent of the Second World War, the intrigues of the Royal Palace and the British Embassy along with the uncompromising policy of the Wafd majority party and Nahas Pasha its leader!!  Those three powers constituted the three angles of a triangle that would lead to the slow political disintegration of Egypt and, ultimately, to the collapse of the Monarchy on July 26, 1952.
 
 


The relationship between the young King and Nahas Pasha started with the wrong foot.  Some influential personalities in the Royal Palace wanted the King crowned in a religious ceremony while the Wafd Party, which controlled the Parliament through its large majority, refused to abide by the Palace’s request and the public opinion was suddenly divided between the (then) very popular King and the no less very popular Wafd.  The Palace officials claimed that since the 1923 Constitution confirmed that Egypt was a Moslem Monarchy and that its new monarch should be crowned in a religious ceremony, while the Government relied on that same Constitution which was silent about any religious crowning.  The Palace hit back by refusing  the appointment in the Cabinet by some Wafdist personalities submitted to the King approval, again both sides claimed their Constitutional right in doing what they did.  To make things worse, King Farouk appointed Aly Maher Pasha, not an admirer of Nahas, to the post of Chief of the Royal Cabinet without consulting his new Prime Minister!!

The British Embassy, not to be outdone and true to the colonial policy of “DIVIDE AND RULE”, intervened in the interior policy of the Country, which contradicted the spirit and the terms of the 1936 Treaty of Alliance, by advising the Monarch that his attitude towards the majority Government could jeopardize the British Government support of His Majesty and could also shake the stability of the Monarchy in Egypt!!

The tension between the Government and the Royal Palace having temporarily relaxed, the Cabinet resumed its function and agreed to send, on December 1937, elements of the Egyptian Armed Forces back to the Sudan from which they were expulsed in 1924 as a result of the assassination of General Sir Lee Stack Pasha the (then) Sirdar of the Egyptian Army and Governor General of the Sudan.

The Cabinet affixed a budget of six hundred thousand Egyptian Pounds for the construction of barracks and airports in the Canal Zone for the use of the British Military troops as agreed upon in the 1936 Treaty; it also legislated the formation of the “MIXED COURTS” and its legal duties and those of the new Egyptian “PERSONAL STATUS” Courts.  An official ceremony was held at the Alexandria “APPEAL MIXED COURTS”, on October 15, 1937, inaugurating the Mixed Courts according to the Treaty. King Farouk presided over that ceremony thus underlining its importance.

The Cabinet appointed a “COUNCIL OF NATIONAL DEFENCE” along with an Egyptian position of Chief of Staff and his support group.  A budget of six hundred and eight thousand pounds was agreed upon for the foundation of the “AZHAR UNIVERSITY”.

Upon the formation of his third Cabinet, Nahas has vowed to set aside the clannish political parties mentality and to affirm an equal opportunities to all Egyptian whatever their parties affiliation or support could be, but, after the signature of the 1936 treaty, his fourth Cabinet seemed to have forgotten that promise by giving a very special treatment and priority in appointing and promoting Wafd Party’s supporters in Government positions;  worse, many “OMDAS” (villages mayors) and their deputies lost their (honorary) positions, at the request of Wafdist Deputies, for just not being Wafdist or Wafdist enough!! 

To make matter worse, the Cabinet approved the formation of what was to be called “THE BLUE SHIRTS” groups (4); these groups claimed to be organized for the purpose of promoting the sportive spirit amongst the youth but it turned out to become political gangs with the mission of terrorizing members of other political parties (5) !!  Some of its members armed themselves with sticks and knives for the purpose of attacking other parties’ meetings.

The conflicts between the Royal Palace and the Cabinet, which started from day one, kept going from bad to worse in spite of many attempts to calm things down and, when Aly Maher Pasha, the Chief of the Royal Cabinet, suggested the formation of  a high committee to arbitrate those conflicts Nahas Pasha agreed on condition that the committee would be composed of Parliament Deputies (where the Wafd had a large majority) while Maher Pasha insisted on a committee composed of previous Prime Ministers; the tension became such that the King, having lost patience and, relying on his strong popularity, suddenly deposed the Nahas Cabinet on December 30, 1937.  Since that date and until the end of his reign King Farouk and the Wafd Party followed a path of a never ending war!!

(To be continued)

Kamal Karim Katba

 

 
 
(1)  In exile Farouk continued to live a lavish life  and continued his obsessive accumulation of material goods. His gluttony for fine cuisine soon made the former king dangerously obese, weighing nearly 300 pounds. An acquaintance described him as "a stomach with a head". He died in Rome on March 3, 1965 at the age of 45. He collapsed and died at the dinner table following a characteristically heavy meal. 
 

(2) The young King was educated in England and was guided by his tutor Ahmed Pasha Hassanein, an Oxford educated renaissance man. However, Sir Miles Lampson, the British high commissioner, described him in a report to the Foreign Office in 1937 as uneducated, lazy, untruthful, capricious, irresponsible and vain, though with a quick superficial intelligence and charm of manner'.

 (3)


 
 

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.) 

 
 

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Unique in modern Egyptian history were the Green Shirts and the Blue Shirts, paramilitary youth groups inspired by the success of fascist youth groups in Europe. Professor Yunan Labib Rizk describes the political climate, at home and abroad, which produced their rise.

Thirty years ago The Egyptian Historical Periodical featured an article of mine entitled "Shirts of different hues". At the time, I thought this study was the final word on the subject. I had combed through recently declassified British documents (6) as well as Al-Sarkha and Al-Jihad, the mouthpieces of the Green Shirts and the Blue Shirts. However, under much more recent inspection of contemporary editions of Al-Ahram, I realised that there was still much more to be said. 

At least the introduction to that study still applies, which is why I will dust it off and use it here: "For about four years, from the end of 1933 to the end of 1937, political life in Egypt saw the rise of paramilitary youth groups known as the Green Shirts, founded by the Young Egypt Society, and the Blue Shirts, founded by the Wafd Party for its younger members." It was my opinion that this phenomenon was unique in modern Egyptian history, at least as an overt form of political activity, and that in order to understand why such groups came into being at that particular time it was important to identify and understand the features of the political climate that were conducive to their rise. 

On the one hand, it was a reaction to the government of Prime Minister Ismail Sidqi whose abrogation of the 1923 Constitution and subsequent repressive policies had profoundly rocked society. These policies in effect set the tone for an era in which other political forces began to resort to unconventional weapons. The palace, having failed in its bid to create effective royalist parties -- the Ittihad (Union) in the 1920s and the Sha`ab (People's Party) in the early 1930s, parties the Wafd Party ridiculed as "artificial" -- cast about for a new way to solicit support and demonstrate its clout. One solution was to mobilise a new generation of youth, a generation that palace officials believed was totally different from that whose consciousness shaped and was shaped by the 1919 Revolution and thus whose loyalties were naturally disposed towards the Wafd Party.

The Wafd Party, in turn, realised that in relying exclusively on its popularity as the "underdog" could actually be a source of vulnerability, as was amply demonstrated by the highly unpopular actions the Sidqi government took against it. At the same time, Wafd leaders were alarmed by their adversaries' unconventional use of "youth organisations", which inspired them to resort to the same tactics. The result was the Blue Shirts, made up of Wafdist youth. 

At the same time, the new generation of youth felt that the 1919 Revolution had so far failed to realise its goal of full national independence and sovereignty. The primary cause of this failure, in their opinion, was internal fragmentation, which could only be countered by the promotion of a national front, the solidity and vitality of which depended first and foremost on Egyptian youth. 

That this reaction should take the form of societies of a militarist stripe was clearly influenced by global political trends. Specifically, a large segment of Egyptian nationalist opinion was strongly inspired by the successes of fascist youth groups in Europe: the Italian bands of Black Shirts who famously marched on Rome in 1922, enabling the Fascist Party takeover, and the Nazi storm troopers, or Brown Shirts, whose practices of intimidation against the adversaries of the National Socialist Party helped Hitler into power.

Also in this paper of mine I established that a variety of interwoven factors brought all other political forces into play with this phenomenon. The National Party, for example, established close relations with Young Egypt Society leaders Ahmed Hussein and Fathi Radwan. Liberal Constitutionalists, such as Mohamed Ali Alouba, felt that an association with such youth groups would help compensate for their party's lacking popularity. Of course, both the British high commissioner's office and Abdeen Palace had their own reasons for getting involved. 

British authorities in Cairo feared that the spread of such paramilitary youth groups would lead to a security breakdown and threaten the lives and interests of foreigners in Egypt. High Commissioner Sir Miles Lampson was also disturbed by the implications of these groups' obvious inspiration by their counterparts in fascist Italy. The Italians at that time were the largest expatriate community in Egypt after the Greeks and the British would not have appreciated a potential fifth column at the time of increasing tension between London and Rome following Italy's invasion of Ethiopia. In addition, British authorities had long striven to maintain an even keel between the two major forces in the Egyptian political arena, the Palace and the Wafd Party. The youth groups were threatening to throw this policy off kilter. With its overwhelming popularity and its position in government for two out of the four years of this period, the Wafd Party was in a virtually unassailable position. Not only could it lend all the moral encouragement it wanted to the Blue Shirts, it could also fund them, if not directly out of the pockets of the Wafd Party, then out of the secret funds at the disposal of the prime minister.

The palace during this period was in an increasingly shaky position. The governing system it had brought into being with Prime Minister Sidqi had begun to tear at the seams while the king himself suffered a serious decline in his health, raising the spectre of his imminent death. Palace influence reached its lowest ebb with the fall of the Sidqi government, after which it succumbed to British pressure to install an interim government under Tawfiq El-Nassim until new parliamentary elections could be held, and to dismiss the king's powerful right-hand man Zaki El-Ibrashi. Following the death of the king on 28 April 1936, it appeared that the Wafd now held the incontestable upper hand, especially as its party leaders, after having been voted into power, were in a position to choose the key members of the regency council. Its good fortune was not destined to last, however. On 29 July 1937, the young King Farouk reached the age of majority and as though in an early attempt to assert his independence, demanded a coronation ceremony different from the one his Wafdist regents had planned for him. Although Wafd Party leader Mustafa El-Nahhas's opinion prevailed on this issue, the incident was an omen of his government's impending fate. High Commissioner Lampson was increasingly of the opinion that the Wafd was getting a little too smug. After its success in negotiating the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 and in bringing an end to the foreign Capitulations System the following year, the party was riding a wave of popularity that made it feel it could simply ignore Lampson's ultimatums. By the end of 1937, the Wafd's overbearingness would bring the defection of two of the party's key members -- Ahmed Maher and Mahmoud Fahmi -- and the collapse of El-Nahhas's government. With this development, the phenomenon of Blue Shirts and shirts of other colours began to fade until they eventually vanished altogether with the defeat of the fascist and Nazi regimes in World War II.

Under the headline, "Shirt colours in Egypt and the need for group organisations", an Al-Ahram editorial of 11 July 1936 offers its opinion on the subject. On the whole, the newspaper was supportive of the idea. It urged the government to ignore recent demands to prohibit the wearing of coloured shirts as a political and ideological emblem. These shirts were "the uniform of the renaissance of youth in our times and the symbol of dedication to the service of the nation," it argued. "The Black Shirt policy in Italy succeeded in arousing a spirit of patriotic zeal unlike any seen for centuries... This is because it is founded on the power of organisation, the instilling of a sense of pride and dignity and the conquering of the feelings of weakness and timidity." It adds, "Egypt, like other nations, still needs to organise groups that are active among the people who are the source of authority."

Although the editorial admitted that such groups could become tools in the hands of forces aspiring to dictatorial rule, as occurred in Germany and Italy, it felt that they had positive aspects from which Egyptians could benefit. Among these was their ability to inculcate a sense of order and discipline, moral rigour and a spirit of dedication and commitment. Bearing these advantages in mind, "we could permit for a diversity of these groups the democratic framework upheld by the constitution, whereby each group operating beneath the emblem of a specific colour would perceive it as its duty to eradicate a form of weakness in the national body. Then the value of each 'shirt' would be assessed on the basis of the service its wearers performed for the nation." That such organisations could work within democratic systems was evidenced by Sir Oswald Mosley. And admirer of Hitler and Mussolini, the British politician had described parliament as a "talk shop" and had also founded a group that distinguished itself by a dark-coloured shirt. On this phenomenon, a British minister said, "Let Sir Mosley say what he wants and wear the colour of shirts he likes. His fascism will always be too weak to harm our long established democracy."

In a subsequent article, the newspaper expressed its hope that the government would not disband the youth groups on the pretext of maintaining public order. "There are soldiers and police whose purpose it is to serve the nation by maintaining law and order, not to subject the nation to the order of the police and the department of public security."

Encouraged by the Al-Ahram position, Faculty of Law student Mohamed Zuhdi Afifi contributed a lengthy article on "Fascism in Italy". Before the rise of this movement, he wrote, Italy was in the throes of chaos. The fascists seized upon this situation to march on Rome where they easily forced themselves into power. Soon after, Mussolini issued his famous declaration, "The means to power is not the will of the people but force. Force is the foundation of the law and it imposes the law." Afifi then states that Mussolini restored order to Italy, rooted out communism which had almost torn the country apart and brought workers' strikes to a halt so that business could resume in full vigour. The Italian dictator further brought discipline to the ranks of the Italian people and instilled in them a new spirit. They had come to look to him as the reviver of ancient Rome. "The new order has done Italy a great service, having remedied the lethal ills from which it had suffered," Afifi concluded.

Well after the Blue Shirts became an established phenomenon, National Party leader Hafez Ramadan protested that he had fathered the idea of the Blue Shirts, but that the Wafd had stolen the idea from him. In 1932, he wrote, he had founded the Falcons, an association for fostering the physical, mental and moral uplifting of youth. He had chosen the falcon as its emblem because "this bird is known for its energy, as it leaves its nest before the rising of the sun, and because it symbolises courage and strength, and because ancient Egyptians depicted it with the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. It thus represents the unity and solidarity of the Egyptian people." The members of this association, which he insisted was entirely non-partisan, had been wearing blue shirts for years. "It never occurred to them to lay claim to that dress code even though this is what they wore when, in the era of those governments formed since 1932, they engaged in physical training or sporting outings in Wadi Hof, at the foot of the Pyramids or in the barren desert. Nor did it ever occur to any of those governments to outlaw the Falcons because they themselves had never contemplated serving as a tool for intimidating and pressuring others."

As though in response to this letter, Al-Ahram dispatched a correspondent to interview Blue Shirts leader Ahmed Bilal on the aims and structures of this organisation. The idea, Bilal relates, dated to the student uprising of November 1935 in demand for the restoration of the 1923 Constitution. The student demonstrations had much in common with military organisations. "We would march in organised files that filled the breadth of the street. At the head of each file was a student officer. By the time the uprising ended, we had come up with the idea of the blue shirt worn by students and workers." The blue shirt, he continued, became the symbol of unity and equality among youth, whether they were rich or poor, young or old, educated or not. This, however, did not obviate the need to screen potential members on the basis of moral rectitude, character, patriotism and other qualifications. The "soldiers" of this organisation were not permitted to bear arms other than a billy club worn on the belt as a symbol of military order. To this could be added a knife of the sort used by scouts, taken on camping excursions. Knives, guns or other weapons forbidden by law or requiring a special license were forbidden to Blue Shirt members.

In "Shirts of different hues" I discussed the adversarial relationship between the Blue Shirts and Green Shirts and the clashes that invariably resulted in the withdrawal of the latter, leaving the field open to the former. However, contemporary Al-Ahram editions lend a sense of immediacy that no academic study could convey. At the same time, I did not delve into the relationship between the Blue Shirts and the Wafd Party or the Wafdist government headed by El-Nahhas, having accepted the assumption that the paramilitary youth organisation was merely a means with which the Wafd intimidated its adversaries who resorted to the same tactics. The assumption was an oversimplification of reality, as we discover in Al-Ahram. 

On numerous occasions, the Blue Shirts displayed an initiative that indicated that the Wafd did not have as tight a control on the reigns of this organisation as it thought. These occasions proved to be extremely embarrassing for the Wafd government, incurring as they did the scorn of the British high commissioner and incensed the opposition press. Indeed, even the predominantly Wafdist parliament was moved to question the government on the activities of this organisation. 

One of the most notorious outbreaks of violence took place in the summer of 1937 in Damanhur. Young Egypt Society leader Ahmed Hussein had filed suit in the Damanhur court in defence of the right of his group to open a club in that city. 

On the day he appeared, "a huge crowd surrounded the court building from all sides and began to shout in support of El-Nahhas and the Wafd Party." The Al-Ahram report goes on to say that the police raced to the rescue of the beleaguered Young Egypt leader, bringing in a police van into which they bundled Hussein and sped off to Alexandria. Even so, a segment of the crowd chased after the police car, throwing stones and bricks at it and succeeding in breaking its rear window. Most of these were Blue Shirts, of course.

One evening in Cairo's ancient Al-Gamaliya quarter, a street sweeper was busily doing his job when a gust of wind blew some of the sand and dust he was collecting into the Blue Shirt training camp. One of the youths rushed out of the camp and physically assaulted the sweeper, inflicting several wounds. The injured worker reported the incident to the police and when an officer came to the camp to summon the perpetrator, a fight broke out between the police and the Blue Shirts. The police overcame their adversaries, broke into the camp and arrested the street sweeper's assailant and four others. Then, another skirmish erupted outside the Al-Gamaliya police station, following which nine more Blue Shirts were arrested. The 14 were brought to trial and sentenced to fines varying from 100 to 200 piastres. Some were able to pay and were released. Those who could not afford the fine asked to serve time in detention instead, for which purpose they were transferred to Al-Sayida Zeinab police station. 

In Damietta, a band of Blue Shirts passing by the ceremonial tent the Alayli household had erected for the celebrations of the anniversary of the birth of the Prophet fell into a brawl with some of those inside the tent. Police arrived to separate the brawlers, after which the contending parties marched off shouting assorted slogans. "Six people were injured and sent to the emergency clinic to have their wounds treated," the Al-Ahram report concludes. 

In Minia, two rival Blue Shirt gangs engaged in a brawl leaving two of them seriously injured. One of them, Mahmoud Rashed Shirkas, died of his wounds. The other was permanently disfigured. The animosity between the two groups stemmed from a power struggle that had begun several months earlier.

Meanwhile, the Wafd Party was heading for crisis. In forming his fourth government on 1 August 1937, El-Nahhas excluded a major pillar of the Wafd, Mahmoud El-Nuqrashi. The rift in party ranks that this triggered naturally rebounded on the Blue Shirts. El-Nuqrashi himself called for the dissolution of the Blue Shirt bands in Cairo and the provinces, and others took up his call. Prime among these was Mohamed Kamel El-Damati who had broken off from the Blue Shirt general command headed by Bilal in order to form the General-Command of the Independent League. In response to El-Nuqrashi's call, the Damati faction had a ceremonial burning of their blue shirts in the league's camp in Abbasiya.

The uncontrolled outbreaks of violence combined with the internal debacle of the Wafd had severely undermined the party's moral credibility. In the face of attacks in both the Egyptian and British press, Wafd leaders began to feel they had to act in the face of the youth groups that were causing them such embarrassment. In the Manchester Guardian we read that in response to the growing anxiety among both Egyptian and foreign circles in Cairo over the coloured shirt movement and over the rapid spread of the Blue Shirts in particular, "Wafd leaders have recently made it clear that they are disinclined to continue carrying a child that has shot up so quickly." Similarly, The Daily Telegraph reports that El-Nahhas had prohibited the Blue Shirts from parading in the streets in their official dress. Apparently, the organisation had gone even beyond the Wafd leader's control, for the newspaper adds that the Blue Shirts obeyed his instructions for a while but soon were seen again, "carrying truncheons and knives and claiming that they were above the law." 

In parliament, Ibrahim Desouqi Abaza confronted the minister of interior with the following protest: "The country is crying out in anger and pain at the illicit and illegal acts being perpetrated by the Blue Shirts. They abuse public order in order to sew corruption, attack people individually and in groups, and trample the liberties guaranteed by the constitution." Increasingly on the defensive, the government had to do something to bring the Blue Shirts under control. It was decided to place them directly under the command of El-Nahhas, to forbid them from carrying weapons of any sort or to demonstrate in the street or appear in public wearing blue shirts. In addition, the government issued a new statute regulating the creation and activities of such youth organisations and it initiated prosecution proceedings against group leaders for the crimes they and their followers had perpetrated. 

Apparently, such actions had little immediate effect, for in a speech on 17 November 1937, El-Nahhas complained of "those who flout law and order in order to cause unrest." Tougher action was required. At El-Nahhas's instructions, the Ministry of Interior began to regularly patrol the Blue Shirt camps, sending them a clear signal that their days were numbered. The end came sooner than expected. On the day before the end of 1937 the El-Nahhas government 

Al-Ahram: A Diwan of contemporary life (602)
 
 

(6)

Saturday, August 15th (Alexandria) 1936

Left the Residency at 10.45 a.m. for a farewell audience with Regents at Ras-el-Tin Palace at 11 o'clock. They were all in extremly good fettle. They talked once more at great length about Nahhas his abominable unpunctuality: they also spoke of his increased s headedness. Mohamed Aly referred to the increasing predominan Blue Shirt organisation. He felt it was imperative something sho done to check it; I said I quite agreed but I didn't quite see who was going to have it stopped. If one analysed the history of the creation of Shirts it became clear that it had been a Wafd counter-move to the organisation of the Green Shirts. Now the thing had reached dimensions which were certainly not easy to handle, at least not for any outsider but I thought that all these para-military organisations ought to be stopped.
 

Tuesday, November 24th (Cairo) 1936

10.15 a.m. Keown-Boyd. Nothing very special: the only item of shop he brought up was the question of employing certain Egyptian members of his staff in the European Dept.

We also just touched on the question of the Blue Shirts; and I told him that the British Government were seriously worried at the outlook. An organisation was being created here which might very easily get out of hand and take charge of the situation; and I mentioned in particular the draft bill now before Parliament in England forbidding the wearing of uniforms, etc. by any political association. I knew that in connection with that measure the British Government had been collecting information from all Capitals as to the practice followed in various foreign countries. It occurred to me that this information might prove useful to the Egyptian Government. Of course we all knew what was the practice in Germany and in Italy, but I hoped that Egypt was not going to follow their example. Wassif Ghali laughed and said that the information I had mentioned would certainly be very useful and though he did not say so I gained the distinct impression that he himself doesn't at all favour this blue shirt business.


 


 

© Kamal Katba 2010


 

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