It was officially declared that Mohammad Mahmoud Pasha (1) resigned his Cabinet for health reasons on August 18 1939 but in fact two important reasons were behind this resignation; the first reason was the machinations and intrigues of Aly Maher Pasha, the Chief of the Royal Cabinet, who was not so discretely negotiating with some politicians, including a few members of the Mahmoud Pasha’s Cabinet, for the purpose of joining a new Cabinet headed by Aly Maher himself; the second and more important reason was that the young Monarch sent his own Chamberlain, Saeed Zulfikar Pasha, to meet with Mahmoud Pasha thanking him for all his devotion and services to His Majesty and reminding him that the time has come to look after his ailing health.  The Prime Minister understood the hint and submitted the resignation of his Cabinet a day after that meeting.  Thus ended the political life of Mahmoud Pasha ; his health went from bad to worse and he died on February 1, 1941.

Mahmoud Pasha was intelligent, hard working and patriotic, but nervous and intolerant of opposition.  In 1927 a British observer remarked: 

“He is at times held back by the fact that he does not consider any Egyptian but himself clever enough to run the Country without the English, and so wants to keep them here till he has maneuvered himself to the head of affairs” (2)
On August 18, 1939, King Farouk received and accepted his Prime Minister’s resignation and, on that same date, asked his protégé, Aly Maher Pasha, to form a new Cabinet!!

A few days after the formation of the new Cabinet, the German Army invaded Poland and, as a result of that unprovoked invasion, England and France declared war against the German Reich, thus starting the Second World War.

Anticipating that War and just a few days before it started, Aly Maher Pasha whose dislike of the British was notorious, included in his new Cabinet a few members who shared his dislike!!  Beside the Premiership he kept for himself the Ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs which were, because of the dark International situation, were the two most important Portfolios.  The new Cabinet also approved the creation of the new Ministry of Social Affairs that was decided by the previous Cabinet six days before its resignation. 

At the beginning of the War, the British Government, basing its request on the provisions of the 1936 Treaty of Alliance between the two Countries, tried to urge the Cabinet to declare war against Germany, but that request fell on deaf ears and the Cabinet maintained Egypt’s neutrality in that conflict, which aggravated the already existing animosity between the Cabinet and the British Authorities!!

The new Cabinet declared itself a “WAR CABINET” and, as such, approved the formation of an army reserve contingent (AL-GUEISH AL MORABET) composed of recruits not needed by the standing Army.  It was felt that these reserves would be needed to guard the civilian installations and to alleviate the hardship that would certainly befall on the civilian population during the war.  To give these recruits a basic military training and the military command that would be required, the Cabinet agreed to transfer a few officers from the active troops to the newly formed reserve.  It was also decided that the service in this reserve formations would not exceed a period of six months and the Cabinet appointed a civilian, Abdel-Rahman Azzam Bey (3), the acting Minister of Religious Affairs (WEZARAT AL AWQAF) to supervise the training and activities of that new force. 

The Cabinet discussed during eight of its many meetings the project of electrifying the Aswan Dam which would help in creating a chemical industry so badly needed by the Egyptian Agriculture which was then the main source of economical wealth, and an iron and steel industry.  The Cabinet invited a British Company to study and implement that project as soon and as fast as possible, but the company declined the offer on the excuse of the state of war!!  In fact both chemicals and iron and steel products were then imported from England which kept factories and workers over there quite happy!!

The Cabinet agreed to establish a company for the purpose of publishing and broadcasting Egyptian news locally and overseas.  It also encouraged the formation of the Lawyers Society which would include all lawyers authorized to practice law in front of National Courts of Justice.

Because of the war situation, the Cabinet agreed to postpone the annual leaves of the Public Service and the amount of six thousand pounds was added to the National Budget for the purpose of helping the Egyptian students stranded overseas to safely return home.  The Cabinet also agreed to shrink each Ministry’s budget and to cancel all the amounts allocated to buy offices’ furniture and carpets. 

To confirm its position as “WAR CABINET”, A Royal decree was proclaimed on September 2, 1939, declaring “MARTIAL LAWS” which was approved by the House of Deputies with a majority of “YES” with only 13 objections.  As for the Senate, the votes resulted with 68 approvals against 59 refusals. To appease the British, the Cabinet amended the Criminal Law by adding articles imposing harsh sentences for crimes committed against the safety of the Country and that of its “ALLIES” (read England). 

An extra budget was allocated to reinforce the Armed Forces particularly in its positions at the Egyptian borders; more patrol cars were bought for the use of the “FRONTIER CORP” (SILAH AL HOUDOUD) and more reinforcements were allocated to the “COASTAL GUARDS” (GHAFAR AL SAWAHEL); an extra 12 military planes were added to the Air Force and 53 light tanks were purchased for the “Cavalry Corp” (SILAH AL FORSAN). 

To cover all these expenditures, the Cabinet agreed to raise all taxes by one percent and a permanent Cabinet committee was formed to oversee the protection of civilians against air raids.  Last but not least, the Cabinet formed another committee headed by the Minister of Finances for the purpose of establishing a statistical list of all the strategically needed materials in all the Governorates; that same committee would keep an eye on prices and would impose prices control wherever and whenever needed.

It is interesting to note that the Cabinet went as far as studying the feasibility of moving no less than about a quarter million city dwellers to the country side and allocating the daily survival amount of 30 pennies (MALLIMS) to each immigrant.  The project was luckily shelved when it appeared that the cost would certainly exceed one million and six hundred thousand pounds!!

As mentioned before, the failure of the British Government to get the Egyptian Cabinet to declare war against Germany caused lots of tension between the two Countries and that tension extremely intensified after the military collapse of France which encouraged Italy to join Germany in its war against the British Empire (4). Tripolitania (LIBYA), which was then an Italian Colony, shared a long border with Egypt and constituted an imminent threat against the British troops in Egypt and particularly the Suez Canal; which prompted the Brits to put an immense pressure on King Farouk to fire the Aly Maher Cabinet and appoint a Cabinet more cooperative with the Brits.  Sir Miles Lampson went as far as threatening the Egyptian King to confiscate his throne and put him under house arrest!!  He also threatened to repeat what England did, in 1914 at the beginning of the First World War, by declaring Egypt a British Protectorate!!  Terrified by the British threats, King Farouk invited his Prime Minister and the heads of the different Egyptian Political Parties to an urgent meeting at the Royal Palace during which Aly Maher Pasha presented the resignation of his Cabinet, after a rule of ten months and  seven days, to save his King and Country!!

(To be continued)

Kamal Karim Katba

El Duce Bennito Mussolini (left) and Führer Adolf Hitler (right) sent their armies to North Africa and into Egypt against the British.



Mohamed Mahmoud, four times Egypt's prime minister, had a legendary firmness by which he formed his first government in 1928. However, by the time of his last Cabinet in 1939, Mahmoud's stature had diminished to something much less. Professor Yunan Labib Rizk traces Mahmoud's political life, from strength to weakness 

I am honoured to convey to Your Majesty that the doctors have ordered total rest for a period of time. Yet the precarious state of international conditions imposes upon me continuous effort my health can no longer bear. And therefore, I have the honour of submitting my resignation to Your Highness and Majesty, hoping that you are graciously disposed towards accepting it. I will not forget the signs of sympathy and satisfaction I received from Your Majesty during the term of my government, nor the manifestations of trust and support. My heart and tongue will not tire from repeating the most sincere praise of and affirming the most faithful loyalty to your noble self. I strongly hope that the country, under the protection of Your Majesty and thanks to your love of it and your long hours working for its good, will move forward on the path of advancement and glory. 

Mohamed Mahmoud 

May God grant you a long life... etc -- Mohamed Mahmoud

This was the text of the resignation of Mohamed Mahmoud Pasha's fourth and final government as published in Al-Ahram 's 14 August 1939 issue. Mohamed Mahmoud had gained renown for having a "strong hand" during his first government formed in 1928. The texts' statement about his poor health was not a pretext to save face as he departed the government; it was true this time. The man lived for less than 18 months after that, most of which he spent in his sickbed until passing away on 1 February 1941.

Mahmoud was a unique personality among Egyptian political figures, and his uniqueness stemmed from a number of sources. He was born to a family considered political by the understanding of that age. His father, Mahmoud Pasha Suleiman, was deputy head of the Law Consultation (Shura) Council and a large agricultural landowner in Upper Egypt, on Salim bank in Assiut. He inherited 1,600 feddans of land there, and became the head of the Umma Party when it was formed in 1907.

Following this beginning, Mohamed Mahmoud earned a distinguished education. While the prominent personalities of the age usually sent their children to complete their education in French universities (Sorbonne and Montpellier received the greatest number, particularly in their law colleges), the most prominent notable of Upper Egypt, Suleiman Pasha, sent his grandson to Oxford University. There he specialised in history.

With this social status and unique education, the young man formed strong relationships with the men of the British occupation administration in Egypt. He worked as an assistant to consultants to the English in the ministries of finance and the interior. He then leaped ahead and became the director of Beheira, but did not succeed in cooperating with the English officials in the directorate and soon lost his post. This marked the beginning of his political career. 

The 1919 Revolution was the golden door through which Mohamed Mahmoud entered to form his career. As most of the leaders of this revolution had come from the leadership of the Umma Party, which had halted its activities with the start of World War II, it was natural for the son of the party's president to join them. This was underlined when Mahmoud was among the three who were exiled in March 1919 with Saad Zaghloul to Malta, one of the most important causes of the revolution.

Despite the exile not surpassing a month, signs of Mohamed Mahmoud's special status began to show in Valleta, the island's capital. This was aided by the fact that he was the youngest, for he had only passed the age of 40 by two years while Ismail Sidqi was two years older than him and Hamad El-Sabil was seven years older. The age difference between him and Saad Zaghloul was almost 20 years. This was also aided by the fact that he was the wealthiest and descended from the most established social standing. 

This is perhaps what led him to some forms of behaviour that were the source of complaints made by Saad Zaghloul in his memoirs, such as his insistence on sleeping in a private room, having a special lunch and other daily behaviour stemming from a sense of distinction. This was exacerbated by his command of English in contrast to Zaghloul and Sidqi with their French education, and El-Basil, who belonged to neither English nor French culture. He was their only source of information to the outside world through his reading of an English-language newspaper issued in Malta.

The British authorities permitted the four leaders to travel to Paris after the reconciliation conference had acknowledged the protectorate over Egypt. This recognition had been shared by the American President Wilson, whose principle of the right to self-determination Egyptians had pinned high hopes on. This drove the Wafd Party to send Mahmoud to the United States of America to work with the American judge Falk on promoting the Egyptian cause.

The university graduate's importance was highlighted again when Lord Milner agreed to open the door to negotiations with the Egyptian delegation, leading the Wafd Party to summon Mahmoud from America to travel to Paris and participate in the negotiations. He soon headed the four sent by the delegation to Egypt to discern the opinion of Egyptians on the British proposals that Saad Zaghloul had decided to reject through his communications with the delegation's secretary in Cairo, Abdel-Rahman Bey.

This situation did not please Mahmoud and his companions, who left Zaghloul's Wafd Party in the first split in its history. This was the split that paved the way for the subsequent formation of the Liberal Constitutionalists Party, particularly following the escalation of the dispute between Zaghloul and Adli Yeken over the presidency of the delegation negotiating with the English. 

Mahmoud remained the strongest personality in the new party even though he did not assume its presidency until a late stage (1929). During the period stretching from the issue of the 1923 constitution and the subsequent elections in which the Wafd Party secured a crushing victory, on the one hand, and 1939 when he withdrew from political life for good after having led the government for two terms, on the other, this Upper Egyptian politician did what no one before him had done, not even Ismail Sidqi, renowned for his departure from the rules of the constitutional game.

Mahmoud was the only one of the old-time Wafd Party men to have sought to take control of the Wafd Party from within. He grasped the opportunity of Saad Zaghloul's death in 1927 and the ensuing struggle over the presidency of the Wafd Party, holding that he was the most deserving of its presidency among the contenders until Mustafa El-Nahhas won it.

He was the only government man to have dared to suspend the entire constitution and declare that he would rule with firmness to put an end to the muddled conditions resulting from partisan rule. The speeches he gave during this period, which were later collected in the book "The strong hand", indicate the man's insistence on overlooking constitutional rule. This is exactly what took place in 1928 and 1929.

This is something the king did not dare do through his man Ahmed Ziwar (1924-1926). All he did during the term of Ziwar's governments was to delay elections under the pretext of making constitutional amendments. Nor did Ismail Sidqi (1930-1934) dare to do this. His term saw attempts to amend the 1923 constitution, and ended with its replacement by a new one, but he never suspended the constitution. 

During the period prior to Mohamed Mahmoud undertaking his third government in early 1938, Egypt experienced a range of administrative interference in elections. The most serious was that which took place in the 1925 elections when Ismail Sidqi was the minister of the interior and put all the pressure possible to bring down the Wafd Party candidates, an attempt that ended in failure. Yet Mahmoud proved unique again after undertaking the above-mentioned government, for he used the administration to conduct frank forgery in order to bring down the Wafd Party nominees. This formed a precedent in the forgery of parliamentary elections in Egypt, something done by numerous governments since.

In short, Mohamed Mahmoud Pasha did what no one before him had done. And hence came the name he gave himself, that he had a "strong hand" seemingly incapable of giving in. This was in fact true some of the time, but not all of the time.

THE FIRST MISTAKE our friend fell into was dealing with the rule of King Farouq as though it were an extension of the rule of his father. He did not sufficiently comprehend the changes that had taken place on the political map. 

Among these changes was the fact that the palace had grown freer from the control of the high commissioner's headquarters than before, when the high commissioner had interfered in all matters large and small and particularly in the relationship between the wearer of the crown and his government. And thus the Wafd Party's figuring that the 1936 Anglo-Egyptian Treaty would be in its favour was not correct. Britain's representative in Egypt no longer put his nose into domestic affairs except but a tad, allowing the young king the opportunity to dismiss the Wafdist government on 30 December 1937, a dismissal that countered all expectations.

There was also a change in the map of relations within Abdine Palace. Farouq was certainly not an extension of his father's rule, for Fouad was always careful to be the first and final lord of the palace. When he used one of his men, it was usually not one with a political character in the palace. He used the royal minister, Zaki Pasha El-Ibrashi, or Hassan Pasha Nashat, secretary of the royal court who was promoted to the post of deputy of the Royal Cabinet, which was not a political post by any means. 

It was the opposite case during the rule of Farouq when Ali Maher undertook leadership of the Royal Cabinet. He was a politician from the top of his head to the tip of his toe. It is sufficient that he was the prime minister during the final years of King Fouad, and that he transferred rule to the Wafd Party following the re-institution of the 1923 constitution. When Ahmed Hassanein Pasha undertook the same post, he was in turn a first-class politician. He had begun work in the diplomatic corps and grown close to the palace after Fouad chose him as a teacher to the crown prince.

This led to Mohamed Mahmoud's dealing with Abdine Palace being more complicated than it had been during the government of the strong hand. Yet Mahmoud did not understand this well enough when he formed his second government in 1938, after heavy waters had swept beneath the bridges.

Moreover, the partisan map was not what it had been in 1928-1929. The Wafd Party was at its strongest following its success in signing the 1936 Anglo- Egyptian Treaty which was referred to as a treaty of honour and independence after it had done away with the foreign capitulations in the famed Montreaux Convention. Then there were the armed militias of their various colours -- the green shirts established by the men of Misr Al-Fita and the blue shirts of the Wafd Party. There was also another large party competing with the Liberal Constitutionalists for its place, the Saadist Union Party formed by those who split from the Wafd Party and which included Ahmed Maher and Mahmoud Fahmi El-Nuqrashi Pasha. In other words, Mahmoud was not playing alone on the field this time.

It can be said that while the man with a strong hand had stood as a clear rival to the palace in his previous experiences, he could not undertake the same role this time. In fact, Farouq's men, led by Ali Maher, succeeded in using Mahmoud twice. The first was when they drove him to commit the mistake of openly forging the elections held in early 1938. It is ironic that when Mahmoud realised that the Wafd Party had suffered a significant defeat following the results of Upper Egypt's elections to the point that Makram Ebeid had lost the district he had always won with the minimum of effort, and that the Liberal Constitutionalists had gained a major victory, the prime minister thought that he was to thank for that. He wanted to repeat this game in Lower Egypt, but the Royal Cabinet, led by Ali Maher, did not permit this. The results were not as he had wished for, with the Saadist Union Party winning the most votes and Mustafa El-Nahhas losing his district in Samanud. This proved that the palace had the upper hand.

The second time was when the palace intervened in the formation of the government and Mahmoud was not the only strong figure in it as he had been in the previous government. It included prominent personalities that were inimical to the Wafd Party, including three former prime ministers -- Mohamed Mahmoud himself, Ismail Sidqi and Abdel-Fattah Yehya. It also included three heads of parties, for in addition to the head of the Liberal Constitutionalists, there was the head of the Shaab Party loyal to the palace and Hafez Ramadan, the head of the old Watani Party. Some of the newspapers even described it as a government of "prominent personalities".

What had taken place in the political map did not mesh with the personality of Mohamed Mahmoud with its unilateral nature. This was particularly true after Ali Maher used the Saadist Union Party's majority in the Council of Representatives, which was approximately equal to that of the Liberal Constitutionalists, in order to execute policies desired by the palace and to prevent what the prime minister wished for from taking place. In the end, this resulted in his government lasting less than four months. He was forced to submit its resignation and form his next government following a ministerial crisis that lasted for three weeks due to a difference over the distribution of ministerial posts between Mahmoud's men and those of the palace, or, more precisely, Ali Maher's men.

One again, this government lasted less than two months when its resignation was submitted on 24 June of the same year. The man with the strong hand had grown weak and found no escape from reforming his government, this time bringing in the Saadists. This led to the formation of his fourth government, the one that saw the end of the strong hand legend.

THIS END began with the first moments in which the man commenced consultations for the formation of his government, a process that did not at all end as he had wished. He had no choice other than to let go of representatives of small parties such as the Union Party and the Shaab Party who were able to fulfill his wishes. He also had to oust Ahmed Lutfi El-Sayed, one of the major leaders of the Liberal Constitutionalists, to make way for a Saadist minister.

What was worse was that these latter insisted on a strong presence in the government. It was agreed that each of the two coalition parties would be represented by five ministerial posts, and that the two ministries the Saadists would gain would be the most important following the post of president. The Ministry of Finance would be undertaken by Ahmed Maher and the Ministry of the Interior would be undertaken by Mahmoud Fahmi El-Nuqrashi. If we add to that the popularity enjoyed by these two men, both while they were in the ranks of the Wafd Party and after they left it, we can appreciate the extent of Mohamed Mahmoud's loss, after which he could no longer claim being strong.

We can also add to that the enemy laying in wait for the government in the leadership of the Royal Cabinet, Ali Maher Pasha, who had ambitions to get rid of Mahmoud Pasha and take his place. He never tired of planning conspiracies against the government as long as he was able to. The matter reached the point of his meeting with Mustafa El-Nahhas in his home in Ramel, Alexandria. While this meeting did not produce an agreement, the head of the Royal Cabinet sought to either frighten or incite Mahmoud, as confidential British documents state. This worried him a great deal.

In the secret battle waged between the two men revealed by the same documents, Mahmoud was inflicted with hardship by the head of the Royal Cabinet, naturally with the knowledge of King Farouq. Among the troubles caused was that which took place during the days of the formation of the third government, when Ali Maher was determined to bring in Mohamed Kamel El-Bendari Bey, the minister of health, in the resigned government. Mahmoud insisted on distancing him, which made it known that the man transmitted to the palace everything that took place in the cabinet meetings. Ali Maher was not able to counter this insistence other than by appointing the rejected minister as undersecretary to the Royal Cabinet. This surely did not please Mahmoud, especially as Ali Maher soon found an alternative for transmitting the government's news to him. This time it was Ahmed Khesheba Pasha, the minister of justice, who threw obstacles in the way of the smooth running of the government's work.

The worst and last of the battles, after which Mahmoud could not long bear continuing, was the parliamentary battle that took place between the councils of the senate and the representatives during August 1939. This battle was over the budget, for the financial committee of the senate council opposed annexing a tax on bequests to it. 

This was a new battle by all standards. It was new regarding the dispute between the two councils over the budget, as it was assumed that after it had been prepared by the government and passed by the Council of Representative's financial committee, its approval by the senate council was a given. Yet this did not happen this time due to the considerable percentage of Wafdists in the "big council" that had not been touched by forgery since its membership lasted 10 years rather that the five of the "small council". It was also new because it was clear that Ali Maher's hand was not far removed from the intimation to some senators to take an inimical stance towards the government. All of this took place while the man previously known for his toughness was not able to effectively participate in the battle due to his health. He did not even attend the cabinet sessions presided over by Abdel-Fattah Yehya Pasha, or the sessions of the two council's financial committees who turned the issue into a raging battle. It seemed as though matters were slipping out of his hands.

It was under these circumstances that rumours spread that Mahmoud was on his way toward submitting his government's resignation, this time out of obligation rather than by choice as had happened in 1929 when he had done so to make way for a freely elected government. This government would continue the negotiations that had begun with Mr Henderson, the British foreign secretary, and which had met with significant success. 

With all of these developments, it was not out of the ordinary for readers of Al-Ahram 's Sunday 13 August issue to find the following bold print headline on its first page -- "His Majesty the King accepts the government's resignation -- Mohamed Mahmoud Pasha meets with the King -- his discussion with Al-Ahram following the meeting -- the nominee to form a new government".

Our paper narrated the details of what took place that day, and mentioned that Mohamed Mahmoud had gone to the government headquarters in Bolkili, where the last of the cabinet's meetings was held. The issue of the resignation was discussed and Mohamed Mahmoud simplified his perspective on the situation. They unanimously agreed that continuing to work would wear out his health. Then the discussion turned to the formulation of the resignation letter, which they settled on in the form published at the beginning of this issue of the Diwan.

After the session closed, Al-Ahram 's reporter in Alexandria rushed up to Mohamed Mahmoud, who responded to his question by saying that he still insisted on resigning. As always occurs on occasions such as this, all the ministers went to their ministries to collect their private papers and then left after bidding farewell to their office employees.

At 5.30pm, Mahmoud Pasha went to Al-Muntazah Palace "where he was greeted by Said Zulfiqar Pasha, the master of ceremonies." He then had the honour of meeting with the king, a meeting that lasted from 6.30 to 7.00pm in keeping with custom despite the feelings of hatred between the two men. The departing prime minister then paid a visit of protocol to the head of the Royal Cabinet. Also in keeping with custom, Mohamed Mahmoud Pasha called upon the general-secretary of the cabinet and requested that he write a letter to each and every minister, thanking him for his cooperation and support in undertaking the government's burdens during the time that he had assumed governance.

The Wafdist newspapers bid Mahmoud farewell with malicious joy, as is always rained down upon those who fall from their posts. Al-Wafd Al-Masri wrote under the headline

"Fate has struck and cast the dye and the ministry of Mohamed Mahmoud is a thing of the past"

that until the day before, the government's rented papers had said that nothing was going on and that the government had never been stronger or more fixed on staying put than it was at that time. Meanwhile, the paper wrote, Alexandria's horizons were filled with news about the end of the "upright rule" and the resignation of the prime minister, and those other papers had lied until the last moment as the government was in fact in its final death throes.

Al-Masri accused those it called "of the government" of wanting to cover up the catastrophe expected to befall their government and said that it would not resign except for the reason of Mahmoud Pasha deciding once and for all that care of his health must come first. 

We agree with the opinion of this paper, which was the most loyal to the Wafd Party. The situation was indeed sad when the legend of the "strong hand" ended in a manner that no one had expected.



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.) 


Abd al-Rahman Hassan Azzam(1893–1976) was an Egyptian diplomat, with family origins in Egypt. He served as the first secretary-general of the Arab League between 1945 and 1952.

Azzam also had a long career as an ambassador and parliamentarian. He was an Egyptian nationalist and one of the foremost proponents of pan-Arab idealism – viewpoints he did not see as contradictory - and was passionately opposed to the partition of Palestine.

Ancestry: Abd al-Rahman Azzam's father, Hassan Bey, was born into an Arab family that rose to prominence in the first half of the nineteenth century in Shubak al-Gharbi, a village near the city of Helwan, located south of Cairo. His grandfather, Salim Ali Azzam, was one of the first Arabs to become director of southern Giza, and his father, Hassan Salim Azzam, was likewise active in many governing bodies of the region. Azzam's mother, Nabiha, was descended from no less distinguished a family. Her father, Khalaf al-Saudi, was a land proprietor as well as a shaykh while her mother's family descended from various tribes of the Arabian Peninsula.

As biographer Ralph Coury notes, scholars and others have often concluded that Azzam's "Peninsular" origins explain his later assumption of an Arab identity. As early as 1923, one British official wrote that "The Azzam family, though settled in Egypt for some generations, come of good old Arab stock, and have always clung tenaciously to Arab traditions and ideals of life," adding that "in estimating Abd al- Rahman's character, his early up-bringing and his Arab blood must never be forgotten." However, as Coury has shown, the Azzams were in fact completely assimilated to village life and did not see themselves as set apart from other Egyptians. Azzam himself even once asserted that "we were not brought up with a strong consciousness of Bedouin descent. We were Arabs because we were 'sons' or 'children' of the Arabs' in contrast to the Turks, but the term 'Arab' as such was used for the Bedouin and we would not apply it to one another."

Childhood and EducationAbd al-Rahman Azzam, the eighth of twelve children, was born on March 8, 1893 in Shubak al-Gharbi. His family were fellahin dhwati ("notable peasants") whose position was determined by the possession of land, wealth, and political power. The Azzam household was frequently home to gatherings of the village elite and was where Azzam developed his interest in politics at an early age. According to his brother, Abd al-Aziz Azzam, Azzam was a "born politician" who often would stand at the top of the stairs as a child and give political speeches to his siblings.

In 1903, the Azzam family moved to Helwan in order to eliminate Hassan Bey's traveling to and from the city for government meetings. The various effendis that had been frequent visitors to Shubak were now neighbors of the Azzams, and the friendship that quickly developed between the effendi children and Azzam led him to insist on attending secular primary school (ibtidaiyyah) instead of studying at the Azhar. Azzam remained in Helwan through secondary school and upon graduating decided to next study medicine. Of his decision, Azzam explained,

"I wanted to be active in politics and I thought that I could practice medicine wherever that struggle might lead." In 1912, Azzam left Egypt for London where he enrolled in St. Thomas’s Hospital Medical School.

While in London, Azzam joined the Sphinx Society, a political grouping where Azzam quickly grew to prominence. However, after his first year of study, Azzam became increasingly concerned with the recent developments in the Balkans and felt compelled to contribute in some way to the Ottoman cause. Unsure of how he could personally contribute, Azzam decided to leave London and head for the Balkans, spending considerable time in Istanbul, Albania, and Anatolia. Throughout his travels, Azzam made various connections with like-minded political activists. He also had the opportunity to meet and talk with many non-Egyptian Arabs.

Once back in Egypt, Azzam was banned by the occupation authorities from returning to England because of his nationalist activities in both England and Egypt. Instead, arrangements were made for Azzam to attend the Cairo Medical School of Qasr al-Ayni. While studying in Cairo, Azzam became greatly disaffected by the British Occupation which revived his desire to leave the country and join the Ottomans.

Libyan Resistance:1915-1923. Azzam actively participated in the Libyan resistance against the Italians from 1915-1923. In December 1915, Azzam left Egypt to join Nuri Bery and a group of Ottoman officers who were leading a Sanusi army in fighting against the British. After the fighting ceased and Sayyid Idris and the British signed a peace treaty in 1917, Nuri Bey and Azzam transferred to Tripolitania where they hoped to build up a centralized authority. On November 18, 1918, leaders met at al-Qasabat and proclaimed the founding of a Tripolitanian Republic. Following numerous negotiations between the Italians and Tripolitanian chiefs, on June 1, 1919, the Fundamental Law of Tripolitania was enacted, granting the natives full Italian nationality with all civil and political rights pertaining to it. Despite the agreement, the Italians refused to implement the law which consequently led to the formation of a National Reform Party. Led by Azzam, this group was formed in order to pressure the Italians to put the law into effect. The Italians refused to concede, and in January 1923, Azzam accompanied Sayyid Idris into exile in Egypt. By 1924, opposition in Tripolitania had sufficiently waned and the Italians remained militarily victorious.

Azzam's tenure spent participating in the Libyan Resistance is credited for his turn to Arabism. In 1970, Azzam noted: "When I was a boy, I was an Egyptian Muslim. Being an Egyptian and Muslim didn't change. But from 1919 on, with Syria and Iraq gone, I started talking of Arabism. Living with the bedouin, etc. worked gradually to make me a supporter for something Arabic. The Tripolitanian Republic decisively marked the shift to Arabism."

Wafd Membership: 1923-1932 . Azzam's return to Egypt coincided with the numerous debates taking place between the Wafd, the Palace, and the British regarding the new constitution. Hoping to reestablish himself in Egypt, Azzam ran for office in 1924 and was elected to parliament as a member of the Wafd.] As a parliamentarian, Azzam rose to prominence through his articulate writings for the party's newspaper.

Due to his time spent in Libya, the Wafd often chose Azzam to represent the party at official meetings and international conferences. His most important trip made as an Egyptian-Wafd representative was to the General Islamic Conference in Jerusalem in 1931. Because members of the Azhar and Sidqi ministry were strongly opposed to two of the conference's main agenda items - the idea of creating a new Islamic University in Jerusalem and restoration of the Caliphate - the Egyptian government refused to send an official delegate to the meeting. Still, Azzam and several other members of the Egyptian opposition attended the conference. Azzam took an active role in the proceedings and was elected to the Executive Committee of the Congress which discussed the question of Arab nationalism at length. This conference is one of the first instances in which Arab nationalists included Egypt as part of the Arab nation.

In November 1932, Azzam made a decisive break along with several other party members from the Wafd. While some viewed him as a traitor, Azzam maintained that changes in his own opinions were to blame. By this point, Azzam's reputation for knowledge of Arab affairs was highly valued and he soon became a member of the Palace entourage that gathered around King Faruq.

1932-1945 After breaking with the Wafd, Azzam joined the elite ranks of liberals - all Wafd and Liberal Constitutionalist dissidents - who had supported Liberal proposals for a coalition government in 1932. In 1936, 'Ali Mahir appointed Azzam as Egyptian Minister to Iraq and Iran, and in 1937, the Nahhas ministry increased Azzam's diplomatic role to include that of Egyptian Minister of Saudi Arabia.

Arab League: 1945-1952 In 1945, Azzam was selected to be the first Secretary General of the Arab League. One of Azzam's first acts as secretary-general was to condemn anti-Jewish rioting in Egypt of November 2–3, 1945 during which Jewish and other non-Muslim owned shops were destroyed and the Ashkenazi synagogue in Cairo's Muski quarter was set aflame.

On March 2, 1946, in an address to The Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry into the Problems of European Jewry and Palestine, Azzam explained the Arab League’s attitude towards the Palestinian question and rejected the Zionist claim to Palestine:

Our brother has gone to Europe and to the West [and] come back a Russified Jew, a Polish Jew, a German Jew, an English Jew. He has come back with a totally different conception of things. Western and not Eastern… but Jew old cousin, coming back with imperialistic ideas, with reactionary or revolutionary ideas… he is not the old cousin and we do not extend to him a very good welcome.

On May 11, 1948 Azzam warned the Egyptian government that owing to public pressure and strategic issues it would be difficult for Arab leaders to avoid intervention in the Palestine War, and that Egypt could find itself isolated if it did not act in concert with its neighbors.

Azzam believed that King Abdullah of Jordan had decided to move his forces into Palestine on 15 May regardless of what the other Arabs did and would occupy the Arab part of Palestine whilst blaming other Arab states for failure.

King Farouk of Egypt resolved to contain Abdullah and prevent him from gaining further influence and power in the Arab arena.

One day after the State of Israel declared itself as an independent nation (May 14, 1948), Lebanese, Syrian, Iraqi, Egyptian, and Transjordanian troops, supported by Saudi and Yemenite troops, attacked the nascent Jewish state, triggering the 1948 Arab-Israeli War

Six days later, Azzam told reporters "We are fighting for an Arab Palestine. Whatever the outcome the Arabs will stick to their offer of equal citizenship for Jews in Arab Palestine and let them be as Jewish as they like. In areas where they predominate they will have complete autonomy."

On 27 August 1948, in response to charges by Azzam that Palestinians remaining in the town of Acre were being mistreated the United Nations sent an observer from France, Lieutenant Petit to investigate. Petit found that around 80 Palestinians had been killed, mostly for no reason. One of Petit’s witnesses also reported six cases of rape. Another, Mohammed Fayez Soufi, reported that he and four other Arabs had been stopped by a group of 15 Jewish soldiers and forced to drink poison (an acid of potassium). Soufi did not drink the poison but fell down to the ground with the other men. Three of the men died. Petit also reported allegations that Arab children were being kidnapped and killed. There were also allegations that Jews were using the blood of the children as wine for their feast of Passover, but these classic blood libels were, of course, false. He was able to verify allegations that soldiers were looting homes systematically and distributing the goods to Jewish immigrants.

Views on Arab Unity. According to historians Israel Gershoni and James Jankowski, Azzam denied that the Egyptian nation was a continuation of Pharaonic Egypt. Instead he believed that "modern Egypt had been shaped primarily by 'Arab religion, customs, language, and culture.'" Accordingly, he asserted a racial basis for Egyptian identification with the Arabs.

Writings: Vincent Sheean points out in his introduction to the book The Eternal Message of Muhammad, (published by Azzam in Arabic in 1938 under the title The Hero of Heroes or the most Prominent Attribute of the Prophet Muhammad), "In Damascus as well as in Djakarta, Istanbul and Baghdad, this man is known for valour of spirit and elevation of mind... he combines in the best Islamic mode, the aspects of thought and action, like the Muslim warriors of another time who are typified for us Westerners by the figure of Saladin." In the book Azzam extols the Prophet’s virtues of bravery, love, the ability to forgive, and eloquence in pursuit of the diplomatic resolution of conflict and argues that Islam is incompatible with racism or fanatical attachment to "tribe, nation, color, language, or culture".

Malcolm X’s reading of The Eternal Message of Muhammad and his meeting with Azzam Pasha are vividly recounted in his autobiography. These events marked the point in his life at which Malcolm X turned towards orthodox traditional Islam.




On 10 June 1940, the Kingdom of Italy aligned itself with Germany and declared war upon France and the United Kingdom. British forces based in Egypt were ordered to undertake defensive measures, but to act as non-provocative as possible.  However, on 11 June they began a series of raids against Italian positions in Libya. In addition there had been a large Italian community in Cairo prior to the war. Following the June 10, 1940 declaration of war, nearly all of the Italian men were arrested and nearly all Italian property was seized, leaving the women in poverty.

Meanwhile following the defeat of France on 25 June, Italian forces in Tripolitania, facing French troops based in Tunisia, redeployed to Cyrenaica to reinforce the Italian Tenth Army. This, coupled with the steadily degrading equipment of the British forces led General Archibald Wavell to order an end to raiding and placed the defense of the Egyptian border to a small screening force.

El Duce Benito Mussolini ordered that the Tenth Army was to invade Egypt by 8 August. Two days later, no invasion having been launched, Mussolini ordered Marshal Graziani that the moment German forces launched Operation Sealion, he was to attack. On 8 September, Italians, hampered by the lack of transport and enfeebled by the low level of training among officers and weakened by the state of its supporting arms, were ordered to invade Egypt the following day. The battle plan was to advance along the coastal road while limited armored forces operated on the desert flank.  To counter the Italian advance, Wavell ordered his screening forces to harass the advancing Italians, falling back towards Mersa Matruh where the main British infantry force was based. Positioned on the desert flank was the 7th Armoured Division, which would strike into the flank of the Italian force.

By 16 September the Italian force had advanced to Maktila, around 80 miles (130 km) west of Mersa Matruh, where they halted due to supply problems Despite Mussolini urging for the advance to carry on, Graziani ordered his force to dig in around Sidi Barrani, and fortified camps were established in forward locations; additional troops were also positioned behind the main force. 

During November General Richard O'Connor was appointed an acting lieutenant-general in recognition of the increased size of his command
In response to the dispersed Italian camps, the British planned a limited five-day attack. The counteroffensive, Operation Compass, began on 8 December 1940. O'Connor's relatively small force of 31,000 men, 275 tanks and 120 artillery pieces, ably supported by an RAF wing and the Royal Navy, broke through a gap in the Italian defenses at Sidi Barrani near the coast. The Desert Force cut a swath through the Italian rear areas, stitching its way between the desert and the coast, capturing strongpoint after strongpoint by cutting off and isolating them, The Italian guns proved to be no match for the heavy British Matilda tanks and their shells bounced off the Armour. By mid-December the Italians had been pushed completely out of Egypt, leaving behind 38,000 prisoners and large stores of equipment. The attack was supported by 25 pounder (11 kg) artillery and Blenheim bombers and was centered on the advance of Mk.II Matilda tanks. Within an hour of the onset of combat, Italian GeneralPietro Maletti would be dead and 4,000 Italian soldiers would surrender. Within three days, 237 artillery, 73 tanks, and 38,300 soldiers would be captured. The attacking forces would move west along the Via della Vittoria, through Halfaya Pass, and capture Fort Capuzzo, Libya

During January the fortified towns of Bardia and Tobruk  were captured and the fleeing Italians were cut off at Beda Fomm by the 7th Armoured Division, who had crossed the western desert. At the Battle of Beda Fomm the remnants of the Italian army surrendered. Within ten weeks Allied forces had reached El Agheila and destroyed the Italian Tenth Army, taking 130,000 prisoners of war.

Italian POWs at the Battle of Beda Fomm

The British would suffer 494 fatalities and 1,225 wounded. However the advance stopped short of driving the Italians out of North Africa. As the advance reached Al Argheila, Churchill ordered that it be stopped, and troops dispatched to defend Greece.

A few weeks later the first troops of the German Afrika Korps would begin arriving in TripoliOperation Sunflower (German: Unternehmen Sonnenblume), and the desert war would take a completely different turn. (To be continued)


RODOLFO GRAZIANI:  1st Marquess of Neghelli (August 11, 1882 - January 11, 1955), was an officer in the Italian Royal Army (Regio Esercito) who led military expeditions in Africa before and during World War II.

In the 1920s, Graziani commanded the Italian forces in Libya. He was responsible for fighting the Senussi rebels. During this so-called "pacification", he was responsible for the construction of several concentration camps and labor camps, where tens of thousands Libyan prisoners died, if not killed directly by hanging, like Omar Mukhtar, or bullets, then indirectly by starvation or disease. His deeds earned him the nickname "the Butcher of Fezzan" among the Arabs.

At the start of World War II, Graziani was still the Commander-in-Chief of the Italian Royal Army's General Staff. After the death of Marshal Italo Balbo in a friendly fire incident on 28 June 1940, Graziani took his place as the Commander-in-Chief of Italian North Africa and as the Governor General of Libya.

Initially giving Graziani a deadline of 8 August, El Duce Benito Mussolini ordered Graziani to invade Egypt with the Tenth Army. Graziani expressed doubts about the ability of his largely un-mechanized force to defeat the British and put off the invasion for as long as he could. However, faced with demotion, Graziani ultimately followed orders and elements of the Tenth Army invaded Egypt on 9 September. The Italians made modest gains into Egypt and then prepared a series of fortified camps to defend their positions. In 1941, Graziani resigned his commission after the British counterattacked and the Tenth Army was completely defeated by them during Operation Compass. On 25 March 1941, Graziani was replaced by General Italo Gariboldi.

ITALO GARIBOLDI (20 April 1879 - 3 February 1970) was a senior officer in the Italian Royal Army (Regio Esercito) before and during World War II.

In December 1940, when the British launched Operation Compass, Gariboldi was in temporary command of the Tenth Army because General Mario Berti was on sick leave. Ultimately, he was given command of the Tenth Army after it was virtually destroyed and Berti's replacement, General Giuseppe Tellera was killed in action.

On 25 March 1941, Gariboldi was promoted to Governor-General of Libya and replaced Marshal Rodolfo Graziani. By 19 July, Gariboldi himself was relieved because of his alleged lack of cooperation with Rommel. General Ettore Bastico took his place.

Field Marshal  Rommel with Governor-General Italo Gariboldi (on Rommel's right), Libya 1941

PIETRO MALETTI (24 May 1880 – 9 December 1940) was an Italian military officer who participated in World War I, the subjugation of Italian North Africa, the Italo-Abyssinian War, and World War II. He was killed in action during the early stages of the North Africa Campaign.

In June 1938, Maletti was promoted to the rank of Major General (Generale di divisione). In 1939, he was intended to assume command of the 28 Infantry Division Aosta.

On 10 June 1940,El Duce Benito Mussolini declared war on Britain and France. On 22 June, France fell and signed an armistice. British-occupied Egypt became the focus of the Italian forces in Libya. Maletti was diverted from his intended command and returned to North Africa (Africa Settentrionale). In Libya, he took command of a special ad hoc grouping of motorized infantry and tanks which was called the "Maletti Group" (Raggruppamento Maletti). After initially becoming lost whilst making his way to the staging area, he advanced into Egypt and occupied fortified positions near Sidi Barrani.

On 9 December 1940, Maletti was killed in action at the fortified Nibeiwa Camp when British forces counterattacked during the early stages of Operation Compass

ETTORE BASTICO (9 April 1876 – 2 December 1972) was an Italian military officer before and during World War II. He held high commands during the Second Italo-Abyssinian War (Ethiopia), the Spanish Civil War, and the North African Campaign.

On 19 July 1941, Bastico was named commander over all Axis forces in North Africa. In 1942, he was reduced to the command of troops in Libya. Ugo Cavallero became the commander of all forces further east in North Africa. Despite this, Bastico was promoted to Marshal of Italy (Maresciallo d'Italia) on 12 August 1942. However, the loss of Libya left him from 2 February 1943 without a command for the rest of the war. Bastico died in Rome after spending his later life studying history.

ALFREDO GUZZONI (12 April 1877 – 1965) was an Italian military officer who served in both World War I and World War II. After the Second Italo-Abyssinian War, Guzzoni was appointed as Governor of Eritrea. He served as governor from 1936 to 1937.

In 1939, Guzzoni had a prominent role in the Italian invasion of Albania and was Commander-in-Chief there in 1940.

In June 1940, after Italy entered World War II, Guzzoni commanded the Italian 4th Army during the invasion of France.

On 29 November 1940, Guzzoni succeeded Ubaldo Soddu as Under-Secretary of War and Deputy Chief of the Supreme General Staff.

In 1943, Guzzoni was General Officer Commanding the 6th Army on Sicily and commander of the Axis troops on Sicily during the Allied invasion of the island.

MARIO BERTI  (1881 – 1964) was an Italian officer during World War I and General in the Spanish Civil War and World War II.

At the beginning of the war Berti was Chief of Staff in the Italian Army. However Italy's commitment in Spain had drained it out of resources which made it not ready to fight against Britain and France. Many Generals made this clear to Mussolini and Berti was involved. The outcome of this was a demotion and he was sidelined. He was given the rank of Commissioner of Libya. He had fallen out of favor with Mussolini and Graziani had taken his place.

His relation with Graziani was abysmal. After the failures in Egypt, Berti called Graziani incompetent and refused to send him help. During his sick leave with fever Graziani called him a coward and had him dishonored.

In the summer of 1940, Berti replaced Francesco Guidi as the commander of the Italian Tenth Army in Libya. On 9 September 1940, Berti was in command of the Tenth Army during the Italian invasion of Egypt. Halted at Sidi Barrani by logistical problems, Berti deployed his advanced units in a series of fortified strong points. He then began work on extending the Via Balbia into Egypt. The fortified strong points were not mutually supporting. Large gaps between them were only covered by motorized patrols.

A build-up for a new Italian offensive further into Egypt was delayed by the Italian invasion of Greece. The offensive in Egypt was rescheduled and a mid-December launch was planned. However, prior to this, General Berti went on sick leave and Italo Gariboldi took his place temporarily.

On 8 December 1940, Berti was on leave when British General Richard O'Connor launched Operation Compass. On 14 December, Berti arrived back in North Africa. The British forces had exploited the gaps between the Italian fortified camps and in three days were able to overrun them and to capture or destroy almost all of the Italian defenders. On 11 December, Sidi Barrani fell. By 16 December, the Italians had been ejected from Egypt.

On 23 December, Berti was replaced by General Giuseppe Tellera as commander of the Tenth Army. Tellera was to die in action at Beda Fomm.

On September 8 1943, Italy sign an armistice with the allies. At that point he retired from the Army. After the war he was cleared of wrong doing. The post war government arrested Graziani had asked Berti if he was a criminal. Berti made it clear that Graziani had done no wrong. He lived in the hills of La Spezia for the rest of his life. 

GIUSEPPE TELLERA (March 14, 1882 - February 7, 1941) was a Lt. General in the Italian Army during the North African Campaign fought against the British and Commonwealth forces in world war II.

General Giuseppe Tellera reviews the Italian Zaptie Meharista corps.

General Tellera took over command of the Tenth Army at a critical moment. Although the Italian forces had supremacy in numbers, the Italian army had more tanks and human resources than the British, it was the quality of the Italian weapons that was questionable. In addition the troops were almost all infantry, and poorly motorized ,a real handicap in a war of movement However He was deeply committed to fight and resist in the strenuous attempt of defending Cyrenaica by the British invasion, leading his soldiers whom he never abandoned he was hit by a shell splinter, during the battle of Beda Fomm and passed away in the early morning of February 7, 1941 for the wounds received. Struck by his heroic resistance, the British army buried him with military honors. For his gallantry in action Lt.Gen Tellera was posthumously awarded with the Gold Medal for military valor, the highest military decoration in the Italian Army. The award citation read as follow: 

“Chief of staff of the Armed Forces North Africa,  fell gloriously on the battle field at Beda Fomm, properly sealing a life of dedication to the entire country”. Sidi El Barrani, February 7, 1941.



Field Marshal Sir Archibald Percival Wavell, 1st Earl Wavell (5 May 1883 – 24 May 1950) was a British field marshal and the commander of British Army forces in the Middle East during World War II. The Middle Eastern theatre was quiet for the first few months of the war until Italy's declaration of war in June 1940. The Italian forces in North and East Africa greatly outnumbered the British and Wavell's policy was therefore one of "flexible containment" to buy time to build up adequate forces to take the offensive. Having fallen back in front of Italian advances from Libya, Eritrea and Ethiopia, Wavell mounted successful offensives into Libya (Operation Compass)

in December 1940 and Eritrea and Ethiopia in January 1941. By February 1941, his Western Desert Force under Lieutenant General Richard O'Connor had defeated the Italian Tenth Army at Beda Fomm taking 130,000 prisoners and appeared to be on the verge of overrunning the last Italian forces in Libya, which would have ended all direct Axis control in North Africa. Furthermore, his troops in East Africa had the Italians under pressure and at the end of March his forces in Eritrea under William Platt won the decisive battle of the campaign at Keren which led to the occupation of the Italian colonies in Ethiopia and Somaliland.

However, in February Wavell had been ordered to halt his advance into Libya and send troops to Greece where the Germans and Italians were attacking. 

General Sir Richard Nugent O'Connor  (21 August 1889 – 17 June 1981) was a British Army general who commanded the Western Desert Force in the early years of World War II. He was the field commander for Operation Compass, in which his forces completely destroyed a much larger Italian army — a victory which nearly drove the Axis from Africa, and in turn, led Adolf Hitler to send the German Africa Corps under Erwin Rommel to try and reverse the situation. O'Connor was captured by a German reconnaissance patrol during the night of 7 April 1941, and spent over two years in an Italian prisoner of war camp. He eventually escaped in December 1943, and in 1944 commanded VIII Corps in Normandy and later during Operation Market Garden. In 1945 he was General Officer in Command of the Eastern Command in India and then in the closing days of British rule in the subcontinent headed Northern Command. His final job in the army was Adjutant-General to the Forces in London in charge of the British Army's administration, personnel and organization. 


© Kamal Katba 2011


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