sudden death of Hasan Sabri Pasha was left officially unexplained.
Even though it had all the symptoms of a sudden and massive heart attack,
rumors were running around in Egypt, a country where all kind of
rumors spread like jungle fires, particularly in times of wars and conflicts!!
Many believed that the Prime Minister was poisoned by British agents
for refusing to declare war against the Axis Powers while a few
accused the Wafd Party of perpetrating that odious act in its hunger
for exclusive power; the Royal Palace was not suspected of any wrong
doing since King Farouk was then basking in a tremendous wave of
love and popularity.
Sirri Pasha (left) besides His majesty King Farouk
The King, with the
approval of the British Embassy, chose Hussein Sirri Pasha to replace
the deceased Prime Minister and to form a new Cabinet (Sirri Pasha,
beside being an eminent engineer, was also the maternal uncle of the popular
Farida, King Farouk’s young wife).
Politician and five times Premier. Born in Cairo, he was the
son of Ismail Sirri also an engineer and long serving Public Works Minister.
from the Saidiya School in 1910 and earned a diploma in engineering
from London in 1915. On returning to Egypt he
worked for the Public Works Ministry’s Irrigation Department and became
an expert in that field, publishing treatises on the Nile defense
works, irrigation, the Qattara Depression, water policies and state
finances. He first became Public Works Minister in 1928.
In 1937 he was appointed to the Senate. After the fall of
the Wafd Party from Power, he became Public Works Minister again,
serving in three Cabinets until 1939, when he assumed the portfolio
for War and Marine. He was Minister of Finances
in 1939 – 1940, of Public Works again in 1940 and, later
that year, of Communications.
Sabri’s sudden death
Sirri Pasha served as Premier and Minister
of Interior from
November 1940 to 1942 (also as Minister
of Foreign Affairs
for part of that time). He resigned in 1942,
in part because both the Wafd and the Palace were against him, before
February 4, 1942, incident. He went into business for
several years and became a technical expert for the Suez Canal Company
1948. He was again called to serve as Premier and
Interior Minister in 1949 – 1950, until the Wafd Party
returned to power. He then served as Director of the Royal Cabinet,
intimating disapproval of some of King Farouk’s policies.
He headed a short lived Cabinet in July 1952 with the Portfolio
of Foreign Affairs and that of War and Marine, just
before the twenty third of July Revolution. All in
all he was a nonpartisan engineer and administrator (1).
Hussein besides Shaykh al-Azhar M. al-Maraghy along Muslim religious leaders
Pasha (2) swiftly
engaged in choosing Cabinet members agreeable to the
the British Authorities. As usual the Wafd Party refused to
participate while the Saadist Party made its participation conditional
to the declaration of war against the
Axis Powers as a response
to their attack on Egypt’s Western border and their aerial bombing
of mostly Egyptian targets, particularly in Alexandria.
Hussein Sirri and General Charles DeGaulle in the British Embassy Gardens
since the Egyptian Public Opinion and a majority of the House of Deputies
members were against the active participation in that World conflict, the
abstained from joining the Cabinet and Sirri Pasha had to appoint
Cabinet members composed mostly of independents and particularly of members
of the Liberal Constitutional Party (HIZB AL AHRAR AL DISTOURYINE).
on the safe side and to satisfy the Saadists, the newly appointed
Prime Minister submitted Egypt’s declaration of war to Parliamentary
votes; after three closed door debating sessions the Parliament voted to
maintain a neutralist policy and gave the Cabinet its full confidence and
The British Empire and its allies were not doing very well; The Western
Front in Europe had collapsed after the French and the Low Lands’
(Belgium and Holland) surrender to Germany while the
Countries were totally under the Axis occupation and/or control.
In the Middle East, Egypt was being invaded from Tripolitania
(the actual Libya), which was then an Italian Colony, and, in Iraq,
the Government was taken over by Rashid `Ali Al-Kilani, a well known
Iraqi Nationalist and pro-Axis, whileHajj Amin Al-Huseyni, the Palestinian
Mufti of Jerusalem and leader of the Palestinian resistance
to both British occupation and Zionist settlers in Palestine, escaped
from the Holy Land and suddenly appeared in Berlin where
he was breathing fire against British Colonialism and inciting the Arab
Population of the Middle East to rebel against the British occupation of
Al-Huseyni, the Palestinian Mufti of Jerusalem
The situation was so bad
that it nearly paralyzed both the Egyptian Government and the British Authorities
relieve the tensions, the Cabinet adopted several steps that would please
the occupying power, short of a declaration of war against Italy
and Germany: The Cabinet declared all Commonwealth military
camps foreign territories outside the jurisdiction of the Egyptian State
and Laws; all illegal acts committed in these camps or against it were
to be submitted to the British Common Law and tried in British Military
Courts. The Cabinet agreed to give the British Military Mission,
involved in training the Egyptian Armed Forces, a Diplomatic Status and
would be treated by the Egyptian Authorities as such. Last, the Cabinet
decided to lease the civilian and military airports in Dekhila,
a suburb of Alexandria, to the British Royal Air Force (R.A.F.),
for the ridiculous rent of one piaster per year per square meter, which
would certainly help the
R.A.F to disrupt the lines of communications
of the Axis troops operating in
: Sir Miles
Lampson, Lord Killearn Lampson(right) with Anthony Eden (in the middle)
besides General Sir John Dill (Chief of Imperial Staff of the British army
Axis area bombardment of large Egyptian cities like Alexandria,
Cairo and Port-Said having intensified, the Cabinet took several
steps to alleviate the pains to which the civilian population were submitted:
It decided to give the Government employees a one month salary loan,
to be paid back in twelve monthly payments, which would help those employees
to move their family into safer areas in the country; it also decided to
launch a fund raising campaign to financially assist those whose homes
were destroyed by the aerial bombardments; Cabinet members along with members
of Parliament and the well to do Egyptians gave generously and the Cabinet,
from its own operating budget donated three thousand pounds while
King Farouk, a very rich potentate, donated the miserable amount of
Egyptian cities and civilian targets did not sit well with many of the
Egyptian political elite and voices in the Parliament called for a declaration
of war against Italy and Germany but, the Cabinet with the
support of the public opinion in the Egyptian streets, which considered
the unwanted occupation of Egypt by the British as the main cause
of this tragedy, decided to take other actions short of being an active
part of that International conflict: Beside interning all the male
citizens of the Axis Powers who were residing in the Country and
putting their assets under sequestration, it also fired and interned the
many Italians employed by the Egyptian Public Sector; finally the Cabinet
authorized to indemnize those who lost their homes through indiscriminate
bombardments by also using some of the sequestrated funds.
protect the civilian population during air raids the Cabinet allocated
hundred and forty six thousand pounds to build more air raid
shelters and other protective steps as needed by the public.
the cabinet, having noticed that many of the civilian population of Alexandria
had moved to the nearby province of Behera, ordered the stoppage
of that human flow to that province.
Pasha’s Cabinet having mostly been composed of independent Politicians
and members of the Liberal Constitutional Party, it relied on that Party
Parliament Members which were a minority and could not adequately protect
the Cabinet from a non confidence vote; thus, at the request of the Royal
Palace and the British Authorities, Sirri Pasha submitted to the Royal
Palace the resignation of the Cabinet. King Farouk accepted
and asked his Prime Minister to form a new Cabinet that would possibly
be seen as a COALITION CABINET.
King Farouk at the height of his popularity in 1940
closing that period of the history of Modern Egypt, it is a must
to mention an important event that happened during that period: Lt.
General Aziz Al Masri Pasha, who had been forced to retire for his
pro-Axis well known sentiments, decided to escape to Beirut, Lebanon,
that was then dominated by VICHY FRANCE; since the only way to reach
his objective was to fly over, he, with the help of two young Egyptian
flight lieutenants well known for their admiration and support of the General,
took a twin motors plane of the Egyptian Air Force Transport Command
and, a few minutes after takeoff, on May 16, 1941, the plane encountered
technical problems, lost power and safely landed just outside the town
of QALIUB, a few miles north of Cairo. The General
the two lieutenants hid in a sympathizer home in EMBABA, a suburb
of GUIZEH. Twenty one days after that incident and
when the Political Police was looking for Ahmad Hussein, the founder
and leader of “THE YOUNG EGYPT PARTY” (MISR AL FATAT) (3),
who was thought to be hiding at that same address, instead of finding their
target they found the General and his two acolytes who were Flight
Hussein Zulfiqar Sabri and Flight Lieutenant Abdel
Monem Abdel Rauf!!
The General was incarcerated
for less than a year while the Flight Lieutenants were transferred from
the Air Force to an Army Unit. The interrogation of the General
that he was planning to move from Beirut to Baghdad, Iraq,
to join the anti-British rebellion of AL KILANI. As for the
two junior officers, they joined a few years later the underground Free
Officers Movement and participated in July 23rd, 1952 Revolution
that overthrew the Egyptian Monarchy.
Lampson ( Lord Killearn Lampson)
search for a Coalition Cabinet as requested by the King and Sir
Miles Lampson, the British Ambassador to Egypt, the WAFD
PARTY, empowered by its tremendous popularity, refused to participate
in the Sirri Pasha Second Cabinet until and unless the Parliament
is disbanded and a new election would take place. Sirri Pasha,
who found these conditions unacceptable, managed to convince the
SAADIST PARTY to join his Cabinet. He submitted to the King
a list of Cabinet members composed of five Independent members, five members
of the LIBERAL CONSERVATIVE PARTY and five from the SAADIST
PARTY. The King, who was well known for his dislike of the
Party and particularly its leader MUSTAFA AL NAHAS PASHA, accepted
the list and so did the British Ambassador.
its demise, the Cabinet meetings, like the precedent Cabinet, were as mainly
concerned about the situation of the country which was then in the middle
of a war that was turning from bad to worse. To add to many of the
new Cabinet problems, the Country which had to copiously feed an extra
hundred plus hungry mouths (British and Commonwealth troops), above
and beyond its expanding population and the many refugees from war torn
had to face a sudden shortage of food products, particularly of wheat maize
and beans, not to mention potatoes, milk and meats products; in reality
the country was facing a famine!! Cairo and other towns witnessed
riots and attacks against food stores and especially bakeries. The
Cabinet reacted swiftly by ordering the reduction of cotton culture replacing
it with wheat and other food products which would solve the problem on
the long run; as for the short run, the Cabinet ordered the immediate import
of seventy thousand tons of wheat and two hundred thousand tons
Police (Bulukat al-Nizam) in full gear to counter act the popular unrest
spreading in Cairo caused
by the unwanted occupation of Egypt by the British.
and black market are rampant .
was available of food was distributed amongst all the Governorates, each
according to the size of its population. To encourage the farmers
to grow products less lucrative than cotton, the Cabinet agreed on a five
hundred thousand pounds budget for that purpose. As a result,
the food situation in the land improved and soon after only twenty five
percent of the cultural acreage was consecrated to cotton. Another
pounds was budgeted to finance an extra cost of living allowance to
laborers, employees and retirees. In the middle of all these troubles,
the Greek Government, in exile in Egypt, requested the immigration
of thousands of hungry Greek children who were facing a serious famine
in their occupied land; the Cabinet agreed to that request on condition
that the large well off Greek Community residing in Egypt would
look after their needs.
the Military situation in the Egyptian Western Desert was deteriorating
drastically and the Axis troops under the unified command of
Field Marshal Edwin Rommel reached “EL ALAMEIN”,(4)
a few miles from Alexandria, which got the British Ambassador to
become more restless and demanding.
On the other hand, the WAFD
and the Royal Palace were manipulating the situation making
the Cabinet position even more precarious; add to that, large anti British
demonstrations took place all over Egypt in support of the Axis and
urging Rommel to advance (ILA AL AMAM YA ROMMEL)
rendering the situation
of the Prime Minister untenable which prompted Sirri Pasha to
submit to the King the resignation of his Cabinet on
British Embassy Gardens in Cairo. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill
with a cigar, discussing strategy with General Wavell and Mr. Casey.
(To be continued)
Kamal Karim Katba
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.
is a frequent contributor on the Internet, including the
prestigious and oldest forum: Egypt Net.
meaningful and serious discussions about the History of Modern Egypt,
join Egypt Net group (The oldest continuous Egyptian forum on the
internet since 1985.)
Young Egypt Party
In 1933, Ahmed Hussein helped
found the Young Egypt Society, which was renamed as the Young Egypt Party,
or Misr al-Fatah in 1936. In its early years, the party developed a strong
commitment to social justice and the mitigation of economic inequality.
Its original platform proposed land reforms, the development of Egyptian-owned
businesses and industries, and the elimination of special privileges for
the British and other foreign expatriates residing in Egypt. The
party also sought to revive traditional Islamic values by imposing restrictions
on bars, gambling establishments, and other Western cultural imports.
The party went through several
transformations, changing its name to the Islamic Nationalist Party in
1940 and again to the Socialist Party in 1949. When President Nasser
ordered the dissolution of all political parties in 1953, Misr al-Fatah
Montgomery was the most well-known
British general of World War Two, famous for his victory at the Battle
of El Alamein in November 1942. He was nicknamed 'Monty'.
Bernard Law Montgomery was
born on 17 November 1887 in London. He was educated at St Paul's School
and the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, and commissioned into the Royal
Warwickshire Regiment in 1908. He was severely wounded early in World War
One and spent the rest of war as a staff officer.
Between the wars he served
in India, Egypt and Palestine. In April 1939, he was given command of the
Third Division, part of the British Expeditionary Force which took part
in the fighting preceding the Fall of France in June 1940.
He was rapidly promoted.
In August 1942, he was appointed commander of the Eighth Army, the British
and Commonwealth forces fighting in the Western Desert. He inspired a dispirited
and defeated force to victory over the Germans and Italians at the Battle
of El Alamein. Prime Minister Winston Churchill was convinced this battle
marked the turning point of the war.
Montgomery commanded the
Eighth Army in the subsequent Allied campaigns in Sicily and then on the
Italian mainland. He was then recalled to the UK to take part in the planning
of Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy.
During the Normandy landings
and for several months afterwards, Montgomery commanded all Allied troops
in France. In September 1944, this command was taken over by US general
Dwight Eisenhower, with Montgomery reverting to command of 21st Army Group.
Montgomery bitterly resented this, although he was promoted to field marshal
by way of compensation. His arrogance and reluctance to cooperate with
others made him increasingly unpopular, particularly with the Americans.
Montgomery led his army group
in the battle for Germany and, on 4 May 1945, he received the surrender
of the German northern armies at Lüneburg Heath.
After the war, Montgomery
was created a knight of the Garter and Viscount Montgomery of Alamein.
He commanded the British Army of the Rhine and served as chief of the Imperial
General Staff from 1946 to 1948. From 1948 to 1951, he was chairman of
the permanent defense organization of the Western European Union. In 1951,
he became deputy commander of the Supreme Headquarters of NATO, serving
for seven years. He died on 24 March 1976.
Military history, like so
much else, is prey to the dictates of fashion. There was a time when El
Alamein and the desert war loomed large in British historiography. After
all, it had all the classic ingredients of a good story.
March and April, Axis forces, stiffened by the arrival of the German Afrika
Korps commanded by Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel, launched an offensive
into Cyrenaica that cut off British troops at Tobruk. The battle seesawed
back and forth in the desert as Rommel attempted to stabilize his lines
along the Egyptian frontier before dealing with Tobruk in his rear, but
in November British Eighth Army commander General Claude Auchinleck caught
him off balance with a thrust into Cyrenaica that succeeded in relieving
Tobruk, where the garrison had held out for seven months behind its defense
perimeter. Auchinleck's offensive failed in its second objective--cutting
off Rommel from his line of retreat.
Rommel pulled back in good
order to Al Agheila, where his troops refitted for a new offensive in January
1942 that was intended to take the Axis forces to the Suez Canal. Rommel's
initial attack was devastating in its boldness and swiftness. Cyrenaica
had been retaken by June; Tobruk fell in a day. Rommel drove into Egypt,
Marshal Bernard Montgomery (Monty) with others in desert. Various shots
of the British Eighth army in action during the Second World. General Sir
Claude Auchinleck eating in Mess. Auchinleck comes out into desert
Men of the 8th Army under his command, are busy at work preparing for the
German advance. They are making barricades and camouflage nets.
In the person of Montgomery,
we had a charismatic British commander, matched by Rommel, one of the most
striking German generals. The theatre of war was both harsh and romantic,
the classic tactician's paradise and quartermaster's nightmare. A British
rifleman told a chum that it was:
'A different kind of war.
There were no civvies mixed up in it. It was clean. When we took prisoners
we treated them fine and they treated us fine. We had a go at them, and
they had a go at us. Then one of us f***ed off.'
In 1940 the Italians advanced
from Libya and crossed the frontier of British-protected Egypt, where they
halted and dug in. There were attacked by Major General Richard O'Connor's
Western Desert Force which drove them back to El Agheila, half way to Tripoli.
However, with the British
weakened by the diversion of troops to Greece, in March 1941 the newly-arrived
Rommel counter-attacked and recaptured much of the lost territory, though
the important port of Tobruk, garrisoned by Australians, held out. In May
a limited British offensive, codenamed Brevity, proved disappointing, and
the large-scale Battleaxe, following month, saw the loss of 220 British
tanks to only 25 German.
In July 1941 Sir Archibald
Wavell, C-in-C Middle East, was replaced by General Sir Claude Auchinleck,
and in November, the 8th Army at last mounted a successful offensive, Operation
Crusader, which relieved Tobruk and pushed on to El Agheila.
But Rommel was not slow in
striking back, first in an offensive which took him to line just west of
Tobruk and then, in a complex, swirling action between Gazala and the desert
outpost of Bir Hacheim, in a battle which eventually saw 8th Army in full
Arrival of Montgomery
Churchill called the loss
'one of the heaviest blows I can recall during the war' - and the British
did not stop until they reached a position covering the 30 miles of desert
between the impassable Qattara depression and the coast, where road and
railway run through the little village of El Alamein.
Rommel had been brought to
a halt by what Kenneth Macksey has called 'the logistics equalizer'. However,
the British were not to know just how weak he was.
In Cairo there was something
of a panic on 1 July, which became infamous as Ash Wednesday. The British
Embassy and GHQ burnt piles of classified papers, showering the city with
ash and charred documents. The sorry episode was followed by the replacement
of Auchinleck by General the Hon Sir Harold Alexander.
Montgomery became head of
the 8th Army. He was actually Churchill's second choice - the first choice,
'Strafer' Gott, had been killed on his way to assume command.
It was entirely characteristic
of Montgomery that immediately he took command, he signaled Cairo that
he had ordered the destruction of all plans for withdrawal. Furthermore
he announced: 'There will be no more belly-aching, and no more retreats.'
He also set about improving relations between the army and the Desert Air
Force, ensuring that there would henceforth be a unified army-air plan.
(To be continued)
© Kamal Katba
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