The 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.

Hussein 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 Queen Farida, King Farouk’s young wife).


Engineer, Politician and five times Premier.  Born in Cairo, he was the son of Ismail Sirri also an engineer and long serving Public Works Minister. Hussein graduated 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. 
After Hasan 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 the February 4, 1942, incident.  He went into business for several years and became a technical expert for the Suez Canal Company in 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).

Prime Minister Hussein besides Shaykh al-Azhar M. al-Maraghy along Muslim religious leaders


Sirri Pasha (2) swiftly engaged in choosing Cabinet members agreeable to the King and to 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.

Prime Minister Hussein Sirri and General Charles DeGaulle in the British Embassy Gardens in Cairo

But, since the Egyptian Public Opinion and a majority of the House of Deputies members were against the active participation in that World conflict, the Saadists 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).

To be 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 support.

Hajj Amin Al-Huseyni, the Palestinian Mufti of Jerusalem

In General, 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 Balkan 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 their lands. 

The situation was so bad that it nearly paralyzed both the Egyptian Government and the British Authorities in Cairo.

To 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 North Africa.

: 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 )

The 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 five hundred pounds.

Bombarding 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.

To further protect the civilian population during air raids the Cabinet allocated two hundred and forty six thousand pounds to build more air raid shelters and other protective steps as needed by the public.

Lastly, 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.

Sirri 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.

His Majesty King Farouk at the height of his popularity in 1940

Before 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 and the two lieutenants hid in a sympathizer home in EMBABA, a suburb of GUIZEHTwenty 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 Lieutenant 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 indicated 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.

Sir Miles Lampson ( Lord Killearn Lampson)

In the 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 Wafd Party and particularly its leader MUSTAFA AL NAHAS PASHA, accepted the list and so did the British Ambassador.

Until 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 two hundred plus hungry mouths (British and Commonwealth troops), above and beyond its expanding population and the many refugees from war torn Europe, 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 of maize. 

Riots 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.  Economic hardships and black market are rampant .

Whatever 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 million 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.

Meanwhile 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 PARTY 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 February 4, 1942.

 In the 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



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.) 








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 disbanded. 





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.

In 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,

Captions: Field 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 camp. 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 retreat.

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 2011


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