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The False Hopes of 1950: The Wafd's Last Hurrah and the Demise of Egypt's Old Order

  • Joel Gordon (a1)

In January 1950, in the first free election held in nearly eight years, Egyptians went to the polls to return a Wafdist government to power. After having been banished from office for five years, Egypt's majority party assumed office aware that it shouldered a heavy burden of responsibility. Between October 1944, when the King dismissed the war-time government of Mustafa al-Nahhas, and January 1950, eight minority governments governed, or tried to govern, Egypt. Escalating political violence marked a period of increasing disillusion with parliamentary rule that encompassed all sectors of Egyptian society. Indeed, it might be argued that Egypt's ancien régime survived until 1950 only because the minority governments marshaled the coercive powers of the state to control the streets, campuses, and factories, where dissidence was most manifest. At the time, many sensed that if the political establishment failed to achieve the evacuation of British troops from Egyptian soil, contain rampant inflation, and narrow the gap between rich and poor, martial law could not save the liberal order from collapse. What would follow was uncertain, but talk of revolution, fearful or hopeful, filled the air.

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1 The standard work for the period is al-Bishri, Tariq, al-Haraka al-siyasiyya fi Misr min 1945 ila 1952, 2nd ed. (Beirut, 1983).Rizq, Yunan Labib, Tarikh al-wuzarat al-misriyya, 1878–1953 (Cairo, 1975) shows the marked influence of Bishri. An important source for details of the Wafd government is the transcript of Fu'ad Sirag al-Din's trial before the Revolutionary Tribunal in December 1953– January 1954. Much of the most important testimony has been published and annotated by 'Isa, Salah, Muhakamat Fu'ad Siraj al-Din (Cairo, 1983). Volume three of the memoirs of Haykal, Muhammad Husayn, Mudhakkirat fi al-siyasiyya al-misriyya (Cairo, 1978) provide great insight, albeit from a minority position, of conflicts within parliament. For the history of the Wafd and the national movement, see Deeb, Marius, Party Politics in Egypt: The Wafd and its Rivals: 1914–1939 (London, 1979);Ramadan, 'Abd al'Azim, Taawwur al-haraka al-wataniyya fi Misr. 1918–1936, 2nd ed. (Cairo, 1983);idem, Tatawwur al-haraka al-wataniyya fi Misr min sanat 1937 ila sanat 1948, 2 vols. (Beirut, 1968); Quraishi, Zaheer Masood, Liberal Nationalism in Egypt (Delhi, 1967).

2 Wafdist historiography, contemporary to the party's brief reformation in 1978 and return to parliament in 1982, is largely apologetic. The Wafd, according to such accounts, was misunderstood. The party really represented the vanguard of liberal progressivism, and, when all else is considered, was certainly far more beneficial for Egypt than the Nasserist state which followed. See al-Din's, Fu'ad Sirag 1977 speech before the Egyptian Bar, published as Limadha al-hizb al-jadid (Cairo, 1978). For the context of the speech, see Reid, Donald M., “The Return of the Egyptian Wafd, 1978,” The International Journal of African Historical Studies, 12, 3 (1979), 389415. Also important are the memoirs of two members of the 1950 government; Hasan, 'Abd al-Fattah, Dhikrayat siyasiyya (Cairo, 1974);Farag, Ibrahim, Dhikrayati al-siyasiyya (Cairo, 1984).

3 For the 1942 incident, see Anis, Muhammad, 4 fibrayir fi tarikh Misr al-siyasi (Cairo, 1982);Smith, Charles D., “4 February 1942: Its Causes and its Influences on Egyptian Politics and on the Future of Anglo-Egyptian Relations,’ International Journal of Middle East Studies, 10, 4 (1979), 453–79. For Makram ';Ubayd, see Rizq, Yunan Labib, al-Wafd wa-al-kitab al-aswad (Cairo, 1978);'Ubayd's, al-Kitab al-aswad. which has recently been reprinted (Cairo, 1984).

4 For the Left in this period, see al-Sa'id, Rif';at, Tarikh al-munazzamat al-yasariya al-misriyya, 1940–1950 (Cairo, 1977);idem, Munazzamat al-yasar al-Misri, 1950–1957 (Cairo, 1983); Botman, Selma, “Oppositional Politics in Egypt: The Communist Movement: 1936–1954,” Ph.D. Dissertation, Harvard University, 1984. For Young Egypt, Jankowski, James P., Egypt's Young Rebels: “Young Egypt” 1933–1952 (Stanford, 1975). For the Muslim Brothers, Mitchell, Richard P., The Society of Muslim Brothers (London, 1969). Also see relevant chapters in Bishri, Haraka.

5 Louis, William Roger, The British Empire in the Middle East, 1945–1951 (Oxford, 1984), pp. 244–48;Sidqi, Isma'il, Mudhakkirat (Cairo, 1951).

6 Tignor, Robert, “Equity in Egypt's Recent Past: 1945–1952,’ in Abdel-Khalek, Gouda and Tignor, Robert, eds., The Political Economy of Income Distribution in Egypt (New York and London, 1982), pp. 2054, summarizes socioeconomic conditions in the country and growing call for reform. Also see Tignor, , State, Private Enterprise, and Economic Change in Egypt, 1918–1952 (Princeton, 1984), chs. 6–7;Berque, Jacques, Egypt: Imperialism and Revolution (New York, 1972), pp. 583–99, 616–29, 641–46.

7 Al-Ahram, 4 November 1949; Rizq, Tarikh, pp. 498–99.

8 Campbell, Ronald (British ambassador) to Hector McNeil (minister of state), 28 December 1949, Foreign Office (FO) 371/80347/JE1016/1 (all FO documents are from the Public Records Office, London).

9 Campbell to McNeil, 25 January 1950, FO 371/80347/JE1016/23; Jefferson Caffery (American ambassador) no. 18, Department of State Records, 774.00/ 1–650 (all State records, unless indicated otherwise, are from the U.S. National Archives, Washington, D.C.).

10 Caffery to Dean Acheson (secretary of state), no. A-30, 774.00/1–950. Also see the memoirs of Yusuf, Hasan, al-Qasr wa-dawruhu fi al-siyasa al-misriyya, 1922–1952 (Cairo, 1982), p. 270. Election results were as follows: Wafd: 228 seats (54.5 percent); Sa';dists: 28 (16.3 percent), Liberal Constitutionalists: 27 (11.8 percent), Nationalists 6 (1.5 percent), Socialists 1 (.7 percent), Independents 31(14.6 percent); see Hilal, ';Ali al-Din, al-Siyasa wa-al-hukm fi Misr: al-'ahd al-barlimani, 1923–1952 (Cairo, 1977), pp. 303–4.

11 Al-Ahram, 8 and 9 January 1950; The Times (London), 16 January 1950.

12 Al-Ahram, 13 January 1950.

13 Ibid., 14 January 1950. For a brief summary of Egypt's economic woes at the time, see The Economist, 28 January 1950, pp. 205–6.

14 Al-Ahram, 17 January 1950.

15 'Isa, Muhakamat, pp. 65–66, 76 (Hilali testimony).

16 Ibid., p. 76 (Hilali testimony).

17 “…[H]e is young and keen and has a good grip of the work of his department which in the past has suffered too much from having been in the charge of unimaginative politicians,” wrote Ronald Campbell of Husayn upon the latter's appointment; Campbell no. 54, 13 January 1950, FO 371/80347/JE1016/13. Husayn was a member of the Pioneers (al-Ruwwad), an association of reformist technocrats formed in the late 1940s. See Berque, Egypt, p. 641.

18 For the negotiations, see Louis, British, pp. 691–720; Sa'id, Amin, Tarikh Misr al-siyasi (Cairo, 1959), pp. 323–25.

19 A1-Ahram, 22 January 1950; The Times, 18 May 1950; Egypt News (published by the Egyptian embassy in Washington, D.C.), July 1950.

20 A series of corruption trials initiated by the military junta in 1953, point to the areas of greatest abuse. The government pressed charges against works minister 'Uthman Muharram for ten separate cases, two of which involved Madam Nahhas as a codefendant. The court, which found Muharram innocent in two cases, stripped him of all political rights for five years and fined him £E 12,000, a fraction of what the prosecution sought (see al-Ahram, 21 October 1953). Sirag al-Din, whose trial quickly became a full-scale indictment of the Wafd and Wafdist rule, initially faced charges for conspiring to fix cotton prices, accepting bribes, allowing the King to transfer state funds abroad, and using public funds to pave private roads. The court sentenced him to fifteen years and sequestered his assets (Ibid., 31 January 1954).

21 As hard as it tried, the government could not destroy the opposition press. Tariq al-Bishri (Haraka, p. 408) estimates that between 1950 and 1951 the circulation of Socialist Party papers rose from several hundred copies to 50,000–100,000. American embassy officers reported that the circulation of the Muslim Brothers' al-Da'wa reached 80,000 by its second issue in early 1951; see U.S. Army Military Attache (hereafter USARMA) no. 161746Z, 774.00(W)/2–1651. By late summer, the British estimated the total circulation of all opposition papers at 150,000; see Stevenson to Morrison, 8 September 1951, FO 371/90124/JE10114/7.

22 See al-Ahram, 6 February 1950; The Times, 28 October 1950; Mitchell, Society, pp. 80–84.

23 Sanhuri could only be legally dismissed by a majority of the State Council. After gaining the King's vote of confidence, Sanhuri brought the matter to the Council, which voted confidence in his leadership. See al-Ahram, 2 February 1950 and following days.

24 Haykal, Mudhakkirat, p. 87.

25 'Isa, Muhakamat, p. 23 (Husayn Sirri testimony).

26 Caifery no. 124, 774.00/1–3050.

27 See, for example, al-A hram, 12 February and 3 October 1950. In late April, Nahhas, marking the fourteenth anniversary of the death of Faruq's father—something he had never done before—spoke of Fu'ad as a great constitutional monarch. The American ambassador noted the prime minister's “interesting and amusing revision” of history. Caifery desp. 920, 774.00/4–2850.

28 Bishri, Haraka, pp. 309–10.

29 The amount, as Ibrahim Shukri noted in parliament, nearly equaled the entire naval budget. The use of royal yachts remained a hot issue. See the article by Mar'i, Mustafa, “Fakhr al-bihar,” in al-Liwa' al-jadid, 17 April 1951, also reprinted in Salam, Hilmi, Ayyamuhu al-akhira (Cairo, 1972), pp. 253–54. In The article, Nahhas, as well as Faruq, is accused of misusing government property. The title refers to a second royal yacht.

30 Haykal, Mudhakkirat, pp. 90 ff.

31 Stevenson to Kenneth Younger (minister of state), 8 July 1950, FO 371/80349/JEIOI6/48. Also see Haykal, Mudhakkirat, pp. 196 ff. Haykal, who lost the Senate presidency in the process, organized a minority boycott of one session.

32 Prompting this bill was scandal in the Palace surrounding the King's order to nullify the marriage of his sister Fatiha to their mother's political secretary, a Copt, in the United States. When the princess and queen mother refused to accede and return home, the Royal Cabinet seized their assets and deprived them of official titles and privileges. Faruq's own liaison with his future queen, Narriman Sadiq, also generated spates of rumors, most of which proved accurate. Rumors that Nahhas sought to block their wedding out of personal dislike for Narriman's family undoubtedly contributed to his governments willingness to muzzle the press. See New York Times, 26 April, 17 May, 1 and 9 August 1950.

33 Ramadan, 'Abd al-'Azim, 'A bd al-Nasir wa-azmat mars (Cairo, 1975), pp. 5153. Also see Bishri, Haraka, pp. 306–7.

34 Deeb, Party Politics, pp. 68–70.

35 Ziadeh, Farhat J., Lawyers and the Rule of Law and Liberalism in Modern Egypt (Stanford, 1968);Reid, Donald M., Lawyers and Politics in the Arab World, 1880–1960 (Minneapolis, 1981).

36 Sirag al-Din's age has been an issue of dispute. He has been accused of falsifying his birthdate in order to meet the minimum age requirement for serving in parliament in 1936. Donald Reid estimates his birthdate as 1910. For a brief but valuable political biography, see his Fuad Siraj al-Din and the Egyptian Wafd,” Journal of Contemporary History, 15, 4 (10 1980), 721–44.

37 For a summary of Thabit's role in the scandal, see Caffery no. 1245, 774.00/5–3150.

38 Cafferydesp. 1153, 641/74/11–1351.

39 Makarius, Raoul, La jeunesse intellectuelle d'Egypre au lendemain de la Deuxième Guerre Mondiale (Paris, 1960); Bishri, Haraka, pp. 156–58.

40 Tal'at, lbrahim, ‘Ayyam al-wafd al-akhira,’ Ruz at- Yusuf, 14 February 1977, pp. 24–31.

41 Quraishi, Liberal Nationalism, pp. 172–75.

42 Ibid., pp. 134–35; Bishri, Haraka, pp. 305–6; Rizq, Tarikh, pp. 503–6.

43 Edwin Chapman-Andrews (first secretary, Cairo) to Michael Wright (superintending undersecretary, FO African Dept.), 25 March 1950, FO 371/80348/JE1016/39; Caffery no. 1096, 9 November 1950, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950, Vol. V (Washington, D.C., 1978), p. 323.

44 The popular perception that Sirag al-Din was the real power in the Wafd, expressed vividly by editorial cartoons in Ruz al- Yusuf as early as the Autumn of 1944, as well as rumors of a liaison between him and Nahhas' wife possibly contributed to the latter's reluctance to fully embrace the party secretary as his successor. See Reid, “Fua'd Siraj al-Din,” pp. 728–30. Old Wafdists, on the other hand, friends and foes of Sirag al-Din, credit Nahhas with getting the most out of his associates by playing them off against each other.

45 Stevenson minutes, 13 September 1951, FO 141/1433/JEIOII/26/51; 17 September 1951, JE1011/27/51.

46 Stevenson minutes, 10 May 1951, FO 141/1433/JE1011/20/51. In August, amid debate over the government-sponsored press laws, Hilali complained to an al-Ahram reporter, “Instead of curbing liberties we should curb our desires.” Yusuf, Qasr, p. 282.

47 'lsa, Muhakamat, p. 65 (Hilali testimony).

48 Stevenson minutes, 15 October 1951, FO 141/1433/JEq1011/30/51; Caffery no. 781, 774.00/11/2751; 'Isa, Muhakamat, p. 65 (Hilali testimony). In the Summer of 1951, according to Bishri (Haraka, p. 570), Hilali tried to recruit Wafdist leaders who were disgruntled with the government to form a new political party. Bishri names 'Abd al-Salam Fahmi Gum'ah, Sirag al-Din's predecessor as party secretary, and 'Abd al-Fatah al-Tawil, minister of justice, as his prime candidates.

49 Bishri, Haraka, pp, 307–8; Rizq, Tarikh, p. 503; Quraishi, Liberal Nationalism, pp. 169–70.

50 Asked at his trial if he supported the “exceptional promotions,” legislation passed in early 1950, Sirag al-Din replied simply, “It's not a matter of agreeing or not. It was a common policy since 1928.” 'Isa, Muhakamat, p. 256.

51 Ibid., pp. 141–43, 170 ('Abd al-Mut'al testimony).

52 Stevenson to Herbert Morrison (foreign secretary), 31 July 1951, FO 371/901 15/JE10110/23.

53 Campbell to Bevin, 14 March 1950, FO 371/80348/JE1016/36. Although the British initially praised Taha Husayn's reform measures, the British ambassador later described him as “oblivious or disdainful of practicality.” Stevenson to Bevin, 5 October 1950, FO 371/80349/JE1016/55.

54 'Isa, Muhakamat, pp. 122–27 ('Abd alMut'al testimony); pp. 183, 209 (Sirag al-Din rejoinder to 'Abd al-Mut'al).

55 Stevenson to Morrison, 31 July 1951, FO 371/90115/JE10110/23; Caffery desp. 223, 774.00/7–3151.

56 Campbell to Bevin, 14 March 1950, FO 371/80348/JE1016/36.

57 As a cabinet member, Zaki, a staunch defender of the widely unpopular press legislation, bore the brunt of criticism against the proposal. See the column by lhsan 'Abd al-Quddus in which the author called upon the government to resign over the press issue. Ruz al- Yusuf, 6 August 1951, p. 3. Also see alSha'b al-Jadid, 19 August 1951, p. 3; 6 December 1951, p. 6.

58 Clucas, K. H., 17 October 1951, FO371/90119/JEIOllO/90.

59 While many applauded his initiative, Hilali's myopic focus on the Wafd as the sole source of corruption and misadministration produced widespread skepticism. See al-Quddus', lhsan 'Abd columns in Ruz al-Yusuf, 3 and 24 March 1952, p. 3. A Free Officer pamphlet written at the same time echoes many of these ideas. See Rif'at, Kamal al-Din, Harb al-tahrir al-wataniya (Cairo, 1968), pp. 173–75.

60 For a summary of all who testified, see al-Musawwar, 22 January 1954.

61 For a bitter recollection of Taha Husayn's relationship to the Wafd, see Farag, Dhikrayati, pp. 110–11.

62 Campbell to Bevin, 14 March 1950, FO 371/80348/JE1016/36.

63 'lsa, Muhakamat, pp, 117, 153–54 (CAbd alMut'al testimony).

64 A1-Ahram, II November 1950; 'lsa Muhakamat, p. 131 ('Abd alMut'al testimony).

65 Stevenson to Bevin, 6 October 1950, FO 371/80349/JE1016/58. Zaynab al-Wakil faced the Revolutionary Tribunal in February 1954. She was charged with conspiracy to fix cotton prices, smuggling jewels and currency Out of Egypt, avoiding customs duties, and gross misuse of public funds. Found guilty, the court sequestered illegally acquired assets, but spared her imprisonment due to poor health ( al-Ahram, 8 March 1954).

66 At least fifteen relatives of Nahhas, and probably more, benefited from the law. Caffery no. 1126, 774.00/5–1850.

61 Stevenson to Bevin, 23 November 1950, FO 371/80349/JE1016/69.

68 Caffery desp. 1441, 774.00/6–2150.

69 'Abd al-Fattah Hasan, citing several instances in which Nahhas stood up to Faruq, tries to rehabilitate the prime minister's subservient image; Dhikrayat, pp. 30, 85–86.

70 Campbell to Bevin, 14 March 1950, FO 371/80348/JE1016/36.

71 A1-Ahram, 17 November 1950, for the Speech from the Throne. See The Times, 15 January 1951, for demonstrations in favor of breaking off negotiations; and 12 July 1951, for the ban on demonstrations. While the British certainly share an equal portion of the blame for the deadlock, Tariq al-Bishri (Haraka, p. 478) accepts the British assessment that domestic politics pushed the government into taking dramatic action. He writes: “It was necessary for the government, if it wanted to regain the public trust it had lost, as a party and as a government, to adopt a public stance by which it could rally the masses to it. in this regard the only available option was the national cause and the only tactic was abrogation of the treaty.” Also see Louis, British, pp. 717–18.

72 Records of Conversations. Notes and Papers Exchanged Between the Royal Egyptian Governnient and the United Kingdom Government, March 1950-November 1951, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Cairo, 1951), p. 179.

73 For Nahhas' lack of faith in Salah al-Din, see the citation for note 44. The British held the foreign minister largely to blame for the breakdown in negotiations that led to abrogation, an act which, because it was so often threatened, caught them by surprise. See Stevenson no. 119 saving, 26 October 1951, FO 371/90109/JE1016/36.

74 Caffery no. 575, 26 October 1951, Foreign Relations, 1951, Vol. V (Washington, D.C., 1982), pp. 410–11; Caffery no. 689, 12 November 1951, Foreign Relations. 1951, Vol. V, pp. 421–22; USARMA no. 567, 774.00(W)/11–1051; USARMA no. 572, 774.00(W)/11–751. Stevenson to Anthony Eden (foreign secretary), 6 December 1951, FO 371/90121/JE10110/167.

75 See the “Report of the British Embassy Committee of Enquiry into the Riots in Cairo on the 26th of January,” FO 371/96873/JE1018/86. The report's concluding section, along with other relevant British documents, are reprinted in the appendix of al-Sharqawi, Gamal, Asrar hariq alQahira (Cairo, 1985).

76 Ruzal- Yusuf, 8 July 1951, p. 3.

77 Western, particularly American, assessments of the potential threat of a revolution influenced this group. See, for example, a column by Stewart Alsop, translated and printed in Ruz al- Yusuf, 27 November 1951, in which the author cites Egypt's need for despotic rule. Bishri, Haraka, pp. 564–67.

78 Caffery desp. 882, 774.00/10–551. Husayn's disillusion led him to refuse cabinet posts in the post-fire governments formed by cAli Mahir and Hilali; the first because Mahir sought to make peace with the Wafd, the second because Hilali buckled to Palace pressure in the appointment of his ministers. Bishri, Haraka, pp. 566–67, 569.

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