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Egypt and the pharaohs
New Kingdom to Cushites
Arabs and Muslims
Egypt under the Turks
British rule
     British occupation
     Eight years to independence
     Throne and Wafd
     Wars and revolution

A modern republic

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British occupation: 1882-1914

The dominant figure during the years of the British occupation of Egypt is Evelyn Baring, a member of a long-established British family of bankers. He first serves in Egypt from 1877 to 1880 as the British member of the commission responsible for coping with the Egyptian debt. After the defeat of Arabi Pasha in 1882, Baring returns as consul general - in effect in charge of the British administration.

Over the next quarter-century Baring (or Lord Cromer, as he is from 1892) places the Egyptian finances on a sound footing and oversees all internal affairs - including the withdrawal from Sudan after Gordon's death in 1885 and the return under Kitchener in 1898.


Cromer's authoritarian attitudes and his tendency to work only with Egypt's traditional ruling class (he learns Turkish but not Arabic) put him at odds with the continuing demands of the Egyptian nationalists. By 1907 the British government, in an attempt to liberalize the administration, replaces him with an Arabic-speaking consul general, Eldon Gorst.

But it is events on a wider stage than local nationalism which bring about the next change in Egypt's political status. The khedive's sovereign, the Ottoman sultan, is from November 1914 at war with Britain. In December Britain declares that 'the suzerainty of Turkey is terminated', and that Egypt is now to be 'a British protectorate'.


Eight years to independence: 1914-1922

At the moment when Britain makes Egypt a protectorate, the khedive (now Abbas II) is away in Constantinople. Being closely linked to the Turkish enemy, he is replaced on the throne by his uncle, Husayn Kamil. Three years later Husayn dies and is succeeded by a younger brother, Fuad.

Egypt is not directly involved in World War I but the defeat of the Axis powers, including Turkey, leads to immediate hopes of independence - particularly after France and Britain declare their commitment in November 1918 to the self-determination of the various peoples liberated from the Ottoman empire.


On 13 November 1918, within two days of the signing of the armistice, a political party is formed in Cairo by Saad Zaghlul. It is named Wafd, short for Al-Wafd al-Misri and meaning the Egyptian Delegation. The name reveals the immediate purpose - to send to the coming peace conference delegates who will voice the demand of the Egyptian people for independence.

This is more than has been envisaged by Britain, which ensures that there is no Egyptian presence at the talks. When the leaders of Wafd react angrily in Cairo, martial law is introduced. Zaghlul and several colleagues are arrested in March 1919 and are deported to Malta. The result is uproar in Egypt, with demonstrations against foreigners in general and the British in particular.


During the next three years the situation remains tense, while it becomes increasingly evident that the nationalist policies of Wafd are shared by a large majority in Egypt. In 1922 Britain proposes immediate independence, with various strings attached. British troops are to remain in Egypt to protect imperial interests (meaning in particular the Suez canal). And the Sudan is left out of any settlement.

Fuad, the sultan, accepts these terms. In March 1922 he becomes Fuad I, king of an independent Egypt. He already has an heir to his throne, the two-year-old prince Farouk.


Throne and Wafd: 1922-1939

A constitution providing for parliamentary government is introduced in 1923. Elections in the following year sweep Wafd into power with Zaghlul as prime minister. One of the party's main principles, the demand for the merging of Egypt and the Sudan, guarantees friction with the British government. And its commitment to constitutional government puts it at loggerheads with the king. Whatever the details of his new constitution, Fuad instinctively inclines to more absolute royal powers.

The issue of the Sudan comes to a head in 1924, when riots and violence by Sudanese nationalists prompt the British government to use force majeure in a unilateral solution. Egyptian forces are evicted from the Sudan.


A compromise on the Sudan is not found until 1936. During the intervening twelve years the struggle between Wafd and the king continues. Zaghlul dies in 1927 but he is followed at the head of the party by an almost equally forceful leader, Mustafa al-Nahas Pasha.

The conflict between the king and Nahas Pasha (who is determined to curb the royal powers) lasts until the death of Fuad in 1936. It includes one lengthy period (1928-34) when Fuad tears up the constitution of 1923 and rules by decree. Relations are hardly any easier after the young prince Farouk succeeds to the throne.


Early in the new reign Nahas Pasha leads a delegation to London and signs an Anglo-Egyptian treaty which goes some way to easing the tensions between the two countries - at any rate on the topic of the British troops stationed in Egypt and much resented by Wafd.

It is agreed that the number of these troops will be steadily scaled down while Egypt strengthens its own defensive forces, and that they will eventually be limited to the region of the Suez canal. Nothing is settled on the long-term future of the Sudan, but the treaty at least enables Egypt to resume its shared responsibilities after a gap of twelve years.


Wars and revolution: 1939-1952

In the run-up to World War II the Italian aggression on either side of Egypt and the Sudan, in Libya and Ethiopia, gives a new sense of unity to British and Egyptian interests. Egypt remains neutral throughout the war, but the British forces - previously so unwelcome - now have the important task of driving back the Italians from both borders.

This responsibility becomes very much greater from 1941, when Rommel and his Afrika Corps join the Italians in a determined drive east towards Egypt. By June 1942 they are within forty miles of Alexandria and seem likely to reach Cairo and the Suez canal, until they are at last held at El Alamein.


When the field of combat moves north out of Africa in 1943, Egyptian attention begins to focus more locally on Arab affairs. Arab hackles are raised by the summary treatment dealt out to Lebanese nationalists by the French in 1943, while Zionist demands on Palestine are also seen as cause for alarm.

One result is the conference of Arab nations held in Cairo in March 1945. Under the presidency of Nahas Pasha, this results in the formation of the Arab League. Three years later the League has a full-scale war on its hands, as its members attempt to nip the state of Israel in the bud in the Arab-Israeli war of 1948.


These postwar years are also a time of increasing anti-British turmoil within Egypt. The relaxation of wartime restrictions in 1945 is followed by a rush of heightened resentment at the continuing presence of British troops on Egyptian soil.

To this there is added a religious and terrorist element in the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood, responsible in December 1948 for the assassination of both the Egyptian prime minister (Nokrashi Pasha) and the chief of the Cairo city police. Acts of violence against British forces become increasingly common, until an encounter between British troops and rebels at the police headquarters in Ismailia, in January 1952, results in forty-six Egyptian deaths.


The response, on the following day, is widespread rioting in Cairo and the destruction of numerous buildings and businesses owned by foreigners. There are a few British deaths.

For the next few months Farouk and his government attempt, unsuccessfully, to cope with a deteriorating situation. But the pleasure-loving king, widely regarded as a playboy, is soon deprived of these responsibilities. On the night of 22 July 1952 a group of officers, led by Gamal Abdel Nasser, seizes power in a bloodless coup. Farouk, forced to abdicate, sails into exile on his luxury yacht. He is succeeded by his nine-month-old son as Ahmed Fuad II. But the council of regency soon dispenses with the need for an infant monarch.


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