Bob Feldman :
A People’s History of Egypt, Part 13, 1948-1949

The movement to democratize Egypt: King Farouk confronts Zionist forces, imposes martial law.

king farouk 1948

Egyptian King Farouk at Battle of Nitzanim, 1948. Image from Yad Vashem Photo Archive.

By Bob Feldman / The Rag Blog / January 20, 2014

[With all the dramatic activity in Egypt, Bob Feldman’s Rag Blog “people’s history” series, “The Movement to Democratize Egypt,” could not be more timely. Also see Feldman’s “Hidden History of Texas” series on The Rag Blog.]

Despite its  earlier business links with some pro-Zionist Egyptian businesspeople, in 1948 the Egyptian monarchical regime joined other Arab governments in attempting to block the eviction of Palestinian Arabs from Palestine and the establishment of a Zionist state in Palestine by militarily opposing the Zionist movement’s military forces.

And when the State of Israel was established on May 15, 1948, an emergency law was decreed by the Egyptian government that prohibited many Egyptians of Jewish religious background from leaving Egypt without a special permit.

In addition, “hundreds of Jews were arrested and many had their property confiscated” in Egypt during the first Arab-Israeli War of the late 1940s, according to the Encyclopedia Judaica.

Yet the Egyptian regime of King Farouk also apparently had other, more self-serving, motives for militarily confronting the Zionist movement’s military forces in the late 1940s Arab-Israeli War than just defending the national rights of Palestinian Arabs. As Selma Botman’s The Rise of Egyptian Communism, 1939-1970 observed:

King Farouk used the war as a means of restoring himself to the role of national leader. His intent…was to direct popular feeling away from local problems and toward the conflict abroad… In Egypt, the war also meant the imposition of martial law, the resumption of anti-democratic measures, and the opening of concentration camps. It thereby provided the Palace with a choice opportunity to strike the leftists who were accused of national treason for their stand on Palestine.

When martial law was proclaimed [in Egypt] on May 15, 1948 a brutal wave of internment of the revolutionary left began… The widespread arrests struck at the core of the movement…

But the imposition of martial law did not enable Egypt to militarily defeat the Zionist movement’s military units…

But the imposition of martial law did not enable Egypt to militarily defeat the Zionist movement’s military units that consisted of “more fighters with better arms,” according to Jason Thompson’s A History of Egypt.

And, as the same book also recalled:

Egypt was not ready for the war. Farouk was a troublesome, interfering grand strategist; equipment was inferior or missing, support always inadequate… Egypt signed the armistice in early 1949… Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees poured into Gaza, where Egypt assumed administrative control. Egyptian losses in the war were 2,000 dead and many more wounded and missing… Rumors circulated that members of the royal court and high-ranking officers had colluded to supply the military with inferior equipment for personal profit…

Although there had been only limited support for the Zionist movement and its goal of establishing a Jewish state in Palestine among Egyptians of Jewish religious background prior to 1948, following the 1948-49 Arab-Israeli War around 25,000 Egyptians of Jewish religious background ended up emigrating from Egypt between 1948 and 1950. According to Gilles Perrault’s 1987 book, A Man Apart: The Life of Henri Curiel:

The first victims of the creation of Israel were the Palestinians hounded out of their country; a second, the Oriental Jews condemned, for the foreseeable future, to a new exodus. Zionist secret services, aware of a lack of enthusiasm on the part of Cairo and Baghdad Jews to move to Israel, undertook to speed up the process by instigating a campaign of bomb attacks designed to convince the more reticent of the impossibility of staying in an Arab country. Their co-religionists, little suspecting such Machiavellianism, attributed the explosions to Muslim fanaticism until the day when the secret leaked out, causing a serious political scandal in Israel.

A History of Egypt asserts that “the Zionists also staged attacks on Egyptian Jews to frighten them into leaving Egypt for Israel, with unfortunate success.”

Yet according to Joel Beinin’s The Dispersion of Egyptian Jewry, the bombing attacks in Cairo during the first Arab-Israeli War between June and November 1948 (unlike the bombings in Baghdad) were apparently the work of Egypt’s right-wing Society of Muslim Brothers.

And “in a 1950 trial” in Egypt, “members of the Society were charged” by the Egyptian monarchical government “with carrying out all the bombings against the Jews of Cairo from June to November 1948” and “the prosecution argued that the bombings were part of a strategy to exploit the issue of Palestine to destabilize and undermine” UK-backed regime by the right-wing Islamic fundamentalist leaders.

In apparent response to the Zionist movement’s eviction of Palestinian Arabs from their homeland and establishment of the State of Israel on May 15, 1948, a bomb that had been planted in the Karaiate Jewish quarter of Cairo  exploded on June 20, 1948 — killing 22 Egyptians of Jewish background and wounding 41 other Egyptians of Jewish background.

Then, in an apparent response to a July 15, 1948, bombing by Israeli planes of “a residential neighborhood near the Qubba Palace in Cairo” that killed “many civilians and destroyed many homes” and provoked “an angry march on the Jewish quarter” of Cairo, “an explosion in the Rabbinite Jewish Quarter in Cairo killed 19 and wounded 62 victims” on Sept. 22, 1948, according to The Dispersion of Egyptian Jewry.

[Bob Feldman is an East Coast-based writer-activist and a former member of the Columbia SDS Steering Committee of the late 1960s. Read more articles by Bob Feldman on The Rag Blog.]

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5 Responses to Bob Feldman :
A People’s History of Egypt, Part 13, 1948-1949

  1. Stan Nadel says:

    “In 1948 the Egyptian monarchical regime joined other Arab governments in attempting to block the eviction of Palestinian Arabs from Palestine and the establishment of a Zionist state in Palestine…” What a bullshit description of a war the Egyptians joined to massacre the Jews and drive them into the sea. If this is the quality of Feldman’s history nobody should waste any time reading it.

  2. Leslie Cunningham says:

    My 8th grade teacher in Damascus, Syria (in 1957), was a Christian Palestinian refugee whose family had indeed been “evicted” (a euphemism, that!) and had lost all their property in Palestine.
    Whatever the hypocritical or demagogic reasons were for Egyptian and other Arab governments to wage the war, the popular reasons and pressures against the establishment of the state of Israel were undeniable and based on the reality of the Naqba.
    Does anyone still read “What Price Israel” by Alfred Lilienthal (1951)? A prescient book.

    • Leslie C. says:

      Correction: The Lilienthal book was 1953. In a forward to the 50th anniversary edition (2003) Dr. Lilienthal writes about how he and others in the American Council for Judaism, prior to 1947, opposed the creation of the state of Israel and foresaw what the tragic consequences would be. (Lilienthal and the ACJ were not leftists.)

  3. Leslie C. says:

    Mr. Feldman quotes 2 conflicting versions of who set the bombs that drove most of the Jewish community out of Egypt. 1) Zionist secret police; 2) Islamist fundamentalists. Any resolution to this question? The article seems to imply that it was probably (2). Was this intended?

  4. Rachamim Slonim Dwek says:

    The “Egyptians of Jewish religious background” nonsensse only makes the author look silly. Jews are a People, whether Mr. Feldman likes it or not. Sadly, a Jew, he seems particularly ignorant about his own heritage. Perhaps he might actually study it before diving into MENA’s geopolitical dynamics.

    There is a huge difference between a “religious group” and an “ethno-religious group.” Raised in the West Mr. Feldman cannot get his mind around that. A tribal religion combined with strict endogamy over the course of 3,500 years has led to irefutable peoplehood.

    As for accusing his own People of bombing themselves, instead of parroting authors who share his narrow uber-Leftisy ideology Mr. Feldman surely would have benefitted from the plethora of sources representing ALL perspectives.

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