HISTORY / Bob Feldman : A People’s History of Egypt, Part 10, 1930-1945

Signing of the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty in 1936. Image from Islam Project 2010.

A people’s history:
The movement to democratize Egypt

Part 10: 1930-1945 period — Anglo-Egyptian Treaty reaffirms Egypt’s ‘independence’ though British domination continues.

By Bob Feldman | The Rag Blog | September 25, 2013

[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.]

During the 1930s, “Egyptian communist activities…focused primarily on labor unions, continued to be suppressed” by the UK imperialist-backed Egyptian monarchical regime, according to Tareq Y. Ismael and Rifa‘at El-Sa’id’s The Communist Movement in Egypt: 1920-1988.

But in response to both the rise of fascism internationally and the growth within Egypt of Young Egypt, “a paramilitary organization which in the mid and latter 1930s demonstrated admiration for the accomplishments of fascist regimes” in Europe, “antifascist groups…proliferated in Egypt during the 1930s,” according to Selma Botman’s The Rise of Egyptian Communism, 1939-1970.

In addition, by the late 1930s some “communist study circles” were again formed in Egypt “that evolved into several organizations and factions” by the 1940s, according to an article by Hossam El-Hamalawy that appeared in the MERIP magazine in 2007, titled “Comrades and Brothers.”

Yet in the 1930s Egyptian society was still “socially traditional,” “men and women were generally separated,” “marriages were still arranged” and “women were regarded as the legitimate possessions of men,” according to The Rise of Egyptian Communism, 1939-1970.

Although Islamic law “allowed a woman to own property, conduct business, and inherit a portion of her father’s estate equal to half her brother’s share, it put her at her husband’s mercy in matters concerning divorce and the family,” according to the same book. But despite the social conservatism of Egyptian society in the 1930s, some younger, less traditional Egyptian women did participate in the anti-fascist leftist Egyptian groups of the 1930s.

The UK and Egypt signed an Anglo-Egyptian Treaty on August 26, 1936, which again recognized Egypt as an independent and sovereign nation but “also stipulated…that Egypt must grant Britain…military facilities,” according to Selma Botman’s Egypt from Independence to Revolution, 1919-1952.  In 1937 the UK government finally “allowed Egypt to apply for membership in the League of Nations and to set up foreign embassies and consulates,” Botman wrote.

But Egyptian leftists in the 1930s considered the 1936 Anglo-Egyptian Treaty inadequately anti-imperialist “because British troops were to remain in Egypt for an additional 20 years and because…promises of unobstructed democracy and self-determination were absent,” according to the same book.

The 17-year-old King Farouk — who inherited the Egyptian throne following the death of his father, King Fuad, in 1936 —  “soon displayed the same autocratic tendencies as his father,” although “the British ambassador Sir Miles Lampson…always referred to Farouk as `The Boy,’ even when the king was in his twenties,” according to Jason Thompson’s A History of Egypt.

After UK ambassador Lampson “surrounded the Abdin Palace with tanks” on February 4, 1942, and “ordered `The Boy’” to appoint as Egypt’s prime minister the particular Wafdist leader that the UK government alone had selected, “or abdicate,” according to A History of Egypt, this “coercion action confirmed that Egyptian independence was nothing more than a sham,” according to Egypt from Independence to Revolution, 1919-1952.

So, not surprisingly, a new wave of anti-British street protests broke out in Egypt after leaders of the Egyptian student movement met in the summer of 1945 and “decided to call for the formation of national committees to participate in the national movement” of Egypt, according to The Communist Movement in Egypt: 1920-1988.

[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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