HISTORY / Bob Feldman : A People’s History of Egypt, Part 12, Section 1, 1947-1948

Police crack down on strikers in Mahalla, 1947, killing three workers. Image from Hossam el-Hamalawy / Flickr.

A people’s history:
The movement to democratize Egypt

Part 12: 1947-1948 period/Section 1 — Anti-imperialist left grows; Muslim Brotherhood collaborates with Egyptian regime.

By Bob Feldman | The Rag Blog | December 10, 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.]

Despite the post-July 1946 political repression of Egyptian dissidents by the UK imperialist-backed monarchical regime, by the end of May 1947, a new Egyptian left anti-imperialist organization, the Democratic Movement for National Liberation [DMNL], also known as Hadeto, was formed after EMNL and Iskra leaders united and merged their approximately 1,200 Egyptian communist supporters into one group.

Solely funded in 1947 “from subscriptions and contributions imposed upon party members,” the DMNL “had some success” recruiting more Egyptian supporters in “the textile workers’ union, the transportation union, among…communication workers, hotel workers, tobacco workers, and military men” who often met fellow Egyptian left activists downtown at the Café Issayi-vitch in Cairo, according to Selma Botman’s The Rise of Egyptian Communism, 1939-1970.

After the owners of the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company factory in Mahalla-al-Kubra — Egypt’s largest and most modern textile factory — announced plans to replace over 12,000 Egyptian textile factory workers with new machinery, the textile workers went on strike in early September 1947. And after four of the striking workers were killed and 70 strikers were arrested by the Egyptian forces of “law and order,” 17,000 more Egyptian textile “workers in Shubra went on strike for one day in sympathy,” according to the same book.

The early September 1947 strike in Mahalla-al-Kubra was lost by the textile workers following its repression by the Egyptian monarchical regime. But during the last three months of 1947, additional strikes by textile factory workers in Alexandria, by oil workers in Suez, and by Egyptian teachers and telegraph workers broke out; and between 1948 and 1950 Egyptian nurses, police officers, gas workers, and textile workers in some other Egyptian cities also held strikes.

The DMNL was still an underground group that had to organize clandestinely during the late 1940s because of the repressive nature of the Egyptian regime. Besides recruiting Egyptian workers who apparently acted as catalysts for the late 1940s wave of labor strikes in Egypt, the DMNL also was able to recruit into its ranks during the 1940s some non-commissioned officers in the Egyptian military and some Egyptian peasants or fallahin.

And by the early 1950s, “the DMNL had contacts in tens of villages” in Egypt, according to The Rise of Egyptian Communism, 1939-1970. In addition, by the early 1950s, there were almost 500 unions in Egypt, according to an article by Atef Said, titled “Egypt’s Long Labor History.” that appeared in Against The Current in 2009.

During the late 1940s, around 13 million Egyptians lived in Egypt’s countryside in the Nile River valley and 6 million Egyptians lived in Egyptian cities. So although the number of Egyptian factory workers had increased from 247,000 to 756,000 between 1937 and 1947, around 66 percent of Egypt’s labor force was still engaged in agricultural work in the late 1940s. And despite Egypt’s formal political independence, foreign business investors still owned 61 percent of all Egyptian companies in 1947.

Yet the various anti-imperialist left secular Egyptian political groups together still had much less mass support by the 1940s than did the religiously fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood group. As Selma Botman’s Egypt from Independence to Revolution, 1919-1952 observed:

[Hasan] al-Banna…established the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928… Al-Banna promoted a simple and absolute message to his followers: struggle to rid Egypt of foreign occupation; defend and obey Islam… By the outbreak of World War II, the Brotherhood…movement’s strength was…estimated at somewhere from many hundreds of thousands to beyond a million activists…

But according to Robert Dreyfuss’ Devil’s Game: How The United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam,

Banna’s Muslim Brotherhood was established with a grant from England’s Suez Canal Company, and over the next quarter century British diplomats, the intelligence service, MI6, and Cairo’s Anglophilic King Farouk would use the Muslim Brotherhood as a cudgel against Egypt’s communists and nationalists…

After World War II, Al-Banna’s Muslim Brotherhood temporarily began to collaborate with the Egyptian  regime to block an increase of mass support for Egypt’s secular left. As the same book recalled, “between 1945 and 1948…the organization…acted on the instructions of various ruling governments, as a counterweight to the Communists” in Egypt; and the “[Muslim] Brotherhood would sabotage meetings, precipitate clashes at public gatherings and even damage property” of the left opposition groups with which the Muslim Brotherhood competed politically for recruits and which the Egyptian government had forced underground.

Egyptian prime minister al-Nuqrashi began to see the Muslim Brotherhood as a political threat to the regime and “used his martial law authority to dissolve” the organization “in November 1948.” Al-Nuqrashi was assassinated a month later by a student attached to the Brotherhood;” and, utilizing King Farouk’s bodyguards, the Egyptian government “responded by murdering Hasan al-Banna,” the Muslim Brotherhood’s founder and leader, in 1949, according to Jason Thompson’s A History of Egypt.

 [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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