HISTORY / Bob Feldman : A People’s History of Egypt, Part 9, 1924-1930

Mural shows Saad Zaghlul, first Egyptian prime minister, giving the finger to the military council. Image from Egypt 2011 and Beyond.

A people’s history:
The movement to democratize Egypt

Part 9: 1924-1930 period –The Wafd government and the repression of communists.

By Bob Feldman | The Rag Blog | September 16, 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.]

After an Egyptian constitution was promulgated in 1923, martial law was abolished, an election was held, and Saad Zaghlul, the leader of the Egyptian landowning elite’s nationalist Wafd party, became prime minister in January 1924.

A Wafd government was then formed in Egypt which just “represented bourgeois landowner and upper-class interests and aspirations,” did not represent the interest of Egypt’s “poverty-stricken rural peasants and urban workers,” and “was inherently hostile towards the labor movement” in Egypt, according to Tareq Y. Ismael and Rifa‘at El-Sa’id’s The Communist Movement in Egypt: 1920-1988.

During the 1920s, the plots of arable land owned by 1 million Egyptian peasants were “too small for subsistence,” and “fully one-fifth of rural families” in Egypt “owned no land at all,” according to A History of Egypt.

By late 1924 the Wafd government had interned the entire leadership of the Egyptian Communist Party and disbanded Egypt’s Confederation of Trade Unions.

After 1,200 to 1,500 Egyptian workers had gone on strike in February 1924 at the Filatunes Nationales of Egypt firm in Alexandria — and workers at Egyptian Oil Industries, Egyptian Salt and Soda Company, Kafr-El-Zayat-Coffon Company, and Abouchanabs had also gone on strike during the same month — the Wafd government banned gatherings of Egyptian workers, and on March 3, 1924, arrested Egyptian Communist Party leaders such as Hosni al-‘Arabi, Anton Maroun, and Sheikh Safwan Abu-al-Fatah and destroyed the Egyptian Communist Party of the early 1920s.

But “the Comintern put together a new central committee from the remnants of the Egyptian Communist Party” still active “and not imprisoned;” and a new Egyptian Communist Party organization — “this time more tightly structured, with cells and a private printing press — was implemented in Cairo, Alexandria, and Port Said,” according to The Communist Movement in Egypt: 1920-1988.

And, as the same book recalled, on March 6, 1925, the Egyptian Communists “acquired a small newspaper, al-Hisab” and “managed to publish” prior to May 18, 1925, “eight issues before it was shut down and its editor and staff jailed.”

Yet “from the first, the organizational meetings of the” reestablished Egyptian Communist Party’s’ “new central committee were infiltrated by British intelligence;” and “an intelligence agent, Mohammed ‘Abd al-‘Aziz,” even “became secretary general of the central committee in late 1924 and served in that post for 4 years,” according to The Communist Movement in Egypt: 1920-1988.

Not surprisingly, all members of the reestablished Egyptian Communist Party’s Central Committee were arrested by the government after Ahmad Ziwar Pasha succeeded Saad Zaghhoul as the monarchical government’s prime minister on May 30, 1925. But, as Selma Botman observed in The Rise of Egyptian Communism, 1939-1970, “despite the demise of organized Egyptian communism” during the 1920s, “small pockets of legal leftist activists appeared…some years later…”

[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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