Egypt Between 1940 and 1948

Egypt Between 1940 and 1948


The Second World War seized Egypt when public opinion that initially, except for the nationalists, had hailed the Anglo-Egyptian treaty of 1936 with applause, was taking an increasingly critical attitude towards it, feeling its political burdens. and economic for Egypt not compensated by adequate substantial advantages. Nonetheless, the government of ‛Alī Māhir Pashaà maintained the military obligations deriving from the treaty to Egypt, placing its territory and its communication routes at the disposal of the United Kingdom, but at the same time declaring the will to keep the country out of the conflict. The situation became even more delicate when Italy entered the war (June 1940), with which Egypt immediately broke off relations, but never came, neither then nor then, to a declaration of war. In that same June, the cabinet of the rigid neutralist ‛Alī Māhir was succeeded by one formed by Hasan Ṣabrī Pasha, whose death, a few months later, was taken over by Ḥusein Sirrī Pascià, who held power from November 1940 to February 1942. The effort of these men of government, and of the Crown behind them, it was in these years to reconcile the maintenance of the commitments undertaken with the British alliance, and the preservation of the maximum possible independence of the country, in the paradoxical position of neutral ally of a belligerent, in a war fought on its own soil.

The war fluctuated for two years, with alternating vicissitudes, on the western border of Egypt: to the Italian episode of Sīdī Barrānī (September 1940), Wavell’s first offensive which brought the British to Sirte while, in the spring of 1941, the counter-offensive of Rommel reported the lines almost on the ancient border. Meanwhile, Alexandria was bombed several times by the Italian-German air force, arousing the platonic protests of the Egyptian government. Inside, the external manifestations of political life, guarded and practically harnessed by the British military authority, remained on a line of fidelity to the alliance, and together with the neutrality of the country, although at times the existence of forces, worked from the Axis propaganda which, from a defeat of Great Britain, they promised themselves full independence. Over time, the British intrusiveness in Egyptian internal politics became more and more sensitive and when, in February 1942, the cabinet of Ḥusein Sirrī Pascià resigned, due to a disagreement with the Crown on the occasion of the rupture of relations with France of Vichy, the action of the English ambassador Sir Miles Lampson was decisive for the solution of the crisis. Under this pressure, King Fārūq was induced to call to the government an-Naḥḥās pascià, head of the Wafd who, for more than four years, had been excluded from power. Thus the party, which had once been the most resolute opponent of British rule in Egypt, was now returning to direct its fate, supported, if not even imposed by the British themselves, in the double aim of satisfying a large part of the

In the summer of 1942, the situation seemed to worsen when Rommel’s second counter-offensive, driven back by the 8th army from Cyrenaica which had laboriously reoccupied with the offensive of gen. Auchinlek, did not stop – as the previous year – at the border but went into Egyptian territory. Between the end of June and the beginning of July, the fall of Tobruch and Marsa Maṭrūḥ carried the advanced Italo-German columns beyond the squeeze of el-‛Alamein, almost to the suburbs of Alexandria while Germany and Italy, in a joint official declaration (July 4), affirmed their intention to “respect and ensure the independence and sovereignty of Egypt”, from whose soil they were preparing to expel the English. But, after a few weeks of panic, the situation stabilized,

The further course of the war, moving more and more the theater of operations away from Egypt, gave, inside, the coup de grace to the pro-German currents, but at the same time marked the beginning of a new phase of Egyptian politics, aimed at obtaining, in the context of the emerging Anglo-Saxon victory, the major advantages of the attitude – hitherto held – of fidelity to the obligations assumed. The Wafdist ministry of Naḥḥās Pascià, revoked by the king in October 1944, was succeeded by a cabinet chaired by the Sa‛dist leader Aḥmed Māhir, supported by independents and nationalists; under it Egypt became the driving force and coordinator of the movement for the creation of the Arab League, which held a preparatory conference in Alexandria (autumn 1944) and its solemn constitution in Cairo in March 1945. Shortly after, just on the eve of the Allied victory, Egypt carried out the formal act of declaration of war on Germany, stubbornly avoided until then, and thus acquired the right to enter as a sovereign state in the newly constituted organization of the United Nations. The very day the Chamber voted for this resolution, a fanatic nationalist killed Prime Minister Aḥmed Māhir (February 24, 1945), succeeded by Foreign Minister Noqrāshī Pascià.

The immediate objective of Egyptian foreign policy, as soon as the conflict was over, was the revision of the 1936 treaty. Under the pressure of public opinion, the Noqrāshī cabinet and its successor (February 17, 1946) of Ismā ‛īl Ṣidqī opened immediately, for this purpose, negotiations with Great Britain. The Egyptian claims were: complete independence of the country with withdrawal of English troops also from the Canal area and Egyptian sovereignty over the Sūdān, with the cancellation of the Anglo-Egyptian condominium regime established by the 1899 agreement., the negotiations began in Cairo on May 9 and continued throughout the summer. In October, after Ismā ‛īl Ṣidqī’s direct meeting in London with Bevin, it seemed that an agreement had been reached, or was on the point of reaching, with the full satisfaction of Egyptian aspirations (total and gradual evacuation of the country, unity of the “Nile Valley” under the Egyptian Crown), and a new Anglo-Egyptian alliance treaty to secure Great Britain Egyptian assistance in the event of war on territory bordering Egypt. But while the eviction of the British troops continued regularly (on July 4 the citadel of Cairo was handed over to the Egyptians, in February 1947 the forts and barracks of Alexandria, in March the barracks of Qaṣr en-Nīl), the general agreement ran aground., and on January 27, 1947, both in Cairo and in London the breakdown of the negotiations was officially announced. The most serious obstacle had been the question of the Sūdān, of which Egypt claimed the permanent union under the Egyptian crown, while Great Britain declared that it could not accept a solution that would compromise the free decision of the Sudanese. In fact, in the Sūdān, alongside the currents in favor of union with Egypt, a movement directed by the al-Umma party, which claims absolute autonomy (“the Sūdān for the Sudanese”), was encouraged by the British themselves.

After the attempt of a direct agreement failed, Egypt decided to bring its case before the UN, and on 10 July 1947 Noqrāshī Pascià (returned to power in December 1946) presented an appeal to the Security Council against the presence of British troops. in the “Nile Valley” and on the Sūdān regime. The appeal was discussed at Lake Success in August, and resulted in an oratory duel between Noqrāshī and the English representative A. Cadogan who, in the name of Great Britain, upheld the full validity of the 1936 treaty, which cannot be modified according to his own. clauses before twenty years. The Security Council could not agree on any decision on the dispute and this, on 10 September, was postponed sine die. But the problem is still alive and the subject of passionate discussions both in Egypt (where the Wafd party, currently in opposition, has harshly accused the government and the delegation to the UN as being responsible for the failure), and in Sūdān, where the contrast between fusionists and separatists constitutes the fulcrum of the incipient local political life. For Egypt 2019, please check

Alongside the capital question of relations with England, Egypt did not fail to make its voice heard and explain activities in all fields where an affirmation of national sovereignty or pan-Arab solidarity could take place. Thus, through the Arab League and in government statements, he took a stand for the total independence of Libya and asked for adjustments in his favor of the Cyrenaic border (Giarabub oasis); in the autumn of 1947 he established, for the first time, permanent diplomatic relations with the Holy See; finally regularized relations with Italy, which had been interrupted since June 1940. The condition for this recovery was the regulation of economic relations: the two interdependent issues of reparations for war damages requested of Italy, and the release of Italian assets in Egypt, placed under sequestration since the beginning of the hostilities. Direct Italian-Egyptian negotiations, which took place in Paris in the summer of 1946, on the sidelines of the peace conference, had set the amount of the reparations at 4 and a half million pounds; the relative agreement was signed in Paris on 10 September and ratified by the Italian Constituent Assembly in May 1947, for example, allowing the resumption of normal diplomatic relations between the two countries (the Italian minister presented his credentials to King Fārūq on June 30); in the autumn of 1947 the Egyptian parliament also ratified the agreement and in April 1948 the total release of the Italian assets was reached.

Having emerged practically unscathed from the Second World War, Egypt has thus seen its international position strengthened; the problem of absolute independence has begun to maturity if still not resolved, the economic-financial situation has been consolidated, and the prospects for a territorial expansion such as it had not known since the days of Moḥammed ‛Alī Ismā‛īl are open.

Egypt Between 1940 and 1948