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Department of History     Yoav Di-Capua Assistant Professor, PHD

Liberal Era Politics, 1919-52

Extra-Parliamentary Political Movements, 1919-1952



The Limitations of the Liberal Experiment in providing better life and social mobility for the majority of the population became apparent during the 1930s. Economic crisis and the suspension of democratic life encouraged a host of extra-parliamentary organizations to challenge the liberal order in various ways, ranging from penetrating intellectual critiques to political violence.

Young Egypt (Misr al-fatat, established 1933): A Popular nationalist youth movement of the 1930s which is often viewed as pro-Fascist. It was established in 1933 by Ahmad Husayn and Fathi Radwan when they were 22 years old. Being ultra nationalist they vied for economic independence and national self-sustainability. To further these ends they started several high-profile, yet symbolic, projects such as the "Piaster Plan" whose aim was to replace imported goods with locally manufactured ones. They also raised money in order to start local factories which were only partially successful, such as the Tarbush/Fez factory which replaced imported Tarbushs from Austria. They also organized popular bans on foreign goods.

Their youth movement, the Green Shirts, became famous for its mass nationalist rallies. Young participants were divided into "members" and "fighters" (mujahidin) with the later wearing dark green shirts. They fought for the unification of the Nile Valley and the incorporation of Sudan in the new "Egyptian Empire." They denounced the privileged position of foreigners in Egypt and campaigned for improved "public morality" by banning the consumption of alcohol and prostitution. Though they were politically unaffiliated, they turned against the Wafd and supported the King. In 1936 they turned into a political party but could not run for parliament since the leadership was under 30 years of age (the constitution stipulated limitations on age).

By the mid 1930s it turned to violence clashing with the Wafd's "Blue Shirts" (see below) and acting against taverns, brothels, as well as the commercial interests of Egyptian Jews. Toward the late 1930s it was incorporated into the more successful Muslim Brotherhood.

Fathi Radwan as Minister of National Guidance under the Revolution. In his youth he was a founding member of Young Egypt.

Blue Shirts: Established in 1935 by the Wafd Party in order to counter the influence of the Green Shirts. This organization had an estimated 30,000 members. In December 1937 it participated in a mass demonstration in front of the King's Palace following which the Wafd's Prime Minister was dismissed. Due to the radicalization of the street, in 1938 the government banned all "shirt" organizations.

Young Men's Muslim Association (Jam`iyyat al-Shuban al-Muslimin): An educational society that was founded in 1927 by Shaykh 'Abd al-'Aziz Jawish and others in order to counter the effects of Westernization among the youth. Its goals were to propagate Islamic morals and ethics in a fashion that would prepare young men for modern urban life. Though officially it was politically unaffiliated, many members were associated with the Nationalist Party, in which Jawish was a leading figure. It opened branches all over Egypt and in neighboring countries. Members of the group were encouraged to join the struggle in Palestine, and during WW II some were Nazi sympathizers. Despite its peaceful appearance the Association was highly politicized and militant.

The slippery slope of the 1930s: From the cult of the body and sports, to youth movements, political rallies, and street demonstrations, to political violence.

Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun)

Established in 1928 in Ismailiya by Hasan al-Banna and moved to Cairo in 1932. The Muslim Brotherhood operated in the margins of society, catering for the needs of lower middle class and the poor who were beyond the reach of the liberal state. Though started as a form of charity organization providing social, medical, educational and occupational services, the Muslim Brotherhood soon developed a national political ambition. Guided by an abstract animosity to Western modes of operation and values, it developed an Islamic creed which was both a personal code of conduct and a collective moral compass. With their dramatic expansion to 500,000 members by the late 1940s, and as the biggest grass-roots organization in Egypt, the Brethren resorted to political and ethnic violence. Its secret wing, al-Jihaz al-Sirri, conducted multiple operations which culminated in the assassination of Nuqrashi Pasha in 1948 following his attempt to ban the Brethren. It was in response to this act that the state secret service retaliated with the murder of Hasan al-Banna, the Brethren's Supreme Guide (al-Murshid al-Amm). Between 1936 and 1954 the movement was in its zenith. Following the Brethren's attempt on Nasser's life in November 1954, the organization was outlawed and its members were incarcerated and persecuted. It made a huge comeback in the 1970s.

Hasan al-Banna (1906-1949): Founder and Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood. One of the most sophisticated organizers of grass-roots politics in the modern Middle East. Al-Banna was murdered by government agents in February 1949 as a retaliation against the Brethren's widespread usage of political violence.

The Communists:

The Egyptian communists were organized in a loosely-held coalition of extra-Parliamentary organizations such as The Egyptian Movement for National Liberation (EMNL), The Democratic Movement for National Liberation (DMNL), The New Dawn and Iskara. Most of these groups were established during the 1940s and were active in the field of labor organization. Equipped with Marxist theory, the communists offered a comprehensive explanation for the socio-economic malaise of Egypt at the close of the liberal era. Though they were loathed by the King and persecuted by the state, their insights into Egypt's unequal distribution of wealth as well as their penetrating critique of Egypt's class system were largely accepted by the post-1952 regime. Their political work, however, continued to be marginalized and many members were imprisoned.



1946: Students Riot (Full Text follows)

EGYPTIAN STUDENTS STAGE CAIRO RIOT
British Reply To Treaty Revision Demand Assailed 3000 Youths Battle Police; 80 Persons Hurt in Fighting
By Max Boyd

CAIRO: February 9, 1946 - (AP) - Egyptian students battled Cairo police today during a demonstration against Britain's attitude toward revision of the British- Egyptian treaty. At least 50 students and 30 policemen were injured, and approximately 150 students arrested before quiet was restored. Shouting "Down with Britain" and "To the Revolt," the students surged through the streets of Cairo. Police lines were broken and a bus was set afire. British Reply Protested The demonstration started after a mass meeting protesting against the recent British reply to Egypt's request for revision of the 1936 British-Egyptian treaty. The fighting flared up when approximately 3000 students, caught between police lines near a Nile river bridge, started hurling stones. Bystanders joined in shortly on the side of the students. Police Chief Lewis Russell Pasha, who was on the scene during the melee, immediately summoned mounted police. An estimated 5000 students attended the meeting at Fuad University, while Egyptian police and British military police patrolled the streets and public squares. The city was declared "out of bounds" for British and American troops. Banners were hoisted proclaiming "Down with Imperialism," and "Get out of the Nile Valley." Egyptian Official Accused Speakers attacking the British reply said it was impossible to negotiate with British Ambassador Lord Killearn because he was "imperialistic." They also charged that Egyptian Foreign Minister Abdel Hamid Badawi Pasha was a "British Agent." The 1936 Treaty provides for the establishment of a military alliance between Egypt and Great Britain and for the maintenance of British forces in Egypt for 20 years. Egypt has asked for evacuation of all foreign troops and a revision of the status of the Sudan, which is now jointly controlled by Britain and Egypt. In her reply to the Egyptian request. Britain agreed to undertake revision of the treaty. (Port Arthur News, Texas.)


1946: Egypt Riots The Abilene Reporter, Texas - February 10, 1946.