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History, Qualified Independence

Wafd, downtown Cairo, real independence, parliamentary elections, Fascist Italy

In 1922 Britain declared Egypt an independent monarchy under Husseinís successor, who became king as Fuad I. The British reserved the right to intervene in Egyptian affairs if their interests were threatened, thereby robbing Egypt of any real independence and allowing British control to continue unabated. Egyptís politicians agreed in 1923 to draft a constitution making the country a constitutional monarchy. The Wafd won the first parliamentary elections, which were held in January 1924. The organizationís leader, Zaghlul, became prime minister and formed a cabinet. The Wafd government did not last long. In November 1924 the British commander of the Egyptian army was assassinated. The police investigation uncovered a nationwide network of terrorists with ties to the Wafd. Allenby handed Zaghlul a stern memorandum containing demands for Egyptís apology and reparations. Zaghlul accepted some of the demands but chose to resign rather than accept the others.

King Fuad, who saw the Wafd as a threat to his power, named a cabinet made up of politicians opposed to the Wafd. When new elections again resulted in a Wafd majority, the king locked the deputies out of parliament. The British exploited the rivalry between the Wafd and the king to prolong their occupation of Egypt. In 1930 Fuad, with the aid of anti-Wafd politicians, replaced the 1923 constitution with a new basic law that enhanced the power of the monarchy.

Fuad died in 1936 and was succeeded by his son, Faruk I. The government immediately restored the 1923 constitution and held free elections. The Wafd was again victorious and formed a new government.

In 1935 Italy, under Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, invaded and conquered Ethiopia, thus challenging Britainís position as the chief European power in northeastern Africa. The threat from Italy prompted the British and the Egyptian government to negotiate a treaty to resolve matters left outstanding since 1922. The treaty provided for an Anglo-Egyptian military alliance. It enabled Egypt to join the League of Nations and to establish its own embassies abroad. The terms of the alliance allowed British troops to remain in the Suez Canal zone but limited the total number of British troops in Egypt to 10,000 in peacetime. British troops were to evacuate Cairo and Alexandria as soon as the Egyptian government could build new barracks for them elsewhere.

When World War II broke out in 1939, Britain still had troops stationed in Egyptís major cities. The outbreak of war prompted Britain to increase its garrisons in the canal zone. Many Egyptian nationalists hoped that Britainís enemies, the Axis Powers (principally Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy), would win the war. The British ambassador to Egypt demanded that King Faruk appoint an all-Wafd government, since the Wafd had negotiated the terms of the 1936 treaty and would carry out Egyptís alliance obligations.

The Wafd government supported Britainís war efforts in Egypt. The government soon lost its credibility as an advocate for Egyptian nationalism. In a vain effort to maintain its credibility it instituted educational and social reforms in the early 1940s and even spearheaded the drive for Arab solidarity. That drive culminated in the formation of the Arab League in Cairo in 1945.

The war ended in 1945, and British troops left Cairo and Alexandria in 1946 but remained in the canal zone. As antiforeign sentiment intensified among Egyptians, disaffection with the Egyptian government also grew. The Muslim Brotherhood, an organization founded in 1928 to bring Islamic principles into government and society, gained prominence in the mid-1940s. The growth of labor unions and the prestige gained by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) by its victory over Nazi Germany in the war emboldened Egyptís Communist movement, although it remained fragmented.

In 1948 Egypt, along with other Arab countries, went to war in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent the establishment of the Jewish state of Israel in the historic region of Palestine. A UN armistice ended the fighting in 1949, with Israel securely established in most of what had been Palestine. Because of Israelís close ties with Britain and other Western nations, Egyptís defeat aggravated the antiforeign sentiment. The defeat also discredited King Faruk and inspired some Egyptian army officers to start plotting his overthrow. Although the Wafd won the parliamentary elections in 1950, it had lost many of its ablest politicians and failed to devise policies to stem the loss of public trust in the government. In January 1952 a confrontation in which British troops killed 50 Egyptian police officers sparked a mass demonstration in protest of the killings. Widespread looting and arson that destroyed much of downtown Cairo followed, further discrediting the king and the Wafd.

The armistice that ended the war with Israel gave Egypt control of a small region of Palestinian territory known as the Gaza Strip. This region remained under Egyptian administration until its capture by Israel in 1967.

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