|Gamal Abd al-Nasser>(photo: al-Majalla)|
In December, 1951, British troops in Egypt bulldozed fifty Egyptian mud brick houses to make way for a new road to a water supply for British military installations.
On January 25, 1952, British troops attacked the Egyptian police barracks in Ismailia after the police refused to surrender. Fifty Egyptian police officers were killed and one hundred were wounded. Egypt erupted in fury.
The next day, January 26, 1952 ("Black Saturday"), what many Egyptians call "the second revolution" broke out (the first was in the spring of 1919). An Egyptian "mob" burned Cairo targeting British interests (such as Shepheard's Hotel, BOAC offices, and the British Turf Club) in particular. Foreign observers who witnessed the burning of Cairo said it looked less like an unruly mob and more like a well-planned and disciplined action.
On July 23, 1952, a military coup occurred in Egypt, carried out by a group calling itself "The Free Officers" and led by General Muhammad Neguib. King Farouk sought the intervention of the United States, but to no avail. By the 25th, the army had occupied Alexandria, where the king was in residence at the Muntazah Palace. Now plainly terrified, Farouk abandoned Muntazah, and moved to Ras al-Tin Palace on the waterfront. Neguib ordered the captain of Farouk's yacht, "al-Mahrusa," not to sail without orders from the army. The order for Farouk to abdicate and depart into exile finally came on Saturday, July 26, 1952 and at 6 o'clock that evening, the king set sail for Italy.
Egyptian writer, Abd ar-Rahman ar-Rafai, chronicled the events in his Muqaddimat Thura Talata wa Ashreen Yulio Alf Tussamiyya Itnein wa Khamseen ("Prologues to the July 23, 1952 Revolution, (Cairo, 1956), pp. 150-153), an excerpt from which I have translated here:
"Citizens awoke on Wednesday morning, 23 July, 1952, and discovered that the revolution had occurred, and that the armed forces were taking up posts in some of the corners and streets in Cairo. At 7:30 a.m., they heard a broadcast station issue the first communiqué of the revolution in the name of Gen. Muhammad Neguib to the Egyptian people that stated the justification for the revolution. The voice everyone heard reading the message belonged to Free Officer and future president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat:
'Egypt has passed through a critical period in her recent history characterized by bribery, mischief, and the absence of governmental stability. All of these were factors that had a large influence on the army. Those who accepted bribes and were thus influenced caused our defeat in the Palestine War . As for the period following the war, the mischief-making elements have been assisting one another, and traitors have been commanding the army. They appointed a commander who is either ignorant or corrupt. Egypt has reached the point, therefore, of having no army to defend it. Accordingly, we have undertaken to clean ourselves up and have appointed to command us men from within the army whom we trust in their ability, their character, and their patriotism. It is certain that all Egypt will meet this news with enthusiasm and will welcome it. As for those whose arrest we saw fit from among men formerly associated with the army, we will not deal harshly with them, but will release them at the appropriate time. I assure the Egyptian people that the entire army today has become capable of operating in the national interest and under the rule of the constitution apart from any interests of its own. I take this opportunity to request that the people never permit any traitors to take refuge in deeds of destruction or violence because these are not in the interest of Egypt. Should anyone behave in such ways, he will be dealt with forcefully in a manner such as has not been seen before and his deeds will meet immediately the reward for treason. The army will take charge with the assistance of the police. I assure our foreign brothers that their interests, their personal safety [lit. "their souls"], and their property are safe, and that the army considers itself responsible for them. May God grant us success [lit. "God is the guardian of success.'"
The next day (24 July, 1952), Gen. Neguib broadcast the following communiqué concerning the reasons and purposes of the revolution. In it he said:
"'My brothers, sons of the Nile Valley, it is indeed incumbent upon me to speak with you, despite the great responsibilities I bear in these moments, in open terms, hiding nothing. I wish to speak with you myself to thwart what your enemies and the enemies of the nation might spread around in the way of biased, lowly rumors. The purposes of our movement, upon which from the first moment you bestowed your blessing, have been made crystal clear, this because you did not find in it any selfish flaw, nor any individual reaping private rewards, rather, that we seek reform and purification in the army and in every corner of the country, raising the banner of the constitution. Indeed, our movement has succeeded because it was carried out in your name, for your sake, and with your guidance. The faith that has filled our hearts has been received only from your hearts. Sons of my nation, everything is proceeding in a fine way, and we have prepared for every eventuality. Rest assured of the success of our blessed movement. Turn your hearts to Almighty, Powerful God and let us turn our backs on the past and face forward. Of God we ask that He guide our steps and purify our souls and that He aid us in building up our country to its maximum potential. I take this opportunity to assure you that everything is proceeding in a fine way. May the grace and blessings of God be upon you.'"
In the warning that Gen. Muhammad Neguib conveyed to King Farouk on 26 July upon the king's abdication, he provided a summary of the reasons for the revolution:
"'In view of what the country has suffered in the recent past, the complete vacuity prevailing in all corners as a result of your bad behavior, your toying with the constitution, and your disdain for the wants of the people, no one rests assured of life, livelihood, and honor. Egypt's reputation among the peoples of the world has been debased as a result of your excesses in these areas to the extent that traitors and bribe-takers find protection beneath your shadow in addition to security, excessive wealth, and many extravagances at the expense of the hungry and impoverished people. You manifested this during and after the Palestine War in the corrupt arms scandals and your open interference in the courts to try to falsify the facts of the case, thus shaking faith in justice. Therefore, the army, representing the power of the people, has empowered me to demand that Your Majesty abdicate the throne to His Highness Crown Prince Emir Ahmed Fuad, provided that this is accomplished at the fixed time of 12 o'clock noon today (Saturday, 26 July, 1952, the 4th of Zul Qa'ada, 1371), and that you depart the country before 6 o'clock in the evening of the same day. The army places upon Your Majesty the burden of everything that may result from your failure to abdicate according to the wishes of the people.'"
The officers moved quickly to institute land reform measures with the aim of taking the land out of the hands of many of the rich landowners and redistributing it among the fellaheen ("peasants"). Neguib, a highly respected officer who earned his reputation largely in the 1948 war, was a figurehead only. The real power was being wielded by a young army colonel named Gamal Abd al-Nasser.
Following the revolution, Nasser diverted some of the $12 million of CIA controlled funds provided by Kermit Roosevelt to promote anti-Communist interests in Egypt in order to construct the Cairo Tower. The tower opened in 1957 on Zamalek Island and became known locally as the "CIA Monument," or, in a more titillating vein, as "Roosevelt's Erection" (intisaab Roosevelt ).
Forty years after King Farouk sailed into exile, the legacy of the revolution showed signs of rough wear and tear. As Northfield Mount Hermon alumnus Max Rodenbeck indicates (Forty Years on From Egypt's Revolution, Middle East International, August 21, 1992, pp. 17-18), Cairo, once a magnificent city of taste and culture, the true capital of the Arab world, was choking under the masses of humanity still pouring into the city. Egypt's population rate was soaring, she had not been able to feed her people almost since the day the Free Officers took power, and the gap between rich and poor was as wide as it had ever been. The economy continued to suffocate beneath the tremendous weight of bureaucracy, inefficiency, and corruption, the irrepressible siblings of excessive central planning.