Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Movement To Democratize Egypt: A People's History of Egypt--Part 8: 1922-1923 Period

(The following article was first posted on The Rag Blog on September 2, 2013)

In 1922 “the British decided unilaterally…to allow Egypt formal independence…because of the realistic possibility that the 1919 Revolution could recur,” according to Selma Botman’s Egypt from Independence to Revolution, 1919-1952. Yet despite obtaining its formal independence from UK imperialism Feb. 28, 1922, “Egypt of the pre-Nasser period was dominated by foreigners: the British controlled the upper levels of the military and the government, and people of various European nationalities owned and operated the banks, hotels, textile factories, and insurance companies,” according to the same book. Although the UK-selected Sultan Ahmad Fuad was now officially the King of a formally independent Egyptian monarchical government in March 1922, the UK government still “retained the right to maintain the security of British imperial communications through Egypt (i.e., the Suez Canal),” according to Jason Thompson’s A History of Egypt; and during the next few decades “more than once Royal Navy warships appeared before the palace windows in Alexandria when the British wanted a controversial decision to go their way,” “a strong British military presence remained in Egypt, not only in the canal zone but also in Alexandria and in Cairo, where the British army barracks stood in the middle of town on the site now occupied by the Nile Hilton Hotel,” and “a British high commissioner…was quite willing to intervene,” according to the same book
.
So, despite the monarchical government’s censorship policy, during the next few years “between 15,000 and 20,000 workers” in Egypt “were influenced by” the anti-imperialist Egyptian Socialist Party’s labor activism, according to Tareq Y. Ismael and Rifa‘at El-Sa’id’s The Communist Movement in Egypt: 1920-1988.
Party activists mobilized workers, organized meetings and recruited new members in the Alexandria and al-Mahulah al industrial districts of Egypt; and one of the Egyptian Socialist Party’s founders, Joseph Rosenthal, organized 3,000 Egyptian workers to become members of the General Union of Workers (Itihad al-Naqabot al-‘Am) before being expelled from the Egyptian Socialist Party in December 1922 for opposing the party’s decision to accept the Comintern’s requirements for being affiliated to the Comintern.

Between August 1921 and April 1922, Egyptian workers in 50 different Egyptian workplaces were mobilized to fight for improved labor conditions in 91 separate strike actions. Tram workers in Alexandria , for example, went on strike for 42 days and Cairo ’s tram workers went on strike for 102 days; and workers at the Shell Oil Refinery in Egypt went on strike for 113 days. And, by late 1922, the Egyptian Socialist Party had recruited around 400 members in its Alexandria branch and about 1,100 members in its branches in other Egyptian cities; and the General Union of Workers--that Egyptian Socialist Party members led—now had about 20,000 members.

After affiliating with the Third International’s Comintern, the Egyptian Socialist Party then changed its name to the Egyptian Communist Party; and, led by a Central Committee which Hosni al-‘Arabi’ chaired, adopted the following program for the democratization of Egyptian society in its January 1923 meeting: 1. nationalization of the Suez Canal ; 2. the liberation and unification of Egypt and the Sudan; 3. the repudiation of all Egyptian state debts and foreign capitulation agreements; 4. an 8-hour workday; 5. equal pay for Egyptian and foreign workers in Egypt; 6. abolition of land tenancy agreements in which Egyptian peasants had to pay 50 percent of the crop on rented land to large landowners; 7. the cancellation of the debts of all Egyptian peasants who owned less than 10 feddans of land; and 8. the restriction of landownership by individual landlords in Egypt to no more than 100 feddans.

To prevent the development of an anti-imperialist leftist movement of workers and intellectuals in Egypt during the early 1920s, however, “a special bureau” had been “established” by the UK-backed Egyptian Ministry of the Interior in 1921 “to monitor the activities” of the Egyptian Socialist Party; and “in their opposition to socialist activists the British found allies within the Egyptian bourgeoisie and religious circles,” according to The Communist Movement in Egypt: 1920-1988.

In addition, a Constitution for Egypt, “written by Egyptian legal experts who were sympathetic to the king and the British,” was also decreed on Apr. 19, 1923 which set up an Egyptian Senate and Chamber of Deputies--with members elected only by Egyptian men, “except for the two-fifths of the Senate who were appointed by the king” of Egypt, according to Egypt from Independence to Revolution, 1919-1952. This same Egyptian Constitution of 1923 also “gave excessive power to the monarch, who was granted authority to dismiss cabinets, dissolve parliament and appoint and unseat prime ministers,” according to the same book.

And besides holding excessive political power under the April 1923 Egyptian Constitution, “the royal family of Egyptian King Fuad also “owned about one-tenth of the arable land in Egypt ” in 1923, according to A History of Egypt. Yet, according to the Encyclopedia Judaica, the Egyptian monarchical government’s minister of finance and communications in 1923, Joseph Cattaui, was apparently of Jewish religious background.

(end of part 8)

Friday, August 1, 2014

Black Worker `Not Seasonally Adjusted' Unemployment Rate Increases To 12.2 Percent In July 2014

The official “not seasonally adjusted” unemployment rate for all Black workers (youth, male and female) increased from 11.1 to 12.2 percent between June and July 2014; while the total number of unemployed Black workers in the United States increased by 248,000 (from 2,107,000 to 2,355,000) during the same period, according to the “not seasonally adjusted” Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

The official “not seasonally adjusted” jobless rate for Black male workers over 20 years-of-age in the United States increased from 10.6 to 11.5 percent between June and July 2014; while the official “not seasonally adjusted’ unemployment rate for Black female workers over 20 years-of-age increased from 9.3 to 10.9 percent during the same period. In addition, between June and July 2014, the total number of unemployed Black female workers over 20 years-of age increased by 163,000 (from 893,000 to 1,056,000); while the total number of unemployed Black male workers over 20 years-of-age increased by 81,000 (from 922,000 to 1,003,000) according to the “not seasonally adjusted” data.

In July 2014, the official “not seasonally adjusted” jobless rate for Black youths between 16 and 19 years-of-age in the United States was still 36.8 percent; while the number of unemployed Black youths between 16 and 19 years-of-age increased by 3,000 (from 292,000 to 295,000) during the same period, according to the “not seasonally adjusted” data.

The official “not seasonally adjusted” jobless rate for Latino youths between 16 and 19 years-of-age increased from 28.3 to 29 percent between June and July 2014; while the number of unemployed Latino youths between 16 and 19 years-of-age increased by 30,000 (from 355,000 to 385,000) during the same period.

The official “not seasonally adjusted” jobless rate for white youths between 16 and 19 years-of-age was still 18.9 percent in July 2014; while the number of unemployed white youths between 16 and 19 years-of-age was still 1,059,000 during that same month, according to the “not seasonally adjusted” data. In addition, in July 2014, the official “not seasonally adjusted” unemployment rate for all youths between 16 and 19 years-of-age was still 21.1 percent; while the total number of all unemployed youths between 16 and 19 years-of-age was still 1,483,000 during that same month, according to the “not seasonally adjusted” data.

The official “not seasonally adjusted” jobless rate for all Latino workers (male, female and youth) in the United States increased from 7.8 to 7.9 percent between June and July 2014; while the total number of unemployed Latino workers in the United States increased by 19,000 (from 1,988,000 to 2,007,000) during the same period, according to the “not seasonally adjusted” data.

The official “not seasonally adjusted” unemployment rate for Latina female workers over 20 years-of-age increased from 7.2 to 7.7 percent between June and July 2014; while the official “not seasonally adjusted” jobless rate for Latino male workers over 20 years-of-age was still 6 percent in July 2014.. In addition, the number of unemployed Latino female workers over 20 years-of-age increased by 40,000 (from 735,000 to 775,000) between June and July 2014, according to the “not seasonally adjusted” data.

In July 2014, the official “not seasonally adjusted” jobless rate for all Asian-American workers was still 4.5 percent; while the “not seasonally adjusted” number of Asian-American workers who were still in the U.S. labor force decreased by 29,000 (from 8,746,000 to 8,717,000) during the same month..

The official “not seasonally adjusted” unemployment rate for white male workers over 20 years-of-age was still 4.6 percent in July 2014; while the “not seasonally adjusted” jobless rate for white female workers over 20 years-of-age increased from 4.9 to 5.5 percent between June and July 2014. In addition, the number of unemployed white female workers over 20 years-of-age increased by 277,000 (from 2,671,000 to 2,948,000) between June and July 2014, according to the “not seasonally adjusted” data; while the total “not seasonally adjusted” number of unemployed white workers (male, female and youth) increased by 110,000 (from 6,858,000 to 6,968,000) during the same period.

The official “not seasonally adjusted” unemployment rate for all female workers over 20 years-of-age increased from 5.5 to 6.3 percent between June and July 2014; while the official “not seasonally adjusted” unemployment rate for all male workers over 20 years-of-age was still 5.5 percent in June 2014. In addition, the total number of all unemployed female workers over 20 years-of-age increased by 543,000 (from 3,843,000 to 4,386,000) June and July 2014, according to the “not seasonally adjusted” data; while the total “not seasonally adjusted” number of all unemployed male workers over 16 years-of-age was still 5,220,000 in July 2014.

Between June and July 2014, the official “not seasonally adjusted” unemployment rate for all U.S. workers (male, female and youth) increased from 6.3 to 6.5 percent; while the total number of unemployed workers in the United States increased from 9,893,000 to 10,307,000 during the same period, according to the “not seasonally adjusted” data.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ August 1, 2014 press release:

“…The unemployment rate was little changed at 6.2 percent…Both the unemployment rate (6.2 percent) and the number of unemployed persons (9.7 million) changed little in July….Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rate for adult women increased to 5.7 percent and the rate for blacks edged up to 11.4 percent in July…The rates for adult men (5.7 percent), teenagers (20.2 percent), whites (5.3 percent), and Hispanics (7.8 percent) showed little or no change in July...

"The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was essentially unchanged at 3.2 million in July. These individuals accounted for 32.9 percent of the unemployed...

"The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons (sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers), at 7.5 million, was unchanged in July. These individuals were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job.

"In July, 2.2 million persons were marginally attached to the labor force..These individuals were not in the labor force, wanted and were available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey.

"Among the marginally attached, there were 741,000 discouraged workers in July…Discouraged workers are persons not currently looking for work because they believe no jobs are available for them…
.

“Employment in temporary help services changed little over the month…Employment in health care changed little over the month, with job gains in ambulatory health care services (+21,000) largely offset by losses in hospitals (-7,000) and nursing care facilities (-6,000)…Employment in leisure and hospitality changed little in July…Employment in…wholesale trade, transportation and warehousing, information, financial activities, and government, showed little change in July…”

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Movement To Democratize Egypt: A People's History of Egypt--Part 7: 1917-1921 Period

(The following article was originally posted on The Rag Blog on August 20, 2013)


Despite the 1882 to 1956 occupation of Egypt by UK imperialists, until 1914 Egypt was still considered to be a legal part of Turkey ’s Ottoman Empire . But after Turkey ’s Ottoman dynasty rulers--on Oct. 29, 1914--allied with German imperialism during World War I, on Nov. 2, 1914 “the British declared martial law in Egypt ” and “imposed censorship,” according to Jason Thompson’s A History of Egypt. Then, on Dec. 18, 1914, “the British government severed Egypt’s ceremonial connection with the Turks and declared the country a British protectorate, changing its territorial status and regularizing Anglo control,” according to Selma Botman’s Egypt from Independence to Revolution, 1919-1952; and on Dec. 19, 1914, the UK imperialists “deposed Abbas Hilmy II” as Egypt’s official ruler “for having `definitely thrown in his lot with his Majesty’s enemies’” and “replaced Abbas with his uncle Husein Kamil, an elderly man, easily managed,” who “was given the title of sultan,” according to A History of Egypt.

But Egypt from Independence to Revolution, 1919-1952 noted how more direct and overt UK imperialist rule after 1914 brought increased national oppression to most people in Egypt :

“As World War I progressed, the British became more aggressive in their efforts to control the entire country. In addition to British civil servants who were brought to Cairo to run the bureaucracy, British Empire troops swarmed the larger cities. With the war came high inflation and a degree of hardship that was painful to the majority of the population. In consequence, Anglo-Egyptian hostility deepened…Military authorities forced the peasants to exchange grain, cotton, and livestock for limited compensation.”

As A History of Egypt also recalled:

“…Large numbers of men were conscripted into auxiliary forces such as the Camel Corps and the Labor Corps. Beginning in 1916, desperate for soldiers, the British began drafting Egyptians into the army. The British also conscripted people’s livestock, taking the donkeys and camels that were often necessary for subsistence…The tightness of the British grip on Egypt became glaringly apparent when Sultan Husein Kamil died in October 1917 and the British…altered the terms of succession so that he was succeeded not by his son, who was viewed as anti-British, but by his half-brother Ahmed Fuad…”

So, not surprisingly, near the end of World War I an Egyptian “nationalist leader, Saad Zaghlul, with support from the entire country, openly demanded” from the UK imperialist government “that Egypt be allowed to determine” its “own destiny;” and “in November 1918, an Egyptian delegation of nationalist politicians and well-paid notables was formed”—that “became the nucleus” of the Egyptian landowning elite’s nationalist Wafd party—“and prepared itself to represent Egypt at the postwar conference in Paris,” according to Egypt from Independence to Revolution, 1919-1952. But on Mar. 8, 1919, UK authorities in Egypt arrested Zaghlul and his political associates and deported them to Malta . Yet in response to these arrests, according to the same book, the following happened:

“Within days, the country erupted in revolt, protesting against the deportation of Zaghlul, the British occupation and Britain ’s refusal to allow Egyptian nationalists to represent their country in negotiations to determine Egypt ’s postwar status. Students, government employees, workers, lawyers, and professionals took to the streets…demonstrating, protesting…Throughout the country, British installations were attacked, railway lines damaged, and the nationalist movement gained credibility.”

And, according to A History of Egypt, “by the time the British rushed in troops and restored order later in the month, more than 1,000 Egyptians were dead from the violence, as were 36 British military personnel and 4 British civilians.”

Zaghlul and his imprisoned Wafd colleagues were then released on Apr. 7, 1919—following what became known as the “Egyptian Revolution of 1919”—and were now allowed to attend the post-World War I peace conference in Paris to demand political independence from UK imperialism for Egypt. When the Egyptian nationalist leaders arrived, however, in Paris “the American envoy recognized Britain ’s protectorate over Egypt ;” and “ Egypt ’s right to self-rule was not established” in 1919, according to Egypt from Independence to Revolution, 1919-1952.

Although Egyptian labor movement activists and Egyptian workers joined with nationalist Egyptian businesspeople in making a nationalist Egyptian revolution in 1919, “the revolution did not produce any movement toward labor reform” in Egypt; “and the alliance between labor and the bourgeoisie quickly dissipated” in Egypt, according to Tareq Y. Ismael and Rifa‘at El-Sa’id’s The Communist Movement in Egypt: 1920-1988.

So Egyptian labor organizer “Rosenthal and Egyptian intellectuals committed to the labor movement—among the most prominent were Hosni al-‘Arabi, Ali Al’-‘Anony, Salamah Musa, and Mohammed ‘Abdallah ‘Anan—set out to establish an Egyptian Socialist Party (“al-Hizb al-Ishtiraki al-Misr”) with Egyptian members who would represent the unionized workers,” according to the same book. And in August 1921, they founded the Egyptian Socialist Party.

The Egyptian Socialist Party then opened a party headquarters office in Cairo and established branches of the Egyptian Socialist Party in Alexandria , Tanta , Shibin al-Kawm and Mansura. But when the party “applied for a license to publish a newspaper “ it was denied a license “because of its opposition to British and government policy” in Egypt , according to The Communist Movement in Egypt : 1920-1988. In its Aug. 28, 1921 program the Egyptian Socialist Party had demanded, for example, “the liberation of Egypt from the tyranny of imperialism and the expulsion of imperialism from the entire Nile Valley;” and in a Dec. 22, 1921 manifesto, the Egyptian Socialist Party also declared that it would “maintain its socialist program and” would “not renounce the struggle against the Egyptian capitalist tyrants and oppressors, accomplices and associates of the tyrannical foreign domination.”

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Movement To Democratize Egypt: A People's History of Egypt--Part 6: 1890 to 1917 Period

(The following article was originally posted on The Rag Blog on August 13, 2013)
As long ago as 1890, some leftist activists and intellectuals who lived in UK imperialist and Ottoman Empire-dominated Egypt were attempting to create a democratic political system in Egypt that also distributed the national wealth of Egypt to its workers and peasants in a more equitable way. In 1890, for example, “the earliest formal presentation in Egypt of Marxist theory” was published in “the influential” Egyptian journal al-Mua’yyad,” according to Tareq Y. Ismael and Rifa‘at El-Sa’id’s 1990 book The Communist Movement in Egypt : 1920-1988. And, according to the same book, “documents prove that communist cells existed in the Greek immigrant communities of Cairo and Alexandria as early as 1894.”

But as early as 1894, activists living in Egypt who wanted to see Egyptian society politically and economically democratized were apparently being arrested by Egyptian government police. As The Communist Movement in Egypt: 1920-1988, for example, also recalled, “an attempt by a Greek resident to distribute…leaflets was recorded in Egyptian newspapers on March 18, 1894” and “the police arrest record described the literature as `anarchist leaflet’ calling for the workers to celebrate the anniversary of the Paris Commune of 1871.”

Greek immigrant workers who lived in Egypt and worked for the foreign-owned Suez Canal Company also went on strike for higher wages in 1895; and that same year a sponge merchant and labor organizer named Sakilarides Yanakakis (who also funded the communist movement in Egypt’s Greek immigrant community until the 1920s) was able to organize shoe workers (who were mostly workers of Armenian and Greek ethnic background) into Egypt’s first labor union.

After immigrating to Egypt around 1899 and becoming an Egyptian citizen (when around 25,000 people of Jewish religious background then lived in Egypt ), another labor organizer, Joseph Rosenthal, also began organizing workers who lived in Egypt into labor unions during the first quarter of the 20th century. As Rosenthal recalled in an article he later wrote:

“The first union in which I participated in its formation was the Union of the Cigarette Workers. After that I participated in the formation of several unions for the tailors, miners, and printers. These unions mostly belonged to foreign workers because the national workers at that time [in Egypt ] were a minority in all crafts and fields relative to their foreign colleagues.”

Between 1907 and 1917, the number of blue collar workers in Egyptian society then increased from 489,296 to 639,929. But “any efforts at organized labor” in Egypt “for improvement of its conditions were perceived by British intelligence and Egyptian security forces as…subversion and harshly put down by the government,” according to Tareq Y. Ismael and Rifa‘at El-Sa’id’s The Communist Movement in Egypt: 1920-1988.

Egyptian students returning from Europe and Egyptian intellectuals who attempted to popularize socialist or Marxist ideas among people who lived in Egypt were also subject to police repression in Egypt prior to 1917. After Egyptian intellectual Mustafa Hassanain al-Mansuri wrote and published his book, Tarikh al-Mathahib al-Istirakiyab (“The history of socialist ideologies”) in 1915, for example, “al-Mansuri was treated as a conspirator,” his book was confiscated, his house was searched, and “he was temporarily arrested,” according to The Communist Movement in Egypt: 1920-1988. In the final chapter (titled “Egypt and Socialism”) of his book, al-Mansuri had proposed the enactment of democratic reforms within Egyptian society such as the following: 1. the enactment of laws which guaranteed free elections; 2. the dissolving of the Egyptian legislature every 3 years; 3. a legislative representative for every 100,000 Egyptians; 4. a law which prohibited polygamy in Egypt; 5. the emancipation of Egyptian women after education was spread among them; 6. acceptance by the Egyptian government of Egyptian women as government clerical workers; 7. pensions for Egyptian senior citizens; 8. free education for people who lived in Egypt; and 9. social democratic economic reforms.

During the last three-quarters of the 19th century, much of the Egyptian state-owned land that Muhammad Ali had expropriated from the Mamluks and waqf  religious orders had eventually been granted by Muhammad Ali and his successors to “a new Turkish-speaking aristocracy that owned vast estates,” according to Jason Thompson’s A History of Egypt. And by the beginning of World War I around 44 percent of the land in Egypt was then owned by just 12,400 people whose average landholding was 50 feddans; and around 12 percent of these large Egyptian landowners were foreign landowners. In contrast, 11,190,000 people in rural Egypt —representing 91 percent of the rural landowning population-then owned less than 5 feddans of land.  So a social democratic agrarian economic reform was especially needed in rural Egypt by 1915.

(end of part 6)

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Movement To Democratize Egypt: A People's History of Egypt--Part 5: 1879-1890 Period

(The following article was originally posted on The Rag Blog on August 6, 2014)

As Selma Botman noted in Egypt from Independence to Revolution, 1919-1952, by 1876 “in essence France and Britain began to control Egypt ’s economy,” although Egypt continued to be officially part of Turkey ’s Ottoman Empire . So, not surprisingly, in September 1881, an Egyptian “military officer and Egyptian patriot, Ahmed Urabi, led an anti-government, anti-foreign revolt, directing his protest against both the Turkish pashas, who controlled most civil, military, and social posts…and the Europeans,” according to the same book. And a combined UK and French naval force of gunboats then arrived near Alexandria , Egypt on May 19, 1882 and anchored offshore.

In response, “”inflamed popular resentment…exploded in Alexandria on June 11 [1882] in anti-European riots that killed over 2,000 Egyptians and 50 Europeans,” according to Jason Thompson’s History of Egypt The French government’s naval force then sailed away from Alexandria . But the UK gunboats remained anchored offshore and shelled Alexandria and its residents on July 11, 1882; and, in August 1882, UK troops invaded the Suez Canal Zone and began the UK government’s military occupation of Egypt .

The following month, Ahmed Urabi’s troops were defeated on Sept. 13, 1882 by the UK troops, Urabi was exiled to Ceylon/Sri Lanka by the UK government, and the son of Khedive Ismail, Khedive Tewfik, (whom the UK government had pressured the Turkish sultan to name in 1879 as Egypt’s local ruler) was allowed to officially govern Egypt until 1892 as a UK puppet, until he was succeeded as the formal Egyptian ruler by Abbas Hilmy II. But, in actuality, according to The Rough Guide To Egypt, “from 1883 to 1907, Egypt was controlled by the British Consul General, Sir Evelyn Baring, later Lord Cromer, who coined the term `Veiled Protectorate’ to describe the relationship between the two countries.”

A History of Egypt described in the following way how UK imperialism and Lord Cromer operated their “Veiled Protectorate” in Egypt after it was occupied militarily by UK troops in 1882:

“Cromer’s official position in Egypt was…British consul general, yet he wielded power that many kings and sultans might have envied. His authority rested on no formal basis. Legally, Egypt was still a province in the Ottoman Empire …The khedive still governed nominally through his ministers, who exercised control over their ministries. In fact, the khedive could be controlled; he knew he owed his throne to the British; and alongside each of the government ministers was a British `adviser’ whose advice carried the force of command. Cromer referred to the arrangement as the `dummy-Minister-plus-English-adviser’ system of government…Ministers soon learned that they would lose their posts if they paid no heed to their advisers. The long-serving prime minister during Cromer’s rule, Mustafa Fahmi, was noted for his subservience to the British. Cromer’s position was further strengthened by the presence of a British military garrison nearly 10,000 strong, while the Royal Navy could appear at Alexandria or Suez at any time, and the police forces in the cities were under European command…

“The British record in education was atrocious in Egypt…He imposed tuition fees…The British never spent more than 3 percent of the budget on education. They ignored demands for a national university, fearing it would become a center of nationalism…"

As Egypt from Independence to Revolution, 1919-1952 observed, UK imperialism “occupied Egypt for both financial and strategic reasons, gaining a decisive voice in all areas of Egyptian life” and the UK imperialist “occupation” of Egypt “lasted until 1956 in various forms.”

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Movement To Democratize Egypt: A People's History of Egypt--Part 4: 1849-1879

(The following article was originally posted on The Rag Blog website on July 29, 2013)

In 1841 the sultan of Turkey ’s Ottoman Empire had “bestowed the hereditary rule of Egypt on Muhammad Ali and his family,” according to Jason Thompson’s History of Egypt. So a grandson of Muhammad Ali, Pasha Abbas Hilmy I, succeeded Muhammad Ali as Egypt ’s ruler between 1848 and July 1854—at which time Abbas Hilmy I was murdered by two of his slaves. But during his six years as pasha,  Abbas Hilmy I “closed the country’s factories and secular schools and opened Egypt to free trade, thus retarding industrialization” of the Egyptian economy, according to The Rough Guide to Egypt.

Following the murder of Abbas Hilmy I, a son of Muhammad Ali--Pasha Muhammad Said--ruled Egypt between 1854 and 1863; and after coming to power, Muhammad Said gave a concession to build the Suez Canal that connects the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea to a childhood friend: a French consul and engineer named Ferdinand de Lesseps. In exchange for granting the concession to Lesseps and agreeing to provide the Egyptian workers whose labor was required to dig the Suez Canal, Muhammad Said was awarded “personal ownership of 15 percent of the shares of the Suez Canal Company, with another 15 percent going to Egypt” and “through purchase of additional shares, Said’s stake in the company eventually rose to 44 percent,” according to A History of Egypt.  But many of the Egyptian peasants who were conscripted to dig the Suez Canal between 1859 and its completion in 1869 lost their lives while the canal was being built. As the same book recalled:

“…Some 20,000 peasants were conscripted every month, herded to the canal zone, and put to work. That meant that every month, 20,000 conscript laborers were on their way to the canal zone, 20,000 were actually at work there, and another 20,000 were returning to their homes, so that during the course of a year, more than 500,000 laborers were involved with the canal in one way or another, and this process continued for 10 years. Working conditions were often horrific; sometimes men had to dig with their bare hands, paid only a pitiful allowance, with barely enough food to sustain them. Dredging machines (paid for by Egypt ) were not used extensively until the final phase of work on the canal.”

Estimates of how many Egyptian workers died during construction of the Suez Canal vary. According to A History of Egypt :

“The number of lives lost from neglect, overwork, malnutrition, or accident has been estimated at the same number as the basic quota of workers: 20,000. Such a large continuing drain on Egyptian manpower at a time when the total population of the country was perhaps 5 million created general economic difficulties…Antislavery societies…strongly objected to what could be considered slave labor…”

But according to The Palestine Book Project’s 1977 book, Our Roots Are Still Alive: The Story of the Palestinian People, “over 125,000 Egyptians…died building the canal for the British Empire ,” including those Egyptian workers who died of cholera during the 10 years of construction.

After Muhammad Said’s death in 1863, another son of Muhammad Ali named Ismail—whose status was changed from “pasha” to “khedive” by the Turkish sultan in 1866 after Ismail agreed to pay more money in tribute to the Istanbul government-- became Egypt ’s ruler until 1879.

By 1865, “the value of Egyptian cotton exports had risen to a level more than ten times higher” than in 1860, after Europe ’s supply of cotton from the South was cut off by the U.S. Civil war, according to A History of Egypt. But when the value of Egyptian cotton exports decreased by 50 percent in the late 1860s, Khedive Ismail’s government borrowed heavily from mostly UK and French banks and investors to finance Khedive Ismail’s lavish palace lifestyle, his road, bridge and railroad construction projects, the expansion of his Egyptian army from 25,000 to 120,000 troops and his attempts to establish more Egyptian control over parts of Sudanese territory to the south of Egypt. As a result, as the same book observed:

By the mid-1870s, Ismail was desperate. One-third of Egypt ’s revenue was going to service the debt. In 1875 he sold his shares in the Suez Canal Company to Britain ...but that exhausted his assets, and his credit had reached its limit. The following year, Egypt stopped making payments on its loans. The country was bankrupt…Ismail had to agree to the formation of a European commission to manage the debt…Two Controllers, one British and one French, oversaw collection of revenues to make debt payments…They instituted an austerity program of cuts and expenditures that caused widespread hardships…


“[Egyptian] Army officers whose pay had been severely cut rioted, probably at the instigation of Ismail…He dismissed the Dual Control…But these initiatives merely convinced France and Britain that Ismail had to go…On June 25, 1879…two telegrams arrived from Istanbul…Ismail learned that he had been deposed and replaced by his 27-year-old son. It had been a fairly simple matter for Britain and France to pressure the sultan to act in the interests of those countries’ bondholders…”

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Movement to Democratize Egypt: A People's History of Egypt--Part 3: 1805-1849 Period


(The following article was originally posted on The Rag Blog website on July 21, 2013)

Nearly two years after Muhammad Ali began ruling the Ottoman Turkish Empire’s Egyptian province, UK troops landed in Alexandria in March, 1807 and attempted to establish a permanent military base in Egypt at that time. But “when the British sought to extend their control…the result was fiasco” and “many British soldiers were killed” by Muhammad Ali’s troops; and the remaining UK troops in Egypt were compelled to withdraw from Egypt after September 1807, according to Jason Thompson’s A History of Egypt.
Then, according to the same book, in 1811 Muhammad Ali ended the remaining influence of the neo-Mamluk military elite in Egyptian society in the following way:

“…Muhammad Ali held a celebration in the Citadel [royal palace] on Mar. 1, 1811…He invited all the principal people of Cairo , including nearly 500 Mamluk amirs. Afterward, as the Mamluks were leaving through the Citadel’s descending Interior Road…they found the exit locked…Sharpshooters [of Muhammad Ali’s loyal troops] appeared on the walls and shot them dead. Another thousand were hunted down and killed in Cairo over the next few days…”

Egyptian Pasha Muhammad Ali next confiscated “the vast estates” of the slain Mamluks and the 20 percent of all Egyptian agricultural land that was owned by the religious endowments, or waqfs, and revised the Egyptian tax structure, so that “almost all of Egypt’s land came under state ownership” and he “could decree what to plant, then purchase the produce at a low price set by the state and export it for cash,” according to A History of Egypt. Instead of just subsistence crops being grown on Egyptian agricultural land, more cash crops that earned foreign exchange--like the cotton that became Egypt’s major export crop in the years after it was introduced in Egypt in 1821--were now grown on the state-owned land; and Muhammad Ali used the foreign exchange income to attempt to modernize Egypt’s economy by “building…factories and canals,” according to The Rough Guide To Egypt

Muhammad Ali’s public works program of constructing 32 canals, 10 dikes and 41 dams and barrages with conscripted Egyptian workers brought large amounts of new agricultural land into cultivation.  In addition, as a result of his public works program of building factories in Egypt that produced textile, sugar, munitions, ships and other manufactured goods, “Egypt became the leading industrial nation in the eastern Mediterranean” by the late 1830s, according to A History of Egypt.

By also conscripting Egyptian peasants into his military force, Muhammad Ali increased its size to 250,000 men, used his military force to occupy Sudan in the 1820 and “Egypt became the major military power in the eastern Mediterranean, making Muhammad Ali much stronger than his nominal master, the sultan in Istanbul,” according to the same book. But after “the pasha became impatient with recognizing the sultan as his master” and “decided to move for independence” for Egypt in 1838, “a British force anchored at Alexandria” in 1839 and compelled him to reduce the size of his Egyptian military and no longer seek Egyptian independence from the Ottoman Empire of Turkey (which the UK government then supported), according to A History of Egypt.

Large numbers of Egyptians who were also drafted to work on Muhammad Ali’s various public works projects, however, apparently lost their lives while working on the canal construction projects. As A History of Egypt, for example, recalled:

“One of the canals, the Mahmudiya, ran for 72 kilometers between Alexandria and the western branch of the Nile . It was constructed between 1817 and 1820 with…labor of as many as 300,000 conscripted workers (of whom between 12,000 and 100,000 are said to have died, according to widely varying accounts)…”

And the same book also indicated how large numbers of Egyptians suffered under Muhammad Ali’s undemocratic rule and his “modernization” policies:

“Muhammad Ali’s accomplishments came at a heavy price to the Egyptian people. The degree of control that the pasha exerted in Egypt was probably unprecedented since ancient times…Every productive strip of land, every palm tree, every donkey, everything that could represent value was assessed and taxed at the maximum it could bear….The people complained incessantly, but they obeyed, for the pasha’s authority was absolute. A simple horizontal motion of his hand meant execution…”

Although an “outbreak of bubonic plague in 1834-35 carried away as much as a third of Cairo’s population” during the years that Muhammad Ali undemocratically ruled people in Egypt, according to A History of Egypt, some improvement in Egypt’s health care system was apparently achieved by the end of this pasha’s rule in 1848 (when he became insane) and his subsequent death in August 1849.

(end of part 3)