641.74/4–1451: Despatch

The Ambassador in Egypt ( Caffery ) to the Department of State 1

top secret
No. 2474

Ref: Embtels 1045 April 12, 1040 April 11, 1039 April 9, 1034 April 9, London tel 155 April 6; Embdespatches 2447 April 11, 1942 February 132

Subject: Current Status of Anglo-Egyptian Negotiations.

Stevenson’s return and the resumption of the Anglo-Egyptian negotiations have again brought this problem to the forefront of the Egyptian political scene. Interest has been heightened by the uncertainty as to whether Stevenson had received his final instructions and by the atmosphere of secrecy which Salaheddin, with his love of the dramatic, has thrown around the negotiations.

As reported in the reference telegram, the first stage of the negotiations took place in an old palace on Rhoda Island (located in the Nile river near the center of Cairo). This meeting lasted approximately half an hour. Stevenson presented Salaheddin with an outline of the British proposals (along lines indicated in London tel 155 April 6).3 He also gave Salaheddin a “bit of paper” on the Sudan [Page 362] which emphasized that the British government regarded the question of the Sudan as being entirely separate from the question of evacuation, and that in any event, no final decision on the Sudan could be taken without consulting the people themselves.

Salaheddin read through the outline carefully and then stated that, while he would of course have to refer the matter to the Cabinet (meaning in this case the “Little Cabinet” designated for the negotiations: Nahas Pasha, Mohamed Fuad Seraggedin, Salaheddin, and Ibrahim Farag, see EmbDespatch 2447 April 11 and Embtel 1034 April 9), it was his, Salaheddin’s personal opinion that the proposals were not acceptable. Shortly after this meeting, Salaheddin telephoned Stevenson personally and again emphasized the desire for secrecy in regard to the meeting—at least until Saturday (April 14). Although a number of Egyptian reporters were aware of the meeting, the government’s directives to the press were so strict that not one word appeared in the local press.

In the meantime, the local BBC correspondent had cleared through the British Embassy a story regarding the meeting. (The meeting was so secret that even the Press Section of the British Embassy had been kept in the dark.) The story was broadcast by the BBC at least once before the Embassy was able to get a message in to play down and camouflage the item.

Since Stevenson had been informed that the King had issued instructions that the Cabinet group charged with the negotiations was not to make any decisions without consulting him, Stevenson arranged for copies of the documents which he had given Salaheddin to be sent to the King secretly through Hassan Youssef Pasha, Acting Chief of the Royal Cabinet. To date there has been no reaction from the palace to this move.

As reported in the reference telegram, the British Embassy had just received instructions as to how the question of the Sudan was to be handled. The British proposals with regard to the Sudan are essentially those outlined in the EmbDespatch 1942 of February 13, with the exception that the proposed Anglo-Egyptian-Sudanese Supervisory Council would be a Tripartite Commission which would formulate proposals for the constitutional future of the Sudan.

It is evident that the British still feel that they will be able to maneuver the Egyptians into an uncomfortable position on the Sudan by putting up proposals which, if refused, would place Egypt on record as being opposed to the principle of self-determination.

If we analyze the current status of the negotiations, we find the following situation exists as of the time of writing this despatch:

Stevenson has returned with proposals which are not nearly as mild or acceptable as Bevin’s “preliminary thinking” which was outlined to Salaheddin before he left London early in the year.
Stevenson has been given some of the leeway in handling the negotiations which he desired (Embtel 1039 April 9). However, he has been given the almost incredibly difficult job of selling the Egyptians something that they have repeatedly and publicly announced that they would not accept.
Stevenson is also faced with the fact that even if the Egyptians should unexpectedly turn tractable, and agree to the new proposals, there is a distinct possibility that the Labor Government would wish to stall still further because of its fear that no agreement with Egypt could muster sufficient votes to get through Parliament (against a combination of Conservatives and Labor back-benchers). The Labor Government, according to Stevenson is trying desperately to stall off an election until the fall when it believes it will have a better chance.
The British Embassy believes that there is a possibility that the stalling tactics may prove successful because of the fact that the present Wafdist government is afraid to stir up local disturbances as it fears that it could not control these disturbances once they were started and that they might turn against the government itself. For this reason it is possible that the Wafdists would prefer “no agreement” to a “bad agreement”, which in itself might cause disturbances which the government would be unable to control.
Insofar as current threats of “boycott” of the British forces in the Canal Zone and withdrawal of some 40,000 Egyptian workers there, the British Embassy is not overly concerned. It feels that the British forces have a commanding position in that they could retaliate effectively without use of force. For instance, they control the pipeline which supplies Cairo with gasoline and important communication facilities with the outside world. The British Embassy believes that the present government is conscious of the fact that two can play the boycott game, and that it will attempt to control extremist demands for this type of action.
In any event, most observers feel that the Egyptian government will go along with the British stalling tactics at least until after the King’s wedding on May 6. The King obviously would not wish for untoward disturbances to take place just before his wedding, and he has sufficient influence with the present government to prevent it from taking any precipitate action.

Jefferson Caffery
  1. Drafted by Gordon H. Mattison, Counselor of Embassy in Cairo; copy to London.
  2. None of the references is printed except despatch 1942, p. 344.
  3. The proposals which Ambassador Stevenson presented to the Egyptian Government at this time were communicated to the Department of State by the First Secretary of the British Embassy at Washington, D. A. Greenhill, on April 27. See memorandum by Wells Stabler, infra.