641.74/10–951: Despatch

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

No. 921

Ref: Embassy despatch 911 of October 9, 19512

Subject: First twenty-four hours in Egypt after Prime Minister’s abrogation speech

The address of Prime Minister Mustapha El Nahas Pasha in Parliament announcing the introduction of four laws in Parliament annulling the Egyptian acceptances of the Condominium Agreement of 1899 and the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 19363 began just twentyfour hours ago at 6 p. m. on October 8, 1951. It lasted one hour and twenty minutes and was heard by an at first surprised and then almost hysterically delighted personal and radio audience of Senators, Deputies, newspapermen, and, incidentally, the people of Egypt.

When the speech had reached its close: “For the sake of Egypt I signed the 1936 Treaty and for the sake of Egypt I call on you today to abrogate it”; bedlam broke out in the Parliament. Representatives of each of the Opposition parties called for and received the floor to shout wholehearted support of the Government’s action. The emotions of the moment were as irrational as the actions which the Prime Minister recommended, but there was no doubt then, and there has not been since, that regardless of the consequences and with no heed to the future, articulate Egypt was behind the Prime Minister to a man.

Throughout the evening of October 8, 1951, correspondents and political analysts were fully occupied, rejoicing, hailing, and prognosticating. Unlike the United States where this process would have occurred in full public view and hearing over television and radio hook-ups, in Egypt it was a front parlour experience—and almost any front parlour would do. Lights were burning most of the night in Political Clubs where in the midst of their enthusiasm Opposition leaders may well have been asking themselves if they had not been a little hasty in embracing a full scale unity behind the Wafd. More than one experienced politician pointed out privately the smoothness [Page 393] with which Nahas Pasha had silenced any possible Opposition criticism by including representatives of every party in the Parliamentary Committee established to study the proposed laws. Participating in that Committee they could certainly not withstand the emotionalism of the moment to do other than vote for the laws. At the same time, once they had voted for them the Opposition Parties stood with the Wafd, jointly responsible for whatever might next develop.

A representative group of reasonably objective observers happened to be dining on the night of October 8 at the home of the Public Affairs Officer, Mr. Robert Payne. This group included Dr. Abbas Ammar of the Ministry of Social Affairs; Sami Simaika Bey, Director of the Press Section of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Mohamed Heykal, of the Opposition Akhbar Al Yom; Sami Suki of the United Press; Dr. Salah Al ‘Abd, of the Fuad University School of Social Work; prominent engineer, Niaza Mustafa Bey; journalist, Dr. Fuad Sarruf, and others. The majority of the group came directly to Mr. Payne’s house from the Parliament meeting.

The immediate consensus of the group was the finality of the Prime Minister’s address and in particular the irrevocable nature of the assumption by the Government for the King of the title “King of Egypt and the Sudan”. From this consensus divergence arose at once as to the real meaning of the address. The most “Westernized” of the group maintained that this was in fact a “beginning of real Anglo-Egyptian negotiations and relations” while those inclined to be a little more independent in their thinking argued heatedly that to all intent and purposes negotiations between Egypt and Great Britain were now at a complete end and that all that remained was to implement with courage the decisions which had been taken. The group which maintained that the “door is now open” and that the Egyptian people would now feel free to negotiate from strength rather than weakness with anyone whom they chose, including the British, was led by Sami Simaika Bey, Sami Suki and Dr. Abbas Ammar. On the other side were the articulate Mohamed Heykal, Dr. Salah Al ’Abd and Niaza Mustafa Bey.

Interestingly enough, when the conversation swung to the Sudan there was a noticeable realignment of the groups. Sami Suki was of the opinion that the Sudanese would be very pleased by the speech and would rally to Egypt’s side. Mohamed Heykal, however, maintained that they would do no such thing. He argued that the Sudan has a better government with less corruption today than Egypt has and that it has “nothing to gain and everything to lose” from a closer association with Egypt. He said that Egypt only takes from the Sudan and gives nothing.

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Immediately following the demonstration within Parliament there was a comparative lull in Cairo while the above “inventory taking” was going on. Early in the morning of October 9, 1951, however, sporadic demonstrations began. They continued throughout the morning to a climax around noon in large crowds at the railroad station to cheer the Prime Minister on his departure for Alexandria.

Demonstrators carried Egyptian flags and banners with slogans such as: “Long Live King of Egypt and the Sudan!” “Long Live Nahas, Hero of Independence!”; and, more ominously: “Get Out of Our Country!” Among slogans shouted was heard: “Long Live Mussadeq4 and Nahas!”

After touring the main streets demonstrators went to the Abdin Palace Square where they gathered to shout: “Long Live the King of Egypt and the Sudan!” From the Palace they proceeded to the Prime Minister’s house where they cheered the Prime Minister “Hero of Independence!” They then moved to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to cheer Mohamed Salaheddin Pasha. To pay tribute to the late Saad Zaghloul Pasha, demonstrators visited his mausoleum and laid wreaths of flowers and recited the opening chapter of the Koran. Press sources estimated that demonstrators in Cairo during the day totalled in the neighborhood of 60,000. This is undoubtedly an exaggerated figure and reflects more onlookers than demonstrators.

The police forces were alerted throughout the day, concentrated particularly on the protection of the approaches to the British and American Embassies. On the whole the demonstrations were reasonably well handled and appeared motivated more by jubilant feelings of demonstrators than by destructive instincts. How long this might continue to be the case could only be a matter of conjecture of dubious value. The temptation to “settle a few scores” in the burst of nationalistic pride might well carry the demonstrations into an entirely different phase.

The only two acts of particular violence which occurred on October 9 were the smashing of a window and a neon sign in the Trans World Airlines office and the rather rough beating received by the driver of a British Embassy car who was so unfortunate as to get the car caught in a crowded street.

On order of the Ministry of Education all government schools in Egypt were closed throughout the day. Despite this fact—or perhaps because of it—students were in little evidence among the demonstrators, most of whom appeared ragged, unorganized and poorly led.

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Editorial Reaction

The unanimously enthusiastic editorial reaction to the speech calling for the abrogation of the Treaty is being reported separately. Additional comment will be submitted from time to time.

Jefferson Caffery
  1. Copies to London, Paris, Moscow, Ankara, Tehran, Tripoli, and the Arab capitals.
  2. Not printed.
  3. The complete translated text of the statement in Parliament by Prime Minister Nahas Pasha, Monday, October 8, along with the translated text of the four draft decree laws annuling Egyptian acceptance of the 1899 Condominium Agreement and the 1936 Defense Treaty are in the Green Book issued by Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs entitled Records of Conversations, Notes and Papers Exchanged Between the Royal Egyptian Government and the United Kingdom Government (March 1950–November 1951), Cairo, 1951, pp. 167–179.
  4. Mohammad Mosadeq, Prime Minister of Iran.