641.74/3–852: Telegram

No. 968
The Ambassador in Egypt (Caffery) to the Department of State 1


1525. I too am concerned present Brit misunderstanding of current Egypt situation (Deptel 1360, March 5).2 This talk about [Page 1774] cleaning up corruption and moving against Wafd is all very fine but as FonMin stressed to me repeatedly morning March 6, it does not mean a thing compared to the one question of whether or not the present govt is going to be able to live. The only answer to that will be in the results of the Anglo-Egypt talks opening shortly in Cairo. If nothing is to come of them (and nothing will so long as Brit retain their present attitude) we might as well forget any hope we may have for stability and pro-Western orientation in Egypt. The eventuality of revolt and utter chaos in Egypt cannot be dismissed.

We are rapidly getting to point of no return. If Egypt goes there is serious doubt whether rest of Middle East can stand. Whatever may be public conception, the US is squarely in picture whether we like it or not. We are in it in the sense:

That we are the only power that can hope to move UK or Egypt off dead center;
That US public opinion wld react most sharply to failure of West in Egypt.

Assessment of situation, analysis of alternative courses of action, and my recommendations and comments follow:


Following is detailed estimate situation facing Hilali Cabinet:

Hilali Govt from our standpoint is an excellent govt, however, it came into being not as result of any popular appeal but as result of a political intrigue. Essentially the prosecution of the Wafd is a byline with the present govt and has resulted largely from the belief that the Brit demand it.
Hilali’s program of good govt has more appeal to Western eyes than to Egypt, which knows reform and good govt as political slogans only, and not as political reality.
Hilali Govt, with all its good intentions in tilting swords with the Wafd must face the following disconcerting facts:
That only Wafd and Muslim Brotherhood have strong organizations. Hilali has none with exception weak, very weak, Saadists and Liberal Constitutionalists.
That govt reforms, especially those involving reduction of expenditures, dismissal of excess public servants, and abolition of exceptional promotions, for the short-term produce discontented group ripe for troublemakers. In the long-term reforms will produce popularity and a following. But Hilali does not have that much time.
That there are large quantities of illegal arms still in private hands.
That students, full of pent-up hatred and frustrated desire for action, are ready to turn to any demagogue who promises outlet for their frustration.
That Fellahin, whose conditions of life are too well known to necessitate repetition are looking on Cairo with watchful unease.
That as long as army prepared to shoot, order can be maintained in Cairo, but if Wafd shld decide on tactic of causing trouble in provinces, govt does not have sufficient force to put out fires all over Egypt.
That although some worthwhile reorganization of police has been accomplished during last month, the police organization as a whole is still a weak reed.
Army has thus far been effective, but doubt exists whether younger officers wld effectively carry out orders involving use of force against Wafd.
There is very real danger that Wafd might form unholy alliance with Muslim Brotherhood and/or Communists, which Hilali’s Govt could not face.
That present govt has inherited a complete mess in cotton market. Cotton is Egypt’s principal crop. Economic situation of country is bad, could become desperate.
Wafd is now busying itself with encouraging anti-Palace activities and painting Hilali as Palace and/or Brit stooge. This activity is causing decline in King’s prestige which had been one of greatest sources of stability in Egypt following Jan 26.
First condition prerequisite to reopening negots as stated by Brit has been met and Egypt auxiliary police and terrorists have disappeared from Canal Zone. Although this was inheritance from Aly Maher efficiency, disruptive elements are quiet only on “persuaded. basis which will collapse if Hilali govt fails to produce.
With all this in mind, Hilali has come to logical conclusion that he cannot effectively move against Wafd unless he parallels move with a publicly successful coup in achieving “national aspirations.”
“National aspiration” consist of the tried and true formula of “evacuation and unity of the Nile Valley.” Therefore, Hilali has to have something substantial on both from the Brit or his days as PriMin are numbered.


I fully realize that our “advice welcome” but is wearing a bit thin in London, yet I believe we would be derelict if we did not have another attempt at convincing London where our best interests lie. Naturally, the strength of our representation to London must depend on our overall international commitments and interests.

The optimum alternative facing us is the persuasion of the Brit to recognize the title of the King of Egypt as the King of Sudan. While position wld be far better if an alternative base were feasible, we are going on the assumption that the military consider other bases, notably Gaza, as out of the question. If Brit prepared [Page 1776] recognize title King of Sudan without too many strings, present base can probably be saved for West in course negots.
If current trend Brit thinking is not changed we must face the realities of the situation and determine how far our commitments elsewhere in the world wld permit us to tell the Brit that we will have to disassociate ourselves from them in Middle East because we believe they are wrong in what they are doing. Unless we are prepared to carry through with such a threat it wld best not to make it. It wld do us no good to have a bluff called. It is possible that US unilateral recognition of King’s title to the Sudan might set stage to enable us single-handedly to hold Egypt this side of Iron Curtain.
The third alternative is that of joining with the Brit in military occupation of Egypt (which they say they cannot do by themselves).
The fourth alternative is that we prepare ourselves for the fact that we will have to get out of Egypt and the rest of the Middle East. If this is to be, it is time that we started to discuss liquidating our investments and drawing in our oars.


I do not believe that we can afford any other alternative than that of a constructive one, i.e., para 1, (but I am convinced that if we fail on this line we wld have to rapidly return to alternative 4) and the sooner the better.

Cld we go to Brit along following lines:

Here is our analysis of situation Egypt (see “assessment. above).
We are cognizant that situation has strong domestic political implications both in Brit and Egypt.
We have consistently stood by you, and have been successful in using our moderating influence to your advantage in the past. Notably, on two occasions preventing complete break Anglo-Egypt relations and/or mass expulsion Brit subjects from Egypt.
We believe that situation may rapidly drift where our influence will be of no further use unless positive action taken in Egypt.
As we see it, in order prevent further deterioration situation Egypt and to permit Hilali Govt continue in office, Brit and Egypt Govts shld make joint public declaration that negots being initiated with principle of evacuation established, principle self-determination future Sudan also established, that Brit under these conditions recognize title of King of Sudan. Egypt do its part to recognize principle cooperation in Middle East Defense.
First gestures of cooperation cld consist of evacuation by stages of Brit troops in Zone beyond number set by 1936 treaty.
Working out of eventual withdrawal of Brit troops as such from Canal Zone with “technicians” remaining as advisors to Egypt command of base within MEC. framework wld be the next [Page 1777] step. This problem is bristling with difficulties as to definition, number and duration of stay of “technicians” but at this juncture if Sudan title issue is settled we shld be able to find the answers to this one too.

Comments: I am cognizant foregoing wld represent major and difficult move forward on part of Brit vis-à-vis their own public, but I doubt if it as difficult as the explanation of “what happened” will be if any other course is followed.

If Brit “see the light,” what should US policy be? At least preliminary conversations will, of course, be between Egypt and UK. If these are successful, however, it will be question of very few weeks before Egypts start coming to us with requests for detailed spelling out of meaning of our oft-promised cooperation. They wld not take kindly to our reacting to such questions as though it were first time we had ever heard of them. Egypt under these circumstances wld want to know “how much and when” with regard to US military and economic aid. In particular in the evolving of a balanced Brit withdrawal-Egypt take-over in the Canal Zone, Egypts are aware deficiencies their military training and equipment. Within what period time wld we be prepared assist Egypt these questions and in what volume? These are “iffy” questions but any preliminary work that cld be done now to prepare their answers might prove extremely valuable in future.

  1. Repeated to London as telegram 737.
  2. In telegram 1360 to Cairo, Mar. 5, not printed, the Department of State asked Ambassador Caffery to assess the situation as it then existed in Egypt and to provide firm recommendations which the Department could use vis-à-vis the British to achieve a satisfactory Anglo-Egyptian settlement of the Sudan and Suez Canal Zone issues. (641.74/3–452)