Memorandum by Alta F. Fowler of the Office of Near Eastern
Affairs to the Officer in Charge of Egypt and
Anglo-Egyptian Sudan Affairs
- Weekly Summary of Events, Egypt and the Sudan, July 22–28, 1952
In 1929, the Egyptian Prime Minister decided to send Egyptian Army Officers to England for Staff school training, but discovered that none of the regular officers were scholastically equipped to meet Aldershot standards. Young college graduates were then chosen to take the Staff course on the condition that they become regular Army officers. Thus for the past twenty years there has grown up within the Egyptian Army a middle-echelon of well-educated officers who resent the fact that the older ill-educated top-ranking officers were apparently keeping them from promotion.
During the Palestine War the extent of the graft and corruption among these older officers became apparent to an alarming degree, and during 1950 the younger officers succeeded in forcing a thorough investigation of the Arms Scandal, resulting in the retirement of the majority of the top-ranking generals, including Haidar Pasha, the Commander-in-Chief, Osman Mahdi Pasha, the Chief of Staff, and Sirry Amer Pasha, Commander of the elite Frontier Corps.
However, not long ago after the retirement of these officers, they were quietly reappointed to their old positions by the King, and the junior officers again found themselves the victims of graft, corruption and favoritism by the Palace clique. One of the more recent flare-ups of discontent was registered when, in January 1952, the younger officers elected General Mohamed Naguib Bey President of the Cairo Officers. Club, thus frustrating the machinations of the Commander-in-Chief, Haidar Pasha.[Page 1845]
About two weeks ago King Farouk tried to persuade the Governing Board of the Officers’ Club to make a place for General Sirry Amer, one of the more unsavory of the older officers. When this request was refused, the King attempted to replace the elective Governing Board with a new appointive board. Prime Minister Sirry Pasha tried to quell the discontent occasioned by this Palace interference in Army affairs by appointing Mohamed Naguib Minister of War in his Cabinet, but the King vetoed this conciliatory move, and agreed to retire Sirry Amer permanently if Naguib Bey were retired at the same time. Sirry Pasha resigned over this issue on July 20, and Hilali Pasha agreed to form a new government.
During the night of July 22–23, Major General Naguib Bey led a quiet and effective coup which took over control of armed forces in Cairo and later the whole country. The avowed purpose of the coup—carried out by approximately 300 Army and Air Force officers—was to purge the armed forces of corrupt elements (“thieves and traitors”) and work “for the interests of the nation in the light of the constitution.”
During the course of the first day—July 23—the heads of the Army and Air force were arrested, but later on during the week many other officers, high government officials and Palace favorites were detained or prevented from leaving the country.
At first blush, the militarists seemed determined to keep out of politics, but within twelve hours Naguib Bey had presented to the King three demands: (a) that Ali Maher should lead the government; (b) that there should be immediate elections. and (c) that martial law should be abolished. The King acceded to these demands, and Ali Maher formed a new government consisting of most of his previous “technician” cabinet (February 1952) with the exception of his strongest minister, Mortada el Maraghi Pasha.
The situation deteriorated during the next two days: the Army continued its bloodless cleanup campaign of arrests, but the King through several of his entourage (including Maraghi) attempted to persuade the British and American Ambassadors to counsel intervention by British forces. The coup leaders apparently received word of these machinations and on the morning of July 26 Ali Maher Pasha was sent with an ultimatum to King Farouk forcing him to abdicate in favor of his baby son and leave the country by 6:00 p.m. Cairo time. Farouk acceded, signed the Royal Decree designating his son, Ahmed Fuad II, King of Egypt and the Sudan, appointed [Page 1846] a Regency Council, and sailed from Alexandria on the Royal yacht, Mahroussa, bound for Italy.
From the very beginning it was apparent that Naguib Bey had the upper hand and that the military intended to keep effective control of the situation: “I appeal to the people,” read Naguib’s first declaration, “to allow nobody to abuse this move nor to do anything that will be detrimental to the cause of the country as a whole. Any attempt of this sort will be dealt with firmly and those responsible will be severely punished.” With an eye to British forces in the Canal Zone poised for moves to protect British lives, Naguib concluded, “I seize this opportunity to assure foreigners that their interests, their lives, their property and their money will be safe and that the Army holds itself responsible for them.”
Ali Maher Pasha later reaffirmed his government’s intention to protect foreign lives and property when representations were made by Ambassador Caffery regarding United States interest and concern in this respect.
Throughout the past week, the Army leader has reiterated that he has no intention of interfering in political matters—these are the affairs of the new Prime Minister—and that he is interested only in cleaning out corruption and graft in the armed forces and government and in forming a new, well-equipped and well-trained army. It remains to be seen whether Naguib and his junta of officers can resist the temptation to meddle in politics, outside of the cleanup, or the temptation to feather their own nests as so many others have done in the past.
Influence of Ikhwan el Muslimin, Communists, Wafdist Elements
There is apparently little or no Communist influence in the army, and there have been no evidences of Communist elements at work in this latest upheaval. However, wherever there is change, the Communists are certain to have a try at turning the change in their direction.
The Ikhwan el Muslimin (Moslem Brotherhood) has a certain amount of strength among the armed forces, and is entirely likely to have had a strong influence in last week’s coup because the aims of the Ikhwan, like those professed by the coup group, are in the direction of a purge of all corruption, whether in material, moral or religious matters. Several of the leaders of the coup are known to be members of the Ikhwan.
The Wafd has been sitting on the sidelines for the past six months, waiting for an opportunity to regain the power wrested from it after the burning of Cairo on January 26. Nahas Pasha and Serageddin Pasha, the two most powerful members of the Wafd executive, have just returned to Cairo from Europe. They hailed [Page 1847] Naguib as “Savior of the Nation,” but it is not yet known how much of a savior he will be to the Wafd Party, which is obviously more important to them.
- Information on the coverage of the coup and the abdication of King Farouk is in Department of State files 774.00, 774.11, and 774.55.↩