USM Open Source History Text: The World at War: World History 1914-1945

African Resistance: Egypt

To the northeast, the ancient and proud Egyptian society reacted to the end of WWI with fresh demands for independence from Britain. The main British aims were twofold: 1) first and foremost to protect the Suez Canal Zone and 2) to guarantee British private investment in the Egyptian economy.

After the war, the Wafd Party, a self-appointed delegation of Egyptian elite, petitioned the British government for independence in the name of all Egyptians. When the British ignored it, the Wafd Party took to the streets, organizing massive rallies in the capital, Cairo. When the British moved to quash the nationalist movement and arrested the movement’s leader, Sa’ad Zaghlul, the protests increased in intensity and violence. After inconclusive negotiations between the Wafd and London, the British government unilaterally declared an end to the Egyptian protectorate. A new Egyptian constitution was promulgated in 1923, which gave Britain special rights like the right to maintain a large military force to protect the canal-zone.

After independence, Egyptian politics fractured, a common problem with societies after colonial or oligarchic rule – as we saw with the Mexican Revolution (and with Iraq or Syria or even Egypt today). The Wafd Party remained the biggest and most popular in the aftermath of its successful confrontation with the British, but by the late 1920s, as its westernized elite became ever more deeply entrenched in power, new opposition groups began to rise. The most significant of these groups was the Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928 by a primary school teacher, Hassan al‐Banna. Al‐Banna was reacting primarily to what he perceived as the corrupting European influence in an Islamic state and called for a return to a state based on Islamic principles and the Islamic shari’ah law. A gifted orator, al‐Banna attracted many young people to his cause. Membership in the Muslim Brotherhood reached an astonishing two million by the 1940s. The Muslim Brotherhood became one of the first Islamist anti‐colonial movements in the Muslim world and exerted (and continues to exert) tremendous political force in Egypt and throughout the Near East. Clashes between westernized nationalists and the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood mark Egyptian politics up until the present day.

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