Norms and Values
The Centennial of Egyptian Independence in February 2022: Historical Memory and Policy in Modern Egypt

A century ago, on 28 February 1922, Egyptian independence was declared; the British protectorate was abolished and an independent Kingdom of Egypt was established. It was a dramatic historical development that brought Egypt back to the Egyptians. For the first time in twenty-three centuries, Egyptians were able to decide their own fate. King Nectanebo II was the last native ruler of Egypt. His reign ended with the Pharaonic Era when Persia occupied Egypt in 343 BC; the Persians would be followed by different foreign colonialists up to the British. Britain became increasingly involved in Egyptian affairs from the time it helped to expel Napoleon Bonaparte in the early 19th century until the informal establishment of a British protectorate in 1882.  

Egypt did not get full independence a century ago, as Britain retained the right to defend Egypt against any foreign aggression and to protect foreign interests and minorities. Nevertheless, it was not only a milestone in Egyptian history; it signified a pivotal shift that had several domestic and international repercussions with key ramifications. 

First, independence reflects the will of the people. It is taken, rather than given. The Egyptian people wrested their freedom through a popular revolution, which is considered one of the greatest in human history. Broad-based nonviolent demonstrations erupted, condemning British occupation and the colonial administration of Egypt in 9 March 1919 following the exile of popular pro-independence leaders. Egyptians from every religion and social class, and for the first time women, were moved to action. Nonviolent boycotts, petitions, pamphleteering, and a sustained general strike by students, professionals, and workers forced the British to declare limited independence for Egypt. 

The Egyptian revolution of 1919 was a strong “enough and no” to the double standards of Western politics. In his January 8, 1918 Fourteen Points speech, US President Woodrow Wilson outlined the aims of the war and terms for peace to the United States Congress; these points included the right of national self-determination. However, this right was only granted to the people of Europe and denied those living under imperial suzerainty elsewhere, including the Egyptians. 

During World War I, the British conscripted hundreds of thousands of Egyptian peasants into a campaign to seize Syria and Palestine from the Ottoman Empire, and forced many to work for the Egyptian Expeditionary Force. The Egyptians supported the British in achieving victory. However, when the spoils came, the Egyptians gained nothing and revolution was the only path left.

Daniel Kurtzer: Egypt and the Middle East

Second, the declaration of Egypt's independence was a bold first step toward undermining Western colonialism. It was achieved at a time when Britain stood among the victorious powers of the First World War. The will of the people overcame those who’d won a world war involving the greatest European powers. That paved the way for other colonies in Africa, Asia and the Arab world suffering under Western colonialism to pursue freedom. It helped to empower them and deepen their belief that they could stand up against any colonising force for their liberty and self-determination. The Egyptian struggle against British occupation continued for the three following decades, until the British were completely expelled from Egypt in mid-fifties. Egypt provided a model that has been replicated by dozens of countries which have successively gained their independence.

Third, the West has never genuinely cared about democracy. Moreover it has been always ready to ally with "the Devil" to preserve its interests and gains. Among the most important consequences of the Egyptian Declaration of Independence was the 1923 Constitution. It was the first Egyptian constitution in which Britain recognised Egypt as an independent, sovereign state. The first totally democratic legislative elections were held in Egypt. The Wafd Party headed by the leader of the revolution, Saad Zagloul, won and formed the first popular ministry in January 1924.

However, the colonial power refused to accept Egypt’s democratic path. It sought to undermine the popularity of the Wafd Party and the entire national movement by supporting Islamic fundamentalists. Britain helped establish the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) with the aim of keeping the Middle East, especially Egypt, under control. This colonialism failed in its attempt to undermine  Egyptian national unity by dividing Muslims and Christians, so it pitted Muslims against one another, dividing them into nationalists and fanatics. Britain was associated with the MB, when it was created by “Hassan Al-Banna”. Moreover, It financed him at the time with 500 pounds, as was recognised by Hassan Al-Banna himself.

Fourth, in every defining moment, Moscow has stood at Egypt’s side. When news of the Egyptian revolution reached Russia, Lenin sent his famous letter to Saad Zagloul expressing his support, and offering his assistance to the Egyptian people in resisting British colonialism.

Later, Mustafa al-Nahhas Pasha, the Prime Minister of Egypt, contacted the Soviet leaders through their ambassador in London, in clear defiance of British colonialism, expressing his appreciation for the struggle of the Soviet people to defend their freedom and land. Mikhail Kalinin, Chairman of the Soviet Central Executive Committee, supported Egypt in rejecting concessions and mixed courts, and relinquished the Tsar's rights to shares of the Suez Canal. Despite British pressure and the hostility of London, which had dominating influence in Egypt, towards the Soviet Union, demands were raised in the Egyptian Parliament to develop relations between Cairo and Moscow and to deepen the human ties that had emerged between the two peoples over the previous centuries.

Moscow showed great support for Egypt against British colonialism in international forums. During the discussion of the Egyptian issue in the Security Council in August 1947, based on the memorandum submitted by Egyptian Prime Minister Mahmoud Fahmy Al-Naqrashi Pasha, in which he demanded that British forces withdraw from Egypt and Sudan completely,  only three members of the Security Council supported Egypt, namely the Soviet Union, Poland and Syria. On August 20, 1947, Andrei Gromyko, the head of Soviet delegate to the United Nations, announced the Soviet support for Egypt's demand for the expulsion of British forces from Egypt and Sudan, and delivered a highly supportive speech before the Security Council to Egypt in its struggle for freedom. Cairo and Moscow have shared a lot in common, and the partnership between them is self-evident; they are natural allies. 

Although a hundred years have passed, there are many facts and lessons that are relevant to today's world. What is more like today than yesterday, with different details! The struggle for independence has not and will not end.

Toward a Strategic Alliance between Egypt and Russia
Nourhan ElSheikh
On March 26, presidential elections started in Egypt, with the incumbent president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi challenged by Mousa Mostafa Mousa, leader of the El-Ghad (‘Tomorrow’) party. According to Valdai Club expert Nourhan El-Sheikh, al-Sisi’s most important achievement is pushing Egyptian-Russian relations to an unprecedented level of strategic partnership, paving the way for a strategic alliance between the two countries.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.