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Egypt 1951 War with Britain

Years of imperial dominance by Britain over Egypt, coupled with WWII and Israeli statehood frustrations led to Egypt's 1951 war with Britain. In January 1950, the Wafd returned to power with Nahhas as prime minister. In October 1951, Nahhas introduced, and Parliament approved, decrees abrogating unilaterally the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 and proclaiming Faruk king of Egypt and Sudan. Egypt exulted, with newspapers proclaiming that Egypt had broken "the fetters of British imperialism." The Wafd government gave way to pressure from the Brotherhood and leftist groups for militant opposition to the British. "Liberation battalions" were formed, and the Brotherhood and auxiliary police were armed. Food supplies to the Suez Canal Zone were blocked, and Egyptian workers were withdrawn from the base. A guerrilla war against the British in the Suez Canal Zone was undertaken by students and the Brotherhood.

In December British bulldozers and Centurion tanks demolished fifty Egyptian mud houses to open a road to a water supply for the British army. This incident and one that followed on January 25 provoked intense Egyptian anger. On January 25, 1952, the British attacked an Egyptian police barracks at Ismailiya (Al Ismailiyah) when its occupants refused to surrender to British troops. Fifty Egyptians were killed and 100 wounded.

The January incident led directly to "Black Saturday," January 26, 1952, which began with a mutiny by police in Cairo in protest against the death of their colleagues. Concurrently, groups of people in Cairo went on a rampage. British property and other symbols of the Western presence were attacked. By the end of the day, 750 establishments valued at 50 million had been burned or destroyed. Thirty persons were killed, including eleven British and other foreigners; hundreds were injured.

The British believed there was official connivance in the rioting. Wafdist interior minister Fuad Siraj ad Din (also seen as Serag al Din) was accused of negligence by an Egyptian government report and dismissed. The king dismissed Nahhas, and four prime ministers held office in the next six months. It became clear that the Egyptian ruling class had become unable to rule, and none of the radical nationalist groups was strong enough to take power. This power vacuum gave the Free Officers their opportunity.

On July 22, the Free Officers realized that the king might be preparing to move against them. They decided to strike and seize power the next morning. On July 26, King Faruk, forced to abdicate in favor of his infant son, sailed into exile on the same yacht on which his grandfather, Ismail, had left for exile about seventy years earlier.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:27:40 ZULU