How a Great Power Falls Apart
Decline Is Invisible From the Inside
FOR a century and a half the Arab world has been following a negative policy. It has known what it wanted to do away with, but it has not known what it wanted to build. The Western conquest of the Middle East was mental no less than physical. Overwhelmed and unsettled, Eastern minds lost almost all national values, yet could not absorb Western values. Misapplication of Western patterns of government brought a confused mixture of political systems and philosophies. Democracy was only a veil for dictatorship. Constitutions framed in the interest of the people of the Middle East became instruments for their exploitation and domination.
Egypt's story in these years centers upon the effort to free the country from a foreign yoke and to find a policy capable of eradicating the evils accumulated by feudalism and compounded by misuse of governmental power. It was a long and painful search. Egyptians hoped for leaders to champion their cause and defend their interests, but politicians and factions for the most part made themselves subservient to the forces that were ravaging the country--British rulers, corrupt monarchs, feudal overlords, a non-Egyptian ruling class and its Egyptian satellites.
The British had occupied Egypt with the tacit consent of Khedive Tewfik, great uncle of ex-King Farouk, following the patriotic revolt led by General Arabi. The Khedive, who had concentrated all power in his own hands and used it to benefit himself and his family, feigned acceptance of the reforms demanded by Arabi, while opening the doors to the British who sought a pretext to justify an occupation of Egypt. In 1882 naval units of the British Fleet bombarded Alexandria, Egypt's second capital and the biggest port of the Mediterranean, and landed troops. These troops met stubborn resistance. The entire garrison of General Arabi's men in the Alexandria forts defended their positions to the last man; but in the battles that ensued, Arabi's army was defeated with the Khedive's connivance, and the British occupation began.
There were indignant protests, international as well as Egyptian, and the British, sensing that their status was not legitimate, soon announced that the occupation was only a temporary measure to achieve a particular objective--the reinstatement of the Khedive. In point of fact they intended to stay indefinitely, and did so. They always said they were on the point of leaving, and always found an excuse to stay. At first they claimed they were in Egypt to protect the foreigners against the Egyptians, although the foreigners never asked for their protection; then they claimed they had to stay to protect the Christian and Jewish minorities against the Moslems, overlooking the fact that the Christians and the Jews had joined the Moslems in demanding the withdrawal of the British forces from Egypt. The defense of the Suez Canal and the maintenance of their lines of communication with India and their Far Eastern Empire were further pretexts. When World War II came they said they could not go because the Suez Canal was an important base, and after World War II they explained that they had to stay to safeguard the interests of the free world.
From the outset, the British sapped the strength and the moral energies of Egypt. They disbanded the Egyptian Army and created a token force commanded by British officers. British advisers were installed in every department of government and vested with power to exercise full control. Education, at that time developing on a national basis, was disestablished. It became the function of the educational machinery to produce government officials divorced from the claims of national experience. Projects for higher education were also discarded. Financial policy impoverished the country. The Egyptians had to pay the cost of occupation and open the country to British companies and foreign agencies. Chartered monopolies dominated the Egyptian market.
This system of foreign rule was built on the corrupt monarchy and the feudal system that had been instituted under Mohammed Ali, who reigned from 1805 to 1849. He had taken for himself an absolute monopoly of land and resources, treated farmers as slaves, and created a new feudal class formed by his own family and his clique composed mainly of aliens. Those were granted large allotments of land and exempted from taxation. This monopolistic system was extended to commerce and industry (with the entire destruction of free enterprise as a result), and the money thus collected was not used for the national welfare but spent lavishly on wars serving Mohammed Ali's own ambition. Hence the cleavage between the ruling family and the enslaved masses, and the seeds of hatred that germinated and flowered throughout the reigns of his successors, Ibrahim, Ismail and Tewfik. And it was this corrupt and rapacious system that was fastened upon the Egyptian people when the British intervened to keep Tewfik in power.
Though the absolute state monopoly of land and commerce was later dissolved and private ownership and free enterprise were permitted, crushing taxation withheld from the Egyptian farmer the fruits of his labor. Foreign business, which under the system of privileges known as the Capitulations operated free from all taxation, easily dominated the emerging Egyptian commercial class. The banking system that had been established at the time of Khedive Ismail was designed to serve only the interests of the vested class. Farmers were compelled to deal with jobbers who strained their scanty resources.
With the end of the First World War, however, there came a remarkable rise in the prices of agricultural products, and this enabled the farmers to repay part of their debts and cultivate different sorts of crops which could be disposed of more easily. Nonetheless, with the coming of the next world war, 1,751,587 Egyptian farmers owned less than one acre, and 571,133 farmers owned from one to five acres. A great mass of the agricultural population owned nothing. Nor did this state of things improve noticeably in the next ten years. In 1950 there were 618,860 owners of parcels of land from one to five acres in size, an increase of only some 47,000.
Nowhere did the rulers of Mohammed Ali's family discharge their obligation to their people. Human activity operates between the two poles of right and obligation--a principle which applies ultimately to governor and governed. It is admitted that a man's duty corresponds to a right for another. The governor, then, is subject to rights and duties. His failure in fulfilling his duties--which are rights from the standpoint of the people--entails resistance on the part of the nation to secure these rights.
The problems confronting the Egyptian nation have thus for a long period seemed to fall into two parts: a struggle between the nation and its rulers on one hand, and a struggle between the nation and foreign intervention on the other. National struggle against foreign influence relates primarily to the sovereignty of the state, and derivatively to liberating the financial and economic resources of the state and administering them in the interest of national reconstruction.
And so the Egyptian nation carried on the battle to find constitutional stability, along with a second battle for sovereignty and self-government. One aspect of this was the struggle for autonomy in financial matters, and beyond that for an increase in individual and national incomes and a lifting of cultural and social standards. The problem was to restore human dignity in Egypt.
Throughout the period national struggle assumed different forms, some pacific and some revolutionary. The first was based on argument and logic, giving rise to the formation of political parties and the founding of newspapers and magazines to enlighten public opinion. But whenever the nation understood that peaceful methods would not avail, recourse was had to force. So Egypt had to pass through three revolutions: the Arabi revotion, the revolution of 1919 and the revolution of July 1952. Any revolution which fails to realize its basic objectives inevitably lays the seeds for a subsequent uprising. Our national struggle was therefore one continual and unremitting battle, despite intermittent weaknesses. Always there were the two great objectives--to check despotism and make the nation itself the source of powers, and to put an end to foreign intervention and the usurpation of Egypt's resources.
In 1936, a treaty provided for the ending of British occupation, but it also required a permanent agreement between Egypt and Britain--a provision very likely to mean permanent occupation. After 1936 the British took the opportunity of party frictions to renew their intervention in Egyptian affairs. The thirst of party leaders after power was also utilized by King Farouk to realize personal ambitions at the expense of the vital interests of the people. He claimed exemptions from taxation and got control of thousands of acres of state property and entailed land. Merit was no criterion for rewards, nor was there any equality of opportunity; privileges were reserved for relatives and favorites of ministers in power. The results were nepotism and corruption. Egypt had a working constitution, but it veiled arbitrary rule.
When Arab countries felt the enthusiasm to rescue Palestine, the Egyptian Goverment was ill-prepared for the task. Mismanagement and corruption by the King's clique, which included trading in defective arms, rendered fruitless the bitter sacrifices made by the Egyptian Army which would otherwise have secured victory. The war revealed the extent of evils which pervaded the court and government, and stirred the nation to protest. An attempt was made to divert the attention of the masses to external issues--the key to the abolition of the 1936 treaty. Its abolition was certainly consonant with the national desire, and would have been a genuinely national achievement had the government taken the necessary measures of reform afterward. It did not. Hence the formation of "liberation commando squads." But while these operated in the Canal Zone, there came the shamelessly contrived burning of Cairo on January 26, 1952. The commandos were paralyzed and the gap between the government and the governed widened.
Revolution was the only way out. And it came in 1952, led by the army and backed by the nation. In the pre-revolutionary period the army was an instrument in the hand of despotic rulers who used it against the nationalist movements. Now it understood its position and joined the ranks of the people to head the movement for national liberation.
This revolution, it will be understood, has been markedly bloodless in character because it is in essence the expression of a sentiment long suppressed but harbored in the heart of the nation. It was purely national with no international intervention. Conscious of the trend of events to follow, it realized its objectives within a shorter time than expected. The nation had sworn allegiance to Mohammed Ali in the attempt to overthrow the rule of the Mamelukes, but Mohammed Ali and his descendants unfortunately forfeited this loyalty, embarking on despotic enterprises and usurping the rights of the people. Thus it was an unconditional imperative that the revolution should overthrow the ruling dynasty, reclaim its birthright and restore the lost national prestige. So it deposed the Monarch, abolished monarchy, and established the Egyptian Republic.
As the pre-revolutionary public life had grown corrupt and effete through tampering with the constitution, and as the political parties had joined in the despotic rule contrary to the interest of the nation, it was necessary that the revolution should suspend the constitution, dissolve political parties and frame a new constitution consonant with the new national aspirations. And because the government machinery was corrupt, it had to be cleansed and reformed.
Since national wealth was inequitably distributed and predominantly feudalistic, the revolution enacted the Agrarian Reform Bill which set a ceiling on land ownership and rent, and provided against the breaking up of holdings not exceeding five acres. It also regulated the relation between landlord and tenant, by legalizing certain tenant rights. The Agrarian Reform Board is distributing the surplus areas, together with the land confiscated from Mohammed Ali's family, among the bulk of poor peasants. This Land Reform Bill was, in the main, designed to liberate the bulk of peasants from the feudalism which was a corollary of the system of land tenure.
As the major concern of the revolution was the realization of state sovereignty, it was imperative that the British forces should be evacuated entirely.
The revolution also had a definite program for reconstruction. It began to develop the potential resources of the country, setting up the national Board of Production charged with planning national productivity and outlining the new policy of large-scale industrialization. It reëstablished the Industrial Bank, the main objectives of which are to aid emerging industries, consolidate those already existing and provide technical aid.
The pre-revolutionary balance of trade was unfavorable to Egypt. The internal market, and to a larger extent the external one, were dominated by British influence. The revolution had to liberate the Egyptian economy from British control. Economic missions were dispatched to foreign countries to find new markets for Egyptian produce, and the government adopted a barter policy of exchanging cotton for machinery, equipment and other needed commodities.
The new régime in Egypt has a clear-cut policy for rebuilding the country on new foundations--an integrated, three-pronged development, now on the way to execution. Some of its activities may be mentioned here, not in an attempt to set forth the program in full, but only to offer examples.
The principal project is the Sadd el 'Ali (High Dam) scheme, designed mainly to increase agricultural output by almost 50 percent. Egypt's present agricultural land totals 6,000,000 acres. The High Dam will reclaim 2,000,000 more and will supply water for the permanent rice plantation of 700,000 acres, and convert another 700,000 acres of one-crop land in Upper Egypt to perennial irrigation. Built about four miles south of Aswan Dam, 200 miles north of the Sudan border, the giant dam will be constructed not as a conventional stone wall but a pyramidal granite rock-field almost half-a-kilometer thick. It will be 150 meters high, and its reservoir will cover 3,000 square kilometers--the highest dam and the largest reservoir in the world. Construction is expected to begin early in 1955, and the scheme will take ten years to complete. It will cost $516,000,000. The Sadd el 'Ali will increase national production by $450,000,000 a year, and will add an annual government revenue of $60,000,000.
Pending construction of the High Dam, we have drafted short-range plans for the expansion of cultivated land. The chief item is a four-year plan, from 1952 to 1956, to reclaim 311,680 acres in Upper and Lower Egypt. This included a 10,000-acre nucleus for the new Tahrir (Liberation) Province, situated in the Western Desert alongside the western delta branch, between Cairo and Alexandria. The total plan covers an area of 600,000 acres in all, and future expansion may well double this area.
There is a second plan to reclaim 50,000 acres in the northwest tip of the Sinai peninsula for the benefit of the Palestine refugees. Water would be tunnelled underneath the Suez Canal to irrigate this area. The plan would be financed by the United Nations. In a third plan, still under survey, it is hoped to reclaim 100,000 acres by means of artesian wells. The project would be undertaken through the joint efforts of the Egyptian Government and the United States Point Four program.
Apart from increasing the extent of cultivated land, we are also stepping up agricultural production per acre. The Agrarian Reform Program has already increased the yield of affected areas. As the peasants become owners of their land, they produce more per acre; for example, the yield in the sugar-cane belt in Upper Egypt increased from 733 to 908 kantars per acre. Rural coöperative societies have been created which provide the new small landowner with water, fertilizers, pure seed, livestock, technical advice and other facilities. And the Ministry of Agriculture has taken measures to combat pests, increase livestock, supply seeds, and step up dairying and other agricultural industries.
In our integrated reform policy, various agricultural projects will contribute toward industrial development, and industrial projects will contribute toward agricultural expansion. For instance, the Sadd el 'Ali scheme will provide hydroelectric power for industry, while the fertilizer factories will add to the fertility of the soil. The 16 turbines will generate ten billion kilowatt-hours every year, and the neighboring Aswan Dam will shortly be producing another two billion kilowatt hours annually.
Besides hydroelectric power, we are also expanding the exploitation of our oil resources to the maximum. The first move was to revise the Mining Law which had restricted the operation of foreign companies in Egypt at a time when local capacities for the work were extremely limited. The restrictions have been removed and the transfer abroad of the companies' profits and capital is now permitted. Concessions are being granted to foreign oil companies. The largest, given to the Egyptian-American Oil Company, covers 75,000 square miles in the Western Desert. Other concessions have been given in the Eastern Desert and the Sinai Peninsula. Moreover, while existing oil wells at the Red Sea coast have increased their output, the capacity of the government oil refinery at Suez has been raised from 300,000 to 1,300,000 tons annually. We are also building a Suez-Cairo pipeline to reduce oil transportation costs.
The largest plant in our blueprints is a fertilizer factory, to be worked on the Aswan Dam hydroelectric power which will be available in 1958. It will cost $72,000,000, and will produce 375,000 tons of calcium nitrates annually. When the Sadd el 'Ali scheme starts producing hydroelectric power, output will be increased to 500,000 tons a year. The second biggest plant is an iron and steel works, already being constructed at Helwan, near Cairo, by the German firm of Demag. This plant, costing $45,000,000, marks Egypt's entry into the field of heavy industry; it will take four years to complete, and will turn out 240,000 tons of steel products every year. The iron-ore deposits at Aswan are rich--sufficient, it is estimated, to supply Egypt's steel industry for 500 years.
A few other projects may be mentioned: a paper plant with an annual output of 20,000 tons of writing and printing paper, other than newsprint, to use sugar-cane bagasse and rice straw (available locally in large quantities) and to start production in 1957; a beet-sugar factory with an annual capacity of 50,000 tons, costing $15,000,000 and starting production at the end of 1955; a factory, now under construction, to turn out 200,000 tires a year at the beginning, with later increases to meet local requirements and permit some export; and a jute plant with a capacity of 20,000 tons a year, to cost about $6,000,000. In addition to bolstering the Industrial Bank, the government has adopted other measures to help private industry, such as the improvement of internal communications, temporary protective tariffs, reduced customs on imported machinery, and the encouragement of foreign capital. It is expected that the agrarian reform program will also switch a major part of the nation's capital from agriculture to industry, as big landowners are given compensation for their estates in the form of bonds which can be invested in industrial projects.
The increase of agricultural and industrial output will require new outlets in foreign markets. Egypt suffered a foreign trade deficit of $225,000,000 in 1952, and a total deficit in the ten years before the revolution of more than 1.5 billion dollars. The revolutionary government was able to overcome this chronic foreign trade deficit, and to show a profit of $43,000,000 by the first quarter of 1954, and of $61,000,000 by the second quarter of the same year.
This achievement took strenuous efforts at home and abroad. At home, corrupt government interference with cotton prices, which had resulted in the medium-staple cotton fetching higher prices than the long-staple categories, was eliminated. The Cotton Futures Market, through which the prices had been manipulated, was closed, and Egyptian cotton prices tied up with those of the United States. The elimination of illicit practices restored confidence abroad in Egypt's cotton trade. Trade policies were based on the principle that politics should be kept separate from economics. We made no distinction between West and East in selling cotton, and trade and payments agreements were concluded with Eastern and Western countries alike. Cotton is the backbone of Egypt's economy. We were able to dispose of the huge carryovers of crops.
To improve the trade balance we also had to cut down nonessential imports, and to restrict imports from countries with which we had not concluded trade agreements. With the completion of plans for agriculture and industrial expansion, we shall be able to reduce our imports of foodstuffs and manufactured goods. These will include chiefly wheat, oil and household articles. These savings will not only improve Egypt's trade balance, but also preserve precious earnings in hard currency.
The three-pronged policy to rebuild Egypt's economy on solid foundations has one object in view: to raise the standard of living among the masses of the people. The Egyptian peasant is no longer the virtual serf of big landowners, but his own master. The agrarian reform program has resulted in a substantial increase in his real income. The Egyptian worker is also getting a new deal. In many cases his wages are determined by joint committees including representatives of management, labor and government. Wages vary according to many factors, including the kind of work, the workers' family status, and the area in which he works, but in all cases his wages are made as high as the interests of industrial expansion allow.
To promote the welfare of the masses, the government undertook a vast program of social services. About $200,000,000 is allocated in the current budget for projects for social reform. Social welfare units are being established in the rural areas, each unit to serve 15,000 inhabitants, and to include a school, a health center and a social-agricultural extension section. Our effort is to provide all rural districts with social services in the next five years; 200 centers were opened in 1954. By the end of the ten years required for completion of our most ambitious scheme, Sadd el 'Ali, we believe we shall have more than doubled Egypt's national income, with a corresponding increase in the nation's standard of living. Incidentally, in one step to help remedy the social stratification which has split Egyptian society into hostile camps, titles and honors--princes, pashas and beys, marks of a privileged class--were abolished.
These, then, are the aims of the revolution: to end the exploitation of people, to realize national aspirations and to develop the mature political consciousness that is an indispensable preliminary for a sound democracy. The revolution seeks to bridge the gulf between social classes and to foster the spirit of altruism which marks a cultivated individual and a cohesive group. Our ultimate aim is to provide Egypt with a truly democratic and representative government, not the type of parliamentary dictatorship which the Palace and a corrupt "pasha" class imposed on the people. In the past, parliament was a body for blocking social improvement. We want to make sure that in the future the senators and deputies will serve all the Egyptians rather than a few.
To achieve these aims, the standard of living of the masses must be raised, education expanded and social consciousness developed throughout the land so that the people will understand the duties and privileges of citizenship. The nation must also be provided with a constitution that safeguards the interests of all groups. During the past year a commission composed of leaders in different fields of life in Egypt, and representative of the different faiths--Christianity, Judaism and Islam--has been drafting our new constitution.
As we plan for the future, we have also had to clean out the corrupt past, especially the subversive or reactionary groups which have spread their tentacles wide in the land. The greatest internal enemies of the people are the Communists who serve foreign rulers, the Moslem Brotherhood which still seeks rule by assassination in an era that has outlived such practices, and the old-time politicians who would like to reëstablish exploitation.
Reactionary religious groups such as the Moslem Brotherhood are neither genuinely political nor genuinely religious. Their ultimate aim is power and to realize it they adopt methods contrary to the spirit of Islam and the spirit of the age. Islam derives from a comprehensive philosophy which never fails to accommodate various human feelings and aspirations. In this sense it is not only humanitarian but elastic and tolerant. It has its ubiquitous principles--applicable to time and place and mindful of the rights of man. It condemns intolerance, terrorism, prejudice and organized hatred. Its teachings form the core of true democracy.
We are proud that our revolution has been bloodless. We have rid ourselves of corrupt politicians, a corrupt king and an outmoded monarchy without loss of life. We have had to impose restrictions to prevent enemies of the people from exploiting the people and poisoning their minds. But if we have had to exercise our authority, it has been in order to pave the way for a better life for the men and women of our country. We want to lift these restrictions as soon as we feel the people are no longer in danger from such groups--and the sooner that time comes the better so far as we are concerned.
A closing word about Egypt's foreign relations: despite all reports to the contrary by enemies of the Arab world, the Arab League is a reality. There are social and economic differences between one Arab nation and another, just as there are, for example, among the nations of the Western European Union, but by the same token we have more in common than the various European nations which hope to work together. The nations of the Arab League believe that they can unite in a force that contributes to the cause of world peace.
Efforts to unite have been blocked, to some extent, by local differences and dynastic rivalries, and to a greater extent by outside forces conspiring against us. But the League can be made the instrument through which a greater unity can be achieved among the Arab nations in every field of activity. Its member states can form an effective force for the defense of this area. Throughout the negotiations for the evacuation of British troops from the Suez Canal, the Government of Egypt has pointed out that this evacuation will not create a military "vacuum" in the Middle East but will pave the way for strengthening the area's defenses.
The defense of the Middle East must rest primarily with the inhabitants of the area. No outside forces can defend this soil as effectively as the people who live here. That is why Egypt has made every effort to strengthen the Arab League's Collective Security Pact. It is the best possible system to defend our part of the world against any possible aggression.
Over a century ago, Egypt, with less than half her present population, had an army of more than 200,000. There is no reason why the 70,000,000 Arabs could not build up an army of several divisions for the defense of their lands. Our countries possess great potential wealth, not to speak of the oil for which our deserts are famous. Those of our Arab brethren who have been given the chance of education have proved to be no less capable than any other people in the world. We still lack development, but industrialization will increase our capabilities.
In the meantime, we believe that all those more developed Powers who believe in peace should and will help us to strengthen ourselves against aggression. Starting with the Collective Security Pact as the basis for our own defense, we can consider--once it has been adequately implemented--coördinating our defense plans with those of any other nation interested in defense against aggression in this area.
The objection has often been made that if the Arabs were to receive military assistance they would immediately attack Israel. Egyptians feel that a great injustice was committed against the Arabs generally, and especially against the million or more Palestinian Arabs who are now refugees. Israel's policy is aggressive and expansionist, and Israel will continue her attempts to prevent any strengthening of the area. However, we do not want to start any conflict. War has no place in the constructive policy which we have designed to improve the lot of our people. We have much to do in Egypt, and the rest of the Arab world has much to do. A war would cause us to lose, rather than gain, much of what we seek to achieve.
In other quarters there has been talk of "Communist infiltration" in the various Arab and African nationalist movements. It would be unwise for the United States to take that view of nationalist activities, led by sincere patriots whose only desire is to see their nations free from foreign domination. Americans recognize this to be the inalienable right of every man, yet balk at supporting these nationalists for fear of annoying some colonial Power that has refused to move with the times. It is this procrastination that gives the Communists the chance to take over what usually start as genuinely patriotic movements. Such was the case of Indo-China.
There would not be any Communist infiltration in any part of the Middle East and Africa if the United States could develop a courageous policy--and the only morally correct one--of supporting those who are anxious to get rid of foreign domination and exploitation. Real independence would be the greatest defense against Communist--or any other type--of infiltration or aggression. Free men are the most fanatical defenders of their liberty, nor do they lightly forget those who have championed their struggle for independence.