TWO facts underlie the present Anglo-Egyptian tension. First, the two nations have never been able to reach an agreement on the four matters which Great Britain reserved in her Declaration of 1922 establishing Egypt as an independent state. Second, the recent Mediterranean crisis has forced Great Britain to construe her rights under this Declaration broadly and to refuse concessions to Egyptian nationalism. Though the Declaration purported to establish Egypt as a sovereign state, it stipulated in Part Three that:

The following matters are absolutely reserved to the discretion of His Majesty's Government until such time as it may be possible by free discussion and friendly accommodation on both sides to conclude agreements in regard thereto between His Majesty's Government and the Government of Egypt:

(a)~ The security of communications of the British Empire in Egypt;

(b)~ The defense of Egypt against all foreign aggression or interference, direct or indirect;

(c)~ The protection of foreign interests in Egypt and the protection of minorities;

(d)~ The Sudan.

Pending the conclusion of such agreements the status quo in all these matters will remain intact.

Despite Egypt's frequent attacks on the validity of these reservations, international law regards them as binding, since Great Britain was recognized in the peace treaties to be Egypt's Protector. To make her position more secure, Great Britain sent a note to the other Powers, outlining her new position in Egypt and warning them that any aggression against that territory would be considered an unfriendly act "to be repelled with all the means at [her] command." Great Britain has openly intervened in Egypt's internal affairs upon several occasions. In addition, she has constantly, though quietly, exercised influence through the British High Commissioner in Egypt.

The foregoing does not mean that Egypt possesses no international personality. Outside the realm covered by the special British prerogatives, Egypt has complete jurisdiction. She has her own Ministry of Foreign Affairs and her own diplomatic representatives in most countries of the world. She is not a member of the League or the World Court, but she is generally invited to attend the League's conferences on economic and social questions. In view of this we can say that Egypt is a "client" state of Great Britain, possessing a good measure of autonomy but limited in her external relations by the reservations of 1922.

Unfortunately these reservations were formulated without Egyptian cooperation. Great Britain alone retains the right to construe their applicability to each case as it arises. Egyptian leaders are profoundly dissatisfied with the arrangement. Since 1922 they have worked unsuccessfully for the conclusion of a treaty with Britain. Successive attempts to remove or at least modify the reservations were made in 1921, 1924 and 1927. In each case failure was due to the extravagant demands of the Wafd, the party of the extreme Egyptian nationalists. The last effort was undertaken in the spring of 1930. This time success was almost realized. Inasmuch as the draft treaty then drawn up will probably serve as the point of departure for future negotiations, we may profitably scrutinize some of its provisions.

Article 2 recognized Egypt's right as a "sovereign independent state" to become a member of the League of Nations. Article 10 abolished the position of British High Commissioner in Egypt. Articles 5 and 8 established a defensive alliance between Egypt and Great Britain. In Article 9 a solution was found for perhaps the most stubborn issue in Anglo-Egyptian relations -- the quartering of British troops in Egypt. The British Army was to be confined to certain places in the Suez Canal zone. Great Britain was authorized to maintain near Ismailia a certain number of ground troops and air effectives in cooperation with the Egyptian forces; all her other troops were to leave Egypt as soon as the treaty was ratified. After twenty years the question of the final withdrawal of all British forces would be raised, leaving to Egypt the duty of guaranteeing the security and liberty of navigation in the Canal. In case no agreement could then be reached, the question might be referred to the League of Nations. By these concessions Britain considerably modified the first two reservations of the Declaration of 1922 dealing with the defense of Egypt and the Canal. No other draft treaty had ever considered the allocation of British troops to certain zones nor their eventual withdrawal from the soil of Egypt.

However, the negotiations foundered on the question of Egyptian emigration to the Sudan. The British insisted that the problem be regulated by the Governor-General of the Sudan, an appointee of both Egypt and Great Britain. The spokesman for Egypt held out for no restrictions upon emigration. Before another attempt could be made to find a formula acceptable to both sides regarding this relatively unimportant question, Nahas Pasha, Egyptian Premier and chief negotiator at London, was replaced by Sidky Pasha as a result of parliamentary jockeying at Cairo. Questions of a constitutional nature at once became all-absorbing in Egypt, and from that moment the country's political history has revolved around attempts to establish a stable parliamentary régime. In view of these unsettled conditions, Great Britain asserted on several occasions that she would re-open treaty conversations only with delegates enjoying the complete confidence of a popularly supported Egyptian Government. Until recently this was impossible due to the conflict between the Wafd and the conservative ministers appointed by King Fuad. In order to diminish the Wafd's representation in Parliament, Sidky obtained the promulgation of a new constitution in October 1930. This only increased the bitterness of the domestic political conflict, and treaty discussions could not be resumed.

The situation was still further complicated in the fall of 1935 by the Mediterranean crisis precipitated by Italy's war on Ethiopia. England felt obliged to take numerous military and naval precautions in and near Egypt. On September 8, Nahas Pasha, leader of the Wafd, warned Britain that she could expect no help from his country except "on the basis of coöperation between equals." The British High Commissioner, Sir Miles Lampson, assured the Egyptian Government that the British Government would keep it informed and enter into consultation with it "regarding any development of the international situation which may closely concern Egypt." On several occasions steps were in fact taken to consult with Egyptian authorities. None the less, the Liberals, taking over the rôle usually played by the Wafd, raised the cry of British interference. On November 7, Mahmus Pasha, their leader, criticized Premier Nessim Pasha for governing without a constitution and asked the British point-blank whether they would use the emergency to tighten their control over the country. Shortly afterward, Sir Samuel Hoare stated that the time was not opportune for the conclusion of a treaty with Egypt and that neither the 1923 nor 1930 Constitution was suitable for Egypt's requirements. This was resented by practically all parties in Egypt; rioting broke out at once and continued intermittently until February of this year.

Meanwhile, an unexpected consequence of the Hoare speech was the formation of an Egyptian "United Front." On December 9, leaders representing the Wafdists, Liberals, Shaabists, Nationalists, Saadist Wafdists and Independents joined hands in opposing the dictatorship of Nessim and in asking for a treaty with Great Britain. Early this year the British High Commissioner replied to the United Front by declaring that his government was ready to open treaty negotiations as soon as Egypt had established a government in which all parties were represented. This forced Nessim's hand and he resigned, but not before he had obtained the restoration of the 1923 Constitution. The old electoral law was reënacted and a new Parliament was to be elected in May.

The essential instability of the United Front was shown in January when it was unable to agree on a coalition cabinet. King Fuad thereupon was obliged to set up a non-partisan "business cabinet" under Ali Maher Pasha to govern until after the elections. On the other hand, the United Front did succeed in reconciling internal differences enough to select an Egyptian delegation satisfactory to all parties to negotiate with the British. It was composed of six Wafdists and one member of each of the five important minor parties, with Nahas as chairman. Because of its representative character, the British agreed to receive it. The Wafdists, on their part, are satisfied in that they have the controlling voice. Moreover, any treaty agreed upon must receive the approbation of the new Parliament which is strongly Wafdist. The British and Egyptian delegations met early in March.

Great Britain feels that the "facts of modern warfare" make the continued military occupation of Egypt indispensable. She feels that a reduction of the British forces and their limitation to a certain zone along the Canal might provide just the incentive needed for Italy to seek further expansion in northern Africa. She considers that the defense of the Canal cannot be separated from the problem of the defense of Egypt as a whole. Hence the British need a naval base at Alexandria, a new air base at Abukir, and a new military station at Mersa Matruh to control the desert between Libya and Egypt. They argue that once it is agreed that they are to have full right to defend Egypt, the country will quickly receive other benefits, such as the abolition of the hated Capitulations. So long as British military tenure was uncertain, foreign nations felt obliged to cling tenaciously to their Capitulatory rights.

Egyptian leaders are unwilling to sign any agreement sanctioning the continuance of British garrisons at Cairo and Alexandria in time of peace. They feel that the treaty of 1930 adequately safeguarded the safety of their country, while the integrity of the Suez Canal was sufficiently insured by allowing British troops and air forces to be stationed at Ismailia. The "facts of modern warfare" existed in 1930 when Great Britain consented to these provisions; why should they be modified now? Egyptian politicians think that the country's independence and the safety of the Suez Canal could be preserved by: (a), the allocation of British troops to territories along the Canal; (b), a treaty of alliance with Great Britain providing for coöperation between the armies of the two nations in case of a threat of war; (c), a strong Egyptian army (the establishment of which England has prevented); (d), the use in an emergency of British troops stationed east of Egypt; and (e), the use of Alexandria as a British naval base during periods of stress. Under no consideration must British forces be granted the right to occupy any part of Egypt proper in times of peace. The Egyptians do not see why they should agree to further British occupation in return for the abrogation of the Capitulations. They feel that once the occupation has been terminated, Egypt can readily abolish these extraterritorial rights. This does not mean that Egypt is unaware of the advantages of having the British protect her from foreign aggressors. She is not struggling for release from occupation by one Power in order to substitute that of another. During the recent crisis Egypt has given ample evidence of her anti-Italian sentiments.

Though the success of the present negotiations depends primarily on finding a mutually acceptable military formula, there will remain for settlement the further question of the Sudan. In the note which the United Front sent to the High Commissioner asking for the resumption of negotiations, no mention was made of the Sudan, the stumbling block of the 1930 conversations. The Anglo-Egyptian convention of 1899 set up a condominium in which theoretically each country would share equally. From the start, however, Great Britain has dominated the administration of the Sudan, and has gradually managed to eliminate Egyptian influence more and more, going so far in 1924 as to remove all Egyptian battalions. In 1930 the British were willing to offer ample undertakings with respect to Egypt's water supply and to withdraw the restrictions upon the use of Egyptian soldiers in the Sudan. Further, they promised that there should be no prejudice to "Egyptian rights and material interests" and "no discrimination in the Sudan between British subjects and Egyptian nationals in matters of commerce and immigration or the possession of property." In spite of these assurances, Nahas Pasha and the Wafd continued to demand the right of unrestricted immigration, which London wished left to the control of the Governor-General. At present the British seem more anxious than the Egyptians to arrive at a definitive settlement in the Sudan; and they may, therefore, force a discussion of the matter if an agreement on the military problem can be reached.

After several months of conversations, there is little evidence that the two sides are nearing an agreement. Egyptian party leaders believe that Great Britain is unwilling in any way to accede to the fundamental Egyptian demand that British forces be removed from Egypt in time of peace. The newspaper Al Ahram goes so far as to charge Great Britain with permitting Italy to occupy the Lake Tana region as a means of frightening Egypt into consenting to continued British occupation. The recent death of King Fuad may conceivably aggravate the growing unrest, since he exerted a moderating influence in Egyptian politics.

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  • VERNON A. O'ROURKE, Assistant Professor of Social Science in St. John's University; author of "The Juristic Status of Egypt and the Sudan."
  • More By Vernon A. O’Rourke