|Al-Ahram Weekly Online
6 - 12 September 2001
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A Diwan of contemporary life (406)
In 1919, Egyptian nationalist leaders hired the services of Joseph Faulk as their legal advisor to advocate Egypt's interests abroad in return for remuneration. The selection of Faulk, a former governor of Missouri, proved useful after he helped persuade the Senate's Foreign Affairs Committee to consider Egypt an independent and autonomous nation. But claiming that her husband had been short-changed, his widow came to Cairo to file a suit claiming he was owed more than $600,000 "for services rendered on behalf of the Egyptian cause." However, the defence countered that Mr Faulk's efforts achieved no significant progress. Professor Yunan Labib Rizk * presents the arguments on both sides
Mrs Faulk comes to Cairo
From top: Mohamed Mahmoud; Woodrow Wilson; Saad Zaghlul; Wissa Wasef and Nubar Pasha
In the spring of 1926 the widow of Mr Joseph Faulk came to Egypt. When Egyptians learned of the visit, they were naturally reminded of the role the former governor of Missouri had played in the Egyptian national movement seven years earlier.
Following the end of World War I, the US appeared to hold out the hope for Egyptian independence. President Woodrow Wilson's "Fourteen Points," after all, stressed the right of people to self-determination. However, when in the Versailles Peace Conference Great Britain succeeded in having the US recognise its protectorate over Egypt, the Egyptian nationalist leaders who had gone to Paris in order to present their demands were forced to change plans. Inspired by their belief in the American desire to champion the downtrodden, they decided to travel to Washington in order to bring their case directly before Congress. It was there that they engaged Joseph Faulk as the legal advisor to the Egyptian delegation in the US.
The man proved most sympathetic and industrious. Faulk sent numerous reports to the Senate's Foreign Affairs Committee and it was thanks to his efforts that, on 29 August 1919, it resolved that from the legal standpoint Egypt was "neither a dependency of Turkey nor of Great Britain" and that it should, therefore, be considered an "independent and autonomous" nation.
Naturally, the Senate committee's resolution was greeted with jubilation in Egypt as was evident in the reports and commentaries of Al- Ahram and other Egyptian newspapers. The members of the Egyptian delegation in Paris issued a statement expressing their gratitude for the attention the Egyptian cause had received in the US. The statement went on to remark, "Perhaps Egyptians will be surprised to learn that more than 600 US newspapers are now writing about the Egyptian question and defending our cause from New York to San Francisco to New Orleans."
Quick to capitalise on the tide of opinion in the US, the nationalist leaders in Paris sent one of their members, Mohamed Mahmoud Pasha, to New York where he was received on 11 October by Mr Faulk. Together, the two men lobbied the Senate and succeeded in obtaining a bill to be put before the Senate expressing an important reservation to the US's recognition of the British protectorate. It read: "The British protectorate over Egypt is understood to be no more than a means for transferring Turkey's nominal sovereignty over that country to the Egyptian people, and shall not deprive the people of Egypt from any of their rights to self-determination."
British archives of the time reveal that the US secretary of state had approached the British ambassador in an unofficial capacity suggesting that London issue a statement to the effect that Great Britain had no desire to detract from Egyptian sovereignty or encroach upon the rights of the Egyptian people, but rather that the purpose of the protectorate was to safeguard Egyptian sovereignty until such time that the Egyptian question could be brought before the League of Nations or that the Great Powers could reach an agreement that would lead to the restoration of calm in the country.
The British ambassador responded that adopting Washington's proposal would allow Egypt to revert to the use of the whip and other notorious evils of oriental despotism. Nevertheless, he promised to convey the proposal to his superiors in London. The statement that the British foreign secretary did issue was far from meeting the US's wishes. He said that Egypt depended upon Great Britain for its defence but that within these limits there was a broad scope for Egyptian involvement in the government of their country, an involvement that would inevitably increase over time. He added, "We recognise the legitimacy of the aspirations of the Egyptian people and we want to make satisfactory preparations for their fulfillment. The gradual development of systems of autonomous government in Egypt is their hope and one in which we share."
London wired the text of this communiqué to its ambassador in Washington along with instructions to disseminate it widely in the American press and to inform the secretary of state of its contents. The British efforts to undermine Mahmoud's and Faulk's campaign began to work. Several weeks after the British foreign secretary issued the above statement, Mahmoud returned to Paris with bad news. As the Egyptian delegation's leader Saad Zaghlul informed the secretary of the Egyptian Wafd in Cairo: "The American Senate has tabled the bill concerning Egypt. British intrigue apparently played a very strong part." It remained only for Congress to refuse to ratify the treaty Wilson signed in Paris and for the US to withdraw into its long-held isolationism.
Egyptians may well have forgotten the services of Mr Faulk had not his widow appeared in 1926 to remind them. But she chose a curiously disturbing way to do so. After her husband died, Gertrude Faulk went through her husband's papers and made a discovery that prompted her to come to Egypt to file a suit in the Preliminary Mixed Court "against the Wafd, chaired by Saad Zaghlul Pasha and Mohamed Mahmoud Pasha for the sum of $602,924 for the services rendered by her husband on behalf of the Egyptian cause."
Mrs Faulk brought with her a number of corroborative documents. One was a paper signed by Mahmoud Pasha in which he pledged to pay her husband $5,000 a month "during his advocacy of the liberty of Egypt," and another LE100,000 "to be paid by the Egyptian people upon the success of his efforts." Mrs Faulk had evidence that the governor of Missouri had received $35,000. She had two more documents in her possession, both signed by Mahmoud Pasha stating that the Egyptian Wafd owed Faulk LE20,000 "in lieu of the legal services he rendered on behalf of the Egyptian cause from 1920 to 1921." The latter statement was signed 29 August 1922 and added, "It is hoped that this sum will be paid to Governor Faulk without further delay."
Al-Ahram, along with the rest of the Egyptian public, followed the trial with great interest, not only because of the protagonists -- the mysterious widow of the late Missouri governor and the leaders of the Wafd Party -- but also because of the high-power lawyers they hired to represent them: Morsenbach on behalf of Mrs Faulk and Garboua and Wissa Wasef on behalf of Mohamed Mahmoud and the Wafd.
The plaintiff's attorney was the first to address the court. He cited numerous precedents for engaging prominent foreign personalities to advocate Egypt's interests abroad in return for remuneration. In the 1870s, he said, Nubar Pasha engaged the French novelist Edmond Abbot to write a story on the Egyptian peasant so as to win European sympathy at a time when Egypt was seeking to reform the mixed court system. The Egyptian treasury paid the French writer LE1,000, then a considerable sum, for his work. Similarly, the Egyptian Wafd sought the services of French writer Victor Marguerite also for the purpose of propaganda and paid him between LE2,000 and LE3,000.
Morsenbach argued that it could not be held that Egypt had not obtained full independence and, therefore, that Faulk was not entitled to the LE100,000 "to be paid by the Egyptian people upon the success of his efforts." The Egyptian constitution, the lawyer reminded the court, clearly stated in its first article: "Egypt is an independent, sovereign nation." Certainly, the Egyptian courts, which issued their verdicts in the name of the king, could not deny the existence of an article of the constitution which was signed by King Fouad himself who had declared that Egypt was an independent nation.
On 28 April 1926, Al-Ahram brought to its readers the lengthy rebuttal delivered by Wissa Wasef the previous day. The famous attorney, also a prominent member of the Wafd Party, held that the Wafd never contracted Faulk to secure an American reservation regarding the nature of the protectorate for the very simple reason that the Wafd had always rejected the protectorate outright, "regardless of its nature or implied understanding."
Wasef then related the lengths to which Mr Faulk had gone in order to obtain what he claimed was his rightful remuneration. The governor from Missouri engaged another American, a certain Mr Hogg, to act on his behalf. Armed with a power of attorney, Hogg came to Egypt in the early 1920s and presented to Wafd headquarters a very strange bill for the governor's fees. The statement read that, as Egypt had obtained "a fifth of its liberty," Mr Faulk was entitled to the same fraction of his fees. The claim was all the more astounding since, at the time, Saad Zaghlul was in exile in Gibraltar and the other Wafd leaders were in exile in the Seychelles. Wasef contended that this spurious estimate indicated that the fees Faulk charged were negotiable which, in turn, cast doubt on the man's earnestness.
The lawyer for the Wafd argued that the pledges of payment signed by Mohamed Mahmoud had no validity. Mahmoud, he said, was not in the legal profession and, therefore, had no basis upon which to value Faulk's services at LE20,000. Nor did he have a right to expect that the Wafd would pay that fee since he was no longer a member of the party and certainly had no knowledge of its funds.
What services, Wasef asked, did the former governor of Missouri actually perform in exchange for his exorbitant fees? The lawyer took out a letter in court addressed to Mr Faulk, dated 31 January 1921 and signed by Wafd leader Saad Zaghlul. "During our current involvement in the negotiations with the Milner Commission we have not felt the slightest assistance from the United States, whether directly or indirectly," the letter read. "Moreover, what the US has done since the Senate refused to ratify the Treaty of Versailles has been of little benefit." The letter concluded: "If we need the benefit of your expertise in the future, we are certain you will not hesitate to provide it." The statement constituted a clear termination of any contract that may have been construed to exist between the Wafd and Mr Faulk, Wasef explained. The governor of Missouri had already been amply compensated for the letters he had published in the press and the letters and memoranda he had submitted to the Senate on behalf of the Egyptian cause. Any further claims were unfounded, he concluded, adding that the plaintiff should be held responsible for the litigation fees.
As Mohamed Mahmoud had signed the pledges of payment in favour of Faulk, his defence addressed a formal aspect of the litigation. Mahmoud and Zaghlul, he said, had been working on behalf of the Wafd. It was not against them, therefore, that the plaintiff should have filed suit, but against the entire body of that party's members. Garboua went on to reiterate Wasef's argument that Mr Faulk's efforts achieved no significant progress for the Egyptian cause. Rather, the Egyptian question proceeded in an entirely different direction to that which the American politician had pursued, which was the course of direct negotiations between Egypt and Great Britain.
In fact, Garboua raised an important point regarding the dynamics of Egypt's struggle for independence. From the peace conference in 1919 until the Declaration of 28 February 1922, one of the objectives of Egyptian nationalists was to internationalise their cause, whether by bringing it before the forum at Versailles or by lobbying the big powers individually. The approach to Mr Faulk represented an example of the latter course. The British, on the other hand, sought to exclude other powers and restrict the resolution of the "Egyptian question" to bilateral negotiations. In 1920, with the arrival in Egypt of the Milner Commission, British tactics gained the upper hand and succeeded in drawing Egyptians into protracted negotiations that lasted from that year until the signing of the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936.
In all events, Al-Ahram readers did not have to wait long for the verdict. On 10 April, the court rejected the claim against Zaghlul and Mahmoud. However, it ruled that Zaghlul, in his capacity as the leader of the Wafd, was to be charged with paying $55,000 to Mrs Faulk, an amount which, at least, was significantly lower than what the plaintiff had originally demanded. The court further charged the Wafd with the payment of the litigation expenses.
More than a month later Al-Ahram offered an explanation of the court's ruling. It observed that the court had not overlooked, as some claimed, an important detail. It was true that the ruling made no mention of the LE100,000 to be paid to Mr Faulk in the event that Egypt obtained its independence; however, the court determined that although Egypt had obtained its independence, this was not the result of US intervention, "in spite of the efforts of Mr Faulk." Consequently, "his widow has no claim to the aforementioned sum."
On the other hand, the newspaper continued, the court did consider Mahmoud's pledge to pay $5,000 per month to Faulk. It further determined that between August 1919 and February of the following year, the American governor had "applied himself assiduously, in cooperation with Mohamed Mahmoud Pasha, to the advocacy of the Egyptian cause" and that he had obtained $35,000 as remuneration for his services during this period. The same, however, did not apply to the subsequent period, which the court defined as being from March 1920 to February 1921 when Zaghlul sent a letter indicating the Wafd had decided to dispense with his services. During this latter period, in the opinion of the court, Mr Faulk's efforts did not extend beyond personal lobbying for which he did not merit compensation for his hotel expenses in New York, as his wife claimed. Therefore, the court ruled that his widow was only entitled to her late husband's outstanding fees for the remaining period; hence the figure of $55,000.
It is not difficult to imagine what contemporary Egyptians must have felt as they followed the case of Mrs Faulk. Here was a rich, greedy American widow out to get all she could. It probably came as little surprise, therefore, that instead of being satisfied with the tidy sum of $55,000, Gertrude Faulk took her case to the Mixed Court of Appeals in Alexandria.
Morsenbach filed for an appeal on 18 November 1926. Al-Ahram managed to obtain a copy of his deposition in which he cited the grounds for appeal. Firstly, he argued, the preliminary court should not have exempted Mahmoud and Zaghlul from personal liability. There are significant differences between a corporate entity and a political association, as a result of which "the members of a political association, whether they act in their own names or in the name of others, are personally liable to the second party in their contractual relations."
The attorney also objected to the court's decision to exempt the appellants' from compensating Faulk for the expenses he incurred in the course of his campaign on behalf of the Egyptian cause. These were considerable and included "enormous expenditures on receptions and banquets to which important and influential figures were invited." Moreover, when Faulk sent a statement to Zaghlul listing these expenses, Zaghlul voiced no objection.
Finally, Morsenbach took issue with the court's refusal to acknowledge Mahmoud's pledge to pay Faulk LE100,000 when Egypt obtained independence. The nation's independence was acknowledged by a royal decree issued on 19 April 1923 in Article 1 of the Egyptian constitution. "In light of this, Saad Zaghlul and Mohamed Mahmoud should abide by the commitments to which they pledged themselves."
The court accepted the appeal but it was not until six months later, on 28 May 1927, that it opened its hearings on the case. The parties were represented by the same lawyers although in this court there were four judges instead of one, two foreigners and two Egyptians. The public prosecutor's office was also represented by a foreigner.
Morsenbach essentially repeated the plea he had made before the lower court, apart from one addition. The telegram that Zaghlul had sent Faulk in late January may have terminated the governor's services but it could not be construed as an annulment of the contract between the two parties, in accordance with which Faulk was entitled to a stipulated reward when Egypt obtained independence. That Egypt was independent could not be denied. "As to whether this independence is absolute or partially restricted, that is another matter entirely. Indeed, no nation can be said to enjoy absolute independence, free from restrictions. Even France has restrictions on its independence," he proclaimed.
In his rebuttal, Wasef, counsel for the Wafd, stressed that Mahmoud's pledge to Faulk could not be binding on the Wafd since it was given at a time when the members of the party were in exile and Mahmoud had broken off with the Wafd. More significantly, the Wafd's attorney held that while Morsenbach might hold that Egypt had obtained sufficient independence, "the Egyptian people do not agree." As in the preliminary court, he also maintained that the US had done nothing to help Egypt reach the degree of independence it had obtained, adding, "If Egypt did obtain the full independence it demands, the Wafd would pay LE100,000 to whomever assisted it in reaching this desired goal."
In view of Wasef's assertion that Mahmoud had been acting on his own accord, Garboua was compelled to reiterate that his client had been acting in his capacity as deputy head of the Wafd, a capacity which had been accepted by the preliminary court.
On 15 June 1927, the Alexandria Mixed Court of Appeals announced its verdict. Essentially, it upheld all of the lower court's rulings. The Wafd was to pay Mrs Faulk the outstanding fees owed to her husband, as determined by the lower court, and no more. Justifying the ruling, the Alexandrian court stated, "The influence of the US State Department brought no results during the negotiations with the British commission and the appeal on behalf of the Egyptian cause in the US was of little value. Yet Faulk did fulfill the tasks he undertook towards promoting the independence of Egypt with care and perseverance. This being the case, it would not be appropriate to deprive him of his rightful fee." The court also cleared Mahmoud and Zaghlul of any personal liability.
The one difference in the superior court's ruling was that it exonerated Mrs Faulk from paying the litigation expenses, instead of charging the Wafd with the payment. The Wafd was, therefore, obliged to pay the plaintiff an additional $7,000 -- or LE1,400 according to the exchange rate in those days -- in addition to the $55,000 it owed her. Al-Ahram never informed its readers whether she received her money. There is reason to suspect she had difficulty in getting the Wafd to pay up. The party's coffers were empty and the American widow could not threaten to take it to jail.
* The author is a professor of history and head of Al-Ahram History Studies Centre.
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