18 - 24 July 2002
Issue No. 595
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The long revolution

Amina Elbendary chronicles the events which shaped the 1952 July Revolution in the three decades since its inception


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Clockwise from top: Troops surround Abdin palace on the morn of the Revolution; a peasant benefitting from land redistribution laws kissing the president; Nasser's historic funeral attended by millions of Egyptians; Nasser giving a speech from the minbar of Al-Azhar on the eve of the Tripartite Aggression in 1956; and inspecting the troops during the War of Attrition; Nasser and Shukri Al-Qawatli during the union with Syria; the president at the Bandung conference; Nasser and Amer at the signing of the British evacuation treaty; Revolutionary court with Anwar El- Sadat and Gamal Salem presiding
1952

January-July: Battle of Ismailia takes place between Egyptian police and British forces in the Canal Zone (25 January). 50 Egyptian policeman are killed and 100 injured. The following day riots break out in Cairo, the rioters attacking foreign interests and businesses, such as airline offices, hotels, cinemas, bars and department stores. These riots, the Cairo Fires, are seen as the beginning of the end of the monarchy.

King Farouk dismisses Mustafa El-Nahhas's government, and in the months that follow, three different politicians are instructed to form governments, each proving short-lived: Ali Maher (27 January -- 1 March), Ahmed Naguib El-Hilali (2 March -- 29 June, and 22 --23 July) and Hussein Sirri (2 -- 20 July). These "salvation ministries," as they were called, fail to halt the country's downward spiral, corruption remaining ubiquitous despite attempts by successive prime ministers to put their houses in order.

Stirrings of discontent are felt in the army, and in January 1952 opposition officers supported by the Free Officers gain control of the governing board of the Officers Club. On 16 July, the King annuls these elections, appointing his own supporters instead in an attempt to regain control of the army.

A Coup d'état is planned for 5 August, but when General Mohamed Naguib, one of the Free Officers, informs the group on 19 July that the army high command had a list of their names, the coup leaders act on the night of 22 July.

July-August: The Free Officers embark on their "Blessed Movement," (22 July). Army headquarters is seized before midnight, and key members of the army high command captured. The Free Officers take power in Cairo at 7am on the morning of 23 July 1952, Anwar El-Sadat broadcasts the first message of the Free Officers to the nation, announcing the success of the movement.

King Farouk abdicates in favour of his son, Crown Prince Ahmed Fouad, and a Regency Council is appointed. King Farouk leaves the country (26 July), sailing with Queen Nariman and Prince Ahmed Fouad to exile in Italy on board the royal yacht, Al-Mahrusa. The Revolution Command Council (RCC), made up of the previous 9-member command committee of the Free Officers in addition to five more members, including Mohamed Naguib, is formed. Ali Maher is asked to form a civilian government.

September-December: Ali Maher resigns on 7 September following differences with the officers. Mohamed Naguib becomes prime minister. On 9 September, the Agrarian Reform Law is passed, signaling a major land redistribution programme among peasant farmers and placing a ceiling of 200 feddans on land ownership. On 9 December, the 1923 Constitution is abrogated "in the name of the people."

1953

On 16 January, the officers of the RCC dissolve and ban all political parties, declaring a three-year transitional period during which the RCC will rule. A provisional Constitutional Charter, giving legitimacy to the RCC, is proclaimed on 10 February, and the Liberation Rally -- the first of 3 political organisations linked to the July regime -- is launched soon afterwards with the aim of mobilising popular support.

The Rally is headed by Gamal Abdel-Nasser and includes other Free Officers as secretaries-general. On 18 June, the RCC declares Egypt a republic, abolishing the monarchy and appointing General Mohamed Naguib, aged 52, as first president and prime minister. Gamal Abdel-Nasser, 35, is appointed deputy premier and minister of the interior.

A Revolutionary Tribunal consisting of RCC members Abdel- Latif El-Boghdadi, Anwar El-Sadat and Hassan Ibrahim, is set up to try politicians of the ancien régime.

1954

In January, the Muslim Brotherhood is outlawed, remaining an illegal political organization ever since. The move comes in the wake of clashes between members of the Brotherhood and Liberation Rally student demonstrators on 12 January. March witnesses clashes within the RCC, symbolised in the attempt, ultimately successful, to oust Naguib. The move faces opposition from within the army, and some members of the RCC, especially Khaled Mohieddin, favour a return to constitutional government.

Gamal Abdel-Nasser takes power, first as chairman of the RCC and prime minister, with Naguib's constitutional position remaining vague until 14 November, when he is dismissed from office and placed under house arrest.

On 26 October, an assassination attempt directed at Nasser during a rally in Alexandria leads to the regime acting against the Brotherhood, executing Brotherhood leaders on 9 December.

A treaty is signed with Britain on 19 October for the evacuation of British troops from Egypt, to be completed over the following 20 months. Two years later, on 18 June 1956, Nasser raises the Egyptian flag over the Canal Zone, announcing the complete evacuation of British troops.

1955

The Bandung Conference takes place from 18-24 April, with 24 African and Asian nations pledging mutual economic and political support. Egypt concludes arms deals with the USSR and Czechoslovakia, giving the country a new source of weapons in the face of the Israeli threat.

On 7 June, a law is promulgated for the "Egyptianisation" of foreign companies and joint ventures.

1956

President Nasser announces a new Constitution on 16 January at a popular rally, setting up a presidential system of government in which the president has the power to appoint and dismiss ministers. An elections law is passed on 3 March granting women the right to vote for the first time in Egyptian history.

Nasser is elected president of the Republic on 23 June.

On 16 May Egypt recognises the People's Republic of China, a member of the Bandung Conference.

Egypt has been seeking loans from the World Bank since late 1955 to finance the construction of the Aswan High Dam. A tentative agreement with the World Bank, the US and Britain indicates that US$ 70 million will be provided for the project. However, on 20 July the US and Britain withdraw their offers of funding, and the World Bank goes back on the agreement. On 26 July, Nasser gives a historic speech announcing the nationalisation of the Suez Canal Company, whose revenues will be used to finance the construction of the High Dam.

The nationalisation escalates tension between Egypt and Britain and France, which freeze Egyptian assets and put their armies on alert. On 1 August, the USSR offers to fund the High Dam project. Relations with Britain and France continue to deteriorate throughout the summer, culminating in the Tripartite Anglo- French-Israeli Aggression on Egypt in October. Israeli troops invade Gaza and Sinai on the 29th, while British and French troops attack the Canal Zone on the 31st. Military operations are finally halted under USSR, US and UN pressure on 7 November, and British and French troops evacuated on 22 December.

All British and French banks and companies, 15,000 establishments in all, are nationalized, a process that is later extended to all foreign establishments and also to Egyptian firms.

1957

Nasser announces the formation of the National Union (Al-Ittihad Al-Qawmi), paving the way to July elections for the National Assembly, the first parliament since 1952.

1958

Egypt unites with Syria on 22 February creating the United Arab Republic (UAR). The 1956 Constitution is abrogated following the union and a provisional one decreed. The Egyptian National Assembly is dissolved. On 2 April, Nasser issues a decree establishing the flag of the Republic as three horizontal bars of red, white and black with two stars. Crackdown on communists on 31 December, for their alleged lukewarm response to the Union with Syria

1960

On 10 February the Banque Misr and the National Bank of Egypt are nationalised. On 13 May, the General Union (Al-Ittihad Al- Amm) of the National Union is established, and on 23 May a law is passed regulating the press, with ownership of newspapers being passed to the National Union. On 21 July Egyptian Television starts.

1961

On 25 July new regulations place a ceiling on land holdings of 100 feddans.

Syria secedes from the union with Egypt in September, ending the UAR.

1962

Following Syrian secession, a Preparatory Committee of the National Congress of Popular Forces is convened in Cairo to prepare for a National Congress to lay down a Charter for National Action. The 1,750-member Congress of representatives from peasant, labourer, professional and occupational associations meets in May to debate the Draft National Charter presented by Nasser. On 30 June, the Congress approves the Charter, which sets up a new political organisation, the Arab Socialist Union (ASU) to replace the National Union. 50 per cent of the seats in the ASU are to be filled by farmers and workers. Elected ASU units are set up in factories, firms, agricultural cooperatives, ministries and professional syndicates.

Egypt becomes involved in the civil war in Yemen, supporting the revolutionary regime of Abdullah Al-Sallal that had ousted the country's former ruler, Imam Badr, and declared a republic. This proved to be a considerable financial and military burden on Egypt and created antipathy with Saudi Arabia, which supported the Yemeni royalists.

1964

A new National Assembly is elected in February, all members having also to be members of the ASU. A new Constitution is promulgated in March providing for strong presidential government. Under the terms of the Constitution, the president is to be nominated by the National Assembly (parliament) and confirmed by plebiscite. The president has the power to convoke, prorogue and dissolve the Assembly.

1965

During a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, many of the organisation's leaders are arrested and imprisoned and the movement's ideologue, Sayed Qutb, is executed.

1966

Baathist Revolution breaks out in Syria in February, the post- revolutionary regime beginning a rapprochement with Egypt that results in a comprehensive defense treaty between the two countries. The new Syrian regime also supports the Palestinian Fatah Organisation, which carries out guerrilla attacks against Israel. Tensions between Syria and Israel escalate throughout the Autumn.

1967

Under Arab pressure and as a result of rising popular expectations of Arab military might, on 18 May Nasser asks UN Secretary- General, U Thant, to withdraw the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) stationed on Egypt's side of the border with Israel in Sinai. Egypt closes the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping in retaliation for Israel's diversion of the River Jordan. King Hussein of Jordan visits Cairo on 30 May, signing a Jordanian-Egyptian defense pact.

On 5 June, Egypt is dealt a crushing blow by Israeli army forces. Seventeen Egyptian airfields are attacked, and most of the Egyptian air force destroyed on the ground leading to the Israeli occupation of the Sinai Peninsula. Jordan enters the war on Egypt's side, but is forced to accept a UN Security Council ceasefire on 7 June after Israel occupies the Jordanian-controlled territories of the West Bank and Jerusalem and the Egyptian- controlled Gaza Strip. Egypt also accepts the ceasefire. Israeli troops attack the Syrian Golan Heights, occupying the town of Quneitra. Syria accepts the ceasefire on 10 June.

Unlike during the 1956 Suez Crisis, the international community does not support Egypt, with the UK and US acting in support of Israel. Egypt's defeat in the 1967 War compels Nasser to resign on 9 June, naming Vice-President Zakariyya Mohieddin as his successor. However, he relents following massive popular demonstrations of support. Seven high-ranking officers are tried in the wake of the defeat, including Minister of War Shams Bardan. Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces Field-Marshal Abdel-Hakim Amer is arrested and is reported to have committed suicide while in custody in August.

1968

Construction work on the High Dam is completed in January. Student demonstrations break out in Egypt in February, the demonstrators protesting against practices of the regime they claim had led to the June 1967 defeat, as well as against the lenient sentences given to the accused officers. The demonstrations signal public disillusion and dissatisfaction with the regime, prompting a period of revision and the combating of corruption especially among the "centres of power."

1969

In March, Nasser launchs a War of Attrition against Israel, escalating conflict on the Suez Canal Zone while attracting international attention to the occupation. Increased Soviet aid is provided during this period.

1970

A military confrontation between Palestinian resistance forces and the Jordanian regime leads to mass slaughter in September. Nasser intervenes to end the conflict and bring about reconciliation. Exhausted by the tension following the Arab Summit in Cairo aimed at reaching a settlement between King Hussein and the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Abdel-Nasser dies of a heart attack on 28 September. His funeral provokes huge popular emotion and attracts a vast number of participants. He is succeeded by Anwar El-Sadat as president.

1971

Sadat acts to remove key figures of Nasser's regime, tightening his control over the administration in 15 May in the "Corrective Revolution". Key figures are arrested, and later, in June 1972, Sadat expels all Soviet advisers from Egypt, signaling a change in Egyptian foreign policy.

1973

Egyptian troops cross the Suez Canal into Israeli-occupied Sinai on 6 October, the Jewish Yom Kippur holiday, swiftly capturing the entire Bar-Lev Line. Simultaneously, Syrian troops advance into Israeli-occupied Syrian territory. Israel forces the Syrians to retreat and thrusts across the Suez Canal through a gap between the Egyptian Second and Third Armies. On 10 October, emergency supplies of weapons to Egypt and Syria are begun by the USSR and Arab countries, while the US begins an airlift of weapons to Israel.

On 17 October, the Organisation of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries meets in Kuwait and decides to reduce oil production by five per cent a month until Israel withdraws from all occupied Arab territories. Saudi Arabia cuts production by 10 per cent and imposes an embargo on oil exports to the US and the Netherlands.

At the UN, a series of UN Security Council Resolutions are passed, culminating in Resolution 340 which provides for a UN Emergency Force in the Middle East from which troops from the five permanent members of the Security Council are excluded.

1974

On 18 January disengagement is agreed between Egypt and Israel, negotiated through the mediation of US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

1975

In June, the Suez Canal is reopened. In September, a further Egyptian-Israeli disengagement agreement is signed. Egypt recovers the Sinai oil fields and the Canal from Israel, but the agreement also provides for the demilitarisation of strategic areas of the Sinai and the establishment of early- warning posts manned by US personnel.

1977

In January, Cairo is overtaken by food riots following price increases in basic goods. The riots are part of the pressure on the Egyptian economy. On 19 November, Sadat visits Jerusalem and addresses the Israeli Knesset (Parliament). Sadat grants permission to the Wafd Party to resume political activity, and under its former Secretary-General, now reinstated, Fouad Seraggeddin, the Wafd questions the legitimacy of the July Revolution. This sparks further legislation and the reimposition of the ban on ancien régime politicians. The Wafd responds by disbanding in protest.

1978

US President Jimmy Carter invites Egypt and Israel to a summit meeting at Camp David on 5 September. The negotiations lead to a new framework for peace in the Middle East that addresses the Palestinian question, together with a framework for peace between Egypt and Israel.

1979

A peace treaty between Egypt and Israel is signed in March. The Treaty, together with Sadat's pro-Western economic policies, creates domestic opposition in Egypt. Militant Islamist groups spring up throughout the early 1970s, dominating student organisations and carrying out armed attacks on government institutions, such as the attack by the Islamic Liberation Organisation on the Technical Military Academy in April 1974, which resulted in much loss of life. Throughout the summer of 1979, and over the next two years, Sadat embarks on a policy of cracking down on opposition elements in the country, chiefly Islamist militants and Leftists.

1980

On 22 May a referendum is held approving amendments to the Constitution that will allow Sadat to remain in office indefinitely and making Islamic Shari'a law the principle source of legislation.

1981

Popular unrest, including incidents of sectarian strife in the Cairo neighbourhood of Al-Zawiya Al-Hamra and elsewhere, as well as opposition to Sadat's reconciliation with Israel, prompts a further wave of arrests and a crackdown on 1,500 religious militants and opposition figures in September. On 6 October, Sadat is assassinated at a military parade commemorating the October victory, by Islamist militants led by Second-Lieutenant Khaled Ahmed Shawqi El- Islambouli.

1982

President Hosni Mubarak, who has become president of the republic following Sadat's assassination, releases the political prisoners, allows the Wafd Party to resume its activities and lifts the ban on former politicians stripped of political rights under Sadat. The Muslim Brotherhood is allowed to take part in elections, though the organisation is still officially deemed illegal. In April, Southern Sinai is finally returned to Egypt.

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