Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
9 - 15 September 1999
Issue No. 446
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illustration: Makram Henein

A Diwan of contemporary life (299)

Saad Zaghlul and Adli Yakan were one-time friends whose friendship soured into acrimony. Certainly there was no love lost as the camaraderie which the leader of the revolution and the prime minister once displayed was replaced by animosity. The complex rivalry that followed this close friendship gained added significance since it was played out against the backdrop of delicate negotiations with the British. From the pages of Al-Ahram,Dr Yunan Labib Rizq * traces how the rupture in the relationship between Zaghlul and Yakan polarised the country into rival camps at a seminal point in their respective careers, and in the history of the nation

Friends who became foes

It is common for two people to become blood brothers. It is rare, however, for such a friendship to turn into an animosity bitter enough for each to seek to ruin the other. Yet modern Egyptian political history is littered with such relationships gone sour.

Perhaps the most famous example was the 15-year-old friendship between Wafd Party chief Mustafa El-Nahhas and General-Secretary of the Wafd Makram Ebeid. From 1927 to 1942 they were a model of camaraderie. But the following year tensions surfaced, reaching their peak with the "black book" in which "the great fighter", Ebeid, listed what he thought to be the many sins of "the glorious leader", El-Nahhas.

We see the phenomenon again between President Gamal Abdel-Nasser and his life-long friend Abdel-Hakim Amer. Their close friendship continued well into the revolution and only began to sour after the secession of Syria from its union with Egypt, ending finally with Amer's suicide following Egypt's defeat in the June 1967 War.

Adli Yakan Adli Yakan Saad Zaghlul Saad Zaghlul
A lesser known case of fraternity turning into acrimony involved the leader of the 1919 Revolution and head of the Wafd, Saad Zaghlul, and Prime Minister Adli Yakan. In this instance, the rupture in their relationship polarised the entire country into Saadists and Adliists.

Perhaps the reason the embitterment between the two men has not received its due share of attention is that it was commonly believed that no close friendship existed between them in the first place. That the two men came from entirely different backgrounds seems to support this point of view. Yakan belonged to the Turkish ruling class while Zaghlul was a descendent of pure Egyptian rural stock. Contemporary writers tended to further this belief. One of the most influential was Mohamed Hussein Heikal who wrote in his Memoirs on Egyptian Politics: "The relationship between the members of the Wafd and Adli Pasha never exceeded that of a casual acquaintance. Adli Pasha was the son of the prosperous Yakan family that was linked through marriage to the great Mohamed Ali dynasty. There was a large gap separating the wealthy Turkish aristocracy and native Egyptians, a gap that dated back to the days of Turkish rule and the discontent that embedded itself in the Egyptian consciousness against this rule."

In assuming that the natural disaffection between the Turkish aristocracy and native Egyptians prevented a close relationship between Zaghlul and Yakan, Heikal overlooked two important factors. First, Zaghlul was related through marriage to Prime Minister Mustafa Fahmi, thereby becoming a part of Egyptian upper class society at which level there were close and intricate ties between Turkish and Egyptian society at both official and unofficial levels. Secondly, Zaghlul and Yakan had both occupied high administrative posts. Zaghlul served as minister of education, then minister of justice between 1906-12, then as deputy speaker of the Legislative Assembly in 1914. Yakan was chief of a number of provincial directorates until he was promoted to governor of Cairo and, in 1914, to minister of foreign affairs. As members of the "ruling elite", the two men had common concerns and, frequently, common interests that would on occasion prove conducive for a meeting of minds.

In his memoirs, which are extremely useful to scholars, Zaghlul reveals much about the workings of this complex interrelationship. Numerous entries suggest that, during and immediately after World War I, he was more intimate with Yakan than with any other politician at that stormy time. They regularly visited each other at their homes in a manner that conforms to the Egyptian proverb: "Your feet take you to the place you feel most content." A few of the many entries are sufficient to note as examples. On 7 November 1915, Zaghlul recalls, "Adli called on me at about 10pm and stayed until about an hour after midnight. Most of our conversation centred on the sultan, Rushdi and the general state of political affairs." Three weeks later, in his entry of 29 November, Zaghlul wrote, "Adli visited the day before yesterday, as he did two consecutive evenings before that." Two years later, on 20 October 1917, Zaghlul recounts that Adli called on him to complain that "the sultan had been too busy to see him". The entries indicate both a considerable informality between them and a high level of trust as evidenced by Zaghlul's writings on 27 June 1916. "I went to Alexandria and visited Adli Pasha at his home." Elsewhere he recalls that when he went to the funeral of Ibrahim Naguib, "as I entered the tent I found Mohamed Fahmi, deputy governor of Cairo, and his brother Mahmoud. Then Adli arrived. He was unable to find a place to sit, so I called him over to where I was." Moreover, they were so familiar with one another that they were able to joke at the other's expense. In his entry of 15 September 1916, Zaghlul relates that he was returning from his fields on his donkey when the donkey stumbled and fell. "I wanted to get off the donkey but it had turned over on its side, trapping my foot beneath it. I was in great pain, but fortunately a friend behind me caught up and helped me get out from beneath the animal." The incident was reported in the newspapers and within days Zaghlul received a letter from Yakan in which the latter gleefully asked, "How can anyone so adept at steering a conversation be so inept at steering a donkey?"

Certainly, such amicable teasing was uncharacteristic of two very earnest politicians of such high standing. Yet it is pure fact that Zaghlul's accounts of Yakan take up more space in his memoirs than his accounts of any other politician at the time. It is no exaggeration to describe the relationship between the two men initially as one of brotherlyness. It follows that the animosity between them that developed in 1921 would justify the classification of their relationship as one between "fraternal enemies".

In 1920, Yakan responded to a request from the Wafd to travel to Paris to meet with Zaghlul and other members of the Egyptian delegation (known as the Wafd). He arrived on 22 April and was due to travel from there to London to negotiate with Lord Milner. Many believe that this move was in keeping with the desire of Yakan and Abdel-Khaleq Tharwat, both government ministers, to keep track of the activities of the Wafd. In part, too, it was known that Yakan met with Lord Milner's approval as a negotiating partner. More importantly, however, my sense is that the Cairo headquarters of the Wafd chose Yakan precisely because of his close association with Zaghlul.

Abdel-Rahman Bek Fahmi, general-secretary of the Wafd, has admitted that it took considerable pleading to get Yakan to agree to go to Paris. To further mollify their envoy, Fahmi arranged for a hearty farewell "attended by ministers, senior government and religious officials and notables". In addition, "demonstrations of support were held upon his departure from Cairo, his arrival in Alexandria and again upon his departure from the port".

The Wafd was content as long as Yakan restricted his role to an intermediary between the Wafd and the British government. But when Yakan took the initiative to present Milner with a proposal for a treaty without first consulting Zaghlul or the Wafd, sparks were certain to fly. Worse, the Wafd had an alternative proposal, causing the Wafd secretary, Mustafa El-Nahhas, to blame Yakan for "forfeiting the great advantages our agreement could have obtained and for denigrating the status of the Wafd before the Milner Commission which was given to understand that the Wafd had approved of Yakan's proposal". Still, the Wafd refrained from commenting on the Yakan proposal in order to maintain the image of a united front behind Adli Pasha. Undoubtedly, Zaghlul would have been behind the push to conformity, even as rumours spread in Cairo of tensions between the Wafd and Yakan. Against this background one can readily understand why Yakan should wire the Wafd headquarters in Cairo to assert that he was doing all he could to support the efforts of the Wafd and that he intended "to continue to work in unison with the Wafd in keeping with this objective". Undoubtedly, too, it was out of consideration for his long-standing friendship with Yakan that Zaghlul sent another telegram to Wafd headquarters confirming the content of his friend's telegram, adding that rumours of tension between Yakan and the Wafd were "groundless" and that he was certain that Yakan would do nothing without the Wafd's prior agreement.

Once again, Yakan's close association with Zaghlul ensured him a warm reception upon his return to Egypt. "The people greeted him with great fanfare upon his arrival in Alexandria on 30 November 1920 and again with hearty enthusiasm upon reaching Cairo, where he was received by the Wafd Central Committee and many important dignitaries and notables."

When the negotiations between Milner and the Wafd broke down, the British sought to drive a wedge between the Wafd and Yakan. They appealed to Sultan Fouad I to form a delegation to conduct official negotiations with the British government and insisted that Yakan head the government that would steer these negotiations since Yakan, they contended, had been the backbone of the informal talks. Egyptian historian Sabri El-Sorbonni could not have been more correct when he warned, in several articles published in Al-Ahram, that the negotiations were "the tool with which the British intend to destroy Egyptian unity and entrench the protectorate system. Negotiations are their way of deadening our nerves and numbing our minds." El-Sorbonni had taken the occasion to remind readers that the Egyptians had negotiated with the British for 18 months "without taking the appropriate precautions to secure sufficient guarantees to safeguard ourselves against the possible detrimental effects of negotiations. The foundation of negotiations was to seek an accommodation between our demand for full independence and their need to ensure their interests. If that foundation is to be viable, the British must negotiate in good faith. Otherwise the entire edifice constructed upon such negotiations must inevitably collapse."

The Wafd, however, overcame the British attempt to divide the nation. It held official receptions and organised popular rallies for the Adli government while hotels, stores and homes sported flags and banners in support. Simultaneously, the prime minister himself announced that he sought to "work for the fulfilment of the aims and aspirations of the people". It was understood that the Wafd embodied the will of the people.

Once again, though perhaps for the last time, friendship overcame malicious designs. Yakan headed the delegations of well-wishers at the Cairo train station upon Zaghlul's return from Europe on 5 April 1921. Al-Ahram's correspondent on the scene said the crowds cheered Adli Pasha and Rushdi Pasha when they arrived at the station at 2.30pm. He continues, "The brightly decorated train approached. Hardly had it pulled to a stop than Their Excellencies Adli Pasha and Rushdi Pasha rushed up to greet the arriving Wafd leader with a warm embrace." The rush of events would make this the last brotherly embrace between the two.

The tumultuous mass reception of the legendary leader of the revolution upon his return to his homeland after a two-year absence marked the beginning of a new phase in the relationship between Saad Zaghlul and Adli Yakan. The contours of their new relationship began to take shape in the many speeches Zaghlul delivered following his return. Al-Ahram published the speeches in full, along with the details of the accompanying fanfare.

Although several members of the Wafd, including Mohamed Mahmoud, Ali Shaarawi, Abdel-Aziz Fahmi and Lutfi El-Sayyid, had resigned, Zaghlul continued to see the Wafd as the true representative of the people. To him, the ministry was the tool of the voice of the people. In his first speech, which he delivered on the day he arrived in Alexandria, he expressed how much it pleased him that he and his colleagues were at one with the ministry's desire "to combine the authority that it represents with the authority that the Wafd represents in order to create two joint forces; not in the sense of creating a third authority, but rather in that the power they represent together is your power -- the power of the people".

Less than a week later, Zaghlul addressed an assembly of merchants and businessmen in Semiramis Hotel. Observers noted that Zaghlul's attitude towards the ministry had begun to change. He said, "If the ministry is prepared to conform with the principles and terms of the Wafd, we will extend our hand and help it, as it helps us. If, on the other hand, it refuses the Wafd's terms, which are the terms of the people, we will have nothing to do with this ministry."

The sudden change in tone certainly did not escape Al-Ahram which, on 12 April, published an article by Abdel-Hamid Hamdi, director of Al-Sufur newspaper, representing a group of intellectuals who were critical of Zaghlul. Hamdi expressed surprise at Zaghlul's assertion that there were two operative bodies at work: "the Wafd as representative of the nation and the government to which the nation has placed its trust. It is surprising that some people do not find it curious that the Wafd is simultaneously the representative of the Egyptian people who reject the protectorate absolutely, and the official negotiator for the Egyptian government which, in the eyes of international law, still remains under the British protectorate."

In the second half of April 1921, the Wafd's part in the negotiations with the British became of central concern to Al-Ahram and the Egyptian press in general. Under the headline, "The meaning of contact in the forthcoming negotiations: let us reach an understanding", Ibrahim El-Shawarbi, a lawyer, wrote, "It is not in our interests for the Wafd to take part in the negotiations in order to avoid risking every door being slammed in our faces. No harm can come to another body taking on the role of negotiator in an official capacity in order to test the waters and sound out the true spirit of the British. Such a negotiator would be solely responsible for his own actions; he would not be accountable to the nation, as he would not be delegated by the nation, which stands firmly alongside its Wafd."

Another lawyer, identified only by his initials, wrote a letter entitled, "Let the truth be told". He was surprised to hear reports that the Wafd intended to enter negotiations at that juncture. "The British have given no indication that they have altered the bases of negotiations. They have not notified the Egyptian nation that they have agreed to grant full independence. On the contrary, Lord Milner has come forward with a project that promises us even less than that submitted to us by the most honourable delegates of the Wafd."

Alarmed by the signs of polarity between the Wafd and the government, Al-Ahram dedicated editorials of its 15, 16 and 17 April editions to the issue. The editorials exhorted the public to support both sides. On one occasion, the newspaper reminded readers how pleased the public had been when the ministers of the new government took office because their programme for the country conformed in essence "with the hopes and aspirations of the nation and with the hopes and aspirations of the Wafd itself".

The articles also revealed that negotiations were under way at the time between the Wafd and the government. "The government has conceded to some of the terms stipulated by the Wafd and the parties are still negotiating over the remainder of the terms," reported Al-Ahram. The newspaper entreated both sides "to work together, whether or not they both take part in the negotiations with the British, for their cooperation means the fulfilment of our demands and the success of our cause. The participation of one party with the support of the other encumbers neither party, for the nation acts in its own interests and the Wafd and the government act on behalf of the nation."

Evidently, the negotiations between the Wafd and the government broke down. On 22 April, Zaghlul addressed his constituency in the popular Al-Sayeda Zeinab quarter. He gave the public a difficult choice: "If you say that you have given the government your proxy to negotiate on your behalf, which is to say that you have placed your confidence in it, then you have no right to say that you place your confidence in the Wafd, for you will have given that confidence to another party with regard to that very remit you had pledged to the Wafd."

It was at this time that Al-Ahram entered the history books. No scholastic or popular work written on the period has failed to refer to the interviews the newspaper managed to obtain with both Zaghlul and Yakan. Indeed, it could be said that the interviews represented the first open declaration of war between the two one-time friends.

On 23 April 1921, Daoud Barakat, editor-in-chief of Al-Ahram, published his interview, calling it "Saad Zaghlul Pasha, chairman of the Egyptian Wafd". The interview, he wrote, took place in Zaghlul's house -- "the home of the nation" as it was referred to. The chairman had consented to the interview even though his house was crowded with visitors and petitioners "who were either seated in an attempt to engage him in conversation or standing in anticipation of an interview." Clearly, the national leader attached considerable importance to the interview with Al-Ahram. In response to Barakat's question about the talks between the Wafd and the government, Zaghlul maintained that the Wafd had four conditions. The most important of these was that "the majority of the official negotiating team should be Wafd members and that the negotiating team itself should be headed by the Wafd". How important was it that the Wafd head the negotiating team, Barakat asked. Zaghlul answered, "The Wafd is responsible before the nation with regard to these negotiations and their results. It is essential that the Wafd holds the reins in order to be able to conduct the process in a manner it deems most appropriate and to be able to continue or break off negotiations as circumstances dictate."

Al-Ahram conducted its interview with Yakan two days later. Responding to Zaghlul's demands, Yakan argued, "The issue is not who has the majority in the negotiating team. We are not going to Great Britain to negotiate over the fate of Egypt as distinct political parties. Rather, we must negotiate as one, unanimous upon a single plan, united on a single principle." With regard to the chairmanship of the negotiating team he said, "I have made this clear to Saad Pasha. Political norms of countries dictate that the prime minister participating in any political negotiations must be the leader of the official group conducting the talks."

Al-Ahram concluded its interviews with the hope that "these honourable gentlemen will strike an agreement that will satisfy the entire nation." Barakat's plea was to go unanswered. The hostility between the two friends turned foes would soon polarise the entire nation at an extremely crucial juncture in their respective careers and in modern Egyptian history.

Dr Yunan

* The author is a professor of history
and head of Al-Ahram History Studies Centre.

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