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The rise of the Egyptian nationalist movement: the case of the 1919 Revolution

Ramdani, Nabila (2016) The rise of the Egyptian nationalist movement: the case of the 1919 Revolution. MPhil thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This thesis aims to explore the rise of anti-colonial nationalism in Egypt on both mass and elite opinion before, during and after the First World War, with a particular focus on the 1919 Revolution. The research work covers the evolution of Egypt’s nationalist movement – from the quelling of the ‘Urabi Revolt by British troops in the late nineteenth century, which resulted in the invasion and Occupation of Egypt in 1882, until the wartime formulation of the right to self-determination for all colonised peoples and the post-War settlement by victorious world leaders at the Paris Peace Conference in January 1919. The ‘Urabi Revolt initially began as an effort to restore the rights and standing of native Egyptian servicemen in the Army, but this developed into a wider campaign across the country that increasingly tackled broader national grievances, including political independence from both the British and Ottoman Empires. ‘Urabi presented these issues against the background of his country’s Islamic identity, suggesting it was a vital part of Egypt’s status as a strong and prosperous nation-state and therefore pledged to protect it. The religious scholars engaged in the struggle provided the intellectual thinking that underpinned and justified Egypt’s nationalist movement. The ‘Urabi Revolt of 1879-1882 – during which the phrase “Egypt for the Egyptians” was coined – ultimately involved ordinary men and women who believed themselves to be part of a single nation: their aspirations were always framed within both a nationalistic and an Islamic context. The Occupation, and the particularly reactionary conduct of British soldiers during the Taba Crisis and the Dinshawai Incident in the same year of 1906, led to the expression of anti- Imperialist ire and the rapid politicisation of the country. Egypt’s intellectual elite disseminated radical ideas among the entire population, triggering a dynamic that would propel the people towards the 1919 Revolution. Anti-British resentment intensified under the Protectorate as there was widespread consensus in Egypt that the country had been plundered by a colonising power during the First World War. This galvanised the nationalist consciousness as never before as the British presence had evolved from a “Veiled Protectorate” to direct “Wartime Imperialism”. The wartime and post-War period saw the U.S. President Woodrow Wilson internationalise the rhetoric of self-determination as attempts were made at moulding a new world order. Wilson’s words had a great appeal to Egyptian nationalists who viewed these promises as an opportunity to break away from British colonial rule. It was in fact Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the Russian Bolshevik leader, who had spent fourteen years between 1903 and 1917 theorising the concept of “self-determination”, before Wilson globalised it as a “legitimising” ideal. The ideological rivalry between the two politicians during the war era certainly helped to create an “international self-determination moment”– one that would have resounding repercussions for the Egyptian nationalist movement. A wide range of disaffected groups coalesced around the call for independence by the nationalist leader Saʿad Zaghlul during the March 1919 Revolution. Wilson’s Fourteen Points – the American President’s heady principles – infused unprecedented expectations into downtrodden Egyptian activist circles. But Zaghlul underlined the paradox between discourse at the Paris Conference and British actions in the real world. There was a deep irony in the sight of a brutal British Army subduing nationalist hopes in Egypt, while these same hopes were being put forward in Paris as the very basis of reformed international arrangements. The feminist element to this movement was particularly powerful, as women rallied under the “Egypt for the Egyptians” slogan. But as always, they were used as convenient and efficient expedient personnel to attain political goals and not gender equality. Bitterness and disillusionment were nonetheless a drive for Egyptian women determined to pursue their cause for emancipation. Intense turmoil generated panic among those upholding British rule, and showed how illprepared they were to deal with the situation. This culminated in the transformation of Anglo- Egyptian colonial relations, as Egypt achieved nominal independence in 1922.

Item Type: Thesis (MPhil)
Additional Information: © 2016 Nabila Ramdani
Library of Congress subject classification: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D890 Eastern Hemisphere
J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
J Political Science > JV Colonies and colonization. Emigration and immigration. International migration
Sets: Departments > International History
Supervisor: Schulze, Kirsten

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