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History, British Protectorate

wafd, Egyptian peasants, violent upheaval, Paris Peace Conference, Copts

The outbreak of World War I in 1914 brought nationalist activities in Egypt to an end. When the Ottoman Empire entered the war on the side of Germany in November 1914, Britain, which was already at war with Germany, declared Egypt a protectorate. Abbas II was deposed in favor of his uncle, Hussein Kamil, who was given the title of sultan. Legal ties between Egypt and the Ottoman Empire were formally severed, and Britain promised Egypt some changes in government once the war was over. In the meantime, the British stationed more than 100,000 troops in Egypt, mainly to guard the Suez Canal against German and Ottoman attacks, and imposed martial law to stifle any expression of discontent.

The war years resulted in great hardship for the Egyptian peasants, who were conscripted to dig ditches and whose livestock was confiscated by the army. Inflation was rampant. These factors were responsible for increasing resentment against the British and set the stage for a violent upheaval after World War I ended in 1918.

After the war, several nationalists, led by Saad Zaghlul, asked the top British official in Egypt, High Commissioner Sir Reginald Wingate, for permission to go the London to negotiate for an end to the protectorate. The British government refused to meet Zaghlul, who was then exiled with three of his colleagues to Malta. In March 1919 a nationwide revolt broke out, marked by random violence in the countryside, mass demonstrations in the cities, and expressions of national unity between Copts and Muslims.

Britain recalled Wingate and sent General Edmund Allenby, who had led the conquest of Palestine and Syria during the war, to restore order. Allenby freed Zaghlul and his colleagues to attend the Paris Peace Conference as a delegation (wafd in Arabic; the group became known as the Wafd). Although the Allies (the coalition of the victorious nations in World War I, including Britain) ignored the delegationís demand for Egyptian independence, the Wafd became the major voice for Egyptian nationalism and democracy.

The unrest continued between 1919 and 1922. The Egyptians wanted complete independence, but the British felt they needed to keep their troops in Egypt to guard the Suez Canal, as well as their airports, their radio transmitters, and their other means of communications with India and the rest of their empire in Asia. In 1922 Allenby offered Egypt qualified, or partial, independence, subject to four reservations to be dealt with in future negotiations. These were the security of British imperial communications, the right of Britain to defend Egypt against outside interference, the right of Britain to protect foreign interests and minorities in Egypt, and continued Anglo-Egyptian control of Sudan, which had been placed under the joint control of Britain and Egypt in 1899.

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