Egypt During the War, 1939-45

Egypt Table of Contents

With the beginning of World War II, Egypt again became vital to Britain's defense. Britain had to assure, if not the wholehearted support of Egypt, at least its acquiescence in British military and political policies during the crisis. For its part, Egypt considered the war a European conflict and hoped to avoid being entangled in it. As one Axis victory succeeded another, Egyptians grew increasingly convinced that Germany would win the war. Some were pleased at the prospect of a German victory, not because they were attracted to the Nazi ideology, but because they viewed any enemy of their enemy, Britain, as a friend. Meanwhile, the British were determined to prevent an Egyptian-German alliance.

The war gave the Wafd the opportunity to return to power. The Wafd set out to convince the British that they would not lead an anti-British insurrection during the wartime crisis. Uncertain of the loyalty of Prime Minister Ali Maher and convinced that the king was intriguing against them, the British decided to entrust the Egyptian government to the Wafd. On February 2, 1942, with the German army under General Erwin Rommel advancing toward Egypt, Lampson, the British ambassador, ordered the king to ask Mustafa Nahhas, the Wafdist leader, to form a government. The incident clearly demonstrated that real power in Egypt resided in British hands and that the king and the political parties existed only so long as Britain was prepared to tolerate them. It also eroded popular support for the Wafd because it showed that the Wafd would make an alliance with the British for purely political reasons. The Wafd's credibility was eroded further in 1943 when a disaffected former Wafd member, Makram Ubayd, published his Black Book. The book contained details of Nahhas's corrupt dealings over the years and seriously damaged his reputation.

The Wafdist government fell in 1944, and the Wafd boycotted the elections of 1945, which brought a government of Liberal Constitutionalists and Saadists to power. As World War II ended, the Wafd was splintered into several competing camps. The political initiative and popular support swung toward the militant organizations on the right, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Young Egypt.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress