Egypt Recent History

Modern Egypt

From Mohamed Ali to the eve of the 1952 revolution

Main events

From Mohamed Ali to the Kingdom

  • 1805: Mohamed Ali becomes Ottoman governor
  • 1869: Opening of the Suez Canal
  • 1882: Suppression of the Urabi uprising against European interference, British troops occupy Egypt
  • 1913: First parliament with legislative competence
  • 1914: Egypt becomes a British protectorate
  • 1919: Revolution against British occupation
  • 1922: Independence from Great Britain
  • 1923: Egypt gets a constitution and becomes a constitutional monarchy
  • 1948: War against the newly founded Israel

Egypt in the 19th century

According to commit4fitness, Muhammad Ali (also: Mohamed Ali Pascha) Ottoman governor, ruled from 1805-1849 and founded his own dynasty. He reformed the military and with it the administration, the irrigation system and parts of the production. To this end, he sent delegations of experts to Europe, especially France, to study European engineering and administration. His rule is considered to be the beginning of modern Egypt. The beginning of the Egyptian parliament also fell into this period. As early as 1824, a representative council with an advisory function and partly elected and partly appointed members was founded. Under the Khedive (viceroy) Ismail(1863–1879) was given this council in 1866 expanded representative functions. In 1978 the first Council of Ministers was formed and in 1879 the first political party, the “National Party” under the army officer Ahmed Urabi; Khedive Ismail pursued ambitious large-scale projects that were to transform Egypt into an image of Europe, but which made the country highly indebted and dependent on its European lenders. Under Ismail’s rule, today’s downtown Cairo was built and the Suez Canal inaugurated in 1869. The Urabi uprising against his successor was primarily directed against massive European interference in the country’s politics and, after its suppression in 1882, led to the British occupation of Egypt. In 1914 Egypt became a British protectorate.

The Ibn Tulun Mosque

The Nahda movement

Although it only lasted three years, the confrontation with the French occupation had far-reaching consequences that can still be felt today. Unlike in earlier times, when the Europeans came as fanatical crusaders, Napoleon brought along scientists, technicians, surveyors and administrators and presented himself as a friend of the Muslims. He represented the rationality of the Enlightenment and the technical progress of capitalism. His army was far superior to the Mamluk troops in terms of organization and weapons. For the Egyptians, who the Europeans still remembered as barbarians far inferior in terms of civilization, the question arose,

The so-called Nahda emerged from these questions in the 19th century(Renaissance movement) for the renewal of society. She played a major role among the intellectuals and also in politics and pursued the question of how it could be that Egypt had become so backward compared to Europe. The intellectuals mainly discussed the position of religion in politics and society and the question of whether Islam is an obstacle to progress or, on the contrary, whether a return to the foundations of Islam is necessary for further development. From this, a liberal and a conservative current of the reinterpretation of Islam developed, both of which are still influential today. The liberal current calls for a more open interpretation of religious texts and a stronger separation of religious and secular matters.

The strong focus on religion is related to the specific modernization of Egypt initiated from above, which ultimately resulted in a heterogeneous mode of production dependent on the western centers of capitalism. In this structure the intellectual supporters of the renewal movement came mainly from the religious establishment until the early 20th century. From this position they saw the reason for Egypt’s backwardness essentially in the rigidification of religion which prevented innovations and not in the material conditions of production and the structure of politics and administration based on it. Only later, with the emergence of a national bourgeoisie, secular educational and cultural institutions as well as a labor movement the conditions of backwardness and development were discussed in a more concrete and materialistic way. The question of the position of Islam in politics and society is still an important topic today.

Egypt’s Liberal Phase (1919 – July 1952)

Under pressure from the nationalist Wafd movement led by Saad Zaghloul and the 1919 revolution Great Britain declared Egypt independent on February 28, 1922, but reserved the right to secure national defense, the Suez Canal and foreign interests. British troops remained stationed in the country until 1947, in the Suez Canal zone even until 1954. On April 19, 1923, Egypt became a constitutional monarchy. The Wafd party won the first parliamentary elections and remained the leading party under King Fuad I for another 30 years, and from 1936 under Faruk I. During the Second World War, the British fought battles in Egypt against the Italian and German troops under Erwin Rommel of which to this day the military cemeteries in El Alamein witness. Overall, the period from 1923 to 1952 was marked by continued British interference in Egyptian politics and administration, the corruption and incompetence of the monarchy, and the 1948 defeat in the war with Israel.

In addition to the founding of the Wafd party, two other important political groups were also founded during this period. In 1925 the Egyptian Communist Party was founded and in 1928 the elementary school teacher Hassan El Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). The latter in particular still plays an important role today. The MB is considered to be the first modern social movement in Egypt. Within a few years, 100,000 members joined it. From the beginning and until today it has united both conservative and liberal forces, which have their roots in the two main currents of the Nahda movement. In the 1940’s, the MB had a militant arm, the so-called “secret apparatus”, which carried out a series of attacks on politicians and British occupation forces, but was later disbanded.

The 1923 Constitution and what it means today

The 1923 Constitution was remarkably progressive. The active participation of Copts and liberals in the previous independence movement and the revolution of 1919 resulted in a largely secular orientation of the constitution. However, when it came to the question of complete civil equality for Egyptians regardless of their religion, a compromise was reached: personal status law remained in the hands of the respective religious communities and the construction of Muslim and non-Muslim (Christian and Jewish places of worship) were subject to different rules. The office of head of state was de facto reserved for Muslims. The question of the position of religion in politics and society is still relevant today. An indication of this is the use of a symbol of the revolution of 1919 during and after the revolution of 2011. Today, as then, the entanglement of the cross and the crescent express the demand for common ground and equal rights. Today’s controversy over Article 2 of the (currently suspended) Egyptian constitution, introduced by President Sadat, which defines Islam as the state religion and Sharia as the main source of legislation, also has its roots in the discussions about the constitution by 1923.

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