San José State University
Department of Economics
& Tornado Alley
There are few locations in the world that are more strategic than Egypt. Egypt is at the bridge of the African and Eurasian continents. But in addition to that strategic location with respect to land Egypt is at a strategic location with respect to the seas. Egypt is the bridge between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, both of which give access to an ocean. And if that were not enough Egypt has the Nile River which is one of the few fresh water sources in the region and which give water travel access to regions of Africa not accessible by any other means. The region which is now Israel-Palestine has the strategic location but it does not have a river like the Nile. Geographically Egypt has it all.
The settlement and development of Egypt goes so far back that the climate of North Africa was different from what it is now. About ten thousand years ago the area that is now the Sahara Desert was well watered. Cave painting in the central Sahara depict a land populated by animals and people who now only live far to the south. There is even one cave painting depicting people swimming.
When the Saharan climate began to dry one of the few places in the region where water was available was along the Nile River. Even before the development of agriculture the Nile River Valley would have been a prime place for human settlement. Agriculture was first developed in the Zagros Mountains 8,000 BCE. There is evidence of agriculture being practices in the Nile River Valley from about 6,000 BCE. That meant that it took about two millennia for the idea of agriculture to diffuse south from the Zagros Mountains to Egypt.
The Decipherment of Egyptian Hieroglyphics
The Pyramids at Ghiza
Timeline of Plans and Projects to Build Canals Connecting the Nile with the Red Sea
(To be continued.)
The Timeline of the Life of Cleopatra
(To be continued.)
Up until the early nineteenth century the world knew very little of ancient Egypt other than what appeared in the Old Testament. The monuments such as the Great Pyramids at Giza were known from Grecian sources but Egypt in general was a mystery, a society that had been closed to outsiders for hundreds of years.
It took Napoleon's expedition to Egypt of 1798-1802 to make Europe aware of the richness of ancient Egyptian civilization. Militarily Napoleon's expedition was a disaster because the English decisively wiped out the French fleet at Aboukir Bay (The Battle of the Nile). Napoleon's troops were able to defeat the Mamelukes who controlled Egypt at the time but as soon as the French fleet was destroyed the expedition was doomed. Napoleon himself escaped leaving his troops to fend for themselves.
During World War I Britain exercised its power over Egypt and Sudan to further its war effort without much concern for their populations. Britain raised funds from Egypt by paying for the cotton and animal fodder it needed at prices below their market prices. In effect, this was a taxation of those industries. When Britain needed Egyptian labor for its Expeditionary Force it did not hire them at market wages it conscripted a half million peasants. The British troops stationed in Egypt during the war led to shortages and higher prices for the necessities required by the general population.
During and after the war President Woodrow Wilson emphasized the goal of self-rule for all nations. Prominent Egyptians organized in late 1918 for the purpose of sending a delegation (wafd) to the Paris Peace Conference which was settling issues of national independence in Europe.
The Wafd first presented their case to the British high commissioner in Egypt, Sir Reginald Wingate. The delegation was willing to concede Britain powers in the independent Egypt it sought. This included the right of Britain to retain control of the Suez Canal and station troops in Egypt to protect the Canal. The delegation was also willing to allow Britain financial controls that would insure the continued payment on Egypt's national debt. The delegation also wanted to go to London to present Egypt's case for independence before the British government.
In March the Wafd (delegation) was arrested and imprisoned. Shortly thereafter they were transported to the island of Malta, then still under British control. The imprisonment and deportation of the Wafd result in wide-spread violent uprisings throughout Egypt. There was a general strike and massive public demonstrations. The wives of the exiled members of the Wafd led the demonstrations even though this involved a serious break in the tradition of seclusion for Muslim women. Railroad and telegraph lines were cut. British goods were boycotted.
British forces tried unsuccessfully to suppress the demonstrations. In the violence about eight hundred Egyptians were killed and sixty Europeans. Reginald Wingate, the British high commissioner for Egypt relented and requested that the British government allow the Wafd be released and allowed to go to Paris. Instead the British government recalled Wingate and later replaced him as high commissioner with the most famous British general, Edmund Allenby. Allenby met with Egyptian leaders and they convinced him that the only way the uprising could be contained was to do as Wingate had suggested, release the Wafd from internment in Malta and allow them to go to Paris. This was done in early April of 1991.
In May of 1919 Britain sent a special mission led by Alfred Milner to investigate how Egypt could be given some degree of autonomy without jeopardizing British interests. There was public protest against Milner's mission and finally Milner accepted that he would have to negotiate directly with the leadership of the Wafd.
Milner negotiated an agreement with Zaghlul in London in 1920 and as a result of that agreement the British government announced that it would accept an end to the protectorate as a starting point for the negotiation of new treaty between Egypt and Britain. In April of 1921 Zaghlul was allowed to return to Egypt, where was celebrated as a national hero. His glory was short lived. General Allenby did not want to see a man of Zaghlul's independence emerge as the leader of an independent Egypt so Allenby had Zaghlul arrested and deported to the Seychelles Islands. Again widespread demonstrations broke out and violence followed.
Britain then implemented its version of independence for Egypt without negotiating with any Egyptians leaders. Britain declared the end of the protectorate but retained four powers.
The sultan of Egypt was made king of Egypt, Fuad I, and his son, Farouk, was designated as his heir. But Egypt was given one important concession; Egypt was to be a constitutional monarchy. A constitution was formulated and approved and elections were authorized for an Egyptian parliament.
The elections were held in January of 1924 and the Wafd won by a landslide, capturing 179 out of the 211 seats. Zaghlul was made the first prime minister of Egypt. He selected a cabinet that was intended to include all element of Egyptian society. The new parliament opened in March of 1924. Tragedy would soon bring down Zaghlul's government.
In November of 1924 extremist who could not bear to have a moderate, gradualist program work found a way to provoke British authorities to it. The terrorists assassinated the Sir Lee Stack. Stack was the Governor General of Sudan and was also the commander of the Egyptian Army. Stack was an old friend of General Edmund Allenby, the High Commissioner of Egypt. Allenby presented an ultimatum of demands to the Egyptian government. These demands included
One might say that Allenby used the assassination of Stack to humiliate the new Wafd government and to extract major concessions from Egypt concerning Sudan.
Zaghlul was forced to deal with the ultimatum. He accepted all but the last two conditions. Egypt considered Sudan to be an integral part of the Egyptian nation and Egypt feared there would not be enough water for Egypt proper if more water was being used in Sudan. This was a chronic cultural fear in Egypt; i.e., that increased use of Nile water upstream would mean that Egypt would not get the water it needs.
Humiliated Zaghlul resigned from office and retired from politics. He died within three years. Mustafa Nahhas finally emerged as the leader of the Wafd to replace Zaghlul. Nahhas had been close to Zaghlul and was exiled to the Seychelles Islands with him.
The Wafd lost some of its status and overwhelming political support in Egypt as a result of its acceptance of Allenby's ultimatum. Other political groups were formed, among them the Muslim Brotherhood, (al Ikhwan al Muslimun).
The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in 1928 by Hasan al Banna. Hasan al Banna taught the problems of Egypt and other Muslim societies can only be solved by returning society the simple, pure life of the days of the Prophet. This purification starts with removing the influence of foreigners. The Brotherhood organized in terms of secret cells much like what develops as a resistance movement to a foreign occupation. It functions like a religious military movement.
The government in 1928 tried to prohibit students from participating in any political movement. In that year it formulated a new constitution to replace the 1922 constitution.
Egypt was hard hit by the Great Depression of the 1930's which started in the United States and spread around the world. Countries like Egypt that depended heavily on its export crop of cotton were particularly hard hit. (For an explanation of the origin of the Great Depression see Great Depression.
In Europe fascist parties came to power that preached nationalism and socialism. Egypt's version of this movement came in 1933 as Young Egypt, a nationalist organization with fascist leanings. Its paramilitary youth organization was called the Green Shirts in emulation of Italy's Black Shirts and Germany's Brown Shirts. It was founded by Ahmad Hussain and advocated the emergence of a new Egyptian Empire consisting of Egypt and Sudan for a beginning.
The major opponent of the Wafd in the 1930's was Ismail Sidqi and the parties he controlled. He represented monarchist sentiment in the political contests of the time. When the opportunity arose, King Fuad asked Sidqi to form a government. When Sidqi was Prime Minister he abolished the constitution of 1930 and formulated its replacement. There were great concerns about Sidqi's dictatorial ways. Although Sidqi had been asked by King Fuad to form a government he was not a popular prime minister and after he had been away from Egypt for a few months because of health problems he had to tender his resignation as Prime Minister.
Although the popular support for the Wafd had diminished somewhat it still commanded an overwhelming majority in elections. In the election in 1936 the Wafd candidates captured 159 out of the 211 seats in the parliament. The Wafd received almost 90 percent of the vote. Mustafa Nahhas of the Wafd became Prime Minister.
Two other events of great political significance occurred in 1936. King Fuad died and his son Farouk became king. Farouk in later years became notorious for his lavish, degenerate life style and his unreliability in political matters.
The second major event of 1936 was that the British decided to formalize their relationship with Egypt. The British protectorate of Egypt has been unilaterally renounced in 1922 without any negotiation with the Egyptian government. The Anglo-Egyptian Treaty that was negotiated by the Egyptian Prime Minister Mustafa Nahhas and the British high commissioner for Egypt, Miles Lampson, allowed Britain to keep a defense force in Egypt for the protection of the Suez Canal. The Treaty left the governance of Sudan entirely in British hands even though at that time Sudan was considered an integral part of the nation of Egypt.
The treaty did eliminate the special courts run by the British to handle the legal problems of foreigners in Egypt. The treaty further provided that the official representative of Britain in Egypt would be called an ambassador instead of high commissioner. The command of the Egyptian army would be held by an Egyptian instead of, as in the past, by a British officer.
During the early years of the war the German war machine seemed invincible. After conquering France Germany became involved in saving the less than invincible war machine of Italy. This brought German troops into North Africa and there was fear that Germany would capture Egypt and take control of the Suez Canal. The politicians of Egypt, never very fond of the British, began to think of an alliance with Germany. The Wafd convinced the British ambassador, now the representative of British power in Egypt, that they would not raise a rebellion during the war against Britain power in Egypt. The ambassador then requested, or perhaps ordered is the proper term, King Farouk to dismiss the existing government in parliament and have the Wafd form a new government.
The Wafd government lasted only until 1944. Its support among the Egyptians had lessened due to its appearance of being too much allied to British power. Factions developed within the Wafd and when parliamentary elections were held in 1945 the Wafd did not participate. As a result minor parties won the elections and formed a government.
Politics in Egypt and the Middle East in general became turbulent after the end of World War II. At the end of 1945 the Egyptian Prime Minister, Mahmud Nuqrashi, demanded the removal of British troops from Egyptian territory and a renegotiation of the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936. When Britain refused Nuqrashi's demands extensive rioting broke out throughout the country. The old warhorse, Ismail Sidqi, who had been Prime Minister during the 1930's was brought back to be Prime Minister in the dealing with the British.
The British withdrew the troops to the Suez Canal Zone itself but the negotiations foundered on the issue of Egyptian control of Sudan. Britain refused to turn over control of Sudan to Egypt and asserted that Sudan was ready for independence. Sidqi was elderly and not in good health. He was not able to deal with the stress of negotiating with the British. He resigned in 1946 and Mahmud Nuqrashi was brought back as Prime Minister. Under Nuqrashi, Egypt asked the newly formed United Nations to adjudicate the issue.
However before the Egyptian British disputes could be settled another issue took top priority: Zionism. In 1947 the League of Arab States decreed that its members would counter any attempt to partition Palestine, then under British control, with military force.
Israel declared its independence in 1948 and was soon recognized as a sovereign nation by most non-Muslim countries. The Soviet Union was the first to recognize the nationhood of Israel.
The countries of the League of Arab States, including Egypt, invaded Palestine to destroy Israel. The Israeli army proved to be more than a match for the Arab armies. The invasion was a disastrous failure for the Arab states.
(To be continued.)
Gamal Abdul Nasser was the commanding officer of a unit in the war in 1948 which followed the formation of Israel. Nasser's unit performed well and Nasser himself was wounded in the chest. Nasser became well known in Egypt as a war hero, a notably hansom and photogenic one. He later organized a group called the Free Officers which carried out a coup d'etat. Nasser in power exiled the king of Egypt, Farouk, and attempted to create an Arab socialism in Egypt.
Nasser was a political type seen quite often in Muslim countries and also in Latin America. They are the windbags like Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez and Daniel Ortega who are adept at gaining and holding onto power but incompetent at accomplishing anything meaningful for those they rule. (In contrast, Lula da Silva who was a bona fide workingman, is not of that type.) Gamal Nasser was idolized in Egypt and the rest of the Arab world for his rhetoric and political gestures but completely incompetent in establishing policies that would improve the life of the people he rules. He was more of a showman than a leader. The domestic policies he promoted were not continued by his successors. His publicity photographs reek of his personal vanity; e.g.,
Gamal Abdul Nasser was born near Alexandria. His father was a post office employee, a government worker, whose origin was near the city of Asyut in Upper Egypt, about 370 km (230 miles) south of Cairo. Gamal was born in 1918. As a boy he showed academic promise and was sent to live with an uncle in Cairo in order to attend better quality schools. While he was there his mother died and so he was deprived of his mother at the age of eight. Later Nasser for three years attended a Koranic school in the home town of his father, near Asyut. He returned to Alexandria to complete his secondary education.
In the last years of his secondary education he became heavily involved in political movements of a nationalistic nature. He became so involved in marches and demonstrations that his academic work suffered and he saw that an academic or intellectual career was not for him. At one march he was shot but since there is no mention of hospitalization it must have been a grazing or perhaps that the bullet passed through his clothing without wounding him. Nevertheless he as detained by the police for two days and thus listed among the politically unreliable. Being precluded from an academic career he saw a career in the military as his best and perhaps only option. He may also have seen that the most likely route to political office for him led through the army.
At age 19 in 1937 he entered the Egyptian Military Academy to become an officer. After he completed his training he was assigned to a post near the hometown of his father and where he himself had spent three years in schooling as a boy.
At the beginning of World War II, for which Egypt was not a participant, Nasser and a friend from his officer training at the Military Academy, Anwar Sadat, sought assignment to Sudan. While there they made contact with agents of Mussolini's Italy in hopes of carrying out an overthrow of Egyptian King Farouk to coincide with an Italian invasion of Egypt. Nothing came of that plan.
After the war, in 1948 when Israel declared its statehood Nasser participated in the attempted invasion. While generally the Arab forces were soundly defeated by Israeli forces the unit commanded by Nasser resisted defeat and counterattacked. It was one of the few instances of military success of a sort in the 1948 hostilities. Nasser became something of a national hero. As a result he was given an appointment as an instructor at the Military Academy in Cairo.
This was a perfect position for someone who wanted to organize a coup d'etat. He could spot officers who might be sympathetic to such a coup and could work on recruiting them.
Nasser found enough high level officers to create a group of nine who called themselves the Free Officers Movement. In July of 1952 the Free Officers Movement was able to take control of the police stations, army headquarters, radio stations and government buildings. The group was careful to not give Britain an excuse to intervene. At that time Nasser had the rank of only lieutenant colonel and he deferred to General Muhammad Naguib. The Free Officers formed a Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) and Naguib was designated as chairman and Nasser as vice-chairman. The Free Officers were willing to let professional politicians run the government so long as the RCC had the power to dismiss the politicians if need be.
The Free Officers Movement was unified only by the desire to overthrow the king, oust the British from Egyptian affairs and gain control of the country. They were not ideologically unified. Some, such as Nasser, were nationalistic socialists. Others were Marxists and still others were Islamic fundamentalists. There were personal antagonisms among them. In particular Nasser and Naguib both wanted to be the dominant power in the movement.
Nasser was the originator of the coup but he needed Naguib to give military credibility to the RCC. Nasser and most of the other members of the Free Officers Movement were colonel level and Nasser was about forty years old. Naguib was a general, older and more well-baathknown than Nasser. Nasser needed him as a figure-head front for the RCC but was not about to relinquish leadership of the movement to him.
Events quickly tested the RCC. Workers in textile factories in the Delta went on strike. The strike became violent. The RCC sent in the army to put down the strike and several strikers were killed. The government had the strike leaders arrested and tried by a military court. Two were executed and others were sent to prison. The government then had thirty people arrested and charged with belonging to the illegal Communist Party of Egypt.
The civilian prime minister of the government resigned and Naguib took his place, thereby becoming the nominal head of government as well as chairman of the RCC and commander of the army. Ostensibly Naguib was the most power figure in the government. Nasser wanted to carry out a major confiscation of land holdings by the government supposedly for ultimate transfer to poor and landless peasants. Other members of the RCC including Naguib were less inclined to change land holdings.
Not only in land reform but in other fields as well Nasser had goals that would constitute a socio-economic revolution. He sought to raise wages through an increase in the minimum daily wage rate, but simultaneously he sought to reduce unemployment. He increased the hourly wage rate even further by reducing the daily hours of work. He created jobs without necessarily increasing production. The most famous measure of this sort was his requiring the government to hire all university graduates who wanted to work in the government. This resulted in an overstaffed bureaucracy in which little was demanded of individual employees so there was little reason for a university graduate to want work anywhere but in the government. This meant a high fiscal burden for the government. This gave Nasser additional incentives to nationalize enterprises as a source of revenue.
Early in 1953 the RCC banned all political parties. In June of 1953 Egypt officially became a republic. Farouk had abdicated in favor of his son and was exiled. Thus for a period of time Egypt remained a monarchy. But that ended with the declaration of Egypt as the Arab Republic of Egypt.
In February of 1954 Naguib resigned as from his positions of president and prime minister. This was probably forced by Nasser. However there was a public outcry against Naguib's resignation and other members of the RCC prevailed upon Nasser to let him again be president. Nasser became Prime Minister.
In 1954 Nasser negotiated a revision of the treaty between Britain and Egypt. The revised treaty provided for the withdrawal of British troops over a twenty month period. The treaty however allowed for the return of British troops to the Suez Canal in case of an attack against Egypt. The Communists on the left and the Muslim Brotherhood on the right were severely critical of Nasser for not completely eliminating the role for Britain in Egyptian affairs.
The Muslim Brotherhood was critical of Nasser not only concerning his revised Anglo-Egyptian treaty. Nasser was not a person who accepted criticism graciously and he outlawed the Brotherhood in February of 1954. In October of that year, while Nasser was giving a speech in Alexandria concerning the treaty, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood tried to assassinate him. Nasser was not hurt and the assassin apprehended. Nasser then gave speeches in public in several places supposedly in defiance of the Muslim Brotherhood. This most likely was a public relations gambit, a bit of showboating, for if there had been any real risk it would of been senseless and irrational for Nasser to endanger himself in such public appearances.
Nasser then did everything he could to destroy the Muslim Brotherhood and charged that Naguib was tied to it. This then became the excuse for removing Naguib from the presidency. Nasser then took over the office of president. Naguib was placed under house arrest and he spent 18 years in this status.
Nasser's nationalization program was growing. At first it was only enterprises owned by foreigners that were nationalized. Ultimately it was all enterprises. The following anecdote concerning this nationalization was related to me by an Egyptian of Greek Ancestry. His name was Tony. Tony's family had lived in Egypt for several generations and considered themselves as Egyptian as Cleopatra. The family had plant for producing cement. Nasser's government decided that Tony's family were foreigners and therefore their cement plant was subject to nationalization. The way this nationalization was carried out was that a representative of the Egyptian government would show up at the property and would tack a notice to the door announcing that the property now belonged to the Egyptian government. Tony's family had friends in the government that warned them that this was going to take place. When the government agent arrived he found the door had been removed. Being thwarted in carrying out standard procedure the agent went back to his supervisors for consultation. They decided that the notice should be tacked onto the door jam. Again Tony's family was forewarned and when the agent arrived again he found the door jamb had been removed. He returned again to his supervisors. They then, after a period of deliberation, sent out a carpenter to install a door jam and a door. The agent then tacked the notice to this door. However, by this time Tony's family had removed all the machinery and other things of value and all the government got was an empty shell of a building. The Egyptian economy lost the production of the cement plant and the Egyptian government gained something of far less value.
(To be continued.)
Nasser tried to avoid confrontation with Israel in order to concentrate on his domestic revolution. Internationally he tried to separate Egypt from the anticommunist program of Britain. He became a famous figure in what was called Nonalignment. Effectively nonalignment was a move toward the Soviet bloc. In 1955 there was a military confrontation between Egyptian and Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip. When Nasser sought to purchase weapons and military equipment from the West he faced having to comply with certain stipulation, such as ending his support for the rebels in Algeria. He then turned to the East and bought weapons from Czechoslovakia.
There was further cause for Nasser to turn to the Soviet Union. He wanted to build another dam at Aswan that would provide flood control, irrigation water and electric power generation. There was already a small dam there so the new dam was called the Aswan High Dam. A cost benefit analysis by the World Bank indicated that the benefits would be no more than the cost so the net benefit of the dam to Egypt would be near zero. The World Bank and other international lending agency did not outright refused to finance the dam. They made financing contingent upon Egypt allowing the World Bank to manage Egypt's finances in much the same way that Britain did in the 19th century. Nasser refused those conditions and separately antagonized the West by giving diplomatic recognition to the People's Republic of China. The World Bank and the various Western governments withdrew their offer to finance the dam. What was left out of the analysis by the World Bank was the long term Egyptian paranoia about some power upstream on a branch of the Nile River cutting off flow and extracting concessions from Egypt. The reservoir behind the Aswan High Dam would give a reserve of water that would reduce Egyptian vulnerability. When financing for the dam was not forthcoming from Western sources Nasser sought Soviet financing. The Soviet leaders could not have cared less about the cost benefit analysis, they wanted influence in the Arab world and so they agreed to finance the dam. This resulted in the presence of large numbers of Soviet personnel, military and otherwise, in Egypt.
The Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 and the revised version agreed to in 1954 both called for the transfer of control of the Canal to the Egyptian government in 1956. In July of 1956, shortly after the West declined the financing of the Aswan High Dam, Nasser order Egyptian forces to take control of the Suez Canal. Britain and France were highly dependent upon the Canal for their trade. The control of the Canal was due to be transferred but Britain and France were counting upon some assurances that they would continue to have the use of the Canal. This was uncertain given the recent behavior of Nasser.
Britain and France hatched a devious plan to take control of the Canal. They induced Israel to invade Egypt across Sinai up to the Canal. Britain and France would give Egypt an ultimatum that unless hostilities ceased they would take control of the Canal to protect it for international shipping. Israel agreed only on the stipulation that Britain destroy the Egyptian air force before the invasion. The plan was carried out but with major glitches. Britain did destroy the Egyptian air force and Israel did invade but the ultimatum was delivered to the Egyptian government before Israeli forces reached the Canal. This revealed to the world that Britain, France and Israel were working together. The U.S. government and the Soviet government in the strongest terms announced that Britain and France would have to give up the Canal. Additionally the plan went awry when Egyptian forces sabotaged the Canal by sinking about forty ships in it. The Canal was out of operation until 1957.
Nasser succeeded in gaining full control of the Canal, which he was entitled to under the treaties of 1936 and 1954. However if it had not been for the intercession of the U.S. and the Soviet Union his plan would not have worked. It is extremely unlikely that he was counting on that intervention when he initiated his plan. He was extremely lucky but the Arab world gave him credit for boldness and effectiveness.
Nasser basked in his international prestige. This led him into some quixotic adventures. In 1958 Egypt and Syria were united into the United Arab Republic with Nasser as president. Nasser required the elimination of the governing Baathist Party. However in 1961 when Nasser was demanding the nationalization of Syrian enterprises, the merging of the Syrian Army with the Egyptian Army and the issuing of a common currency the Syrians knew that they would soon lose all vestiges of autonomy. In September of 1961 a cabal of Syrian army officers untied the United Arab Republic back into Egypt and Syria. Nasser did not resist this dissolution.
Nasser then attempted a union of Egypt and Yemen, called the United Arab States. There was a rebellion against the monarchist government. Nasser supported the rebels and Saudi Arabia supported the royalists. Egypt soon had 75 thousand troops in Yemen. This Nasserite adventure ended in 1967 as a result of Egypt needing to devote all of its resources to the 1967 war with Israel.
After the formal state of war ended after the 1956 war and informal state of guerilla war continued. Commandos from Jordan and Syria crossed into Israeli territory to carryout sabotage and terrorism. These raids did not come from Egyptian territory because there a United Nations force stationed on the Egyptian side of the Egyptian-Israeli border. These troops served to protect Egypt from a potential Israeli invasion and also dissuaded guerillas from operating from Egypt.
Nasser was perceived as an Arab leader, but other Arab leaders chided him for hiding behind a U.N. shield. Nasser, driven to prove that he could walk the walk as well as talk the talk, told the U.N. to evacuate its troops from Egypt. Haven taken this step Nasser could not resist the step of closing to Israeli shipping the Strait of Tiran, which meant Israel would not be able to have access to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. Apparently Nasser had delusions about his military strength relative to that of Israel. Perhaps he expected a period of international blustering.
Israeli leaders perceiving that another war was inevitable struck first. On the morning of June 5, 1967 Israeli planes destroyed 70 percent of the Egyptian war planes. Thereafter Israel had unchallenged air superiority. Israeli forces were able to capture Sinai in three days. They were at the Suez Canal by June 8th. By the time the U.N. had induced both sides to accept a truce Israel controlled Sinai, all of Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Golan Heights. Egypt lost not only territory. Over 11,000 soldiers were killed and 5,500 were captured. About 80 percent of the Egyptian military equipment was lost. Furthermore the Suez Canal had been an important source of revenue for the Egyptian government. Now that was lost because the Canal was blocked and out of operation.
Nasser publically accepted the blame of the military defeat and submitted his resignation as president of Egypt. Supposedly there were spontaneous political demonstrations demanding that he withdraw his resignation. The cabinet and National Assembly refused to accept Nasser's resignation so he withdrew it and remained Egypt's head of state. Nasser, in fact, acquired more formal power. He became the Prime Minister as well as President and he became the Secretary General of the only legal political party, the Arab Socialist Union.
Nasser himself was not so forgiving of the top military leadership. By the end of June of 1967, the top leaders were forced to resign and Nasser took the title of supreme commander of the Egyptian armed forces. Supposedly Nasser himself had taken the blame for the failures of the Egyptian army in the war. Now suddenly the blame was entirely on the commanding officers.
Toward the end of August 50 top officials in the government and the military were arrested for supposedly trying to organize a coup to overthrow Nasser. Among these fifty were the top leaders of the military.
In September of 1967 there was an Arabic Summit Conference in Khartoum, Sudan. During the conference Nasser and the leader of the Saudi Arabian delegation met to negotiate an agreement concerning their countries. Nasser agreed to stop trying to promote a rebellion against the royalist government and in return Saudi Arabia would fund the rearming of Egypt.
In March of 1968 a military tribunal tried four air force commanding officers of negligence during the 1967 war. When two were acquitted supposedly spontaneous demonstrations broke out over the leniency of the tribunal. The government promised to retry the officers.
The 1967 Arab-Israeli War ended with a cease-fire the left Israel in control of the Sinai up to the east bank of the Suez Canal. Egypt was desperate for a way to force Israel into negotiations that would involve the return of the Sinai to Egyptian hand. There were sporadic violations of the cease-fire, including the sinking of an Israeli destroyer, by Egypt even before 1968, but in 1968 all pretense of a cease-fire was dropped.
Egypt built a line of fortifications on the west side of the Suez Canal. The Egyptian fortification were built to carry out a bombardment of Israeli forces on the east side of the Canal. Israel retaliated for the bombardment by sending a helicopter-borne commando group into Egypt to destroy the main source of electricity for Egypt. This black-out of Egypt ended hostilities for several months. Israel had built a string of fortification, called the Bar Lev Line, along the east side of the Suez Canal. The Egyptian fortifications were built at a higher level to facilitate the bombardment of the Bar Lev Line.
The Israeli air force began targeting the Egyptian fortifications. The Egyptians secured surface-to-air missiles (SAM's) to guard their bombardment line and later Soviet MIG's piloted by Soviet pilots to protect the Egyptian bombardment line.
The Israeli air force destroyed most of the Egyptian fortification.
By 1969 the governments of the U.S. and the Soviet Union are actively trying to end the hostilities. The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution calling for an end to the hostilities and providing for a negotiation of the issues. This was called Resolution 242. The Nixon Administration formulated a plan for resolving the issues and sent the Secretary of State, William Rogers, to present it to the opposing parties. The plan, called the Rogers' Plan, was rejected by both sides. Swedish diplomat Gunnar Jaring also flew to the area to promote Resolution 242. Jaring's efforts also failed. Instead the situation became worse because Egyptian president Gamal Nasser requested that the Soviet leaders supply more sophisticated military equipment and Soviet military personnel to Egypt. The Soviet leaders initially turned down Nasser's request, but Nasser flew to Moscow to twist arms. The threat Nasser used was that he would resign. He and the Soviet leaders both knew that Nasser's replacement would most likely more away from ties to the Soviets and toward a closer relationship with the West. The Soviet leaders gave in and agreed to supply new model surface-to-air missiles and increase the number of Soviet personnel to level of about eleven thousand.
When the Soviet equipment and pilots arrive the Israeli fighter pilots at first were ordered to avoid battles with the Soviet aircraft and pilots. However after the Soviet pilots had shot down an Israeli aircraft the Israeli air force staged a successful ambush of the Soviet planes downing four or five MIG's with no loss of Israeli planes.
The new Soviet surface-to-air missiles however bring down several Israeli aircraft. This air defense enables Egypt to refortify the west side of the Canal and bombard the Bar Lev Line.
In early August of 1970 both sides accept the Rogers Plan, which calls for no changes in the military installations within 50 kilometers of the cease-fire line. Apparently there was no intention on the part of Egypt of complying with the terms of the agreement because almost immediately Egypt began setting up new surface-to-air missiles bases within the forbidden zone. The signing of the agreement apparently was nothing more than a ploy to be able to set up new installations without fear of an Israeli attack.
The political situation in Egypt soon changed irreversibly in September of 1970 when Gamal Nasser died of a heart attack. His vice president and longtime associate was Anwar al-Sadat. Many did not expect Sadat to retain power for very long in the post-Nasser power struggle. Sadat however was more adroit at political maneuvering than people expected. However Sadat ended the hostilities of the War of Attrition merely to have time, space and funds to rearm Egypt for a future surprise attack against Israel.
There few fictional stories that have the drama of the events of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Anwar Sadat had been carefully rearming Egypt and planning a surprise attack. The time chosen reflects the careful planning. The attack was scheduled to come at the time of the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur when the Jewish faithful spend the day fasting and attending five prayer services. Sadat thought that the disruption of communication on that day would interfere with the Israeli response.
The poor showing of the Arab states' armies in the 1967 Six Day War rankled the pride of Arabs whose present status as the dominant population group from Morocco to Iraq came as a result of the military prowess of Arab armies. So from 1970 to 1973 the Egyptian army was built up and trained and all this was disguised to prevent the Israelis from preparing for it. There were a couple of Egyptian mobilizations that prompted costly Israeli counter-mobilizations. Sadat ended the military aid from the Soviet Union in order to free himself from interference by the Soviet leaders over his planned attack.
When it came time to move the Egyptian army into position for the attack the Egyptian government notified the Israeli government that there would be some military exercises taking place in the region near the Canal. The Israeli leadership was not caught entirely by surprise. There were many sources, including Jordan's King Hussein, who warned that an Egyptian-Syrian attack was imminent. However Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir decided that Israel could not afford to undertake a pre-emptive attack because it might be perceived that Israel had started the war. Imagine the high stress that decision must have cost Golda Meir. However her decision was vindicated when a message was received from Henry Kissinger saying "Don't pre-empt!" Kissinger later said that had Israel struck first they would not have received "so much as a nail" in aid.
Although Israel was constrained from launching a pre-emptive attack there were notable members of the Israeli political and military leadership that believed that the Egyptian attack could be countered without much difficulty. However they underestimated the Egyptian preparations for the attack. The Egyptians had installed batteries of surface-to-air missiles that effectively removed the element of Israeli air superiority from the contest. Furthermore, the Egyptian anticipated an Israeli counterattack based upon tanks. Therefore Egypt armed about one third of its soldiers with anti-tank weapons.
The Egyptian attack was launched on October 6, 1973. First a couple hundred Egyptian aircraft carried out bombing runs on Israeli air fields and fortifications. The batteries of surface-to-air missile sites severely limited the counterattacks by the Israeli air force. About eight thousand Egyptian troops crossed the Suez Canal and captured fifteen out of the sixteen fortifications of Israel's Bar Lev Line on the east side of the Canal. The Egyptian attack on the Bar Lev Line was aided by artillery situated in the Egyptian fortifications on the west bank of the Canal. When Israeli tanks tried to come to the aid of the Bar Lev Line fortifications they were put under devastating fire from the anti-tank weapons of the Egyptian infantry and the artillery firing from the west bank. Altogether about three quarters of the Israeli tank force was lost whereas the Egyptians lost only about 5 percent of theirs.
The Israeli high command decided to shift to a purely defensive strategy on the Egyptian front. This was in part a matter of Israel needing to concentrate its force on the Syrian front which was a short distance from the Israeli population whereas the Egyptian front was a great distance away. However some of Israeli commanders on the Egyptian front \c were replaced by more experienced Israeli generals brought out of retirement and those generals countermanded the top leadership by launching some counterattacks. At first these attacks were ineffective, then an Israeli force found a weak point between two Egyptian armies and made a breakthrough to the Canal. From there Israeli commandos crossed the Canal and attacked the Egyptian fortifications on the west bank. The Egyptians were counting on the security of the west bank fortifications and depending on their artillery and surface-to-air missile batteries there to support the operations in the Sinai. The daring Israeli commando operation on the west bank turned the war around. The turn-around was helped by Sadat ordering Egyptian forces in the Sinai to launch attacks beyond their surface-to-air missiles cover.
The Israelis were intent upon cutting off the retreat of the Egyptian Third Army. The Egyptian armed forces were collapsing to the point where it was feasible for Israeli forces to launch attacks against Cairo. There was some sentiment to pursue the advantage that had been achieved on the Egyptian front but Gold Meir recognized that that at that time there would soon be intense pressure on Israel to accept a truce. She then opted not to try to transfer troops from the Syrian front because there was likely to be a truce before such a troop transfer could be carried out. Leaving the Israeli forces on the Syrian front would result in major ground gains that would be useful in future negotiations with the Arab countries involved in the war.
The United Nations passed a resolution calling for a cease fire on October 22nd. The cease fire involved the armies maintaining the positions they were at about 7 PM in the evening. Since it was infeasible to establish where the armies were after dark the Israeli high command authorized the Israeli army to continue military operations throughout the night. This was crucial since the few hours of operations allowed the Israeli army to capture the only route by which the Egyptian Third Army could receive supplies. The Third Army became in effect hostages of the Israeli forces.
When the Arab armies began to suffer battlefield defeats the Soviet Union increased its shipments of war materiel to them. The U.S. promised to replace Israeli's losses of tanks, planes and other war materiel. The Soviet Union then threatened to send in its troops and fighter planes to support the Arab forces. The U.S. to the Soviet Union's surprise increased its defense alert condition. The Soviet Union which had deployed units to the eastern Mediterranean area in preparation of an intervention decided that its status with the Arab world was not worth the possibility of a major war with the U.S. cancelled its planned intervention.
The U.S. strongly pressured Israel not to destroy the entrapped Egyptian Third Army. At this time the Egyptian government revealed that it was willing to enter into negotiations with Israel and the negotiation commenced on October 28th. Soon afterwards, on October 31st, Syria agreed to a cease fire and the Yom Kippur War was over.
Although the Yom Kippur War ended in military defeat for Egypt, the initial successes established the Egyptian army as a force to be respected. This retrieved Egyptian honor, a serious consideration for an Arabic country. The Arabs historically came to prominence as a result of their military prowess. It was a hard thing for the Arabs to have seen their armies defeated so summarily in the 1967 Six Day War.
After the 1973 war the Arabs of Egypt and Syria could consider themselves as a warrior people once again even though they had not been victorious. It was possible to excuse the defeat as being the result of the American aid to Israel or the surrounding of the Egyptian Third Army as a result of Israel not complying with the terms of the cease fire agreement. The real explanation was the superior Israeli generalship but that did not matter.
Within Egypt Anwar Sadat was hailed as the Hero of the Crossing and this popularity enabled him to negotiate with Israel for the ultimate return of the Sinai. Outside of Egypt Sadat was severely criticized for giving Israel de facto diplomatic recognition by this negotiation. So Sadat on one side enjoyed high popularity and even shared a Nobel Peace Prize (with Menachem Begin) and the other side found Egypt expelled from the Arab League.
His domestic popularity enabled Sadat to start the process of undoing the socialist one-party state that Nasser had created in Egypt. This was not always easy. When price controls were removed on food there was extensive rioting and the price controls were re-instated. And sometimes the moves away from socialism were not always that much of an improvement in terms of economic efficiency. Frequently the privatization was in the direction of Crony Capitalism rather than a true market economy.
In the political sphere Sadat allowed, or perhaps decreed is the more appropriate term, the creation of three political parties; one each for the political left, right and middle. The Islamic fundamentalist organizations such as the Moslem Brotherhood were not allowed to form parties but they were allowed to operate legally.
However after the Camp David Accords and Sadat's signing of a peace treaty with Israel an Islamic fundamentalist unit in the army planned his assassination. During a parade in which Sadat was reviewing the military units, exactly at the time an Egyptian squadron of fighter planes was passing overhead, a military truck stopped close to the reviewing stand. While the parade audience's attention was focused on the planes overhead, soldiers from the truck emerged and fired stun grenades toward the reviewing stand. Soldiers from the truck fired at Sadat and others ran toward the stand firing AK-47's. The assassins were able to attack the reviewing stand for about sixty seconds before Sadat personal guards reacted. Eleven people in the reviewing stand were killed. Sadat was rushed to the hospital but soon died. Hosni Mubarak, the man whose to succeed Sadat, was one of those in the reviewing stand who was injured.
(To be continued.)
HOME PAGE OF Thayer Watkins