“In view of what the country has suffered in the recent past, the complete vacuity prevailing in all corners as a result of your bad behavior, your toying with the constitution, and your disdain for the wants of the people, no one rests assured of life, livelihood, and honor. Egypt’s reputation among the peoples of the world has been debased as a result of your excesses in these areas to the extent that traitors and bribe-takers find protection beneath your shadow in addition to security, excessive wealth, and many extravagances at the expense of the hungry and impoverished people.” – Muhammad Naguib addresses King Farouk on July 26, 1952.
In light of the recent events in Egypt, where a popular revolution is taking place, that calls for its current President Musarek of 30 years to step down, I thought it a necessary endeavor to review the military coup that took place in Egypt in July of 1952. The coup was a pivotal event in Egypt’s history, and marks the time that the monarchy was deposed and a new form of government takes its place. But fifty-nine years later is it clear how and why this coup took place?
First signs of trouble begin in late 1951 and early 1952 over British control of the Canal Zone. Nationalist police officers, with the support of the United States (CIA) and the Soviet Union, formed fedayeen groups which attacked British shipping facilities near Ismailia. Several British soldiers, officers and seamen were killed.
The British retaliated and sought out the commandos in local police barracks in Ismailia. The police refused to give up the commandos, so the British used a negotiator to get the police and commandos to surrender. However, the negotiator was killed by the fedayeen and the British spearheaded an assault on the police headquarters at Ismailia, which resulted in the killing of more than fifty Egyptians.
The next day, January 26, 1952, best known as Black Saturday, reminds me of the current protests that are taking place in Cairo. One difference, however, is that the rioting and looting of the mob only occurred for this one day in 1952. Thirty people lost their lives and some prominent landmarks of Cairo, such as the Turf Club and the old Shepheard’s Hotel, were burned to the ground.
This bloodless coup begins in earnest on the evening of July 22nd when key posts in Cairo and Alexandria were occupied with little difficulty. The coup was engineered by the Free Officers’ movement, which was a confederation of young military officers who wanted to clean up the corruption in Egypt. This dedicated group of officers essentially organized and implemented this coup with swiftness and precision.
The mechanics of the ousting of King Farouk were in place once the army occupied Alexandria on the 25th of July. A frightened King Farouk fled his residence at Montazo Palace for a waterfront domicile at Ras-Al-Teen Palace. Muhammad Naguib ordered the captain of his yacht Al-Mahrusa not to set sail without permission from the army. The Free Officers decided to have mercy on the deposed Farouk, even in light of the “crimes he committed against the Egyptian people.”
Although Farouk abdicated authority to his son, Crown Prince Ahmed Foud, it was actually the Free Officers who assumed power. On Saturday, July 26, 1952, at 6 o’clock in the evening King Farouk set sail for Italy, and lived out his days decadently in Rome. The king literally ate himself to death, and died at the dinner table of the Ile de France restaurant thirteen years after he was exiled. His parting words to Naguib were: “Your task will be difficult, it isn’t easy, you know, to govern Egypt.”
On July 28, 1953 Muhammad Naguib becomes the first President of Egypt, and thus the ‘Republic’ is initiated; for the next fifty-eight years a similar political structure is in place in Egypt, that could best be described as a ‘Military Oligarchy.’ Naguib held the presidency for only a short time. Gamal Abdel Nasser, who was appointed deputy premier and minister of the interior in 1953, would soon take the reins of power away from Naguib.
Nasser became President of the United Arab Republic on June 23, 1953 and held the position until September 28, 1970. I choose to take my narrative up to this point, but to back up the tape a trifle, and suggest some of the problems with King Farouk’s regime and how they may have fomented the Egyptian Revolution. .
The narrative going forward is more obvious and is directly a cause for the present deteriorated condition of Egypt, politically, economically and socially. However, the juncture in time of the King’s deposition is a pivotal event that acts as a fulcrum to Egypt’s modern history. Some of these reasons for this are still not so obvious today.
There is a 2007 television miniseries on the life of King Farouk produced by a Saudi owned-satellite channel MBC, that portrays the deposed king in a more favorable light. I would like to see this special, but as far as I know, it hasn’t been made available in the U.S. Revisionism is taking place in the Middle East with regards to this period in Egypt in the early 1950s. Were conditions in Egypt really all that bad prior to the Revolution? Many are now saying no, but what are some blatant flaws of the monarchy?
One of the reasons given, regarding the King’s misplaced political sympathies, that was a trigger for the Revolution, is his sympathy with the Axis Powers, but this sympathy was primarily due to the ever-present occupation of Egypt by the British. Another reason often sited is the failure of the Egyptian army, where they lost 78% of Palestine to the new state of Israel in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. This would come back to haunt Nasser in the 1967 Six Day War.
But were there other forces at play in 1952? A writing of this history in a clear fashion has not occurred heretofore. The reason for this is that secret intelligence agencies were highly involved in the internal affairs of Egypt. That is, the Middle East became a theater for the Cold War, where the Soviet Union and the United States were posturing in a global chess game dual with one another, pandering to the Free Officers Movement, and attempting to undermine the British, who perpetuated their colonial grip on the ‘Paris Along the Nile.’
The exact role of the CIA in the coup d’etat of 1952 still could use some clarification. Two Wikipedia entries, one for the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 and one for King Farouk, have been helpful in terms of shedding light on covert operations. The CIA had a scheme known as Project FF (Fat Fuc…) to overthrow King Farouk.
This plot was initiated by CIA operative Kermit Roosevelt, Jr. I’m wondering whether the CIA took a more active role in the coup, or if they just let the Free Officers Movement do the work, while they gave a positive nod in the background, “Go with the plan.”
We know that the CIA and the KGB agitated people against many Egyptian institutions, such as the police, the palace and political parties, but just how active were they? Not that we will ever be able to get access to these files, but maybe some retired agents could come forth and tell their stories of intrigue and manipulation in a heightened Cold War atmosphere. And what about Black Saturday, or ‘The Second Revolution,’ was that real or was it a CIA fabrication?
And what was the Eisenhower Administration’s policy in Egypt? Maybe there’s some important documents in the Eisenhower Library that will shed some light on this? I can reason logically that they wanted to out-maneuver the Soviets there by ousting the British, who were clinging to outdated colonial aspirations, and a desire to hold on to the valuable rights of the Suez Canal.
Little did they know that later Nasser would align himself with the Soviets, which provided them with technical and military aid, and finally gave support for the Aswan Dam project. In any case, it’s not so clear just what happened in Egypt in July of 1952. Was the Egyptian Revolution organic, a natural outgrowth of dissatisfaction, or was it a military coup, engineered by an elite core of military officers, with the CIA pulling the puppet strings?
Sources: Mainly Wikipedia-Farouk of Egypt and Egyptian Revolution of 1952, Also, A History of Egypt by Jason Thompson, Nasser-The Last Arab by Said K. Aburish, and Inside Egypt-The Land of the Pharaohs on the Brink of a Revolution.