Seventy years have passed since the 23 July Revolution, which the Egyptian army carried out and the Egyptian people supported and protected. That date marked the end of another 70 years in which the Egyptian people lived under the British colonialism since 1882 despite the ceaseless national struggle, culminating in the 1919 Revolution whose leader, Saad Zaghloul, was exiled out of Egypt.
Later, Britain issued the Unilateral Declaration of Egyptian Independence, which was indeed useless as colonialism continued to plunder Egypt’s wealth and Britain’s troops continued to spread across Egypt until the Anglo-Egyptian treaty of 1936 was signed and the United Kingdom was required to withdraw all its troops from Egypt, except those protecting the Suez Canal.
One year after the Revolution, Britain was politically and militarily obliged to sit for negotiations, which ended up by signing the Evacuation Agreement of 1954, initiated by President Mohammad Naguib and skillfully led by then Egypt’s Prime Minister Gamal Abdel-Nasser. The Evacuation Agreement bore fruit and on 18 June 1965 the last English troops departed from Egypt, leaving their military equipment seized by Egypt. In the same year Egypt restored independence to Sudan, ending colonialism and the plundering of the wealth of Sudan, opening the door for more independence and Arab-African liberation movements, enabling the revolution to achieve the first of its six objectives, i.e. decolonization.
These positive outcomes of the 23 July Revolution raise questions about its triggers and successes. To understand the Revolution’s motives, let’s step back to the 1940s where several developments paved the way to the Revolution. Back then, Britain promised Egypt to gain independence if Cairo backed it during the World War II (1939-1945), declaring the war on Germany whose troops, arriving at El Alamein commanded by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, were prevented from further advancing. Egypt –as well as other Arab countries– honoured its promise and Britain, led by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, managed to notch up victory, yet went back on its promise. Notably, Montgomery draw up his plan at the Mena House Hotel overlooking the pyramids.
Another driver for the July 23 Revolution was the partition of Palestine between the Arabs and the Jews, where Britain granted the Jews a Palestinian passport as refugees. The British Mandate claimed its inability to control the situation, so Britain referred the issue of Palestine to the UN and hence the Resolution 181 of 1947 of the nascent United Nations was issued, giving the Jews 56 percent of the Palestinian territory, giving rise to battles of the Egyptian fedayeen in the Suez Canal. These self-sacrifice efforts were led by the two military Majors Zakaria Mohieddin and Kamal Al-Din Hussein.
On 14 May 1948, Britain announced ending the British Mandate for Palestine, declaring the establishment of the state of Israel. In response, six Arab militaries (of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia) led by the Emir of Jordan revolted, yet without proper coordination of adequate weaponization (with Britain and France as the main sources of weaponization) in the face of an organized Jewish legion that just emerged from the World War II collaborating with the victorious allies. After World War II, the Jews were rewarded and allowed to go to Palestine with their light weapons, giving rise to the largest armed migration in history. After several Western truces during which the Israeli army was equipped, Israel won the war. Gamal Abdel-Nasser and his companions returned from the Al-Faluja battle with double the bitterness, the first due to their defeat given the lack of a plan, coordination, and professional leadership, and the second arising of its anger towards the Egyptian army for its failure to properly prepare for the war (in terms of planning, organization, and armament).
Beyond this, the great attack of the British forces in the Suez Canal on Ismailia Police Department on 25 January 1952, killing those inside the department and capturing the gendarmerie on the pretext of sheltering and helping the Egyptian fedayeen and the Cairo fire in which Egyptians and foreigners were killed, were also among the drivers that triggered the revolution.
Amid all these developments, the revolution was inevitable. The Free Officers took control of the War Department and Major Anwar al-Sadat made a statement to the nation broadcasted from the Egyptian Radio in Al-Sharifain Street, informing them of the Revolution. The Egyptian people responded positively announcing supporting and protecting the army’s steps. Days later, the Revolutionary Command Council asked King Farouk to abdicate in favor of his infant son, Ahmad Fuad.
On 26 July, King Farouk sailed to Italy, and he was given an official farewell by the President of the Republic, Major General Muhammad Naguib. This marked an end to the British protectorate and the Republic was declared, headed by President Gamal Abdel-Nasser after 148 long years of the rule of the Muhammad Ali’s family (1805-1953). Later on, Egypt concluded the Evacuation Agreement, to start a social, industrial, agricultural, and military renaissance building on the Revolution’s principles, notwithstanding its pros and cons just as any revolution in the world.
Today, we tell the true story about this national struggle and place, hoping it will serve as a guide to future generations. The 23 July Revolution will remain a turning point in Egypt’s history.
This article was originally published in Al-Ahram newspaper on 20 July 2022.