To ensure success of the coup, the Free Officers had Ali Mahir head the government whilst they formed the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), which dictated civilian policy and abolished all civil titles such as pasha and bey. They elected Muhammad Naguib president and commander in chief for figurehead purposes, as he was a popular hero of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and an officer trusted by the army, whose trust was crucial to win. Nasser was, in actuality, the real power behind the RCC. All political parties were dissolved and banned. A three-year transition period was proclaimed during which the RCC would rule. A Liberation Rally headed by Nasser was launched on February 10 to mobilize popular support for the new government. On June 18, Egypt was declared a republic, and the monarchy was abolished, ending the rule of Muhammad Ali's dynasty. Naguib became the first president and also prime minister. Nasser became deputy prime minister and minister of interior. Other officers took over other ministries. However, when Naguib, who sympathised with the Muslim Brotherhood, began to follow his own ideas of governance, he was quickly removed of his power and only remained President of the republic due to popular outcry. Nasser became Prime Minister, president of the RCC and hence the virtual dictator of the country.
Evacuation of British troops from Canal Zone
The most important and urgent matter to resolve for the Free Officers upon their initiation into office was the evacuation of the British from Egypt. To achieve this, there were two thorny issues to handle, one being Sudan and the other being the Suez Canal.
In February 1953, the Egyptian government agreed to a plan for self-determination for Sudan to be enacted in the course of three years. The Sudanese chose independence rather than to be united with Egypt. Initially, the Free Officers worried that the British stationed in the Suez Canal Zone would hinder their efforts on behalf of the king. However, it was made clear by the British that they would only take action in the event that British lives were threatened.
The British realised that the Suez Canal base was non-replaceable in the Western nations' Cold War with the Soviet Union. Therefore they wanted Egypt to enter into the Baghdad Pact as a part of a 'regional defense system' together with themselves, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and Iraq. The Pact would put an enclosure around the Soviet Union's southern borders. Egypt had to enter the Pact before any withdrawal from the Canal took place, or so the British foreign secretary, Anthony Eden, tried to bring about by force but failed. This was because Egypt showed Britain that it needed Egypt's cooperation in maintaining the base, and only in that manner did Egypt manage to get its way. In October 1954, Nasser secured an agreement entailing the withdrawal of all British troops from the base within twenty months, with the condition that the British base could be reactivated in the event of an attack on Egypt by an outside power or an Arab League state or an attack on Turkey.
This outcome was received with mixed responses from the Egyptian community. The communists and the Brotherhood were disapproving of Nasser for reworking the old treaty. A member of the Brotherhood tried to assassinate Nasser on October 26, 1954, while he was justifying the canal agreement to a crowd in Alexandria. Nasser responded by purposely exposing himself to crowds in Alexandria, at stations on the way to Cairo and in the capital the next day, thus boosting his popularity greatly.
Despite sharing similar goals, the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood refused to liase with the Free Officers unless they accepted Brotherhood objectives as well. As the Brotherhood continually opposed to the RCC, Nasser outlawed the organisation in February 1954. Because Naguib carried a 'certain sympathy' towards the Brotherhood, and its leaders implicated him in the attack on Nasser, Nasser took the opportunity to have Naguib deposed from the presidency in November.
Nasser, the West and the Soviet Union
Nasser wanted to be in no way under British authority. He did not consider the Soviet Union an ally either. On the other hand, he was attracted to the Non-aligned Movement that avoided agreements which would was a form of positive neutrality that avoids agreements which would cause them to side with the West or the Soviet Union. together with his friend President Marshal Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia, they developed the concept of Non-alignment. The Conference of the Nonaligned Movement in Bandung with participation from many former colonies represented 'the new postcolonial world order' as well as Egypt's own independence. Egypt was well received and respected at the conference.
An attack on Egyptian military outposts in Gaza in February 1955 by the Israeli army convinced Nasser to build up a military force to defend itself against Israel despite his former preference to invest in his country's development. Initially Nasser sought help from the West, but the United States frowned upon Egypt's policy of non-alignment and made it clear that Egypt would have difficulty in purchasing arms from them. The French 'demanded that Egypt cease aiding the Algerian national movement, which was fighting for independence from France'. The British told Nasser that no arms would be granted to Egypt if it bought any from the Soviet Union. In the face of rejection, Nasser turned to the Soviet Union for arms in September 1955. Hence Egypt became dependent on Soviet weapons, as it received none from the Western countries.
Relations between Nasser and the West reached a climax over the financing of the Aswan High Dam. Its construction was proposed by the Free Officers and was to increase both the irrigated land area and electricity power generation to boost the country's economy. At first the United States, Britain and the World Bank agreed to grant loans to Egypt to finance the dam. However, the World Bank loan required Egypt's budget to be overseen by World Bank officials. Nasser considered such measures as controlling and resented it like the days of British colonial mastery of Egypt. When the United States got wind of Nasser's view, it became angry over Egypt's recognition of communist China and withdrew its loan offer.
Britain and the World Bank followed suit. While Nasser was returning to Cairo from a meeting with President Tito and Prime Minister Nehru of India, he got to know of this and was infuriated, and decided to retaliate with an action that 'shocked the West and made him the hero of Arabs'.
Colonisation of Egypt. © Copyright 2005
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