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When World War I ended, nationalists in Egypt pushed the British for independence. The formation of a wafd, or delegation in Arabic, was initially first brought up to demand independence at the Paris Peace Conference in September 1918. Wafd called for a constitutional government.
Yawm al Jihad & 1919 Revolution
On 13 November 1918, known as the Day of Struggle or Yawm al Jihad, the Al Wafd al Misri (Wafd as it is known), headed by Saad Zaghlul, a prominent member of the Umma Party, was formed. Zaghlul, together with other members Abd Al Aziz Fahmi and Ali Sharawi met the British high commissioner, Sir Reginald Wingate, and demanded independence. They also asked permission to go to London to present their case before the British Government, but were rejected by the British.
On 8 March 1919, Zaghlul and three others were arrested by the British, thrown into Qasr an Nil prison and then exiled to Malta. The arrest and subsequent deportation stirred up a wave of anger among the Egyptians that led to the 1919 Revolution against the British. Demonstrations and strikes were organised in major cities such as Cairo, Tanta and Asyut, causing major disruptions in communications and utilities services. Demonstrators went further to cut railroads and destroy telegram lines. For a moment, Egypt halted into a standstill.
The population was united in its opposition against the British. Many Egyptians, young and old, of various cities in joined in the Revolution. Both Muslims and Christians showed their disagreement, carrying ¡®crescent and cross¡¯ banners in their demonstrations to show unity. Even women who were usually excluded from political activities participated in the public demonstrations. This was started by Zaghlul¡¯s wife Safia Zaghlul on 16 March when 150-300 women in veils protested against the British occupation. In other parts of Egypt, women demonstrated with men, and they even organized strikes and boycotts.
The 1919 Revolution came to a peak on March 16 with the biggest demonstration when some 10,000 civil servants, students, teachers, lawyers and workers marched to Abdin Palace. Many such strikes also started in other areas such as Al Mansurah, Al Fayyum, Alexandria, Tanta and Damanhur.
Violence, often fierce, broke out amongst Egyptians and Europeans as the British attempted to bring down the demonstrations using force. Eventually the 1919 Revolution was to resulted in many casualties, including as many as 800 Egyptians killed, 31 Europeans and 29 British, not including the damages done.
Lord Wingate, the British High Commissioner however, realised the influence of the Wafd and its revolutionary potential and hence asked the British to allow Wafd to travel to Paris. The British government remained reluctant to do so however, believing that any sign of weakness would only encourage more audacity. Milne Cheetham was placed as acting high commissioner in January 1919 while Wingate was returned to England for discussions on the Egyptian Revolution. Soon, Cheetham likewise realised that he was unable to keep order and prevent the strikes from breaking lose, but he was ordered by the British government not to give in to Wafd.
Wingate was replaced by General Edmund Allenby, who came to Egypt on 25th March as the special high commissioner. One day later, a meeting was arranged between General Allenby, a group of Egyptian nationalists. The Egyptians managed to convince Allenby to allow the Wafd leaders to go to Paris, on the condition that they will ask the people to stop the strikes. Believing that this is the only solution to the current problem, Allenby asked for agreement with the British government before allowing Zaghlul and his party to go to Paris on April 7.
This time, a mission was sent out by the British governments headed by Lord Milner in May 1919 to inquire if Egypt could be granted some form of self-governance without comprising British interests. This mission arrived in December that year but was opposed by the Egyptian nationalists: the Egyptians would no longer accept the status of Protectorate. Strikes followed and shops were closed, while brochures were distributed to ask Egyptians to oppose the mission.
Realising that the only way to resolve the crisis was through seeking a solution personally with Zaghlul, Milner met him in 1920¡¯s summer privately in London. An agreement was made in the next February such that the British government would cease to treat Egypt as a protectorate in status, but as a nation on her own right.
Zaghlul returned to Egypt on 4 April 1921 and received a warm, resounding welcome by his fellow Egyptians. Allenby was however, determined to break Zaghlul¡¯s great influence among the Egyptians and created a pro-British group that could protect Britain¡¯s interests in Egypt should she become independent. As a result Zaghlul was deported a second time in December, resulting in the same riots and demonstrations across Egypt.
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