You are at: Home > Nationalism > Post WWII: Free Officer Movement
Free Officer Movement
Gamal Abdul Nasser was one of the men who served in the war. He commanded an army unit in Palestine and was wounded in the chest. He was dismayed by the incompetence of his nation's leaders in organising the attack. The following incident held significant importance for Nasser who saw it as 'a symbol of his country's determination to free Egypt from all forms of oppression, internal and external': In the battle for the Negev Desert in October 1948, Nasser and his unit were trapped at Falluja, near Beersheba . The unit held out and was eventually able to counterattack [the enemy].
Nasser formed the Free Officer movement within the army, and began planning for the revolutionary overthrow of the government. The Free Officers were intensely nationalistic and heavily disillusioned with the government, plus it condemned what it saw as ' Britain 's humiliating occupation of Egyptian soil'. In 1949, 9 of the Free Officers formed the Committee of the Free Officers' Movement; in 1950 Nasser was elected chairman.
Political Upheaval and Unrest
Both the Free Officers and the Muslim Brotherhood plotted to usurp political power, and the Brotherhood resolved to achieve this through terrorist operations. It had gained in popularity and membership strength as its volunteer squads performed well in combat against Israel . During the war, the Brotherhood had been ordered to disband and martial law was declared in Egypt . In response, the Prime Minister, Nuqrashi Pasha, was assassinated in December 1948. His successor, Ibrahim Abdul Hadi, then rounded up large numbers of Young Egypt, Brotherhood members and communists to be detained in concentration camps. Hassan al-Banna was assassinated in February 1949 himself.
In January 1950, the Wafd, infested with corruption and poor leadership, was again elected to power with Nahhas as Prime Minister. It enacted disastrous economic policies, crumbled to pressure from the Brotherhood and leftist groups for militant opposition to the British and released many members of the Brotherhood. It abrogated the 1936 treaty and calling for the evacuation of British troops from the Canal Zone . The government tacitly approved guerrilla action against the British troops in the Canal area as well. "Liberation battalions" were organised, and the Brotherhood and auxiliary police were armed. Food supplies to the Suez Canal Zone were blocked, and Egyptian workers were withdrawn from the base while students and the Brotherhood battled against the British in the Suez Canal Zone.
In December, British bulldozers and Centurion tanks knocked down 50 Egyptian mud houses in order to open a road to a water supply for the British Army. In January, a second Dinshwai occurred when the British besieged and overran a post manned by Egyptian auxiliary police, who fought to the last man. These two incidents led to a mutiny by Cario police in protest against the death of their colleagues. The authorities were unable to control or refused to control the rioting and rampaging that broke out in Cairo . British property and symbols of Western presence were attacked. 750 establishments valued at £50 million had been burned or destroyed, including British landmarks such as the Turf Club. This event which occurred on January 26, 1952, was to be remembered as "Black Saturday" in history. Thirty persons were killed, including eleven British and other foreigners; hundreds were injured.
Repercussions and Revolution
The British dismissed many of the Wafdists in the government as they were suspected to have official collusion in the rioting. Four prime ministers held office in the next six months. It became obvious that the Egyptian ruling class were no longer able to exert their authority yet none of the radical nationalist groups could usurp the government. This was the Free Officers' chance to strike. Realising that the King might be preparing to act against them, they took over key positions in a bloodless coup d'état engineered by Nasser and his fellow Officers. The next morning, the Egyptians were informed that the army, commanded by General Neguib, had seized power. Disappointed with their corrupt government and their debauched king, the Egyptians greeted the news with joy.
On July 26, King Faruk was forced to abdicate in favour of his infant son, and 'sailed into exile on the same yacht on which his grandfather, Ismail, had left for exile about seventy years earlier'.
[back to top]