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Outbreak of WWI
Then came 1914. The complicated diplomatic tensions in Europe exploded with the outbreak of World War 2 after the Archduke of Austria-Hungary, Francis Ferdinand was assassinated by a Serbian nationalist. The Eastern Question that Austria-Hungary and Russia had tried to contain for more than 3 decades, had finally been answered with a declaration of war from Austria-Hungary on Serbia and Russia 's declaration on Austria-Hungary in return. The entangled alliance system pulled in the great rivalry and spirit of national vengeance between France and Germany and soon, the whole of Europe found herself engulfed in war. On one side were the Allies, comprising mainly of Britain , France , Russia and Italy that joined later. On the other were the Central Powers; Germany , Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire . The war was to have profound impacts on Egypt .
The addition of the Ottoman Empire on the side of the Central Powers brought the war to the Middle East . Egypt became an evermore-important possession; Egypt now safeguarded British shipping through the Suez Canal, thus ensuring communications between Britain and her many colonies, and was a base of operations against the Ottoman Empire . As a result, after the Ottoman Empire officially entered the war on the side of the Central Powers on the 29 th of October 1914, Egypt immediately changed in significance. But was the country firmly under their control?
On the 2nd of November, martial law was declared on Egypt as the British prepared to make diplomatic maneuvers to consolidate their control over Egypt . The next day, on the 3 rd of November, Britain declared Egypt her protectorate to cut off her relations with the Ottoman Empire . Khedive Abbas, the successor to Khedive Tawfiq who died in 1892 meanwhile, had been in Istanbul when the war broke out. The British did not trust him and believed him to be pro-German. Thus, they deposed him and Abbas' uncle, Husayn Kamil, replaced him with the title of sultan. Egypt was now firmly under British control. Lord Kitchener was now called back to England to assume the post of Minister of War and Sir Henry MacMahon, followed by Sir Reginald Wingate assumed the post of British high commissioner in Egypt .
The war began to arouse whiffs of nationalistic sentiments in the locals soon, as soldiers from various British allies and colonies came to Egypt . In Cairo , British, New Zealand and Australian troops, amongst others arrived. The common people started to suffer as prices of goods rose steeply while on the other hand, British troops enjoyed the many luxuries not available to the ordinary Egyptian. Australian troops too, came to Egypt and spent much money in Cairo everyday, enjoying themselves and were having more fun than the work in hand. These were seen day by day by the Egyptians who grew to resent the excesses of foreigners. As compared, Egyptians were in very dire states. The souring prices as mentioned, meant a shortage of goods for the people. In the countryside, the situation was much worse. The British purchased cotton and requisition of fodder from the peasants below market prices. The very poor conditions of living due to poverty and lack of food led to a higher death rate than birth rate in 1918. These hardships borne by the people encouraged the ridding of British control in Egypt .
Closure of Suez Canal
The British closed the Suez Canal to all foreign shipping in their efforts against the Central Powers. Meanwhile the British were at work against the Ottoman Empire . They incited the Arabs in the Ottoman Empire to fight the Turks for independence, the movement led by the famous T.E. Lawrence who was portrayed in the film Lawrence of Arabia. The encouragement of Arab independence from the Turks found echoes on Egypt, and the more the people watched they watched the Arabs struggle against the Ottoman Empire for independence, the more they were drawn into the idea of an independent Egypt free from the British.
Furthermore, the British forced around 500,000 peasants into the Labour and Camel Transport Corps to serve in the Egyptian Expeditionary Force. In 1917, the British actually encouraged the kidnapping of peasants to serve in the war fronts in Palestine , Syria , Mesopotamia and France . This move further aggravated the Egyptians against the British.
More Martial Law
In 1916, the British imposed once more martial law over Egypt . Military judges took over in civilian courts. Furthermore, the Legislative Assembly was suspended in an attempt to check the growing middle-class led nationalism. Egypt 's nationalistic drive was being cramped down slowly and Egyptians treated more as a dangerous enemy to be contained than an ally in the war. Still, the Egyptian nationalists held their hands throughout the war and no major disturbances broke out in Egypt , fortunately for the British.
End of World War I
World War 1 ended with the surrender of Germany and disintegration of Austria-Hungary in 1918 and the allies victorious. The Ottoman Empire on the other hand, ending the war with a harsh peace treaty, was likewise similar to Austria-Hungary , disintegrating. The Arabs, supported by the British in the war soon gained independence, though this was rather, more appearance than truth. Britain and France instead shared influences in the vacuum the Ottomans left behind. The Egyptians however, wanted the similar rights the Arabs had to be granted to them by the British. Furthermore, the international climate is one promoting home-rule and self-determination. US President Wilson had stated his Fourteen Points and expressed his hope to see the new world build upon these guidelines, amongst which self-determination.
Moreover, the post-war situation in Egypt was bad. Prices and unemployment were high. As mentioned in the Effects of British Colonisation, the peasants grew cotton in order to sell it at the high prices offered after the war. This resulted in a lack of food grown and the people starved. None of these helped to curb nationalism that was increasing across the country.
Thus, the nationalistic movement did not die off with the end of the war. In fact, it was rising. The nationalistic movement was gaining strength, and eventually accumulated in the Wafd movement that rose up across Egypt .
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