Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home

Labour and Politics in Egypt, 1919–1939

  • Marius Deeb (a1)

Extract

The aim of this essay is to analyse the rise and development of a new labour movement in Egypt between 1919 and 1939, the crucial interwar period. As the history of the movement was inextricably linked to the Wafd as well as to the competing political forces in Egypt at the time, I examine the extent to which the various political parties and personalities were able to hamper the development of an independent trade union movement during those years. I also discuss the factors which assisted or hindered, at times, the promulgation of labour laws, and view the achievements of the trade union movement (in different sub-periods) in terms of its success in satisfying the demands of workers, which were being opposed by those of the predominantly foreign local bourgeoisie.

Copyright

References

Hide All

1 Commission de Conciliation de Travail, VIIeme Rapport, Annex II, F.O. 141/779/9321/106. There are no figures for the membership of these labour syndicates. Figures pertaining to some syndicates which went on strike during the period 1919–1921 are available. Twenty-eight such syndicates had a total number of 26,714 workers, i.e., an average of approximately 954 workers per syndicate.

3 Egypt, Fihrast Majmu'at al-Qawanin wal-Marasim al-Muta'aliqa bil-Shu'an al-'Amma Sanat 1919 (Cairo, 1921), p. 61.

4 E.g., the index number of retail prices of food, fuel, soap, etc., for artisans and labourers in Cairo was, during most of 1920, not less than 282 (taking 1913–1914 as the 100 base). Egypt, Ministry of Finance, Statistical Department, Monthly Agricultural Statistics, Ninth Year, Second Series, No. 3 (Cairo, 1920), p. 10.

5 'Ali, Muhammad Zaki, Taqrir 'an Halat 'Ummal al-Tram bil-Qahira (Cairo, 1920), pp. 1415.

6 Extracts from Major Capper's situation reports covering the period 28 January to 24 June 1924, F.O. 141/583/9321/123.

7 F.O. 141/583/9321/106.

9 Great Britain, Department of Overseas Trade, Report on the Economic and-Financial Situation of Egypt (London, 1921), pp. 2829.

10 Al-Ahram, 9 January 1923.

11 Al-'Urabi was a merchant by profession (ibid., 29 May 1924). He was one of the founders of the Socialist Party and was its delegate in the fourth conference of the Communist International (ibid., 7 March 1924).

12 Marun was a lawyer at the Mixed Courts in Alexandria, and an advisor to labour trade unions (ibid., 29 May 1924).

13 Ibid., 20 March 1923.

14 F.O. 141/583/9321/123. Abu al-Fath was a teacher by profession (Al-Ahram, 29 May 1924).

15 F.O. 141/583/9321/123.

16 Allenby to Macdonald, 21 March 1924, F.O. 407/198, enclosure in No. 108.

17 'Abd al-Rahman Fahmi, Mudhakkirat, MS (hereafter Fahmi), National Archives, Cairo, Egypt, pp. 2815–2816; Allenby to Macdonald, 5 April 1924, F.O. 407/198, No.129.

18 A letter from Fahmi to Zaghlul, dated 18 October 1919. Anis, Muhammad, Dirasat fi Watha'iq Thawrat 1919, Vol. 1 (Cairo, 1963), p. 154 (hereafter Anis).

20 Commission de Conciliation du Travail, VIIeme Rapport, Annexe II, F.O. 141/779/9321/106.

21 Thabit revived the Handicrafts Trade Union established by the Watani Party in 1908, and, not unlike the Watanists, cooperated with the Wafd in the aftermath of the 1919 popular uprising. The Handicrafts Trade Union had over 1,000 members and branches in Port-Said, Isma'iliya, and Alexandria.

22 Ruh al-'Asr, No. 3, 28 February 1930, an interview with Zuhair Sabri who claimed that the labour unions began as nationalist syndicates and were gradually transformed to labour syndicates proper.

23 Qandil, Saiyid, Naqabiyyati: al-Risala al-'Ummaliya al-Ula (Cairo, 1938), pp. 1718 (hereafter Qandil).

24 F.O. 141/583/9321/116.

25 Ittihad al-'Ummal, 12 June 1924.

26 The statute was actually written by ‘Abd al-Rahman Fahmi, Zuhair Sabri and Hasan Nafi’.

27 Fahmi, pp. 2853–2854.

28 A1-'Ummal, 31 October 1924.

29 Ittihad al-'Ummal, 23 November 1924.

30 Ibid., 9 November 1924.

31 Anis, the full text of the statute, pp. 309–320; article 5, clauses 1–3, pp. 309–310.

32 Ibid., articles 46, 47, 48 and 50, p. 318.

33 Ittihad al-'Ummal, 9 November 1924.

35 Fahmi, pp. 2822–2823.

36 Ibid., p. 2870. Fahmi himself was a shareholder in Bank Misr from its foundation (ibid., p. 3772).

37 See Deeb, Marius, ‘Bank Misr and the Emergence of the Local Bourgeoisie in Egypt,’ Middle Eastern Studies, 12, 3 (1976), 6986.

38 Al-'Ummal August 1924.

39 Ittihad al-'Ummal, 23 November 1924.

40 Madabit Majlis al-Nuwwab, session 22 November 1924.

41 Ittihad al-'Ummal, 11 January 1925.

42 Fahmi, p. 2879. Fahmi's decision was probably affected by the fact that he had been previously involved in clandestine activities, since 1919, and that charges brought against him in the trial of 1920 were not completely unfounded.

43 Report on Labour Situation, January 1925 to September 1926, F.O. 141/583/9321/143.

44 Vatikiotis erroneously states that ‘a pro-Ittihad party union was organized in 1925 under Abd al-Rahman Fahmi’ (Vatikiotis, P. J., The Modern History of Egypt [London, 1969], p. 335).

45 Shafiq, Ahmad, Hawliyat Misr al-Siyasiya, al-Hawliya al-Thaniya Sanat 1925 (Cairo, 1928), p. 16.

46 F.O. 141/583/9321/143.

47 Ibid., see Madabit Majlis al-Nuwwab, sessions 22, 25, 31 August 1926, and 10, 23 January 1927.

48 List of Syndicates in Cairo, 14. October 1926, F.O. 141/583/9321/143.

49 Ruh al-'Asr, No. 6, 21 March 1930, p. 8.

50 Senator Aziz Mirhum. F.O. 141/583/9321/161.

51 Al-'Amil al-Misri, 10 February 1930. This newspaper came out from February until June 1930. As the communist challenge was over, the Wafdist labour leaders became more radical. This could be seen in the articles and reports of al-'Amil al-Misri as compared with those of Ittihad al-'Ummal of 1924–1925.

52 Madabit Majlis al—Nuwwab, session 13 June 1926.

53 Ibid., session 25 January 1927.

55 In October 1926 there were 21 syndicates in Cairo (F.O. 141/583/9321/142a). In 1927 the General Workmen's syndicate's affiliated and allied unions numbered 36 in Cairo and elsewhere (F.O. 141/585/9231/143). By the end of 1930, there were 36 syndicates in Cairo alone having a total membership of approximately 19,000 workers (F.O. 141/763/506/1/31).

56 F.O. 141/583/9321/1421a.

57 Misr al-Sina'iya, 3, 2 (1927), 27;ibid., 4, 2 (1928), 37–39; ibid., 4,6 (1928), 29–33; ibid., 5, 8 (1929), 28.

58 A note by Smart dated 29 January 1930, F.O. 141/649/268/1130.

59 Ruh al-'Asr, No. 18, 13 June 1930, p. 8.

60 Al-'Amil al-Misri, No. 11, 26 May 1930.

61 This was proposed by senator 'Aziz Mirhum in April 1930, but incurred some criticism from workers (Ruh al-'Asr, No. 9, 11 April 1930, p. 3; see ibid., No. so, 18 April 1930, p. 6.)

62 Ibid., No. 18, 13 June 1930, p. 8.

63 Ibid., No. 6, 21 March 1930, p. 8.

64 Ibid., No., 28 February 1930, p. 8.

65 Ibid., No. 4, 7 March 1930, p. 5.

66 F.O. 141/658/164/25130.

68 A1-Tali'a, 1, 6 (1965), 156. Harold Butler was delegated by the International Labour Oflice at the request of Sidqi's Cabinet to examine the labour situation in Egypt. The report was submitted in March 1932 (ibid., p. 146).

69 Ibid., p. 148.

70 Musa, Salama, ‘Harakat al-'Ummal fi Misr,’ al-Majalla al-Jadida, 4, 2 (02 1935), 1920.

71 Halim, 'Abbas, ‘Al-'Ummal al-Misriyun fi al-'Ishrina Sana al-Madiya,’ al-Majalla al-Jadida, 3, 11 (11 1934), 56.

72 A1-Tali'a, 1, 6 (1965), 149.

73 Qandil, pp. 28–29. Ratib was, until June 1930, a member of the Liberal Constitutionalist Party (Ruh al-'Asr, No. 18, 13 June 1930).

74 'Imara, Muhammad Hasan, Arba'ina 'Aman fi al-Haraka al-'Ummaliya, MS (hereafter 'Imara), pp. 12–13. ‘Imara, himself a member of the General Union, took part in the action against Ratib. Jam grateful to Dr. Ra'uf 'Abbas of Cairo University for making this manuscript available for me to consult.

75 'Abbas, Ra'uf, al-Haraka al-'Ummaliya fi Misr 1899–1952 (Cairo, 1967), p. 90.

76 A1-Safa', 26 April 1931.

77 F.O. 141/763/506/1/131. This refers to the Halim's labour syndicate in Cairo only, but the General Union had already formed branches in various towns such as Alexandria, Damanhur, al-Mahmudiya, Banha and Hilwan (Qandil, pp. 19–20).

78 'Imara, p. 15; F.O. 141/763/506/22/31; al-Safa', 26 April 1931.

79 'Abbas, p. 97; al-Muqattam, 28 December 1934.

80 'Imara, p. 14.

82 Ibid., p. 15.

83 Al-Safa', No. 1, 3 April 1931.

84 F.O. 141/583/9321/142a.

85 Al-Safa', No. 1, 3 April 1931.

86 Although Wafdist-controlled labour unions joined Halim's General Union ('Abbas, p. 91).

87 Vatikiotis incorrectly states: ‘in 1933–4, Abbas Halim detached his union from the Wafd and formed the Egyptian Labour Party (possibly by this time inspired by the Crown)’ (Modern History of Egypt, p. 335).

88 European Department to Oriental Secretary, Confidential, 30 June 1931, F.O. 141/763/506/22131.

90 The Egyptian Gazette, 22 July 1931.

91 European Department to Smart, 25 June 1934, F.O. 141/733/894/3/34.

92 'Imara, p. 15;al-Rafi'i, 'Abd al-Rahman, Fi A'qab al-Thawra al-Misriyya, Vol. II (Cairo, 1966), p. 172.

93 'Imara, p. 18.

95 'Abbas, pp. 95–96.

96 F.O. 141/733/894/Ia/34, 21 June 1934.

97 Five out of seven major disputes that took place during 1934. Egypt, Labour Office, Annual Report for the Year 1935 (Cairo, 1935), Annex C, pp. 40–41. The list shows some of the disputes in which the Labour Office intervened.

98 Lampson to Eden, 16 April 1937, F.O. 371/989/815/16.

99 Misr al-Sina'iyya, 5, 7 (1929), 5.

100 Ibid., 7, 2–3 (1931), 20.

101 Al-Tali'a, 1, 6 (1965), 149.

102 Egypt, Labour Office, Annual Report for the Year 1935, pp. 27–28.

103 Al-Tali'a, 1, 6 (1965), 149.

104 Ibid., 1, 5, (1965), 158; Misr al-Sina'iya, 6, 7 (1928), 29–32.

105 Ibid., 9, 1 (1933), 8.

106 Al-Ahram, 12 February 1935.

107 Lampson to Simon, 15 February 1935, F.O. 141/713/259/6/35.

108 Ibid.; 'Imara, p. 24.

109 'Abbas Halim and Ahmad Husain came to an agreement that legal advisors to labour syndicates were ‘to be chosen from the ranks of “Young Egypt” members.’ Abbas Halim and Young Egypt Society, 24 January 1935, Secret, F.O. 141/703/259/2/35.

110 Discussion with Director General of the European Department, 12 February 1935, F.O. 141/713/259/8/35.

111 Kawab al-Sharq, 11 February 1935.

112 Lampson to Simon, 2 March 1935, F.O. 141/713/259/11/35.

113 Lampson to Simon, 23 February 1935, F.O. 141/713/259/9/35.

114 Lampson to Simon, 26 April 1935, F.O. 141/713/259/16/35.

115 Qandil, p. 27.

116 Al-Musawwar, No. 551, 3 May 1935, p. 14; Edgar Jallad, the editor of the newspaper La Liberté, formed a Palace-sponsored General Union of Syndicates in 1931, which had a total membership of about 150 workers.

117 Lampson to Simon, 17 May 1935, F.O. 141/713/259/19/35.

118 Lampson to Eden, 31 December 1935, F.O. 141/713/259/23/35.

119 The Egyptian Government's Attitude towards Labour, A Note by R. M. Graves, 20 November 1937, F.O. 141/660/357/7/37.

120 Ibid.

121 Madabit Majlis al-Nuwwab, session 10 August 1936.

122 Ibid., session 20 July 1936.

123 Ibid., session 24–25 August 1936.

124 Madabit Majlis al-Shuyakh, sessions 7 and 9 September 1936.

125 al-Din, Amin 'Izz, Tarikh al-Tabaqa al-'Amila al-Misriyya fi al-Thalathinat 1929–1939 (Cairo, 1972), pp. 144145 (hereafter 'Izz al-Din).

126 ‘… who suffered from a combination of ill-health and disinclination for his task’ (F.O. 141/660/357/7/37).

127 'Izz al-Din, pp. 148–149.

128 E.g., workers of Hotels Company, Kom Ombo Company, Pressing Company, and Alexandria Tramway (A1-Ahram, 13 March 1, 2 and 17 April 1937).

129 The Egyptian Gazette, 11 August 1937. It seems that Halim was encouraged by King Faruq hoping to form a labour party which would be ‘a troublesome thorn in the side of the Wafd’ (Kelly to Eden, 18 August 1937, F.O. 141/660/357/2/37).

130 Qandil, pp. 33, 43.

131 Ibid., p. 34. In April 1938 Halim became Za'im, while Muhammad al-Damardash al-Shanadi was elected president. The latter was an employee at a weaving company in Alexandria ('Imara, p. 27).

132 Qandil, pp. 39–40.

133 Ibid., pp. 40–41; Misr al-Sina'iya, 14, 6 (1938), 22–23.

134 'Imara, pp. 29, 31–32.

135 'Izz al-Din, pp. 158–159.

136 Al-Ahram, 15 January 1938.

137 'Abbas, p. 109.

138 F.O. 141/646/268/1/30.

139 F.O. 141/713/259/8/35.

Labour and Politics in Egypt, 1919–1939

  • Marius Deeb (a1)

Metrics

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.