We often forget the tribute that the so-called persons of color gave to the Allied victory in the Great War: on almost 9 million people mobilized by Great Britain, for example, 2.7 million were non-British troops.
Their blood tribute was very high: out of 910 thousand fallen, 177 thousand in fact belonged to colonial troops. However, the recognition that the British Empire showed to its colonies for this decisive contribution, as the story of Egypt shows, was scarce.
Egyptian nationalists claim for the end of the English Protectorate.
On November 13, 1918, a few days later the armistice on the West front, a delegation of Egyptian nationalists, led by Saad Zaghlul Pasha, went to the Western Commissioner Sir Reginald Wingate in Cairo, invoking independence. Not for nothing, the Fourteen Points had been proclaimed.
The British government refused all concessions, less that of admitting an Egyptian delegation to Paris: on the contrary, on March 7, following the indications of Lord Balfour, Sir Milne Cheetham, who succeeded Wingate, proceeded to the arrest and deportation to Malta of Saad Zaghlul, Ismail Sidky, Mohammed Mahmoud and Hamad-el-Bassal.
This provision provoked on March the 9th an extensive revolt all over Egypt, known by the Egyptian people as the first revolution, which saw among other things the collaboration between Christians and Muslims, an active presence of women, the proclamation of strikes throughout the country, with frequent interruptions of communications: the protests saw the participation of all classes social and also of numerous political exponents that until then had collaborated in the public administration controlled by the British.
Particularly strong was the resentment of that over half a million Egyptians, including many peasants, who had served the British as conscripts in the Labor and Camel Corps, whose logistical support in the victorious campaign in Palestine was certainly very important.
On 26 March, General Allenby, the celebrated winner of the just mentioned campaign, was appointed High Commissioner and immediately released Saad Zaghlul, who decided to go to the Paris Conference, while Egypt expressed a veritable triumph for this success of the protests, as evidenced by the Times reports in those days.
On 19 April, the nationalist delegation arrived in Paris. Officially named as “Egyptian national deputation”, it required the complete independence of the country and the recognition of Zaglul and the nationalist leaders as representatives of the Egyptian nation. The French government immediately took care to inform the British that it would not provide any support to the Egyptian delegation, which was then ignored by the French diplomats, as well as by the English representatives at the Conference.
English repression in Egypt
In Egypt, the riots grew, with the proclamation of the martial law and the use of weapons by the British: the death toll was increasing, including the killing of 19 Armenians, against whom there were serious incidents of intolerance, being accused by the most obtuse nationalists of having supported the English in repression. This led to more than 800 dead and 1,500 wounded among the Egyptians, 31 victims and 35 wounded among the Europeans, 29 killed and 114 wounded among the British, including some Indian soldiers.
There was nothing left but to hope at this point in a statement by USA governmente, and in fact the demonstrators in Cairo also asked to meet the US consul in the country, in the hope that Wilson would apply what was stated in points 7 and 14 of the famous Fourteen Points, where the right to self-determination of peoples was affirmed.
The answer was not long in coming. On April 21, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson issued a statement that sounded like this:
«The President and the American people have every sympathy with the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people for a further measureof self-governmente but that they view with regret any effort to obtain the realization thereof by a resort to violence».
Thus the English protectorate was recognized as a garantee of order in the country, just as it was played with the words self-government in place of self-determination, obviously very different things from each other.
It is understandable that Muhammad Haykal, one of the members of the Egyptian delegation waiting in Marseilles to meet President Wilson, wrote in his diary:
«Here is the man of the Fourteen Points, among them the right to self-determination, denying the Egyptian people its rights to self-determination and recognizing the British protectorate over Egypt. And doing all that before the delegation on behalf of the Egyptian people had arrived in Paris to defend its claim, and before President Wilson had heard one word from them! Is this not the ugliest of treaacheries?! Is it not the most profound repudiation of principles?!»
As the story is over, it is well known: in 1923 Great Britain allowed Egypt to acquire a constitution, but kept control of the country, thanks also to its military presence Suez, a key factor in the Allied victory in World War II.
Only the Free Officers led by Muhammad Negīb and Gamāl Abdul-Nāsser, with the 1952 nationalist coup, and then with the nationalization of the 1956 Suez Canal, obtained that self-determination which proved to be a pure propaganda operation.