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Britain and the West at the Time of Hassanein Bey

Read the following in sequence or jump to:
  Domestic Britain
  British Protectorates and Dominions
  Egyptian Embassy in Washington
Europe and Russia
  Colonies in Africa


Britain during the 1920sBritish people seem to live their lives like any others living in their own country, and --as only humans-- few would complicate it by worrying themselves of the powerful control it has over others' lives far from Britain. In fact it seems that the craft of occupying and controlling other countries didn't go without domestic opposition in Britain but of course economic gains and competition with other European powers must have always allowed it at the end.

In this sense, there's no more influential place at that time to Ahmed's home-country, Egypt, than Britain. His understanding of its society and politics and, even more important, its industrial mechanisms and economics must have been essential. It must have been increasingly obvious --however gradually-- to the Egyptian elite that London is becoming more interesting (or rather influential) than Istanbul. More than just a student in England, Ahmed must have made impressions by exploring this key-country which later shows in his communication with them and him being recognized to the level of Founder's Medalist of the extremely prestigious RGS early in his career. Understanding how Britain was like at this time is therefore an essential background to understand his mentality and some of his decisions/choices.

But many things have changed in the 1920s (when Ahmed became a celebrity) since his early days of studying in Oxford before the Great War (wasn't called first world war until the second has been committed). He must have noticed the changes both domestically and in the colonies at the time of his1924 article to the American magazine of National Geographic.

Here's some sides of it. (or go to brief background on the history of Egypt, Ottomans, and Senussis at the time)

Domestic Britain

Brits tried --in vain-- to go back to 'normal' but something has changed forever after the Great War (WWI).

After what seemed to be an unexpectedly devastating WWI, even the victorious Allies have been horrified by the consequences to both sides. Perhaps this is the reason why the British Prime Minister David Lloyd George wrote:

"As a tribunal for ascertaining the rights and wrongs of a dispute, war is crude, uncertain and costly let all who trust justice to the arbitrament of war bear in mind that the issue may depend less on the righteousness of the cause than on the cunning and craft of the contestants. And the cost is prohibitive. The death of ten millions and the mutilation of another twenty millions is a terrible bill of costs to pay in suit for determining the responsibility and penalty for the murder of two persons."

David Lloyd George

Economically, some traditionally strong British industries such as textiles, ship building, etc. have started a decline and didn't recover after the war. America emerged as a new economic power and Russia's growing industries were pressuring.

The Russian Communism (previously called Bolshevism) has become a new social pressure. Already the Communist Party of Great Britain has been established and showing signs of possible popularity.

Communism in Britain early 20th century

Cover of Book by Lenin (In English): "On The Road To Insurrection", Published by The Communist Party of Great Britain. 16 King Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2.


The general atmosphere was gloomy with steady decline and growing unemployment that reached a record 2,000,000 people in 1921 and didn't stop there and the Communists seemed to see all this as opportunity to export the revolution to Europe.

Remember that this was Great Britain the Superpower of the day, the Empire that the sun never sets on, and great Colonial power with the mighty navy. Its High Commissioners and envoys in colonies although had some independence in many local decisions, must have suffered from a frustrating series of governments of ineffective policies and perhaps delayed responses.

At the time of London's unilateral 1922 Declaration of February 28 of Egypt's independence which --as mentioned in Egypt and Orient section-- seems to have triggered Hassanein's expedition, the British post-war coalition government fell under a series of scandals followed by many short-term governments. By the year Ahmed was serving in Washington in 1924, Britain had its historical first Labour government and still in economic and political turmoil.

To the eyes of the laymen in Egypt and perhaps in all of the world except Europe, the British Lion was victorious, all powerful and maybe hungry for more. For the elite in Egypt, it seems from the sequence of events that there was no mistake of the wavering will of the Lion! Never able to communicate the subtle changes, Egyptian leaders --such as Hassanein-- would seize the opportunities without much ado.

Still the progress was evident as befits a centre of an Empire at the Roaring Twenties (as was called later in Australia). The world of Radio programs was starting. BBC was established and then a Royal Charter was set and promised impartial news broadcast. Mass marketing was made possible and many innovative household products were introduced and synthetic fabrics used for clothing. First commercial airliner was to Paris then to other European destinations. Australian airliners of QANTAS too was that early. Trolleybuses (electric buses with two rods raised to reach electric lines) were increasing in London enhancing the infrastructure and enabling an increasingly efficient workforce.

Hassanein Bey must have had a lot of Britain's affairs to talk about with his American colleagues. Perhaps even more, about British policy overseas in areas under their control such as in Egypt as we'll see now.

British Protectorates and Dominions

After the war and the dramatic change in a super power like that of Britain and other European powers, there must have been so much brainstorming happening in the U.S. at the time to exploit strategic opportunities that seem to open up because of the loosening of the British grip over its colonies. Ahmed Bey an Oxford-educated diplomat from a large and rich country like that of Egypt must have been a very intriguing figure. American industrialists talking about how the West was won could have felt how easy to talk about a lot of things with our explorer diplomat. (see America below)

It seems that the policy of taking the war as an excuse to tighten control was a wrong policy. A country emerging victor from the Great War such as Britain but weakened by it was pressured under its own weight. Most of the nations that were waiting for such loosening of control in colonies or dominions under British suzerainty would not budge for less than full independence.

Although Egypt's successive native governments have --as a policy-- steered it away from war (seyaset tagniib misr waylaat el7arb سياسة تجنيب مصر ويلات الحرب ), but still seems to have suffered from British war exploitation of its cotton and fodder at below market prices in addition to forced labour of about half a million peasants, which inevitably caused soaring prices and unemployment. (see more in This and more has made the colonies more determined to win independence.

Southern Ireland won the status of a dominion (nominal independence like that of Canada at the time) after some turbulent times with IRA. Egypt's Protectorate status removed after long years of turmoil. Even India, the Jewel of the Crown of Britain, was in its first phases of revolution led by Gandhi.

Colonies and Dominions like Australia and Canada offered better opportunities for many of the unemployed and ex British soldiers. Although most plots given to immigrants to farm were served with no useful infrastructure, employment was on the rise and economies doing very well especially in Australia. This must have been all good reason to the give even more energy to the growing thinking of independence.

This was Britain that Ahmed knew but he was in America now and things must have looked slightly different from the distance.


A country rising in confidence after a Great War in which its GNP more than doubled! Many of the victorious allied countries emerged in great debt to the U.S. When Ahmed arrived as a diplomat, it was the beginning of the Jazz age and the Roaring Twenties with many life-is-too-short-to-waste kind of lifestyle fashions sweeping the society. In Europe, the return to the Empire days of before simply did not happen, and there was no better place in the world to feel this European change better than in America. Perhaps Ahmed and his King Fuad were thinking that the growing economy of U.S. could help breaking the monopoly of British trade in Egypt.

Immigrants to AmericaInflux of Immigration: Immigrants from Great Britain to USA at the 1920s have reached more than one third of a million apart from the 200+ thousands from Ireland. The Germans topped that (as expected from a defeated country) by 412 thousands and Italians even more at just under half a million. Apart from Polish immigration at the time that was as comparable, almost all other European nations produced immigrants much smaller but that has confirmed the common pattern of America's image by Europeans. Even Australia andCanada have produced emigrants to the USA at this time.

Ahmed Bey has seen during his post in Washington the new Johnson-Reed Act that introduced a quota system to limit immigration based on national origins from some 'producers' of immigrants and ban any from --for instance-- some Asian countries. Many Americans seem now to look at this with a sense of guilt and shame.

Women: has just got the right to vote in 1920, Rebecca Felton of Georgia becomes first woman US Senator. Women were more than just a fashion and now entering the workplace in larger numbers. Newsreels (news in cinemas before the movie) of the time showed ladies filling large offices and it must have been quite a scene for the society that wasn't used to it.

Ku Klux Klan: reaching a membership of 5 millions of Americans. It must have been the talk of everybody at the time specially after exposing their activities to the public against Blacks, Catholics (even whites of them like Irish and Italians), and Jews. They were a secret society of white mostly Southerners in the United States. KKK was formed in the 19th century to resist the emancipation of slaves and used terrorist tactics to suppress its victims. WKKK (Women's Ku Klux Klan) had a head of its own.


Ku Klux Klan meeting in 1920s

Prohibition: which are legal attempts to end the consumption of alcohol in America and counter-attempts to stop it with all the chaos of the rise of gangsters working to sell it illegally. (eg, Al Capone in Chicago)

Al Capone

Al Capone

Jazz and Youth Culture are on the rise (the Lost Generation).

Evolutionism vs. Creationism: a hot debate at the time and obviously still is in America. See Intelligent Design for more on this as it happens today.

In culture, we know of Charlie Chaplin in motion pictures and Louis Armstrong in Jazz.

Radio Programs are starting to become popular.

Construction: Empire state Building (but it came later during the 1930s) and Underground in New York (note that the underground in London was started much earlier in the 19th century)

World War Foreign Debt Commission established on 1922 to negotiate with European nations their debts owed from World War I. Total was $22 billion. America was benefiting enormously from European World War and its industries have flourished during it specially pharmaceutical, and chemicals.

America builds its first military aircraft carriers on 1922 called USS Langley.

The U.S. increasingly challenged the principle on which Colonialism was founded and Woodrow Wilson's Principles were very famous in Egypt at the time although he later admitted officially the British control of Egypt.

Egyptian Embassy in Washington

Egypt's direct diplomatic relations has gone through three phases:

  1. Under British Occupation and Ottoman suzerainty: Nezaret elKharegeya (نظارة الخارجية ) was to deal with local foreign communities needs, but have no delegations abroad (represented by Istanbul).
  2. By 1914 Cairo was separated from Istanbul under Britain, the Nezaret elKharegeya was cancelled in and outside the borders.
  3. By February 1922, Cairo became independent from Britain, Abdel Khaelq Tharwat became the first Minister of Foreign Affairs (Waziir Khargeyaوزير الخارجية ) beside being Prime Minister and Egypt started sending diplomatic missions around the world.

Ahmed Hassanein Bey wrote this article in 1924 when he was in the very new and first ever Egyptian Embassy in Washington (tell me if you have a photo of our embassy then!). The article must have been part of the efforts to impress Americans with fine Egyptian calibres.

There's a curious similarity between Ahmed Bey's role in Libyan Desert and America. He was 'exploring'. While sent to the first to extend relations with Senusis in a territory increasingly claimed by Italians and French and that distances Green Africa's exports to the Mediterranean trade, the second is perhaps to explore the growing American industries and extend ties with their industrialists and politicians. Both for possible future trade. I haven't got any material on Ahmed's exploits in America, but I would guess from his article that he was promoting himself as the outdoorish down-to-Earth personality that is both smart and dynamic. From my personal experience, this is what Americans always like. He probably have succeeded in what the King wished from America or the King wouldn't have entrusted him later to be the Crown Prince's tutor in London.

Europe and Russia

After end of WWI, Britain has adopted in general its previous policy of isolationism (en3ezaleyah,الإنعزالية= not to be involved in international relations). Europe was left to France. They seem to have pressured the defeated Germany for reparations (ta3weedatالتعويضات). All European countries seemed to be suffering economically though. Communism was gaining grounds steadily convincing others that this is the sign of the fall of Capitalism.

In defeated Germany, social resentment grew with increasing economic pressures and a very passive and weak government (googleFrench occupying Ruhr). All of this seemed to be a very fertile soil for Nazism to grow in the society and Hitler has been caught and imprisoned on his attempt to overthrow the government few weeks after Ahmed's return to Cairo from his expedition (google Beer Hall Putsch).

Another significant development of Europe happened only few months before Ahmed leaves to Sollum. Mussolini's rose to power in Italy by appointment of the Italian King under threats of Fascists to march on Rome. (Fascism=non-parliamentary ideology that considers country's interests solely even if it crushes that of the individuals.) He's launched many industrial reforms and colonization plans in Africa (including that of Senussis. SeeSenussis for more).

Generally it seemed that far-right (Mussolini and Hitler) is rising in Europe and that that is good for some concerned Europeans because it is a counterbalance for the rising Communism (far-left).

Russia's Bolsheviks (communists) at the time were consolidating their position although with many fronts of fighting with Polish, Turks, etc. European powers were weary of their expansion and growth and would from time to time support wars against them like what they did with Sultan Abdul-Hamid II.


Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler

Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler

Colonies in Africa

With the exception of Egypt, on the Mediterranean shores of North Africa, the 19th and early 20th centuries have seen Spain, France and Italy occupying the lands directly to their south. The rest of the continent was a dynamic mess that ended with inevitable partitioning into bordered entities between few European countries, namely: France, Britain, Germany, Portugal, Belgium, Spain, and Italy. Exceptions were Sudan that was under what is called the Anglo-Egyptian mandate, while Egypt is under British control although remains under Ottoman suzerainty! Ethiopia remained the only independent state in Africa except for an Italian adventure to colonize it that failed.

World War I (1914-1918) saw the defeat of the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottomans) by the Allies (British, Russian, French and Japanese empires, later joined by Romania, Greece, USA and Italy.) The German colonies in Africa, was reassigned to Allies countries.

In 1920, the map shows France controlling about one third of the continent of Africa with shores on the Mediterranean at Algeria and on the Atlantic at Gabon, Benin, Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea, Senegal and Mauritania. The Sahara (except in Egypt and neighbourhood) was effectively under the French and little under Italians and Spanish.


Safarists reading this far in Western history are now probably more familiar of how Ahmed Bey was seeing the territories he was venturing into and how they are related to world's politics which he was playing a role in.

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