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Egypt and the Orient at the Time of Hassanein Bey

Read the following in sequence or jump to:
  The British Occupation of Egypt
  1919 Civil Disobedience and Pressure for Independence
  Egypt's Independence: Monarch's Actions
  Egypt as a Power in Africa
  Egypt's Independence: People's Actions
The Ottomans
  Timeline of Key Events and Characters



El Ramlah Street on 1913, Alexandria, Egypt.As a native Egyptian but even as a diplomat in 1924 and later a Pasha with great influence on Egyptian politics, it's impossible to understand what was on Ahmed Hassanein's mind without being informed of the great events happening in Egypt at the time.

Things have been a little crazy back home. For the last 5 years, the entire Egyptian population (nearly the same as today's population of Cairo city) seems to have been determined, this time, to get independence from Britain. The unique situation requires a bit of a detail to understand the impossible situation that have been on the adventurous mind of the Bey.

The British Occupation of Egypt

In controlling Egypt, even British Empire couldn't byte more than what it can chew. Egypt --rich and vigorous Muslim Welaya-- was one of the most important parts of the Ottoman Empire. The British policy must have been one of the grandest implementation of the 'divide-to-rule' ever done (perhaps only second to that of India).

After being disputed in British Parliament (whether to occupy a large country like that of Egypt or not), the occupation took place and seems to have gone through three major phases that none ever materialized into direct rule by British:

  1. Occupying Egypt (1882) to restore order and safety in streets for the Khedive and for the Ottoman Sultan whose Egypt's dynasty of Mohamed Ali has always defied their suzerainty,
  2. Announcing Egypt a British Protectorate (1914) (e3laan al7emaya al-bereetaniyah 3ala masr اعلان الحماية البريطانية على مصر ) which means: cutting ties of Egypt from that of Ottoman's and replace it in the sense that Egyptian foreign affairs are totally taken over by British representatives (no Egyptian embassies allowed) which is similar to other British Dominions like Australia and Canada at the time,
  3. Ending the Protectorate in Egypt (1922) unilaterally (after the strenuous 1919 Civil Disobedience led by Saad Zaghlul and his Wafd companions).  By issuing the February 28th Declaration (tasree7 28 febrayer تصريح 28 فبراير ), London announced the limited independence of Egypt from London and the right to have independent Embassies abroad. But the military control over Egypt remained and Lord Allenby have used it effectively that he could humiliate the rulers of Egypt when needed.

Egypt's 1923 Flag of Independence

Egypt's flags evolution: from left to right 1) One crescent and one star - Egypt used the Ottoman flag till Mohamed Ali changed it, 2) Khedivial flag symbolizing the 3 elements of the nation: Muslims, Christians, Jews or Egypt, Nubia and Sudan, or maybe the victories of Mohamed Ali in 3 continents, 3) on 1923 King Fuad changed to a new flag for Independent Egypt
(see for more:


1919 Civil Disobedience and Pressure for Independence

Now remember that we're with Ahmed Bey Hassanein at 1924 so we're at the very beginning of the third stage. Britain has emerged victor over Germany and Turkey in WWI and Egyptians decide its time to rid themselves with them. So a massive Civil Obedience in 1919 takes place that shows a united national front. This, although seems to have inspired later India's Gandhi, couldn't have affected the euphoric victor power of the WWI. The British High Commissioner at time of 1919 (Wingate) seems to has suffered greatly trying to convince British government of the seriousness of the situation and to succumb to the demands of Zaghlul and Companions. It wasn't until General Edmund Allenby, the hero of World War I, was assigned High Commissioner to Egypt that the British government gave up to those national requests--but only initially.

Allenby in JerusalemAllenby in JerusalemAllenby in Jerusalem

Allenby. Entering Jerusalem in 1917.

Like all highly-educated Egyptians, Ahmed Hassanein saw those events happening in time by reading newspapers and seeing them in his own eyes in streets of Cairo and of course as Civil Servant (Muwazaf موظف ). He must have had some mixed feelings about all the parties involved, British, Fuad I, Zaghlul, and various political figures in Egypt and Britain that he saw and probably met as an Oxford-educated Egyptian. For example, Zaghlul wasn't the only nationalist and others who were calling for independence (the nationalists aspirations as often mentioned in British letters) didn't necessarily agree with most of his views or his actions. Also, Ahmed must have noticed that sometimes Egyptians had an influence over British High Commissioners by playing the same game of divide-to-rule between British players that often succeeding in getting their demands.

So, finally, after more banishing of the Popular Leaders, and consequently a repetition of huge nation-wide unrests in this large country, the limited independence was given to Egyptians without any negotiations. That was the controversial 1922 February 28th Declaration that was immediately criticized by Popular Leader Saad Zaghlul and his then emerging political party Wafd.

This watershed event in the history of modern Egypt perhaps is the central event that had direct influence on the chain of events and which in my humble opinion has led to the great discoveries of the Lost Oases by Ahmed Hassanein.

Egypt's Independence: Monarch's Actions

The independence in this way meant that Zaghlul and his Wafd Companions will inevitably find their way to lead the country and they worked hard to win it from the Sultan that wanted to develop it in an autocracy (absolute rule). But that will have to take sometime and the King had more glamorous means to lead the way. So while a Constitution was underway, the Sultan Fuad I changed his title to King Fuad I and the Magless elNuzzar ( مجلس النظار Council of Supervisors) to Magless elWuzara2 ( مجلس الوزراء same title as the Ottoman's Cabinet).

Even more significantly, the King decided to bring up his Crown Prince (Farouk) in the native tongue of the country: Egyptian Arabic. For today's Egyptians, it's almost always incredulous (but understandable under Ottomans suzerainty) to know that the dynasty of Mohamed Ali always had Turkish as their native tongue till this change took place.

King Fuad I of Egypt

I have no doubt that sending Ahmed Bey Hassanein has been part of those actions to assert Egypt's fiercely demanded independence. At the time where geographic exploration seemed like a monopoly of European nations, it is rather unexpected to see a non-European country attempt it, which therefore needs digging a bit deeper as we'll see now.

Egypt as a Power in Africa

The Historical Background

A King that has thought of commissioning such an adventure must have had precedents that inspired that. So at this point, we'll have to stop a bit at our story and go a bit further back in time to see what might have caused King Fuad--first Independent King of Egypt-- to think that Geographic Exploration is an important part to assert his sovereignty. So let's go back a bit in time.

We're back to near the end of 1700s (eighteenths century) and the Cairenes have just learnt the news about a Napoleon Bonaparte ( الفرنجة  or el-Ferenja meaning not only French but all Europeans since Crusades time) who came landing on their shores on 1798. But it was really madness on Bonaparte's part because all of the military calculations at the time held that it was impossible for a European army to conquer the East. The fierce Ottoman Janissaries (Enkeshareyah إنكشارية ) and fearless Memlukes whose legends from Arabian Nights still sounding in Europe. In spite of the control of many places around the world, Ottoman territories were still untouched by Europeans and was still the opponent of Europe at the time. The scholars of University of Al-Azhar must have been quick to open their dusty books about last French campaigns to Egypt (Louis IX) that was defeated with difficulty and King Louis captured. The strong military power ("that befits beasts" according to Arab chroniclers of Crusaders) was expected from Ferenja, so nothing was new. But this time something came as a surprise as we'll see.

Napoleon Bonaparte in Egypt

Napoleon at the Battle of Pyramids

When things calmed down after the completing of the conquering, the Egyptian chroniclers of the time have ventured into the offices of the French generals. For example Al-Jabarti (الجبرتي) has visited the Ferenja quarters and talked with their scholars (Bonaparte for some reasons has brought scientists with him in the Egyptian Campaign which was unusual at the time). In Jabarti's chronicles he has shown great surprise at their scientific and technological advancements. Although he was confidently describing the machines in clear Arabic terms that is close to what mechanics now use, there were few things that puzzled him specially electricity that he described how it affects those who dare touch it which "could produce results that cannot be comprehended by the minds of our likes." This is far from the way Muslims were talking before the French Campaign.

In fact the reverse of fortune must have been severe and so astonishing that it must have influenced great change in the minds of highly-educated Egyptians of the time.

The astonishing surprise seems to have come because as part of a middle-eastern empire the last time Egyptians came face-to-face with the French was during the Crusades few centuries ago. All encounters have shown that the Ferenja are hopelessly uncivilized (see Arab chroniclers of the time) in spite of all the military power and courage. So they must have been shocked by the science and culture that is superior to those of Muslims.

This seems to have started a chain of events that eventually led --in about 20 years only-- to the rise of Egypt as a world-class military and navy power with strong economy and a growing technological advancement. Mohamed Ali (elected-ruler turned authoritarian) did that and gradually won some independence from the Ottoman Caliph. He not only started taking over the regions of the Ottoman Caliphate (Hijaz, Syria, etc.) but he actually headed for Istanbul at one point with intention to take over the Caliphate (re-establish it in Cairo?) It's obvious that Egyptians at the time thought that Ottomans were not able any more to represent the civilized image of middle-easterners any more nor defend them. Perhaps not only the opinion in Cairo but in Istanbul that the entire Ottoman fleet at one point has been handed over to the Egyptian control (by Admiral Ahmed Pasha) with no fight and Egyptians became the undisputed controllers of the Eastern Mediterranean if not most of it for a short while.

With such formidable Egyptian power, Europe had to support the Turkish army against the Egyptian one and they defeated Mohamed Ali Navy and Army. They went on and went to Egypt and practically dismantled the Egyptian army.

The Modern Geographic Exploration Phase

Before they do that, Egypt has almost penetrated to Equator at north Uganda, occupied almost all lands around Red Sea both sides, and later took over strategic points on the coasts of Somalia near Kenya. On the map it's almost as if tried to surround the mountainous country we call Ethiopia today from nearly all sides except from Kenyan side.

History books that I have read don't mention anything about this interesting time and place like:

  • Who were the Egyptian explorers at the time whether military, religious or in scientific/industrial ranks? Egyptian ranks at the time were famous for its engineers, chroniclers/geographers, surveyors/astronomers, traders, skippers, sophisticated administrators of large regions, etc. Some Royalties were involved in this like Prince Kemal elDin Hussein whose explorations further up the Nile are scarcely known, and Prince Omar Tusun who was a historian and many others (including Kings) were members of the Egyptian Geographic Society that survives till today. But we know very little of the names and achievements of the Egyptian chief engineers (= m3allem معلم - bash-mohandess باشمهندس ) who built great public works of the time and Industrial Plants who were probably educated in Istanbul and then in Europe. Many scholars remain unknown unfortunately like, for instance, Mahmoud Bey elFalaki (Astronomer/Surveyor as was the custom of the time) who was a great map-maker at the time of Khedive Ismail.
  • Why did the Egyptians go there? Was that to control areas of Muslim influence neglected by the Ottomans? Or to compete with growing European penetration in the African continent playing in their backyard? Was it for existing trade that Egypt already had and wanted to protect, or prospecting for new ones?
  • How were those received by natives? Did they find it already controlled by fellow Muslims from the natives? Islam has been there for over a millennia and other native African Muslim empires (e.g., Fulani Empire in today's Nigeria) have been growing. Would they have found common grounds, or fought over territories?
  • How did Egyptian administration perform in comparison to this of European administration?

For whatever reasons, it seems that the Egyptian adventures have shaped the borders of this area at least that of today's Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia and their neighboring countries. After Egypt's defeat and then occupation by British, they were replaced by Italian, French and British occupation. Sudan in which Egypt has established Khartoum on 1821 as Capital has been too big and too hard to govern alone so it was put as the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan.

Note: While Egyptians seem to have forgotten this part of their modern history, many of the provinces' people did not and its marks and events are still in the verbal tradition surprising Egyptians traveling to those areas. From what seems like favorable opinion by Syrians, to relatively negative by Saudis, the Egyptian emerging administration replacing that of Istanbul seem to have had different policies for different regions and different situations and therefore, different impact. Please let us know on SaharaSafaris Forum if you know more.

Khedive Ismail's conquests further west into the Sudanic region and Red Sea have consolidated this and have added Darfur to today's Sudan.

Perhaps the ambitions of Mohamed Ali's dynasty in Egypt represents what a modern Muslim state would have been like at the time which seem to have same tendencies (similar to Europeans at the time) to expand trade routes and state control over its less developed surrounding nations. But the fundamental difference from Europeans is that this process is quite ancient by the classical superpowers of Egypt, Mesopotamia and Persia, so the native resistance for such expansion would have never been the same.

I guess we still need to learn more about its policies in Africa (let me know if you have any books or links about such conquering and administration policies of Egypt).

Egypt's Independence: People's Action

Now we've seen what King Fuad had in mind when he sent Ahmed Bey Hassanein. But let's get back to what's happening --at the time-- elsewhere in Egypt.

Like European history, the Egyptian bourgeoisies (represented by Zaghlul and many of his Wafd Companions) seem to have fought Egyptian Kings' trials to turn Egypt into an autocracy (ruler with absolute powers).

The difference from European case was the interference of existing Colonial Occupation officials in Cairo. The bourgeoisies --after fierce fighting-- eventually have to concede to the King because if they go too far in opposing the King, they find too much public sympathy from the Colonial High Commissioner that always seemed to strip them of their legitimacy before their own supporters.

On 1922, Ahmed Bey Hassanein --sponsored by the King-- sent to open new ways for possible Egyptian campaigns to the southwest of Egypt. The French then claimed the area as French Equatorial Africa but didn't as yet fully explore it themselves as evident in their going on-expeditions that Hassanein reported in the article. Meanwhile, Zaghlul was already active in Cairo after back from exile in Malta with an absolutely popular reception by the nation. With his Wafd Companions and many other nationalists, they pushed until a National Constitution has been approved same year by the King and Egyptian People's Assembly and accordingly a whole new era of politics in Egypt has started.

Things started going more rapidly and while Ahmed Bey was in Washington writing his article to National Geographic in 1924 and after a year from ending his heroic saga, the first Egyptian government with direct elections by the people has been elected by overwhelming voting (90+%) and Saad Zaghlul became the undisputed leader in Egypt as legitimate Prime Minister under an envious King and a concerned High Commissioner (mandoub saami مندوب سامي ).


First Egyptian Cabinet of Independent Egypt


Things seemed too good to be true for Egyptians and remained highly volatile and indeed have came near to a total disaster.

Saad Zaghlul submitted resignation (November 1924) one month after Hassanein's article to end the period of perhaps the most significant Cabinet at the age. The reason was an unexpected assassination of the British Commander of the Egyptian Army (Sir Oliver (Lee) Stack, aka, Sirdar سردار ) who doubled as Governor of Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. Hassanein Bey must have been very busy in America watching the news and explaining it to his American colleagues at the time of the article and after less than 2 years from his historical expedition.

The King then appointed a new government, resolved the Parliament and Egypt (and obviously its King) fell into despair again for a while.

Under the light of those circumstances, if our Ahmed Bey had any ambitions in leading new expeditions to the area --perhaps accompanied by Egyptian scientists or developers-- they must by now have all gone. A smart explorer like him would have to look for something else to apply his sharp mental skills and risk-taking inclinations. And that he did as proven in his flamboyant career.


It seems that at those days, ladies of highborn have --traditionally-- to cover their faces by Yashmak while servants were not allowed to. The increasing European influence and specially after the Great War seems to have caused that distinction to change and perhaps that's why highborns started uncovering their faces while servants were allowed to cover it, this maybe as far as the eccentric flappers girlish style did penetrate. From photos we see that the haircuts and accessories of 1920s were adopted but we seem to see it only by the highborn ladies of age. Perhaps other younger ones have been more Europeanized in their style but I have seen no photos to show that.


Safiya Zaghlul

Safiya Zaghlul. Daughter of Mostafa Pasha Fahmy (an ex Prime Minister) and wife of the popular leader Saad Zaghlul who was the first Constitutional PM.



The arts in Egypt has been risen by the aristocracy to very high levels as implied by Philip Mansil who wrote in 1988, "one reason for the increasing extravagance of the Ottoman court in 1860s and 1870s had been the need to compete with members of the Egyptian dynasty, when they came to spend the summer on the Bosphorus." Mansil wrote about the level the two courts reached: "Empress Eugénie, who stayed with the Valide Sultan in Constantinople in 1869, wrote to Napoleon III of a 'luxury' which we in the West have no idea'. Since she herself presided over the most luxurious court in Europe, the Ottoman court must have been dazzling." Perhaps Egypt's splendors and riches have been always remembered by Europeans throughout the medieval times till the days of Hassanein. There's no surprise then when Mansil described Egypt after Khedive Ismail's modernization as "a country which in some ways surpassed the elegance and refinement of contemporary Europe." This perhaps explains why Hassanein, an Egyptian courtier, has often used in his writings some of the world's finest luxury items to describe certain scenes or feelings of the desert which to European readers must have been very understandable and charming.

The 19th century Cairo was so cosmopolitan it had 27 newspapers; 9 French (elite's language of the time in Egypt), 7 Arabic, 5 Italian, 3 Greek, 1 Turkish and Arabic, 1 Arabic and French, and 1 Arabic, French and Italian. The Arabic ones were key in the development of the national identity and aspirations of Egyptians and other middle-easterners.

Egyptian palaces were decorated in the height of European luxury that some French gilded furniture were later known as Louis Cairo in Europe.

On the social side, feminism was rising and although seemed to be influenced by the changes of the 20s Europe as well as those of Istanbul, it took on an anti-European nationalistic flavor.

The Ottomans

Ahmed and all his fellow citizens in Egypt have felt part of the Ottoman entity which they were part of for 400 years watching its rise and fall. When Ahmed appeared at the scene, Egyptian court's native language was still Turkish as part of the Ottoman court. It had heavy French influence. Arabic was not fashionable in the court although perhaps remained primary in Egyptian administration throughout the centuries.

At time of Ahmed, it seemed that the struggle between Turkish-educated aristocracy and an increasingly rich and politically powerful Egyptian bourgeoisies (such as Saad Zaghlul and perhaps Hassanein Bey as well). They seemed to perfect themselves in all courtly skills but also to assert an Egyptian fellahine identity. The growth of the feeling of separate identity has grown gradually but not always steadily with many Egyptian nationalist leaders calling for a united stand with Istanbul. Generally,  Egyptians main national aspirations seemed to be of independence from Britain by allying themselves with Istanbul or by trying to replace it--but never could ignore it.

For this, there's no doubt that understanding of what's happening in Istanbul at the time and its important figures are critical to understand what Hassanein as part of the Egyptian elite was discussing and thinking at the time of his expedition.


Ottoman Sultanate have been the Sick-man of Europe during the 19th century as Egyptians are taught in their schools nowadays. It means that European Powers have had a constant policy of keeping it as such that they would defend it against its enemies while trying to restrict its reforms (a.k.a. Oriental Question). Then, later, and by encouraging nationalist separatists, they have taken over its provinces bit by bit.

There are many reasons and symptoms of the end in 1922 as we'll see, but the landing of Napoleon Bonaparte's army on Egyptian shores on 1798, marks the beginning of losing territories. It proved to many in Egypt and the Provinces (Welayat الولايات ) that Ottomans are no longer the military and cultural force it had once been.

Under such decadence, the peoples of the historical Muslims heartland seem to have been looking for ways other than the Ottomans to compete culturally with the now superior West and to defend their borders against increasing European ambitions of 19th and 20th century.

Egyptians, Syrians, etc. always seemed very reluctant to severe their connection with Istanbul, especially when facing the wrath of a Colonialist power. But increasingly nationalist movements were growing away although still under the spell of Istanbul's events. Turkish nationalism seem to have started rising at the time perhaps under European nationalism but was met with very little success by the Turks before the dissolution of the Caliphate.

I couldn't help during my readings to notice a peculiar regional phenomenon that is related to religion at the time. Some Sultans attempted to rally the peoples of the Ottoman empire around traditional Islam against the increasing demands of pro-Western reforms in Istanbul. Unlike some black African resistance to colonialism that employed Islam effectively (but losing at the end) the Ottoman Sultan seemed to have failed badly. It's a fact that Europeans (even at the height of their secularism) have always emphasized their Christianity in the middle-east but it seems that this didn't affect the very strong anti-European tendencies of middle-easterners into any effective anti-Christian call. There might be a geographic answer to that. Indonesia, for example, is very far away area and seems to have never been mentioned as Muslims at the time. It might be the case that Egyptians and Syrians --as two examples of politically active nations in the area-- have identified 'nationalism' with the people of middle-east only which has an ancient mixture of Muslims, Christians and Jews. Consequently, the 1919 revolution in Egypt showed muslim-christian solidarity against European authority.

Now this brings another interesting point. This distinction between European policies and their European heritage (science and religion) might explain the popularity of the political opinion among virtually all the Ottoman provinces that reforms could be taken directly from European scientific/administration. This led to the employment of German and French key-persons in many Muslims institutions such as army and government sections to implement reforms--a very unthinkable thing to do nowadays in the same countries.

Timeline of Key Events and Characters

On 1908 at the time of Sultan Abdul Hamid II, a successful revolution to suspend the Sultanate by the Young Turks (Turkiya Al-Fatat تركيا الفتاة ) which was a group of mainly army officers, but included bureaucrats, and intellectuals as well. They called for more empowerment of the people by the re-institution of the Ottoman Constitution and opening of the Parliament.

After some power struggle by several parties including Ottoman Administrative Decentralization Party (Hizb al-lamarkaziyya al-idariyya al-‘uthmani), three of the officers of the Young Turks have assumed power. Most famous of which is Enver Pasha (Anwar Basha in Arabic) who was 32 years old on 1913 when he became War Minister of Ottoman empire at the beginning of the Great War.

Ottoman Sultan Abdel Hamid II ruling from 1876 to 1909Ottoman Sultan Mehmed V ruling from 1909 to 1918Ottoman Sultan Mehmed VI ruling from 1918 to 1922

From left to right: Sultan Abdul Hamid II ruled from 1876 to 1909. Sultan Mehmed V ruled from 1909 to 1918. Sultan Mehmed VI ruled from 1918 to 1922.

During the 1914 visit of Egyptian Khedive Abbas Hilmi II to Istanbul, Enver Pasha decides to side with Germans in the WWI. Britain immediately announces that Istanbul has no suzerainty any more over Egypt, Khedive Abbas Hilmi II is deposed and Khedive Hussein Kamel is appointed by the British in his place. The new Khedive assumes the title of Sultan same as the monarch of Istanbul to emphasize independence.

Ottomans' Young Turk: Enver Pasha

Enver Pasha

In the War, Enver Pasha's troops --led by Generals of German origins-- loses battles horribly on the Russian front, but restores some confidence as the hero of Gallipoli in which he successfully defended the Dardanelles against a fierce British Navy attack in 1916. But the war ends with Istanbul falling in the hands of Allies (imagine the impact on the Egyptians). The Young Turks (Enver Pasha) rule comes to an end and a puppet Sultan is restored temporarily.

It was a matter of time before Mustafa Kemal's army starts his 1920 march to liberate Turkey. On 1923 (same year Ahmed ended his expedition and --ironically-- after Egypt's independence), the Treaty of Lausanne was signed to recognize the independence of Turkey and end the rule of puppet Sultan Mehmed VI (Mohamed the Sixth) as the last of his 500 years dynasty. Mustafa becomes the first President of a new era that succumbed to Turkish nationalism in Western form and cut all relations with the Welayat of the Ottomans.

Such dramatic events came to pass at the same year Ahmed Bey was publishing his article in National Geographic Magazine. We are now more able to imagine the kind of discussions our famous Bey would have in America explaining all the above and consequences of its results. The final fall of a large and ancient empire such as the Ottomans is something that must have been very significant at the time.


Ahmed Bey described their start very well. At 1800s, Al-Tariqa Al-Sanusiya seem to have been the governing law --and perhaps still is-- of a large area of North Africa from Mediterranean in the north to Lake Chad in south and from Nile Valley in the east to before Timbuktu in Mali in southwest. Their fortified towns that were called Zwaya (plural of Zawya in Arabic) built by many races covered this region that included what we call today Libya, most of Chad, Niger, Mali and southern parts of Algeria and perhaps parts of Nigeria.

Senussis seem to be sort of a response to the Western colonialism to Africa specially the French to Algeria that started early in 1800s. From what Ahmed Bey mentions they seem to have imposed a puritan system of belief on their followers. They seem to acknowledge generally the rule of other Muslims represented by Ottomans and Egyptians and had no fight with them although looked suspiciously at their non-puritanical ways from what we see from the article. Their center was moved from Jaghbub to Kufra under French and Italians pressures. Al-Sanusiya (as they're called in plural in Arabic) are still active such as in Siwa, Egypt for instance.

With such starting by an Algerian and puritanical tradition, the Senussis seem to have been preparing themselves for the upcoming European invasion by being ready as much as they know (which now we know was very little in material and physical power although must have been extremely high in spirits). Unfortunately, when it came, the invasion was very destructive. It seems that the Fascist Leaders of Italy have decided to finish the Senussis resistance in Cyrenaica by exterminating their tribes ruthlessly (see below). Finally on January 1931 Egyptian and British officers on the borders of Egypt received news of the final invasion of Kufra and the flight of its inhabitants. The Mamour (Egyptian rank مأمور ) of Dakhla sent all their vehicles searching for the hundreds of Senussis refugees escaping Kufra to Dakhla oasis in Egypt with their families and dying in the desert on the way.


Senussis prisoners

Dorset Yeomanry (British Army) bringing in some Senussi prisoners (undated by perhaps during WWI)


Here's a bit of the sad story that Ahmed Hassanein didn't see himself after he left but we find in other books for the same Senussi friends we see and hear their names in his article.

The following is quoted from an anthropological view that was studying the relations between nomads and sedentary people. In 1973, Dr Asad (anthropology Professor at University of Hull, England) wrote on Bedouins' military power in history and if it could still be taken seriously in modern times. Based on the Senussis case, he concluded that it cannot!

For about a whole decade by General Graziani who fought guerrillas with them all over Cyrenaica. Yes, same that Hassanein's article mentioned by the name from Kufra.


Fascist General who set the largest African Concentration Camps for Arabs: Adolfo Graziani

Rodolfo Graziani


Asad summarizes Fascists military phases in the war as following: (1) attempt to subdue by regular army units, (2) use of airplanes and jeeps, then finally and most destructive was (3) massive concentration camps for entire population of Cyrenaica.

In 1923, from 6th March to 3rd September, Italians estimated losses at: 800 Bedouins killed, 230 captured, and 1000 wounded, beside about 700 camels and 22,000 sheep killed or confiscated (which Asad think they're too small numbers to what real ones could be). This is a huge number for Bedouins country that must have been small in numbers of population. Here's how the second phase was done.

"The Italians adopted the new tactics of making surprise raids by mechanised units on the Bedouin encampments, slaughtering man and beast indiscriminately, and destroying the grain stores, In these raids, on what in a noncolonial war would be regarded as the civilian population, the purpose was to kill as many of the Bedouin as possible, striking terror into the hearts of shepherd folk of Cyrenaica. When the rains came and mechanised transport could no longer be used, the camps were bombed and machine-gunned from the air."

Asad then describes later stages and how it got hysterically bad because of too much resistance:

"Graziani was determined to wrest the initiative from the guerrillas. He reorganized his forces for the last round in the 'guerra senza quartiere' into small mobile patrols to keep the whole of the [desert] country under surveillance and to attack the enemy wherever they met him, giving him no rest. To prevent the guerrillas from obtaining supplies and reinforcements from the civilian population he disarmed the tribesmen, confiscating from them thousands of rifles and millions of rounds of ammunition, and made possession of arms a capital offence. He instituted the 'tribunale volante,' a military court flown from point to point to try, and execute all who had dealings of any kind with the guerrillas. He reduced the Libyan units by more than two-thirds, with the intention of disbanding them altogether later. In the meanwhile he distributed among the 750 Libyans retained in service rifles of a different calibre from rifles in Patriot hands to prevent leakage of ammunition. At the same time he closed the Sanusiya lodges, confiscated their estates, and exiled their Shaikhs to the Island of Istica. He also much improved the communications of the colony, thereby easing his supply problem and economizing man-power.

"It may be doubted whether all these measures would have been effective if he had not also started his immense concentration camps for the entire tribal population of Cyrenaica, about whose feelings the General had no illusions. In taking this step the Italians were doing no more than others had done before them and have done after them, for an army fighting guerrillas is fighting an entire population. The first concentration camps of January 1930 were found to be too near the area of military operations, for the prisoners, in spite of close surveillance, still managed to supply the guerrillas with some of their requirements; so most of the Bedouin were removed to the barqa al-baida and the Sirtica. In this bleak country were herded in the smallest camps possible 80,000 men, women and children, and 600,000 beasts in the summer of 1930. Hunger, disease, and broken hearts took a heavy toll of the imprisoned population. Bedouin die in a cage. Loss of livestock was also great, for the beasts had insufficient grazing near the camps on which to support life, and the herds, already decimated in the fighting, almost wiped out by the camps.

"The guerrillas thus found themselves cut off from local sources of supply and forced more and more to rely on Egypt for the bare necessities of life and of war. For years a considerable part of their supplies had come from there, paid for by Bedouin produce, money raised by customs charges, and funds collected throughout the Arab and Muslim world. Supplies came through the port of al-Sallum, and the Egyptian Frontiers Administration must have closed its eyes to supplies going into Cyrenaica as tightly as to refugees going out of it, The Marmarica had been declared by [Graziani] a military zone, its people being removed to concentration camps, and the closed frontier was patrolled by armoured cars and planes with instructions to destroy any caravans they spotted, but, in spite of these precautions, supplies continued to reach the Patriots. Graziani therefore decided to run a line of barbed-wire entanglements from the sea to Jaghbub and into the dunes to the south of it, a distance of over 300 km. The work was completed early in September 1931 and control along the wire was operated through fortified posts, a telephone system, and aviation camps."


Prince Sayed Idris Al Senussi with his brother - first half of 1940s

Prince Sayed Idris with his brother. Undated photo but perhaps during the first half of 1940s.


One can see how Graziani has fulfilled their worst ever nightmare (see Ahmed's explanation for their fear of European explorers).



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Those who copy us without giving credits, may they suffer an eternal sahara-less, 4x4-less, and toilet-less life forever! �2002 - 2006.
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