Discuss the role of Zaghlul Pasha in the rise of Egyptian Nationalism.

Discuss the role of Zaghlul Pasha in the rise of Egyptian Nationalism. ©


For more than 400 years, all Arabs – except for parts of Arabia and Morocco – were under Ottoman rule. But the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire after 1918 resulted in Arabs falling prey to identity conflicts and foreign domination, and prepared the stage for a surge of nationalistic feelings in the region. Nations found themselves occupied by the victors of World War I – Britain and France. Nationalism divided Muslim ummah into political entities based on shared characteristics, such as language and culture. Thus, nationalism was seen as a new, imported idea.

It was in this context, marked by chaos and confusion, that Zaghlul, a liberal reformist and later father of Egyptian nationalism stepped in, putting into action his modernist, liberal vision of an independent nation free from the yoke of British occupation.

Role of Zaghlul Pasha in rise of Egyptian Nationalism

  • The foundations of nationalism in Egypt were originally based by Mustafa Kamel , but Saad Zaghlul gave the nationalist movement a wider social dimension by engaging the urban masses. While Saad Zaghlul advocated the slogan ‘Egypt for Egyptians‘, Mustafa Kamel fought for Egypt’s independence within the framework of the Ottoman Caliphate.
  • As World War I came to an end, Zaghlul increasingly began to call for Egyptian independence from Britain. He believed that the best opportunity to present Egypt’s case would come at the Paris Peace Conference of January 1919 in which the victors of the war were to negotiate peace treaties with the defeated powers. Zaghlul formed a delegation –al-wafd – to head to Paris, but the British authorities in Egypt arrested and exiled him to Malta.
  • If the British had hoped to extinguish the flames of nationalism, his arrest came as a bitter disappointment to them. The exile of Zaghlul – “the uncrowned king of the peasants” unleashed fierce Egyptian anti-British sentiment, resulting in huge demonstrations and riots in what came to be known as the 1919 Revolution. The British had failed to factor in Zaghlul’s popularity with ordinary Egyptians.
  • Raised in a rural environment, Zaghlul was gifted at communicating with ordinary Egyptians. He combined anti-British sentiment with the concept of the nation to form a nationalist movement. The nationalist movements had until then consisted mainly of army officers, lawyers and others. He managed to transform it into a popular movement, in which the Egyptian peasantry participated heavily. He also stressed Muslim-Christian unity, an idea that would heavily influence other Arab nationalist movements. Zaghlul managed to break class boundaries, turning the nationalist movement into a comprehensive, popular movement that combined all religious and social groups.
  • In his autobiography, he wrote : “The British and the legal authority represented by the Khedive failed me. But, the simple, ordinary Egyptian people are the ones who supported me.“
  • Released after 800 Egyptian deaths in riots protesting his arrest, Zaghlul and the Wafd reached Paris and were disappointed that their calls for independence fell on deaf ears.
  • The British kept up the pressure and re-arrested and exiled Zaghlul to the Seychelles in 1921. But Egyptian nationalism had become a formidable force. He was released a year later and by 1923, Britain ended its protectorate hold on Egypt.
  • In 1924, Zaghlul became the first popularly elected prime minister of Egypt. Zaghlul’s death in 1927 was received with overwhelming public grief. The death of Zaghlul did not close the floodgates that he had opened.

Some historians have called the 1919 Revolution the “unfinished revolution” because it failed at ending the British occupation; they believe it was completed by the 1952 Revolution, which succeeded in ousting the British and bringing about social, economic and political changes. ©

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