The Egyptian Armistice: From Autonomy to Independence

Thursday, January 4, 2018: 4:30 PM
Columbia 8 (Washington Hilton)
Aimee Genell, University of Miami
On December 14, 1914, the British Foreign Office issued a declaration of protection, formally incorporating Egypt into the British Empire. The Ottoman entry into the war against the Allies the previous month provided Britain with the opportunity to resolve Egypt’s anomalous status as a de jure Ottoman territory under British administration. The declaration of protection ended nearly 400 years of Ottoman sovereignty in Egypt and terminated the treaties that guaranteed Egypt’s status as an autonomous Ottoman province since Mehmet Ali's rule in the early 19th century. Political elites in Cairo viewed the protectorate as a wartime measure, begrudgingly accepted in exchange for greater political control in Egypt. In 1917, Prince Fuad replaced Husayn as the Sultan of Egypt on the understanding that the Anglo-Egyptian relationship would change after the war. He told the British High Commissioner in Egypt “we want autonomy.” But by the general armistice in November 1918, Egyptian demands for autonomy transformed into demands for “complete independence” (istiqlal tam).

Erez Manela has argued that Wilson’s ideas about national self-determination were fundamental for explaining anti-colonial discourse just after World War I, particularly in Egypt. While Wilsonian ideas played a significant role in Egypt's 1919 Revolution against Britain’s “illegal protectorate,” nationalists drew equally as much upon Egypt’s international legal status to claim independence. Nationalists argued that once Britain extinguished Ottoman sovereignty in Egypt, the rights “won by Mehmet Ali on the battlefield” could only be transferred to Egyptians. Nationalists also challenged British officials to define the meaning of the protectorate and the nature of their power in Egypt. These debates on sovereignty at the time of the Armistice profoundly shaped the terms of quasi-independence that Britain finally offered Egyptians in 1922.

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