The United States and Egypt continue to enjoy cordial relations in the modern times. However, these relations were cultivated from the ancient times. At the moment, Egypt is regarded as an important ally to the US especially in respect to the Middle East affairs. This realization is critical considering the interests of the US in the Middle East. Nonetheless, looking at the relationship of these two countries during the past years is critical.
This paper shall focus on the United States-Egypt relations in the period between 1930 and 1945. This is a period that was characterized by various aspects touching on economics and the politics of the word. In particular, there was the Great Depression that begun in the late 1920s all the way to the 1930s (Kindleberger, 1986).
Also, this period was characterized by the advent of the Second World War that plunged the whole world into a state of war. The paper shall give an analysis of the how the two countries related during these years. It is worth pointing out that the two countries did not start relating during this period.
Therefore, this paper shall begin by exploring the relationship between the two countries prior to the period between 1930 and 1945. The paper shall give a detailed analysis of how the United States related to the Egyptians the inter-war period. Although there was no much between the two countries, the little that existed will be discussed.
Relationship between the United States and Egypt in the period before the Second World War has not been widely covered. In this regard, most of the information available on this relationship covers the period after the Second World War. Most researches conducted in the period before the Second World War focused on the American interests, policies, and activities.
When it comes to the role played by Egypt, the works have remained relatively silent. However, it has to be noted that effective understanding of the American-Egypt bilateral relationship should consider the roles played by all nations. Egypt attained its independence during the early 20th century. During the mid-1920s, Egypt was relatively stable and had established relations with the United States.
Though this relationship was quite weak, it is worth mentioning that it was characterized by some tension. The United States was not pragmatic in its foreign relation policy towards Egypt. On the other hand, the Egyptians viewed the Americans with caution.
The nationalism spirit meant that the Egyptians were concerned with how to preserve their independence from foreign influence. In this case, they viewed the United States in the same light as foreigners who were determined to dominate various aspects of the Egyptian population (Smith, 1997).
America’s foreign policy in the 1930-45
During the 1930s, American policy was concentrated on building the domestic economy. This is due to the ravages of the Great Depression that was experienced during the formative years of the 1930s. This had far-reaching impacts on the American economy (Kindleberger, 1986). The election of Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 instigated the need for expansion of American influence in world affairs.
Nonetheless, the Great Depression meant that America was to spend most of the time on national economic recovery (Kaufman, 1977; Simmons, 1994). In this case, the United States could only engage in international issues sparingly. Indeed President Roosevelt concentrated his efforts within the Latin American region where he wanted to establish good neighborhood with the adjacent nations.
Apart from the Latin American region, the United States was concerned with other issues on the international front such as its relationship with Russia.
Russia and the United States enjoyed lukewarm relations, but Roosevelt is on record refusing to cut the diplomatic ties even after getting advice from the American representatives in Russia. Roosevelt kept hoping for improved relations that could prove vital in the event of an emergency (Ember, 2011; Brune, 2003).
There is no doubt that economic aspects were central to the American people during the 1930s. The United States actively participated in international forums that discussed economic issues. During the year 1933, London hosted an international economic forum. During the conference, France and Italy suggested that the monetary value of each nation should be linked to the gold price (Kaufman, 1977).
Representatives from the US were not in agreement with these assertions. The American representatives argued that such a move could hurt the recovery process from the Great Depression (Simmons, 1994). The position held by the Americans stalled the London conference.
Despite the American delegates’ rejection of the proposals by the other European countries, the United States was not opposed to international trade. In fact, the Roosevelt administration entered into numerous trade agreements with different nations (Ember, 2011; Brune, 2003).
Apart from the economic aspects that the United States concentrated on during the 1930s, there was the looming conflict which drew much attention from the United States. The world political environment seemed volatile towards the end of the 1930s. The political developments in the world were observed with great interest from the Americans. The Americans resented the political developments in Italy and Japan.
Nonetheless, the United States felt that it was not time to be involved in war (Sage, 2011). In deed President Roosevelt petitioned the Congress to pass a resolution that required the United States to remain neutral in any international conflict. Though the Americans wanted to remain neutral, the continued worsening of the situation in Europe was watched keenly (Ember, 2011).
From the developments in the world during the 1930s to the early years of 1940s, it can be asserted that the United States was concerned with domestic affairs and the political developments in Europe and Asia (Sage, 2011). In this case, the relationship between America and Egypt was not given any precedence. Therefore, there was very little going on between these two countries.
Nonetheless, it cannot be assumed that the relationship between these two countries did not exist at all. The relationship between the two countries was not explosive as it is today. Nonetheless, there was some relation that linked the people of the two nations.
Historical background on the relationship between the United States and Egypt
The works that have been done on the relationship between Egypt and the United States during the period between 1930s and 1945 has focused on few and non-political landscape of the American interests. Egypt was colonized by Britain, and only gained independence in the year 1922. During the colonial error, the United States was not interested in the Egyptian affairs.
Nonetheless, the United States was regarded as a friendly nation to the British. In this case, the United States recognized the role of the British in Egypt. In Egypt, during the colonial era, the United States played a minor role in respect to the relationship between the two nations.
Nonetheless, the United States had a good relation with the Egyptians (Paterson, 2010). According to Meyer (1980), the relationship between Egypt and the United States was favorable.
It has been noted that the “educational, missionary, and philanthropic endeavors had established an image untarnished by a history of colonial domination and that the United States stood high in the esteem of the average Egyptian citizen” (Manela, 2002, p. 71-2). Notably, this assertion has come under criticism as it does not shade some light on the disappointments and suspicions that were held by the Egyptians during this period.
The relationship between Egypt and the United States had begun way before Egypt gained its independence. It has to be noted that in the Egyptians attained independence from Britain in the year 1922. When this happened, the political authority in the country became a contest between three main groups. These groups included the colonial authorities, the monarchy, and members of the Wafd party (Meyer, 1980).
The Wafd Party was the main force towards Egypt’s independence after the First World War. Notably, even after independence, the British army remained to guard the Suez Canal. Also, there were British officers who served within the Egyptian government.
On the other hand, there was the Egyptian monarchy who made appointments using absolute powers and with support from the British. Nonetheless, the Wafd Party became dominant for a few decades before it faded away to pave the way for the Muslim Brotherhood (Sharp, 2011).
Apart from the historical background of the Egyptian independence, the main focus should be placed on the country’s relations with the United States. This relation is not as simple as many scholars might think. This relationship was complex and interesting.
There are three main themes which characterized the way mutual perceptions and relationships were regarded between these countries. These aspects include the independence gained by Egypt after the First World War, the American archaeological interests in Egypt, and the American missionaries in Egypt (Manela, 2002).
There is a general assumption that the United States did not have a considerable relationship with Egypt immediately after the First World War. Though this may be correct, it does not put into consideration the role that the United States played in Egyptian affairs. It has to be noted that, during the year 1918, President Woodrow Wilson advocated for the Fourteen Points emphasizing on self-determination and freedom.
These principles resonated well among the public all over the world, and Egypt was not left out. The call by President Woodrow greatly influenced the hopes and expectations of the Egyptians. When the First World War ended, the Egyptian nationalists formed the Wafd Party that was aimed at pushing for the independence of their country (Curtis, 1986).
Their plea was presented in Paris during the Peace Conference that was held in November of 1918. The Wafd Party was led by Sad Zaghlul, and in early 1919, he tried to solicit for the American support in pushing for the Egyptian independence. Indeed he wrote numerous telegrams to President Woodrow. In essence, Zaghlul was enthused by the freedom and self-determination advocated for by the American President (Smith, 1997).
The activities of the nationalists led to the arrest of Wafd leaders including Zaghlul. This sparked considerable demonstrations and strikes in what was referred to as the “1919 Revolution.” The revolution turned violent as people protested against the British oppression. The Egyptians also appealed to the American authorities soliciting for help in the fight against the British oppression.
Despite numerous pleas from the Egyptians, the United States did not intervene as it wanted to maintain the warm relations with Britain. It has to be noted that when the Egyptians were protesting against the deportation of Zaghlul, the State Department issued instructions to the Diplomatic Agent in Cairo not to act in any way that would indicate backing for the nationalists.
During the same period, the British solicited for America’s recognition of Egypt as their protectorate. The United States heeded to the British request and recognized Egypt as a British protectorate. This was a decisive blow to the Egyptian nationalists who had banked too much on the American support (Gershoni and Jankowski, 1995).
When the United States recognized the British occupation of Egypt, there was damage that this had on the American prestige among the Egyptians. Nonetheless, this was never appreciated by the American diplomats who served at the time. In fact, most of them noted that most Egyptians were happy by the move taken by the United States.
However, it is clear that the United States was struggling to maintain warm relationships with both the British and the Egyptians. It is on record that some Egyptians continued to write to the American Legation in protest of the move to recognize Egypt as a British Protectorate.
In one of the messages, the United States was required to intervene “as the recognized champion of Right and justice to the weaker members of the great family of the Human race” (Manela, 2002, p. 76). Though the United States had recognized Egypt as a British protectorate, most Egyptians continued to have hope of support from the Americans.
During the 1920s, the people of Egypt came to acknowledge that the Americans had adopted a compliant policy towards the British rule. Following the assassination of a British commander by the Egyptians, the British replied with punitive measures against the Egyptians.
The Egyptians called upon the Americans for interventions, but the State Department was not willing to deviate from its policy towards the British. In deed the Secretary of State at the time, Charles Hughes, noted that there was no need to take action or acknowledge the plea by the Egyptian nationalists. This did not deter the Egyptians nationals from looking upon the Americans for support (Manela, 2002).
The era of Morton Howell as the American Minister to Cairo
Morton Howell served as the American minister to Cairo between the years 1921 to 1927. He was appointed by President Harding to serve as the American Minister to Cairo. Howell was not pleased with the manner in which the Egyptians were being treated by the British. Howell was opposed to alcohol and British rule in Egypt. He was ruthless in his criticism against the British rule.
This made him gain popularity among the Egyptians nationalists. In his assertions, Howell claimed that the British administration was aggressive and dishonest in dealing with the Egyptians. He also argued that the British supported child labor and were involved in illegal drugs such as opium and alcohol. His view was that the activities of the British were destined to result into hatred from the Egyptian populace.
He also argued that this was going to affect the relationship of the British and those who support the Egyptians in their quest for independence. Howell was critical of the British High Commission, Lord Lloyd, and asserted that the commissioner was the main source of the Egyptian tribulations.
Howell went on to argue that the Egyptians needed assistance from other friendly and powerful nations so as to exonerate themselves from British colonialism. He was quick to ascertain that the United States was one of the nations to give support to the Egyptians (Manela, 2002).
Though Howell’s view deviated from the norm, the other career diplomats from the State Department did not share his perception. According to Howell, most career diplomats were not suitable to represent the United States. This observation was countered by officials from the State Department who called upon the Americans who were in Egypt to avoid the American Minister to Cairo at all cost.
This did not stop Howell from rebuking the British on how they handled the Egyptians. There are times when Howell could not wait for permission from the State Department, and this nearly landed him in trouble from Washington (Manela, 2002).
One can easily dismiss Howell as not reflecting the position of the United States during his tenure as the American representative in Cairo. However, it should be pointed out that Howell served for about six years representing the United States in Egypt. In this case, the Egyptians regarded Howell as representing the American government. Therefore, his assertions reflected the view of the government that he represented.
The nationalists in Egypt exploited the opportunity presented by Howell to advance their case. The nationalists appreciated Howell’s criticism against the British. When his term came to an end, he got a warm send off from the Egyptians who were glad of his courageous support to them.
Despite some disappointments that were witnessed in the period after the First World War, the role played by Howell in Egypt gave some hope that America was still reliable as a friend in the fight against the British (Manela, 2002).
On their part, the British administration was disappointed in Howell. Howell argued that the British authorities were imperial, and this trend was not to be condoned. This led to the publishing of an editorial by the British who were based in Egypt. In this editorial, Howell was lambasted and accused of mishandling what the British regarded as delicate issues.
In a rejoinder, Howell published a book in the year 1929 in which he criticized the British. His criticism was against the policy framework adopted by the British in Egypt. This did not go down well with the British authority in Cairo, and they attempted to ban the book in Egypt. The actions and the role played by Howell left an indelible mark on how the British and Egyptians perceived the United States.
It has to be noted that Howell had a difficult relationship with the State Department officials in representing the American position towards Egypt. All these serve to portray the contradictions that characterized the United States’ attitudes towards Egypt in the period after the First World War (Manela, 2000).
The principles held by Howell and his perceptions as the United States’ representative in Egypt portrayed the tension that existed among the American political class. Indeed there was the lack of decisiveness in regard to the perception of the British imperialists in Egypt and the need to maintain a good relationship with Britain.
Though the need to maintain warm relations with the British defined the American policy towards Egypt, the need to sentiments against the British imperial tendencies in Egypt did not go unnoticed. This is well reflected by the activities and the role played by Howell during his tenure as the American representative in Cairo.
During the 1920s, there was no outstanding political relationship between the United States and Egypt. Nonetheless, there was a considerable development in terms of cultural contact. This is because of the archaeological discoveries that were made in Egypt. These discoveries provided a platform in which the Egyptians related with the American people (Manela, 2000).
When the tomb of Pharaoh Tuntankhamon was unearthed by a group of archaeologists, this brought about a lot of fascinations among the people of the United States. The archaeological discoveries dominated the popular press, and the Egyptians drew a lot of pride from it.
The national pride of the Egyptians and the politics surrounding the archaeological discoveries brought about a misunderstanding between the Egyptians and the excavators who were mostly foreigners (Manela, 2002).
The institutions from the United States that were involved in the excavations during the formative years of the 1920s had entered into an agreement on how to share the finds from the excavations. This was guided by the 1912 agreement in which it was agreed that the finds were to be equally split between the authorities in Egypt and the excavators.
However, when the Egyptians gained independence in 1922, this complicated the issue as the new Egyptian administration demanded significant control. There were widespread national sentiments demanding that the Egyptians take control of their heritage. The Egyptians launched a legal tussle in which they demanded full control of the Tutankhamon tomb and its riches from the late Lord Carnarvon.
Lord Carnarvon was a British aristocrat who owned the enterprise that oversaw the excavation of the tomb. James Henry Breasted, who was a renowned University of Chicago Egyptologist, stepped in to resolve the legal tussle between the Egyptian authorities and Lord Carnarvon (Manela, 2002).
The participation of James Henry Breasted in the dispute on ownership of the Tutankhamon was at an individual level. However, the struggle to control the Egyptian heritage soon involved the United States’ State Department. It has to be noted that there were various American institutions that were involved in the archaeological work within Egypt. Among them was the Metropolitan Museum of Art based in New York.
This institution wrote to the State Department in 1923 for assistance, and vowed to stop any financial assistance aimed at supporting archaeological work in Egypt. This was due to lack of respect to the 1912 agreement by the new Egyptian administration. The State Department was cautious in addressing this issue.
This is because it did not want to be involved directly as this could dent the reputation the country enjoyed from Egyptians. The State Department issued instructions to the American representative, Howell, to handle the issue with the Egyptian authorities. However, this was only if the other parties were willing to address the issue.
The State Department adopted an expanded cautious approach arguing that the Tutankhamon controversy was very intense and emotional, and thus the United States could not intervene. Nonetheless, when the nationalist government, which was headed by Zaghlul, came to power, the cautious approach had to change.
The nationalist government asserted that it was time to nationalize the Egyptian treasures. This prompted the United States to take a decisive step in resolving the issue (Manela, 2002).
The American representative to Cairo, Howell, was forced to face the Egyptian administration regarding the issue. The Egyptians argued that their plan was guided by the need to safeguard the scientific interests. It can be noted that both the Egyptian authorities and the foreign excavators cited scientific interests in advancing arguments. There were diplomatic exchanges between the two parties for quite some time.
However, in the year 1926, the foreign institutions agreed to the guarantees by the Egyptian authorities that it was ready to allow these institutions access to the finds that would not be needed for national and local collections. In this settlement, it can be viewed that the Egyptians emerged as the winners. It can be noted that the United States complied with the Egyptian’s quest to control its own heritage (Manela, 2000).
Apart from the controversy that surrounded the foreign excavation in Egypt, archaeology also presented a platform for other aspects to emerge. In essence, there was the emergence of “science, philanthropy, national pride, and imperial interest” that contested for influence (Manela, 2002, p. 82).
It can be pointed out that in 1925; John D. Rockefeller Jr. gave out a $10,000,000 to the Egyptian administration as a gift for the development of an archaeological museum in Cairo. This offer was from individuals of good will, and not directly from the American government.
Nonetheless, Frank Kellogg, the Secretary of State during the time, observed that the gesture by the private individuals would act to enhance the way the two nations related. In this regard, Frank observed that the American government needed to encourage and support such activities by private individuals.
Though the ten million dollars were presented as a gift, this came with some conditions. Rockefeller wanted the Egyptians to accept this “gift” and surrender the control of the museum to foreigners for a period of about 30 years (Manela, 2002).
The Egyptians did not embrace the “gift” wholeheartedly. At first, King Faud dismissed the offer arguing that his country was not in need of gifts from outsiders. Nonetheless, the King added that the executive was better placed to decide on the issue. This offer was discussed in detail within the government circles and finally rejected in 1926.
This is because this offer was perceived as an act of giving out the treasured Egyptian antiquity to foreigners. To the Americans, the gift was viewed as a gesture to support Egypt in advancing the scientific notions. On the other hand, the Egyptians interpreted this to mean that the foreigners were only interested in controlling their treasured heritage.
The work of missionaries in Egypt also presented a way in which the Americans related to the Egyptians during the period after the First World War. The arrival of American missionaries from the United States to Egypt occurred during the 19th century. By the 1920s, the American missionaries were already operating schools, hospitals, and orphanages among other educational institutions in Egypt (Murphy, 1987).
The missionaries came to Egypt with the main aim of spreading the gospel (Boles, 2001). In addition, they also aimed at spreading western values and science to integrate the Egyptians into the progressive world order. The missionaries held the belief that their activities promoted America’s polished image among the Egyptians hence enhancing goodwill towards the United States.
This view was also held by various historians who studied the relationship between the two countries. Nonetheless, the reality of the situation was not as depicted by the missionaries and historians.
In deed considering that most Egyptians were subscribed to the Islamic religion, there was a general feeling that the missionaries were out to interfere with their traditions and values. The Egyptians perceived the missionaries as posing as a threat to the traditional social order (Manela, 2000).
The issue presented by the case of the missionaries was delicate and possibly volatile. This was well noted during the event that happened in April of 1928 commonly referred to as the “Zwemer Incident”.
During this incident, Dr. Samuel Zwemer, who was an American missionary, paid a visit to the one of the campuses of the al-Azhar University in Cairo. Dr. Samuel went on to distribute missionary pamphlets to some of the students at the university. This led to an uproar among students and teachers at the university (Manela, 2000).
The same sentiments were seen in the Egyptian press where the actions by Dr. Samuel Zwemer were denounced in the strongest terms possible. The Egyptian Minister in charge of Foreign Affairs demanded the US should apologize regarding the incident.
The American representatives moved fast to issue an apology. This did not stop Dr. Zwemer from continuing with his antics. This is because of the reports that he distributed similar pamphlets in cafes found in Alexandria (Manela, 2002).
The Christian missionaries were subjected to attacks from the local people during the 1930s (Murphy, 1987). In this regard, the United States was regarded as the main target. The activities of American missionaries were not regarded in a good light. The Egyptian press reported that the American educational institutions based in Cairo were centers of the missionary activities in Egypt.
It was alleged that the missionaries were aimed at converting innocent children to join Christianity at the expense of Islam. This made some Muslims adopt a hardline stance in regard to their religion (Boles, 2001). Some Egyptians were open in their resistance against the activities of the missionaries in their country.
Some resorted to writing books to vent out their resentment against the missionaries. One such Egyptian is Haykal who wrote a book that exemplified the life and teachings of Prophet Muhammad. This was meant to counter the advances made by the Christian missionaries (Manela, 2002).
The State Department in the United States was at a loss on how to address the missionary activities in Egypt. The State Department was split between supporting the role of the missionaries and then need to avoid antagonizing the people of Egypt. Nonetheless, the aspirations of the Egyptians seemed to take precedence leading to significant assertiveness among the Egyptians.
The American missionaries in Egypt pressed for the State Department to safeguard their interests within Egypt. In essence, they wanted the American government to push the Egyptian administration to observe religious liberty. However, the United States, having known the delicate nature of this issue, declined to show open backing for the missionaries.
It is well documented that, in 1930, the United States government informed its representative in Cairo to pass a very disturbing message to the missionaries stationed in Egypt. In part, the message noted that the American Government expected the missionaries to avoid actions that could generate anti-American sentiments among the Egyptian populations (Manela, 2002).
During the 1930s, it was realized that the definition of “religious liberty” was differently viewed between the Egyptians and the United States. The concept of religious liberty was enshrined in the Egyptian Constitution; however, it was not regarded in the same light as the Americans did. The Egyptians interpreted this concept to mean freedom to exercise a religion that an individual was born and raised.
This did not involve conversion from Islam to Christianity as the missionaries thought. This presented a great challenge to the State Department, which found it difficult to provide effective assistance. It should be observed that, in early 1940s, the Egyptian authorities banned the activities of the missionaries.
Following this ban, the American government remained mum on the issue. Truly, the American government was keen on preserving the goodwill it enjoyed among the Egyptian populace. This meant that the United States government did not want to take actions that could strain its relationship with Egypt.
During the era described as “the interwar years”, the relationship between the United States and Egypt was diverse though not pronounced. From the discussion, it can be asserted that the United States associated with the Egyptians with the aim of cultivating goodwill from the Egyptian populace. However, this was not done in an open way as the United States had other interests at heart.
Despite the Americans appearing to be restrained on the Egyptian affairs, there some incidences which suggested that the Americans were concerned with what was happening in Egypt. Indeed the tenure of Dr. Howell as the American representative in Cairo indicated that the United States cared for the Egyptians.
Also, it is important to note that there are incidences where the United States seemed split on the side to take in the Egyptian affairs. During the early years of the second decade during the 20th century, the United States was torn between showing support to the Egyptians or the British who were colonizing them. The United States wanted to preserve its friendship with Britain, as well as the goodwill among the Egyptians.
The United States continued to maintain good relations with the Egyptians. This is despite when it was clear that the Egyptians were not adhering to the precedents set by the United States. The case in point is the frustrations that the American missionaries encountered in Egypt. The American government did not condemn the activities of the government in frustrating the work of the missionaries.
It can also be noted that the archaeological work in Egypt by the Americans was another area of conflict. In general, the relationship between Egypt and the United States during the inter-war period was aimed at maintaining cordial relations.
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