Skip to content

Results:

1 - 10 of 35

Documents

November 13, 1974

United Nations General Assembly Official Records, 29th Session : 2282nd Plenary Meeting, Agenda Item 108, 'Question of Palestine (continued)'

As other documents in this collection on Moroccan nationalists in 1947 and 1950 have exemplified, the United Nations was an important arena in decolonization struggles for Arabs, as it was for Asians and Africans as e.g. Alanna O’Malley’s The Diplomacy of Decolonisation: America, Britain, and the United Nations during the Congo crisis, 1960-1964 (2018) has shown. In this regard, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which was founded in 1964 and taken over by the Fatah movement in 1969, was no exception.

To be sure, Palestinian organizations including Fatah and the PLO decried key UN actions. One was the UN Palestine partition plan of 1947; another was UN Security Council resolution 242 of November 1967. Calling upon Israel to withdraw “from territories occupied” during the Six-Day War in June and calling for the “acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace,” it did not mention Palestine or the Palestinians. Even so, the PLO sought to get access to the UN and UN recognition. A crucial landmark on this road was the address to the UN in New York in November 1974 by Yassir Arafat (1929-2004), a Fatah co-founder in 1959 and from 1969 PLO chairman.

Arafat did not speak at the Security Council, which was and is dominated by its five veto-carrying permanent members Britain, China, France, the United States, and the USSR/Russia. Rather, he addressed the UN General Assembly (UNGA), where from the 1960s Third World states were in the majority; his speech was the first time that the UNGA allowed a non-state representative to attend its plenary session. The UNGA invited the PLO after having decided, in September, to begin separate hearings on Palestine (rather than making Palestine part of general Middle Eastern hearings), and after the PLO was internationally recognized as the sole representative of the Palestinian people, a landmark accomplishment for the organization. The UNGA president who introduced Arafat, Abdelaziz Bouteflika (1937-2021), was the Foreign Minister of Algeria, which since its independence in 1962 had supported the Palestinian cause organizationally, militarily, and politically. Arafat spoke in Arabic; the below text is the official UN English translation. Arafat did not write the text all by himself; several PLO officials and Palestinians close to the PLO, including Edward Said, assisted, as Timothy Brennan has noted in Places of Mind: A Life of Edward Said (2021). Later in November 1974, the UNGA inter alia decided to give the PLO observer status and affirmed Palestinians’ right to self-determination.

February 2, 1958

The Speech of President Gamal Abdel Nasser to the Afro-Asian Youth Conference, Monday, 2 February [Fibrair Shbat] 1958 / 24 Rajab 1378

This is an English translation of a speech originally given in Arabic in 1958 by Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918-1970) and then reprinted in a book published in Cairo.

An officer by training and profession and a participant in the 1952 coup that ended Egypt’s country’s monarchy, Nasser in 1954 became president of Egypt and as such the president of the United Arab Republic (UAR), which was formed with Syria in 1958 and which continued to exist for a decade after Syria left the union in 1961. Having met India’s president Jawahrlal Nehru already in 1954, Nasser began playing an important political role also beyond the Middle East in the 1955 Bandung Conference in Indonesia. His star rose precipitously in 1956, when he nationalized the Suez Canal and when France and Britain had to withdraw their forces from the canal after occupying its northern part in November 1956. Given Egypt’s position in the Middle East and internationally, the US administration was concerned this aggression would play into the hands of its Cold War rival, the Sovet Union. The US forced its NATO allies (and their Israeli colluders) to withdraw—a defeat that Egyptians celebrated as their own anti-imperialist success and that deepened Nasser’s popularity among many Arabs and other decolonizing and postcolonial people.

It was against that background that the Egyptian government further upped its international profile. This now occurred also vis-à-vis Asia and not “only” vis-à-vis Africa, which had been an important arena for the republican regime’s foreign policy from before Bandung. Thus, in 1957 Nasser’s government organized the Afro-Asian People’s Solidarity Conference that, analyzed in Reem Abou-el-Fadl’s “Building Egypt’s Afro-Asian Hub” (2019), led to Cairo housing the secretariat of the Afro-Asian Peoples’ Solidarity Organisation. And in early 1958, it held the Afro-Asian Youth Conference. By this time and in the 1960s, Cairo became a key transnational hub for decolonization movements especially from Africa, as Eric Burton has shown in "Hubs of Decolonization. African Liberation Movements and Eastern Connections in Cairo, Accra and Dar es Salaam" (2019).

The text printed here is Nasser's address to the Afro-Asian Youth Conference, which happened to take place a mere day after the Syrian-Egyptian UAR was formally announced.

December 3, 1956

Middle East (Situation): Debated in the Commons Chamber, Monday, 3 December 1956

In July 1956, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918-1970) nationalized the Suez Canal Company, surprising the world. The government of France, in whose capital of Paris the company was headquartered, and the British government, the company’s plurality shareholder, sought to reverse nationalization in court, but failed—even though they clad their case in the language not of imperial self-interest but, rather, of international public interest. The time in which such language was somewhat acceptable, even at home, was passing, and the Suez Crisis played a big part in this final act.

At the same time, the two governments early on after the canal nationalization decided to remove Nasser by force, for re-compensation was not their central concern. France believed Nasser was enabling the FLN, which in 1954 had started Algeria’s War for Independence, and Britain wanted some say in the canal, which had for decades been its worldwide empire’s “swing-door,” as a member of parliament, Anthony Eden (1897-1977), called it in 1929. In August 1956 France began discussing a joint operation with Israel, which wanted Nasser gone, too, and the Red Sea opened for Israel-bound ships. In early October the two were joined by Britain. On the 29th, Israel invaded the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula. On the 30th, France and Britain gave Israel and Egypt a 12-hour ultimatum to cease hostilities, or they would intervene—and Anglo-French forces bombed Egyptian forces from the 31st and on November 5-6 occupied the canal’s northern tip. Although a power play, “Operation Musketeer,” like the court case, could not be an open imperial move anymore, then, and did not present itself to the world as such. No matter: especially in colonies and postcolonial countries, people were outraged.

More problematically for France and Britain, Washington was incredulous. This Middle Eastern affair triggered the worst crisis of the 1950s between America’s rising international empire and Europe’s descending empires, and indeed clarified and accelerated that descent. President Dwight Eisenhower (1890-1969) fumed that Prime Ministers Anthony Eden and Guy Mollet (1905-1977) had disregarded his administration’s opposition to military action. Worse, they had deceived him about their intentions. And worst, their attack on Egypt undermined the supreme US tenet: Soviet containment. The Americans were by association tainted by their NATO allies’ imperialist move while the Soviets looked good—on November 5 they offered Egypt troops and threatened to nuke London, Paris, and Tel Aviv—and that although they had just repressed an uprising in Hungary.

On the very day of the ultimatum, October 30, Eisenhower washed his hands of that move on live US television, and the US mission at the UN organized a cease-fire resolution vote in the Security Council. France and Britain vetoed it. Although sharing its European allies’ emotions about Nasser, the US administration withheld critical oil and monetary supplies from them to bring them to heel and withdraw from Egypt—after which, it promised, they would be warmly welcomed back. It ceased most bilateral communications and froze almost all everyday social interactions with its two allies, even cancelling a scheduled visit by Eden. And it badgered its allies at the UN, supporting an Afro-Asian resolution that on November 24 called Israel, Britain, and France to withdraw forthwith. On December 3, the British Foreign Secretary Selwyn Lloyd took the floor in the House of Commons.

July 26, 1956

Speech by President Nasser, Alexandria, July 26 [1956] (Extract)

Eighty-seven years after the Suez Canal’s completion in 1869 and less than two months after the last British troops had left it in June 1956, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918-1970) on July 26, 1956, nationalized the Suez Canal Company.

Nasser announced the step in the text printed here: a speech that would become a classic in the annals of twentieth-century decolonization worldwide. The English translation used here is included in a documentary publication printed in 1956 by the US State Department in Washington, DC, titled The Suez Canal Problem; it is an excerpt of the whole speech.

Nasser pronounced the speech in the Egyptian Mediterranean city of Alexandria in front of a crowd of tens of thousands, during which he also uttered the code word signaling his security forces to occupy the company’s assets and offices in Egypt. Nasser’s step took the world by surprise. The French government, the Suez Canal Company’s Paris headquarters and its many French shareholders, and the British government that was the company’s largest shareholder and that on July 23, following Washington’s lead, had retracted a 1955 offer to back a World Bank loan to Egypt: all they were outraged. (France and Britain would fail to reverse nationalization in court; the outcome, in Britain, of the ensuing Franco-British-Israeli attack is the focus of another document dated 1956 in this collection). Diametrically opposed was the dominant reaction among Egyptians, other Arabs, and people in newly independent and still colonialized countries. They were ecstatic. The reason was not so much that Nasser nationalized the canal in order to find a new way to finance a dam at Aswan, on the Nile, although that project was a linchpin of Egypt’s modernization, a history analyzed in Guy Laron’s Origins of the Suez Crisis (2013). The reason was more existential. Nasser’s act turned himself, Egypt, and by proxy the entire non-white world from a passive object of history into an active subject. “Die of your fury,” Nasser told the Americans, and by extension Europe’s descending imperial powers. And by calling the shots—“Today, citizens, the Suez Canal Company has been nationalized. This order has been published in the Official Journal. It has become a matter of fact”—he symbolically subjugated Britain and France, humiliating those once so powerful empires as only a non-white ex-colonial subject could. Even a cut as historic as India’s independence, in 1947, had not hurt Britain this much. Technically speaking Britain had co-initiated that final act of the British Raj, and it was a loss of a limb, however crucial. Nasser, by contrast, had stabbed the empire in its very heart—a story classically narrated in Keith Kyle’s Suez (1991).

1949

Sayed Kotb [Sayyid Qutb], 'The World is an Undutiful Boy!'

After World War II, the political, military, and economic power of the United States’ rising international empire—one working with and through other nation-states—was accompanied by “soft power,” to use a term coined later. Victorious in a global war, Americans embraced “nationalist globalism,” as John Fousek put it in To Lead the Free World: American Nationalism and the Cultural Roots of the Cold War (2000). They wished the postwar world to follow their way of life rather than that of their Cold War Soviet rivals. Vice versa, people around the world paid more attention to them. Very few swallowed Americans’ self-view hook, line, and sinker. But a good number came, adopted what seemed of use—and often did (and could) openly oppose what they disliked, as Matthew Shannon discusses in Losing Hearts and Minds: American-Iranian Relations and International Education during the Cold War (2017).

An Egyptian visitor was Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966), a Cairene inspector of public schools. Egypt’s Ministry of Education chose him to analyze US education from November 1948 to August 1950. He studied at the Wilson Teacher’s College in Washington, DC, and the Colorado State College of Education, in Greeley. He visited New York, San Francisco, Palo Alto, and San Diego. Qutb wrote about this experience—for by the mid-1940s he had become a rising author and cultural critic in Egypt. There, as Giedre Sabaseviciute has shown in “Sayyid Qutb and the crisis of culture in late 1940s Egypt” (2018), Qutb, like others of his generation, accused the cultural establishment of selling out to Western imperialism culturally and hence politically; at the time, Britain still controlled the Suez Canal, and would withdraw its last troops only in June 1956. Some young nationalist critics were leftists; others, like Qutb, had a more religious bent. (In the early 1950s Qutb would officially join the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), and later texts like Ma‘alim fi al-Tariq [Milestones (1964)] would make him the intellectual father of contemporary Islamic radicalism; Gamal Abdel Nasser’s regime imprisoned him after an MB coup attempt in 1954, until 1964, and again from 1965 to 1966, when he was executed.)

As for Qutb’s texts on America, they were much more critical than texts by earlier Arabs who had visited and studied in Western imperial countries. Thus, Rifa‘a Rafi‘ al-Tahtawi’s (1801-1873) or Taha Husayn’s (1889-1973) reflections on sojourns in France, while critical, also identified commonalities and affirmed that Egypt could use some European traits to catch up with Western imperial powers. Not so Qutb, as John Calvert’s “‘The World Is an Undutiful Boy!’: Sayyid Qutb’s American Experience” (2000) shows. In letters home and in a three-part Arabic article titled “The America That I Have Seen,” published after Qutb’s return, he described Americans as a shallow, soulless people driven by status and money: Egypt’s opposite. This was the external inter-civilizational front of a conflict whose domestic cultural front countered those who presumably served Western imperialism. Qutb’s thinking was complex, then. This was the case doubly as it embraced Islam, whose spirituality imbued Egypt’s, and as he called Egypt a civilization—nay the civilization, the world’s first. In the late 1940s, in sum, Qutb was an anti-imperialist civilizational nationalist with a religious bent, or, perhaps, an Eastern civilizationalist of Egyptian nationality and Muslim faith. This showed also in the text here: Qutb’s first one in English, printed in the Greeley College literary society magazine in 1949.

June 13, 1938

Jawaharlal Nehru, 'A Letter from the Mediterranean'

In June 1938 Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964), a Indian National Congress (INC) leader, one of the earliest INC members calling for full independence in 1927, and the main responsible for INC’s foreign relations, took a ship to Europe. This trip was not a first for India’s inaugural prime minister (1947-1964) to be. Already in 1905 he had left India to enroll at the elite British boarding school of Harrow, going on to study at Cambridge and work as a lawyer in London before returning home in 1912. And the last time he had sailed was in 1935, staying until 1936 as the INC representative in meetings with fellow Asian and increasingly also African anti-imperialists in Britain and Europe. Sure, by then the League against Imperialism (LAI), whose Comintern-organized foundational conference Nehru had attended in 1927, was defunct. (For the LAI see the 1927 document on Messali Hadj in this collection.) Even so, Nehru continued to see his secularist Indian nation-statist goals within an international leftist-anti-imperialist and now anti-fascist framework and web, as Michele Louro’s Comrades against Imperialism: Nehru, India, and Interwar Internationalism (2020) argues.

Hence, when on the ship en route to Europe in 1938 he received an invitation from Egypt’s leading nationalist wafd party and agreed to meet their leaders. Having been in contact with Egyptian nationalists before, a story told in Noor Khan’s Egyptian-Indian Nationalist Collaboration and the British Empire (2011), and having detailed their anti-imperialism in Glimpses of World History (1934), he saw the wafd as INC’s appropriately leading anti-imperialist counterpart in Egypt. Sure, in confidential INC memoranda, he criticized the wafd’sinsufficient attention to the masses, especially the peasants, which cost them an election in early 1938, he thought; indeed, the wafdistswere liberal nationalists whereas Nehru was a leftist nationalist. Nonetheless, sitting down with the wafd and exchanging views about world politics and anti-imperialist strategies was called for, in his and the wafd’s view,at a time when fascism was rising and Britain continued to rule India and be very present in Egypt. Reproduced in the massive compilation Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, this text is a letter by Nehru, the first to the INC while he was on the ship en route to London.

1938

Taha Hussein, 'The Future of Culture in Egypt' (Excerpts)

The text printed here, an English translation, is constituted by two excerpts from the famous yet controversial Arabic book Mustaqbal al-thaqafa fi Misr (1938) [The Future of Culture in Egypt],by Taha Hussein (1889-1973).

Born in a village in Upper Egypt and blind from the age of three, Hussein was first educated in his village school. He went on to the famous Azhar Islamic university in Cairo, to the newly founded Egyptian (Cairo) University, where he received a doctorate in 1914, and to Montpellier and the Sorbonne, which in 1917 awarded him another doctorate. For one thing, Hussein was a powerful educational institution builder, as Hussam Ahmed’s The Last Nahdawi: Taha Hussein and Institution Building in Egypt (2021) shows. Thus, he became a Cairo University professor in 1919, teaching Islamic history and Arabic literature, and he was the university’s Dean of Arts (1928, 1930-32 and 1936-39), a member and then president of the Arabic  Language Academy (1940-73), and Egypt’s Minister of Culture (1950-52). For another thing, Hussein was a supremely influential intellectual and a specialist of premodern and modern Arabic literature. Thus, from 1926 to 1967 he published the three-volume autobiographical novel Al-Ayyam [The Days], and in 1926 wrote Fi al-shi‘r al-jahili [On Pre-Islamic Poetry (2016)], which he revised as Fi al-adab al-jahili [On Pre-Islamic Literature (1927)] after traditionalists (unsuccessfully) took him to court. And although helping to introduce thinkers like Jean-Paul Sartre to Arabs as the 1945-1948 editor of the journal al-Katib al-Misri, he belonged to the Arab Renaissance (nahda) literati who were from the 1940s accused by many younger intellectuals for not supporting committed art; in turn, he defended the necessity of not delimiting what art should be or do.

His 1938 text The Future of Culture in Egypt, excerpted here in a 1975 English translation, was very detailed—it included dozens of suggestions about how to improve Egypt’s educational system—and quite complex. On the one side, Hussein confidently took Europe to task in the main body of the work, and emphasized the need to thoroughly know one’s own culture and history. But on the other side, he saw European empires as still very powerful; thus, a lagging Egypt should embrace European concepts—an approach internalizing (self-interested) European Orientalist views, as Stephen Sheehi has argued in The Foundations of Modern Arab Identity (2004). In a sense, both of these two sides were framed by his work’s immediate historical context: the 1936 Anglo-Egyptian Treaty. Maximizing Egypt’s sovereignty and allowing it to become a League of Nations member in 1937, this treaty showed strength—but also continued weakness vis-à-vis Britain, whose troops remained in the Suez Canal zone. In the same vein, the introduction’s argument about Egypt’s geo-civilizational position accepted the discourse of a dominant Europe—only to make Egypt its geographical and historical pioneer by giving it great weight vis-à-vis Ancient Greece, which was conventionally seen as the cradle of European civilization.

November 1930

Shakib Arslan, 'Why Muslims Lagged Behind and Others Progressed' (Excerpts)

The author of the text from which the below excerpts are taken, Amir Shakib Arslan (1869-1946), was born into a high-standing Druze family in the Ottoman (now Lebanese) village of Shoueifat, near Beirut. He was a prolific writer known as Amir al-Bayan, Prince of Eloquence, as well as a political activist, who “brought to the age of emerging national states the organizing principle of universal Islamic empire,” as William Cleveland put it in Islam against the West: Shakib Arslan and the Campaign for Islamic Nationalism (1985). As long as the Ottoman Empire existed, Arslan believed in, politically worked for, and even fought for that polity, e.g. in the 1914 wartime campaign to capture the Suez Canal in British-occupied Egypt. He supported the pan-Islamic policies, also outside the empire, of the government of Sultan Abdul Hamid II (r. 1876-1909). That is, he believed that strengthening the empire vis-à-vis European powers was crucial for its own survival and for the defense of Islam as a religion and a political force. Vice versa, he believed that a defense of Islam—or, to be more precise, an Islam reformed along the lines outlined by Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1838-1897) and Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905), whom he knew—would strengthen the Ottoman Empire.After World War I, Arslan made Geneva his base of operations, leading the Syro-Palestinian delegation, which inter alia lobbied the League of Nations. More broadly, he reacted to the shock of the Ottoman Empire’s demise and of the Caliphate’s abolition by becoming, until his death, the world’s perhaps most central post-Ottoman Muslim nationalist activist.

A point in case is the book from which the below excerpts are taken, Li-madha ta’akhkhara al-Muslimun wa-li-madha taqaddama ghairuhum, which he published in Arabic in 1930. Moreover, Arslan not only published prolifically and edited the French-language journal La Nation Arabe. He also corresponded with scores of people and got involved in anti-colonial thinking and activities in many Muslim countries, from Morocco via Syria to Indonesia; thus, he wrote the below text as a long response to a question sent to him by a Muslim living in the Dutch East Indies, present-day Indonesia. To this anti-colonial end, he also worked with Fascist Italy in the 1930s and with Nazi Germany in World War II, causing leftist Arabs like Salim Khayyata—excerpts from whose Al-Habasha al-mazluma [Oppressed Ethiopia] are included in this collection—to bitterly condemn him.

Nadeem M. Qureshi is thanked for permitting us to use excerpts from his English translation of Shakib Arslan’s Arabic book Li-madha ta’akhkhara al-Muslimun wa-li-madha taqaddama ghairuhum (Cairo, 1930), titled Why Muslims Lagged Behind and Others Progressed, published in 2021 by Austin Macauley Publishers (London).

Used by permission of Austin Macauley Publishers Ltd (www.austinmacauley.com).

June 6, 1919

Letter, Gilbert F. Close to Mr. Saad Zaghloul

In January 1918, US President Woodrow Wilson in a speech to Congress outlined Fourteen Points to undergird the postwar peace and international politics. Vis-à-vis European empires’ interests and against Soviet anti-colonialism, he asserted a panorama of (actually self-interested) US ideals. Thus, point 5 called for “A free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims, based upon a strict observance of the principle that in determining all such questions of sovereignty the interests of the populations concerned must have equal weight with the equitable government whose title is to be determined;” and point 14 insisted that “A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small nations alike.”

Around the world, many anti-colonialists rejoiced. They insisted these points apply to their case, and hoped Wilson would agree. Neither of these two things came to pass, as Erez Manela has shown in The Wilsonian Moment: Self-determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism (2007). In Paris during the 1919 Peace Conference, Wilson rebuffed the advances of many, including the Egyptian delegation, which wrote and self-published, in Paris in 1919, the booklet containing the two letters below. While conceding British supervision of Egypt’s debt and of the Suez Canal, leading Egyptian nationalists had just after the end of World War I demanded independence and the right to address the upcoming Paris Peace conference. Britain rejected these demands and offers. An uprising ensued, which Britain tried to suppress, in March 1919 exiling leading nationalists, including Sa’d Zaghlul (1959-1927), to Malta. As this only worsened the uprising, the Britain’s new High Commissioner in Cairo, Edmund Allenby (1861-1936) released the nationalists—who made haste to Paris.

June 6, 1919

Letter, Saad Zaghloul to His Excellency President Woodrow Wilson

In January 1918, US President Woodrow Wilson in a speech to Congress outlined Fourteen Points to undergird the postwar peace and international politics. Vis-à-vis European empires’ interests and against Soviet anti-colonialism, he asserted a panorama of (actually self-interested) US ideals. Thus, point 5 called for “A free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims, based upon a strict observance of the principle that in determining all such questions of sovereignty the interests of the populations concerned must have equal weight with the equitable government whose title is to be determined;” and point 14 insisted that “A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small nations alike.”

Around the world, many anti-colonialists rejoiced. They insisted these points apply to their case, and hoped Wilson would agree. Neither of these two things came to pass, as Erez Manela has shown in The Wilsonian Moment: Self-determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism (2007). In Paris during the 1919 Peace Conference, Wilson rebuffed the advances of many, including the Egyptian delegation, which wrote and self-published, in Paris in 1919, the booklet containing the two letters below. While conceding British supervision of Egypt’s debt and of the Suez Canal, leading Egyptian nationalists had just after the end of World War I demanded independence and the right to address the upcoming Paris Peace conference. Britain rejected these demands and offers. An uprising ensued, which Britain tried to suppress, in March 1919 exiling leading nationalists, including Sa’d Zaghlul (1959-1927), to Malta. As this only worsened the uprising, the Britain’s new High Commissioner in Cairo, Edmund Allenby (1861-1936) released the nationalists—who made haste to Paris.

Pagination