A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Black Saturday, 58 Years On

Fifty-eight years ago today, January 26, 1952, fell on a Saturday. The day before, Egyptian police had clashed with British troops at Ismailia in the Suez Canal Zone, as noted in my post on Police Day yesterday. I have in fact posted previously on Black Saturday back in September. That post has videos and slideshow links which I recommend you check out. I can't figure out how to embed the Movietone newsreel Zeinobia has if you follow the links, but it's British imperial arrogance at its peak. The photos here are from her collection, as well, though they appear in many books on the subject.

The burning of Shepheard's Hotel (before and after views at left) is the most-remembered event of the day, but other British symbols such as the Turf Club, various cinemas (Cinema Metro below right), and bars were also attacked. The old Shepheard's was one of those old colonial hotels that symbolized empire and the survivors of which can still evoke it (the Old Winter Palace in Luxor and the Old Cataract in Aswan were others, as were the King David in Jerusalem, the Peninsula in Hong Kong/Kowloon, and of course Raffles in Singapore), so its destruction was highly symbolic. (I'm sure there are others: those are ones I know personally.) The attack on the King David Hotel by the Irgun in 1946 wasn't precisely a precedent since it was bombed not as a symbol of colonialism but as the headquarters of the British Army in Palestine. Shepheard's was a pure symbol. (Not to defend in any way the bombing of the King David, though.)

Black Saturday has been blamed on the Palace, the King's Iron Guard, the Muslim Brotherhood, the British (who had no visible reason to burn down Shepheard's), the Communists, or just the angry populace. It was, however, the first real rebellious outburst seen in Cairo since the Revolution of 1919, and left its mark on the city for decades. My earlier post may be sufficient, but I thought I should mark the anniversary.

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