A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, November 5, 2010

A New Feature: Weekend Historical Video: I: The Return of Saad Zaghloul

I used to offer "Weekend Readings" on Fridays, but so many other sites are providing links to new reports from think tanks etc. that I now only link to those I find personally worth noting. Since I don't post on weekends, I've decided to introduce a new feature to give you something to look at over the weekend.

The rich collections of old video on YouTube and old photos on Flickr offer great insight into Middle Eastern history, and I've embedded lots of historical videos on this blog already. I've decided to select old videos (usually: perhaps occasionally stills) on one subject of historical interest and post for your weekend perusal. I may miss some weekends and I may lose interest, but let's try it out.

I decided to start with something very early in the era of video of the modern Middle East, video from 1923. Saad Zaghloul (Sa‘d Zaghlul) Pasha (1857-1927) may not be a household name today, outside of Egypt, but he is one of that country's great national heroes, and his photo is still prominently displayed by the Wafd Party, which he founded. A nationalist follower of Ahmad ‘Orabi, he worked against the British occupation and was jailed periodically. At the end of World War I, taking Woodrow Wilson's 14 Points at face value, he created an Egyptian delegation (Arabic: wafd) to the Paris Peace Conference. This time the British not only arrested him but exiled him to the Seychelles. One result was the Egyptian Reovlution of 1919, which in turn led to a grant of independence (though with a great many limitations on true sovereignty) to Egypt in 1922. In 1923, Zaghloul returned from exile to a hero's welcome, and in early 1924 he was elected Prime Minister in elections swept by his Wafd Party, taking its name from the delegation he sought to take to Paris. In November that year he resigned after less than a year as Prime Minister, and died in 1927. Though he actually led Egypt for less than a year, he is an icon of Egyptian nationalism: his house (Bayt al-Umma, home of the nation)( and his tomb are preserved in central Cairo. He is still venerated by the Wafd and little invoked by the government for that reason, but his statue stands at one end of one of the main bridges, facing the city. He is said to have used the motto in colloquial Egyptian " kulla haga mumkin," : "everything is possible," but his last words were " ma fish fayda" : "It's no use."

The two videos I've chosen to launch the series are of Zaghloul Pasha's 1923 return: one shows him aboard ship and after his return; the second is a video of the crowds welcoming him. Though there are some captions the videos of course were silent in 1923, so you don't need Arabic.

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