History: 70 Years Ago–July 23, 1952–Egyptian Revolution

70 Years Ago

The Egyptian Revolution of 1952 is commemorated each year on July 23. 

The Egyptian Revolution of 1952 (aka the 1952 Coup d’etat and 23 July Revolution, was a period of profound political, economic, and societal change in Egypt that began on July 23, 1952.

It toppled King Farouk in a coup d’etat by the Free Officers Movement, a group of army officers led by Mohamed Naguib and Gamal Abdel Nasser.

The Revolution ushered in wave of revolutionary politics in the Arab World, and contributed to the escalation of decolonization, and the development of Third World solidarity.

Though initially focused on grievances against King Farouk, the movement had more wide-ranging political ambitions. In the first three years of the Revolution, the Free Officers moved to abolish the constitutional monarchy and aristocracy of Egypt and Sudan, establish a republic, end the British occupation of the country, and secure the independence of Sudan (previously governed as condominium of Egypt and the UK).

The revolutionary government adopted a staunchly nationalist, anti-imperialist agenda, which came to be expressed chiefly through Arab nationalism, and international non-alignment.

The Revolution was faced with immediate threats from Western imperial powers, particularly the UK, which had occupied Egypt since 1882, and France, both of whom were wary of nationalist sentiment in territories under their control throughout Africa, and the Arab World.

The ongoing state of war with Israel also posed serious challenge, as the Free Officers increased Egypt’s strong support of the Palestinians.

Suez Crisis of 1956

These two issues converged in the fifth year of the Revolution when Egypt was invaded by the UK, France, and Israel in the Suez Crisis of 1956 (the Tripartite Aggression).

Despite enormous military losses, the war was seen as political victory for Egypt–it left the Suez Canal in uncontested Egyptian control for the first time since 1875, erasing what was seen as mark of national humiliation. This strengthened the appeal of the revolution in other Arab countries.

Agrarian reform, and huge industrialization programs were initiated in the first decade and half of the Revolution, leading to an unprecedented infrastructure building, and urbanization.

By the 1960s, Arab socialism had become a dominant theme, transforming Egypt into a centrally planned economy.

Official fear of a Western-sponsored counter-revolution, domestic religious extremism, potential communist infiltration, and the conflict with the State of Israel were all cited as reasons compelling severe and longstanding restrictions on political opposition, and the prohibition of a multi-party system.

These restrictions on political activity would remain in place until the presidency of Anwar Sadat from 1970 onwards, during which many policies of the Revolution were scaled back or reversed.

The early successes of the Revolution encourage other nationalist movements in other countries, such as Algeria, where there were anti-imperialist and anti-colonial rebellions against European empires.

It also inspired the toppling of existing pro-Western monarchies and governments in the MENA region.

The Egyptian Revolution of 1952 is commemorated each year on July 23.