• 07:34
  • Wednesday ,12 November 2014
العربية

WWI in Egypt: A forgotten sacrifice for colonial powers

By Al Masry Al Youm

Opinion

00:11

Wednesday ,12 November 2014

WWI in Egypt: A forgotten sacrifice for colonial powers
It is important to reveal the neglected aspects of WWI in Egypt, when a state of terror swept all cities in anticipation of a foreign invasion from every direction.
 
People dug trenches in the Suez Canal cities, and soldiers stood vigilant in towers at the border, prepared to die in defense of the homeland. 
 
Funerals were held for the soldiers who went and did not come back, and thousands of wounded were admitted in hospitals.
 
Thus was the situation in Egypt.
 
Throughout the four years of the war, in which the Egyptians suffered human and material losses, the country turned into a camp for British troops.
 
About one million Egyptian soldiers were drafted in the war that cost Egypt more than LE3 million, hence the recession and poverty that prevailed.
 
The map of the world was changed as four empires fell, namely the Ottoman, the German, the Russian, and the Austro-Hungarian, producing the Sykes-Picot agreement that divided the Arab region and the San Remo Conference that redistributed areas of influence among new colonial powers.
 
The army is celebrating the centennial on Tuesday with families of soldiers who died in the war, while an Egyptian delegation is travelling to Belgium to raise the flag on the graves of Egyptian soldiers who were buried there.
 
Egyptian soldiers forced to serve Britain
 
Egyptian soldiers were forcibly drafted in the war that they had nothing to do with, which was among the causes that led to the revolution of 1919.
 
The British Workers Pioneer newspaper wrote on 3 April 1919 that the Egyptian soldiers were left in the desert without food or cover to die like flies, and that they were not allowed to go home even after the end of their draft.
 
Lord Milner and Winston Churchill said the medical services for the Egyptian peasants and workers who were drafted in the war were inadequate.
 
Historian Abdel Rahman al-Rafeay said they were treated like animals and many of them died of wounds or disease in Sinai and Arish.
 
The Mokattam newspaper said many died in France from the cold or contracted cholera and brought it home with them.
 
The Egyptian government paid little compensation to the permanently or partially disabled, while the rich Egyptians paradoxically donated a lot to foreign organizations like the Red Cross and neglected the poor peasants who were injured.
 
Egypt, a war camp
 
Egypt was drawn in the war because it was a British colony. It served as a camp for the British and the allies, thanks to its strategic location and the Suez Canal.
 
England made fortifications in the coastal cities and placed a giant canon in Alexandria that panicked the residents of the city. British soldiers camped in Abu Qir and Rosetta, and the whole of Egypt became a military base. And people were told to stay home during raids from sunset until sunrise.
 
British Prime Minister David Lloyd George said in 1916 that the Nile Delta was turned into a camp, Australian, Indian and British forces were stationed in Ismailia, and Cairo and Alexandria were places for the troops to take their breaks in.
 
The British Times wrote that it was proud of Egypt for providing hundreds of thousands of its sons to help the allies win the war.
 
England took advantage of Egypt and its people, although it had said at the beginning of the war that Egypt would not be involved in it.
 
Egypt, one big hospital
 
The Egyptian government placed hospitals at the disposal of the British. It even turned schools and hotels from Alexandria in the north to Aswan in the south into hospitals. And trains were provided with medical equipment to transport the wounded from the Canal Zone to Cairo.
 
The British levied more than 100 thousand pounds on the cities and the villages, and the people had to pay or they would face marshal laws. It is a pity that such an amount is given to British soldiers while the poor Egyptians needed it most.
 
Fall of the Ottoman Empire
 
To face the Ottoman Empire, Britain isolated Khedive Abbas and ended the Ottoman rule in Egypt. This drove Turkey to come closer to Germany, which in its turn welcomed it with a railway network and a training for Turkish troops.
 
Turkey soon violated the 1871 Convention and allowed the German warships to pass through the Black Sea to hit the Russian ports. This prompted Britain, Russia and France to declare war on Turkey in November 1914.
 
The secret alliance between Turkey and Germany threatened the British colonies in India and the Middle East and challenged the Russian influence in Armenia. And Turkey aimed to recover Eastern Anatolia that was captured by Russia during the Russian-Ottoman war (1877-1878).
 
But Turkey lost the war and the regions under Ottoman rule were divided between England and France, while Palestine was placed under British mandate in 1920.