Egypt Joins the League of Nations Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Although still limited in its sovereignty by Britain’s four “reserved points” in the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936, Egypt decided to join the League of Nations as a nationalist assertion of its independence.

Summary of Event

After receiving invitations from twenty-two members of the League of Nations, Egypt formally applied for admission to the League on March 6, 1937. The first invitation to join had come on February 14, 1937 from Iraq, which at the time was the only Arab member of the League. The original vote on Egypt’s application had been scheduled for the regular League Assembly meeting in September of 1937, but since both Egypt and Britain were anxious to settle the issue, a special session was held on May 26, 1937. The proceedings began and ended on the same day, and Egypt’s application was unanimously approved in a secret ballot by all fifty members present. [kw]Egypt Joins the League of Nations (May 26, 1937) [kw]League of Nations, Egypt Joins the (May 26, 1937) League of Nations;Egyptian membership Egypt;League of Nations membership [g]Africa;May 26, 1937: Egypt Joins the League of Nations[09470] [g]Egypt;May 26, 1937: Egypt Joins the League of Nations[09470] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;May 26, 1937: Egypt Joins the League of Nations[09470] [c]Organizations and institutions;May 26, 1937: Egypt Joins the League of Nations[09470] Naḥḥās Pasha, Muṣṭafā an- Ebeid, William Makram Ghali, Wasef Boutros Shamsī, Alī al-

Egypt thus became the fifty-ninth member (although some counts list it as the fifty-sixth member, given the intervening defections by Germany, Italy, Japan, and others). According to the statement by Antonio Quevedo of Ecuador, the outgoing League Council president, Egypt’s admission was a sign of the League’s vitality and of its readiness to be available to those who put their trust in it. The members of the Egyptian delegation were invited to take their seats by the League Assembly’s president, Tevfik Rüştü Aras of Turkey. They included Muṣafā an-Naḥḥās Pasha at their head, Makram Ebeid, Wasef Boutros Ghali, and Alī al-Shamsī.

Even though Egypt’s formal independence had been declared on February 28, 1922, the fifteen-year delay in its admission to the League was a result of Britain’s opposition; the British feared that the matter of its various “reserved points” would not hold up to international forum international scrutiny. The reserved points involved defense matters that Egypt had brought up at every round of negotiations with British prime minister Austen Chamberlain in 1928 and Prime Minister Arthur Henderson in 1930. Britain kept reasserting Egypt’s right to join the League, but the British did not fully support Egyptian membership until the signing of the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty Anglo-Egyptian Treaty (1936)[Angloegyptian Treaty] of August 26, 1936, which established the stationing of British troops in Egypt. As Al-Ahram, Egypt’s semiofficial newspaper, editorialized, “Egypt, which has regained its independence, is keen to register this achievement through its membership in the League of Nations, thereby rendering its independence an incontrovertible international reality.” Elaborate celebrations were planned for the delegates on their return from League headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

It was perhaps surprising, then, that the headline announcing Egypt’s admission into the League in The New York Times of May 28, 1937, read, “Egypt Not Excited by League’s Action: Admission by Unanimous Vote Seen Merely as Final Step in Rise to Independence.” There are two reasons for this perception. First, while the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 had advanced Egypt’s aim of limiting the British military presence in the country to certain bases, especially in the Suez Canal Zone, and of promising an end to the Capitulations System under which foreign nationals enjoyed certain extraterritorial rights in the court system, Egypt continued to be riled by Britain’s hold on various aspects of Egyptian politics and especially by its privileges in the Anglo-Egyptian region of the Sudan and the Nile Valley.

The second major reason for Egypt’s muted rejoicing at joining the League’s other independent states was the League’s increasing fragility. By 1937, Japan, Germany, and Italy had been pursuing their own aggressive policies in violation of the League’s Covenant, defections from world membership were increasing, and the world body was losing both effectiveness and credibility. In fact, at the very session when Egypt was admitted, Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia was the issue that most concerned the League’s members.

Egypt’s admission into the League was also complicated by the problems of unemployment and poverty created by the Great Depression. Even the success of Alī al-Shamsī’s efforts to include Arabic as an official League language (side by side with English and French) on September 16, 1937, did not convince Egypt that it had achieved the complete and unmitigated sovereignty for which it had aimed since achieving nominal independence in 1922.

Significance

By the time Egypt was admitted to the League of Nations, U.S. president Woodrow Wilson’s dream (described in his Fourteen Points) of an alternate forum that would peacefully settle political differences was deteriorating. The United States had never joined the world body, and Japan, Germany, Italy, and others had decided to withdraw from the League altogether. For all intents and purposes, the League had stopped being an effective body. In fact, Egypt was the last country to be admitted before the debacle that ended with the Soviet Union’s ouster for its invasion of Finland in 1939. In this context, then, Egypt’s induction into the League turned out to be something of a Pyrrhic victory. League of Nations;Egyptian membership Egypt;League of Nations membership

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“Egypt Not Excited by League’s Action: Admission by Unanimous Vote Seen Merely as Final Step in Rise to Independence.” The New York Times, May 28, 1937, p. 9. Reports that Egypt’s admission was viewed by Egyptian leaders as only one of several steps in the country’s progress to complete independence.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Goldschmidt, Arthur, Jr. Biographical Dictionary of Egypt. Cairo, Egypt: American University of Cairo Press, 2000. Profiles the major actors involved in Egypt’s entry into the world organization.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gorman, Anthony. Historians, State, and Politics in Twentieth-Century Egypt: Contesting the Nation. London: Routledge Curzon, 2003. Discusses the ways in which Egypt tried to offset Britain’s “veiled protectorate” by asserting its independence through League membership.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“League Admits Egypt as Fifty-Ninth Member; Ethiopia Casts Shadow on Geneva Session.” The New York Times, May 27, 1937, p. 14. Describes the League’s special assembly to consider, among other things, Egypt’s application for membership.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">League of Nations. “Legal and Constitutional Questions.” The Monthly Summary of the League of Nations 17 (1937): 89-92. Section headed “Admission of Egypt to the League” provides the verbatim statements of Egyptian Prime Minister Muṣafā an-Naḥḥās Pasha and British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden on the occasion.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rizk, Yunan Labib, “Ministry of Education Centennial,” Al-Ahram Weekly Online 757 (August, 2005). http: //weekly.ahram.org.eg/2005/757/chrncls.htm. The Egyptian government’s semiofficial newspaper comments on the country’s joining the world organization on May 26, 1937, and identifies the architects of that initiative.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Walters, F. P. A History of the League of Nations. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1986. Still considered a classic on the world body, the work includes a synopsis of Egypt’s admission to membership.

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