King Farouk of Egypt Is Overthrown

After the disaster of the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, chaos in Egypt’s politics impelled a secret organization of army officers to overthrow King Farouk. Despite attempts to create a more democratic and progressive regime, the main figure of the military clique, Gamal Abdel Nasser, forged the first major radical but dictatorial regime in the Middle East.

Summary of Event

The writings of Egyptian colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser suggest that the July, 1952, coup he led to overthrow King Farouk I first developed during the Arab-Israeli War of 1948 Arab-Israeli War of 1948[Arab Israeli War of 1948] . Several leaders of the coup had previous records of political militancy, but it was the events surrounding that war in Egypt that convinced them that radical action was called for: Farouk’s government supplied defective arms to the troops, causing a scandal. Moreover, the army became involved in a series of nearly disastrous political events over the next three years that gave rise to a group known as the Free Officers Free Officers (Egypt) . It was this group that carried out the 1952 coup. [kw]King Farouk of Egypt Is Overthrown (July 23, 1952)
[kw]Farouk of Egypt Is Overthrown, King (July 23, 1952)
[kw]Egypt Is Overthrown, King Farouk of (July 23, 1952)
Revolutions and coups;Egypt
Egyptian military coup of 1952
Revolutions and coups;Egypt
Egyptian military coup of 1952
[g]Middle East;July 23, 1952: King Farouk of Egypt Is Overthrown[03820]
[g]Africa;July 23, 1952: King Farouk of Egypt Is Overthrown[03820]
[g]Egypt;July 23, 1952: King Farouk of Egypt Is Overthrown[03820]
[c]Government and politics;July 23, 1952: King Farouk of Egypt Is Overthrown[03820]
Nasser, Gamal Abdel
[p]Nasser, Gamal Abdel;overthrow of Farouk I
Farouk I
Naguib, Muḥammad
Naḥḥās Pasha, Muṣṭafā an-
Fuՙād II

Several major events marked the path toward the revolt. First, 1948 and 1949 witnessed nearly continual street violence and political assassinations, which the government was conspicuously powerless to prevent. Two prime ministers were killed in a cycle of violence that pitted the Muslim Brotherhood Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwān al-Muslimūn), led by Ḥasan al-Bannā՚ Bannā՚, Ḥasan al- , against what the Brotherhood deemed to be a corrupt party system. Bannā՚ himself was assassinated in 1949.

Events that increasingly involved the army itself in the violence culminated in what is known as Black Saturday and stemmed from the legislative elections of 1950. When Muṣṭafā an-Naḥḥās Pasha of the Wafd (Delegation) Party Delegation Party, Egyptian again became prime minister in 1950, he wanted to restore his party’s tarnished reputation for nationalist vigor. One problem Naḥḥās Pasha faced was the 1936 Anglo-Egyptian Treaty Anglo-Egyptian Treaty (1936)[AngloEgyptian Treaty] providing for a continued British military presence on the Suez Canal. Naḥḥās Pasha tried in vain to convince London to renegotiate the treaty.

In November, 1951, the prime minister unilaterally withdrew from the treaty, provoking a crisis with Great Britain. Within days, attempts to dislodge the British from Suez yielded violence. A number of “volunteers,” especially paramilitary groups from the Muslim Brotherhood, carried out attacks on British installations. Then, on Saturday, January 26, 1952, “spontaneous” attacks on foreign property erupted in Cairo, probably fomented by the Brotherhood, as well as by Farouk himself.

The military confrontation with the British led to the fall of Naḥḥās Pasha, ending his fifth and final ministry. Over the next seven months, the ministry changed hands five times as various factions jockeyed for power. At least one of these prime ministers, Hussein Sirri Sirri, Hussein , tried to undo the damage caused by Naḥḥās Pasha’s unilateral abrogation of the 1936 treaty.

The crisis put the Egyptian army in a delicate position: Would they be called into action against the British or possibly even ordered to fire on rioting Egyptian citizens? This was the quandary that impelled the Free Officers to lay serious plans to topple Farouk. Several other issues added fuel to the fire. One was the Free Officers’ choice of Major General Muḥammad Naguib as their preferred candidate in elections to the Officers’ Club in Cairo, a sign that Nasser and his colleagues wanted to attract a reputable senior officer to their cause.

Matters worsened when Farouk interfered in attempts by Prime Minister Hussein Sirri to reshuffle his ministry and to “reform” the key post of defense minister. The officers feared that their organization’s plans might be revealed, leading to their arrest. They also objected in principle to the king’s tampering with high-level appointments. As a result, orders were given to carry out a coup in Cairo on July 23, 1952.

The revolt when it came was mainly bloodless. The Free Officers dethroned Farouk and ordered him to leave the country immediately and without his infant son, Ahmad Fuՙād. This six-month-old prince was to rule as King Fuՙād II under a regency, thereby continuing the constitutional monarchy, for one year. Afterward, a new government would be installed. A seasoned politician with presumed nationalist credentials, ՙAlī Mahir Mahir, ՙAlī , was called upon to head the interim cabinet.

Between July, 1952, and the changeover to republican government in the summer of 1953, the Free Officers tried several measures to stabilize Egypt’s government without actually assuming direct power themselves. This was attempted through socioeconomic reforms, as well as plans to reform the constitutional structure of the governmental system. On the first front, the new regime declared a significant agricultural land reform, largely based on the 1950-1952 Wafd government’s unfulfilled program. Concentration of ownership in the hands of a limited number of large landholding families had reduced the majority of Egypt’s peasants to utter deprivation. The 1952 land reform put a two-hundred-feddan (four-hundred-acre) limit on individual land ownership and provided for low-interest sales to small-scale agriculturalists. The sales were intended to fund eventual reimbursements to landowners whose large holdings had been expropriated.

The Free Officers called upon a small group of legal specialists to recommend measures reintroducing civilian political parties and a restructured constitutional system. When the specialists’ deliberations led to no definite solution, they were dismissed. For a relatively long period, Egypt’s political destiny remained unclear. Eventually, however, it became clear that Nasser’s viewpoint would dominate both domestic and international policy making in the new Egypt.

One factor hindering Egypt’s political restructuring well into 1954 was Muḥammad Naguib’s desire to carve out a leadership position for himself. Naguib, by then both the president and the prime minister of the country, sought to consolidate in reality the power that his titles theoretically gave him. His actual power was limited by the fact that it required a majority vote of the Revolutionary Command Council Revolutionary Command Council, Egyptian (of which he was chairman) to take any meaningful action.

Naguib sounded out leaders of the old parties who were fearful that changes in the system might preclude their return in future elections. A major upheaval came early in 1954, when it appeared that the Free Officers were divided and might be overthrown. This setback, however, proved temporary, and in April, 1954, Nasser secured the decisive support of a majority of the ruling council’s members. A series of draconian decrees resulted: The so-called April Decrees April Decrees (1954) not only removed Naguib from power, elminating him as a potential rival to Nasser, but also purged the Revolutionary Command Council of several middle-ranking army officers who had supported Naguib rather than Nasser.

The next turning point came at the end of 1954, after an apparent Muslim Brotherhood assassination attempt on Nasser’s life provided an opening for the progressive radicalization of the regime. The trend was spurred on by deteriorating relations with Western powers who continued to hope to forge favorable bonds with Egypt. After a major raid by Israel into the Egyptian-occupied Gaza Strip early in 1955, Cairo announced—at the very time that the United States and Great Britain were trying to establish the pro-Western Baghdad Pact Baghdad Pact —its intention to arm itself against future Israeli aggression.

Failed negotiations with the West impelled Nasser to strike an arms deal with Czechoslovakia (which was backed by the Soviet Union). Although the United States and Britain tried to improve relations with Nasser, they withdrew financial sponsorship from the Aswan High Dam Aswan High Dam
Dams project. This withdrawal, supposedly a result of Egypt’s noncooperative posture with regard to Israel and its criticism of the Baghdad Pact, brought about a dramatic crisis in July, 1956, when Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal Suez Canal crisis (1956);and Aswan High Dam[Aswan High Dam]
Nationalization of land and industries;Egypt
Canals and waterways, artificial . Secret dealings between Israel, Britain, and France led to their invasion of the Canal Zone that fall.

Although the United States joined the Soviet Union in condemning the attack, the military regime in Cairo became increasingly convinced that it should free itself from reliance on the West and aid radical movements in other Arab countries in their bids to do the same. In stages, this conviction led to serious divisions in the Arab world, with conservative monarchies in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Iraq pitted against the republican countries Syria and Lebanon, which were sympathetic to the reformist cause that Egypt had come to represent.


The 1952 coup and the regime that emerged under Nasser had long and wide-ranging effects on the entire Middle East. For many Arab nationalists, Nasser’s government represented the first serious attempt to remove the excessive influence of a ruling landed elite and to free Egypt from shackles imposed by the heritage of Western control.

Movement away from dependence on the West would, by the 1960’s, lead to a different form of dependence on the Soviet Union (and catastrophic involvement in the Arab-Israeli armed struggle). The same period, however, would witness impressive attempts to democratize the Egyptian educational and health systems. The nation’s political system would undergo a series of experiments in single-party government, under the Liberation Rally, the National Union, and the Arab Socialist Union Parties. Nasser will be remembered for trying, at least, to devote his regime’s attention to the majority of poor and needy Egyptians, both in the countryside and in the cities. Revolutions and coups;Egypt
Egyptian military coup of 1952

Further Reading

  • Beattie, Kirk. Egypt During the Nasser Years. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1994. General study of the politics of Egypt over a twenty-year period.
  • Neguib, Muhammad. Egypt’s Destiny. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1955. Memoirs of the general who was chosen as symbolic leader of the Free Officers’ coup in 1952.
  • Shamir, Shimon. Egypt: From Monarchy to Republic. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1995. The theme of this book is one of reassessment of the Nasser years and beyond, examining the elements of revolution and social change that remain important in retrospect.
  • Takeyh, R. The Origins of the Eisenhower Doctrine: The U.S., Britain, and Nasser’s Egypt, 1953-1956. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000. Detailed study of decline in early relations between Egypt and the leading powers of the West.

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