Egypt Independent

The advent of socialist parties in Egypt



On 25 March, 1909, Cairo’s Azbakeya Park witnessed the first rally of its kind in Egyptian history. Thousands of skilled laborers gathered to demand that the government put an end to the unemployment crisis that was ravaging the country and plunging the working citizen into poverty.

According to Gamal Badawi’s book "Glimpses of Egyptian History," it was the first time the term "ishteraakiya," or "socialism," was heard in Egypt.

It was at this point that local labor leaders decided to form a committee aimed at seeking new means of providing jobs, in a move seen as Egypt’s first tentative step towards organized labor. They staged protest marches in the streets of Cairo, shouting: "We’re hungry, Your Majesty."

The nascent labor movement prompted a young trader named El-Sayed Muhammad to establish The Labor Party of Egypt and Sudan with the aim of safeguarding workers’ rights. Notably, Muhammad was met with severe criticism — not from the pro-British regime, but rather from workers themselves, who refused to accept that a bourgeois merchant should speak on their behalf.

In his book "Democracy and Political Parties," Abdel Aziz Refaie tells of another early party, the so-called Common Goals Party. This first came into being when a journalist named Muhammad Hassan — in an article published in the 11 July, 1908 edition of official broadsheet Al-Ahram — called on workers to attend a speech he planned to deliver in Azbakeya Park.

In his seminal address, Hassan urged laborers of different vocations to establish a single party to provide a voice for their grievances. After its establishment, however, the only thing the party did was to issue a statement condemning then Prime Minister Boutros Basha Ghali for the passage of a new law that it saw as constraining press freedom.

On 11 July, 1909, Al-Ahram published an article by a certain Abu Othman of the Labor Party in which the writer drew a comparison between Egyptian laborers and their counterparts in Europe, where, he wrote, workers were treated on par with other social classes. His party did not last long, however, since it could not find personalities able to rally Egyptian workers, the majority of whom did not see themselves as a social class deserving of certain legal rights.

Translated from the Arabic Edition.