Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

American Aid to Egypt in the 1950s: From Hope to Hostility

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

American Aid to Egypt in the 1950s: From Hope to Hostility

Article excerpt

This article provides insights into worsening US-Egyptian relations in the mid1950s from the perspective of the Egyptian foreign ministry. It portrays the frustrations Egyptians experienced in their efforts to win large-scale US assistance, and it offers new insights into the methods the Eisenhower Administration used first to win Egyptian friendship and later to contain Jamal `Abd al-Nasir.

Up to now, assessments of Egyptian foreign policy in the years soon after the 1952 revolution have been based almost entirely on American and British diplomatic accounts.1 Newly accessible material in the Egyptian foreign ministry archives adds considerably to our understanding of the period.2 The new evidence shows that the Egyptian government repeatedly and consistently sought economic and military assistance from the US government throughout the period 1952-56, and that the US government responded slowly and with a sometimes confusing multiplicity of voices. In the latter portion of this period, some of this confusion appears to have been a result of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) taking over the briefing of Egyptian ambassador Ahmad Husayn in Washington. Some, too, appears to have been a consequence of Operation Omega, begun in March 1956, which was an Anglo-American intelligence operation intended to isolate (and possibly overthrow) Egyptian president Jamal `Abd al-Nasir. The Egyptian documents are particularly revealing with regard to how quickly and thoroughly the Egyptians understood some aspects of Operation Omega. The documents also shed new light on the role of Israel in Egyptian-American relations, and on the way the administration of US president Dwight Eisenhower portrayed itself to Egypt as a protector against both Israel and Israel's allies in the United States.3


Following anti-foreigner riots in Cairo on 26 January 19524 and fearing a possible revolution in Egypt, the United States made immediate plans to grant Egypt significant technical assistance under the auspices of US president Harry Truman's Point 4 Program. Egypt seemed a likely candidate for Point 4, the American technical assistance program intended to fight communism in the post-colonial world by eliminating the conditions under which communism thrived: poverty, ignorance and tyrannical government.5 The revolution came six months later, on 23 July 1952-the same week that a director for the Point 4 program arrived in Cairo. Rather than oppose the revolutionaries, however, the US government swiftly solicited a request for assistance from the new regime.6 That request arrived at the US Embassy in Cairo on 19 August, reading in part:

We should like to request the services of a team of economic and industrial experts. . . to assist in assessing Egyptian industrial potentialities and draw up a comprehensive plan in relation thereto for the further industrialization of the country.7

Such a mission was quickly supplied. When the Free Officers8 revealed that they would enact a sweeping land reform program to relieve rural poverty, the US government rushed an expert to Cairo to assist. The American embassy assayed the situation in September 1952 as follows: "The military would really like a general working alliance with the United States to the exclusion of the United Kingdom. In any event they recognize their need for a strong friend and we are nominated."9 The Americans were careful to make their pleasure with the new regime clear to the Egyptians as well. The secretary of the US Air Force told the Egyptian ambassador in Washington, over dinner in November 1952, that he had

much hope that this regime will achieve prosperity and status for Egypt. He added that he received a report from one of the military officials who was in Egypt and returned recently. It is an encouraging report filled with hope for Egypt.10

Egyptians, not surprisingly, began to wonder what this friendship might be worth, particularly since many of America's allies had benefited so handsomely from the Marshall Plan. …

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