Socialist Worker

‘Egypt’s left was crucial to mobilising the masses’

Fathallah Mahrus, a left wing activist in Egypt in 1956, remembers the important role played by Communists in resisting the invasion

Issue No. 1995

In 1956 I was a worker in a small factory in Alexandria. I had only just got out prison after two and half years on a charge of leading a Communist organisation. I was 17 years old and a member of a group called Workers’ Vanguard.

The people who were key to the Popular Resistance committees and the resistance in Port Said were the Communists. The regime had no real political organisation of its own. It had an institution called the Liberation Rally, which was full of opportunists.

They weren’t able to organise a popular movement to support the authorities in the war. The ones who were able to do that were the Communists.

So Nasser was very clever and let the Communists out of prison. I heard from leading comrades that the authorities sent for them and discussed “cooperation” with them. They saw that the Communists were the best at organising the masses.

But it wasn’t about defending Nasser. It was about our homeland. The imperialists wanted to reoccupy our country, and the invasion was over the nationalisation of the Suez Canal Company which was an imperialist company.

We forgot about what Nasser did to us, and we forgot our differences with him and the prisons and the camps and the torture because there was a common danger and a single enemy—imperialism. All the Communists said the same.

The old Communist Party in Egypt called for the nationalisation of the Suez Canal Company.

If you look at the Egyptian Communist movement you’ll find a programme for distributing land to the peasants, the nationalisation of foreign companies and banks, and the nationalisation of the Canal Company.

I was there in Manshiya Square in Alexandria when Nasser announced the nationalisation.

It was an unbelievable scene. People were jumping around and breaking chairs, women were shouting and dancing, so much that Nasser couldn’t finish his speech and so he started laughing, listening to the people.

It was one of the most beautiful days in Egypt. We were there listening to the meeting, even though the political police were watching us. They were sitting there looking straight at us, in particular, the sons of dogs.

In Alexandria we set up National Committees of the Popular Resistance in every area and every factory, in all the working class areas. In cooperation with the military leadership we set up a weapons training camp on a piece of waste ground next to the area where the factories were.

The workers came out with their shift from work and were trained to use weapons. When they finished, the next shift came in. We trained at least 50 percent of the factory workers in the Ramla area, which is a big industrial area in Alexandria.

There were factories with more than 20,000 workers, like Sibahy Company, a woollen mill. But the authorities were terrified of what these armed workers might do, so they made us return the guns to them every night for safe-keeping.

For us it was about defending the nation. The issue of national independence is the priority for colonised peoples, and an integral part of the socialist revolution.

National independence is an integral part of socialism, for militants in the Third World, or militants in former colonies. We knew this when we entered the battle with imperialism.

This was why Nasser stopped arresting people and let the prisoners go. He knew the leftists. He’d worked with them. The leaflets in the revolution were printed by one of the Communist organisations, the Democratic Movement for National Liberation.

Nasser used to get them from one of the comrades and distribute them because his Free Officers group had no printing press. They were afraid to have a printing press. He knew that we were capable of moving the masses.

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Sat 8 Apr 2006, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1995
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