Revolutions and Tourist Sites in Egypt

Revolutions and Tourist Sites in Egypt

By Dr. Nevine Abd el-Gawad

Edited by Mona Ibrahim

Revolution has always been connected to Egyptians, though usually described as patient and quick to surrender. They look like inactive volcanoes when erupting suddenly and strongly. The history of revolution in modern Egypt tells a lot about the Egyptian people, their suffering, struggle, and success. Tahrir Square, Abdeen Palace, Beit el-Umma (House of the People), and Denshway Museum are four tourist sites dating the story of the renewed revival of the Egyptians.

Liberation (Tahrir) Square and the 2011 Popular Revolution

Mugamma-building in Tahrir Square
Mugamma-building in Tahrir Square in Cairo.

Giving the name Liberation Square (or Midan al-Tahrir in Arabic) to one of the Arab worlds largest squares was one of the features associated with transforming Egypt from a constitutional monarchy into a republic after the Egyptian Revolution of 1952. This square, which had taken the name Ismailia Square for about one hundred years, is a major public town square located in Downtown Cairo. It was attributed to Khedive Ismail (r.1863-1879) who intended to make a replica of Paris in Cairo. It is considered a city district to the streets and institutions located nearby, such as the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities (The Egyptian Museum), the Arab League Building, the Mugamma Building, Mosque of Omar Makram, and the American University of Cairo.

Tahrir Square witnessed revolutions beginning from the end of the 19th century. In 1881, the Egyptian army officer, Colonel Ahmad Orabi (1841-1911) led a military unit from Liberation Square towards Abdeen Palace, where he gave his memorable speech in front of the ruler of Egypt, Khedive Tawfiq (r. 1879-1892). In this speech, the famous words Our mothers bore us free men were stated. This revolution was a push for liberalism and freedom. It was started by army officers and then included other classes of the Egyptian people as a result of poor economic conditions and cruel treatment of the public. Thus, it is considered the first example of Egyptians anti-colonial nationalism.

The hub of Cairo, Tahrir Square, witnessed other important political movements in the 20th century. In 1919, the Egyptian revolution broke out again and thousands of Egyptians thronged in Tahrir Square, in place of what is now the Arab League Building, to demonstrate in front of the British Army barracks. As a result, the Nations Leader, Saad Zaghloul (1857-1927) returned from exile, and Britain's unilateral grant of independence was given to Egypt in 1922. A new constitution was implemented in 1923.

Throughout the British occupation of Egypt, Tahrir Square was the launching pad of the Egyptian revolution. The Egyptians once revolted to cancel the 1936 Treaty, then to prompt King Farouk to give up the throne. It also witnessed the demonstrations supporting the 1952 Revolution, then the two Students Uprisings: one after the 1967 defeat (setback), and the other in January 1973. Therefore, Tahrir Square became the traditional site for numerous major protests and demonstrations, whether for local demands such as the 1977 Egyptian Bread Riots, or for Arabian political affairs such as the 2001 demonstrations against killing Palestinian children by US-made weapons, and the March 2003 protest against the War in Iraq.

In the 21st century, Tahrir Square witnessed the first Egyptian popular revolution against a native ruler and not against foreign occupation as always happened in the past. It is identified as a social revolt not a military coup like that one in 1952. After more than 5,000 years in the history of united Egypt, the Egyptians succeeded for the first time in isolating their ruler. For the Egyptians, it is considered a beginning of a new phase to contribute again in human civilization and to re-write history.

On January 25, 2011, a day selected to coincide with the National Police Day holiday, a series of popular street demonstrations began in Egypt. Tahrir Square, a symbol for the ongoing Egyptian pro-democracy demonstrations, was the primary destination for protests. On February 11, 2011, the resignation of President Mubarak was officially announced and all authority was passed to a council of military leaders. The Egyptians celebrated their success in overthrowing the president and state system. It has been suggested that Tahrir Square be limited to pedestrian traffic, and to re-plan it to be a plaza for arts and creativity reciting the story of 2011 Egyptian popular revolution and its martyrs. A simple memorial for martyrs now exists in Tahrir Square to remind visitors of this magnificent incident.

Abdeen Palace Museum

Another tourist site commemorating revolutions in Modern Egypt is Abdeen Palace Museum. A palace built by Khedive Ismail, grandson of Muhammad Ali Pasha, in the Old Cairo district of Abdeen in 1863. It became the seat of the government from 1872 to 1952, instead of the Citadel of Cairo, which was built by Saladin (the Ayyubid ruler Salah al-Din) in 1176-1183. The palace was named after the Turkish nobleman Abdeen Bey, one of the army commanders under Muhammad Ali Pasha. The palace was designed by the French architect Leon Rousseau, while its garden was added in 1921 by Sultan Fuad I (a Sultan of Egypt from 1917 to 1922, and then its king from 1922 till 1936). Now it is a military museum which exhibits ancient and modern weapons in addition to medals and documents.

Picture of Abdeen Palace in Cairo
Abdeen Palace Museum Complex in Cairo.

Abdeen Palace witnessed Orabi Revolution (1879-1882) which was a military struggle against both the ruler of Egypt, Khedive Tawfiq, and foreign intervention in the affairs of the country. After seventy years, in 1952, another revolt known as the July 23 Revolution took place. It was a military coup dtat by the Free Officers Movement who succeeded in overthrowing King Farouk (r. 1936-1952) and abolishing the constitutional monarchy to establish a republic. This republic was first governed by General Muhammad Naguib. One of the main announced targets which attracted the Egyptians to support this military revolt was to eliminate corruption in Egypt.

Both of El-Montaza Palace and Ras el-Tin Palace in Alexandria are considered witnesses of incidents connected with the Egyptian Revolution in 1952. King Farouk was in residence at the Montaza Palace when the army occupied Alexandria. Then he moved to Ras el-Tin Palace on the waterfront, before leaving Egypt into exile on Saturday, July 26, 1952 on board of al-Mahrousa (or the Guarded) yacht.

Beit el-Ummah (House of the People)

In Mausoleum of Saad Zaghloul Street from Qasr el-Eini Street, lies the House of Saad Zaghloul (Nations House or House of the People). Saad Zaghloul, who was not a military man, took the title Leader of the Nation because of his role in leading the masses against the British occupation. He was born in one of the villages of the Kafr el-Sheikh Governorate in Lower Egypt. In 1873, he went to Cairo to study in al-Azhar University. At first, he was persecuted because of his participation in The Orabi Revolution. Then, he was arrested and exiled to Malta as a result of his continuous opposition to the British policy. This was the spark of the revolution of 1919 which witnessed the martyrdom of 800 Egyptians. The British were forced to release Saad Zaghloul who formed the first popular ministry, and legislative elections were held. Saad Zaghloul died in 1927 and his relics were transferred to be buried in a mausoleum near his house and dating back to the year 1931.

House of the People (Beit el-Umma)
House of the People (Beit el-Umma)

The house of Saad Zaghloul was built in 1902 to be his residence, but it actually became the headquarters of the National Movement in Egypt from 1918 till 1946. It remained the office of the Wafd Party until 1937. It was inhabited by his wife Safiyyah, nicknamed Mother of the Egyptians (Umm al-Masriyyeen), until her death in 1946. The house, which witnessed the 1919 Revolution, became a historic museum telling the biography of Saad Zaghloul. Both the museum and the mausoleum were renovated and inaugurated in 2003.

Mausoleum of Saad Zaghloul from outside
Mausoleum of Saad Zaghloul from outside

Mausoleum of Saad Zaghloul from inside

Mausoleum of Saad Zaghloul from inside

Denshway Museum

Denshway National Museum in Menofeya governorate, about 100 km north of Cairo, lies in a village named Denshway (from the word Dengway, which comes from the Coptic word Deir Gway or Demsheyeh). It is about 5 km to the west of the town of al-Shuhada (the Martyrs). The flame, one of the elements of the governorates slogan, refers to the Denshway incident, immortalized by the erection of this museum in 1963, then rebuilt and inaugurated in 1999. It is a history museum commemorating the spark which ignited the Egyptians spirit of resistance and peaceful struggle against the subjugation of British Colonialism in 1906. The Egyptians gained their freedom and independence many years later, but this incident pushed loyal Egyptians to expose the brutal crimes committed in Egypt.

The peasants of Denshway resisted and revolted as a result of the British soldiers mistreatment and oppression. They had made a habit of taking peoples possessions, burn their crops, and killing men, women, and children. The peasants weapon of willingness and faith faced the armed attack of the British occupation. Murder and torture increased after a British soldiers death by sunstroke. As a result, a very unfair trial was held, and thus four peasants were executed and many others being put in jail. The non-stop violence and compulsion could not hinder the Egyptians attempts to gain their freedom.

Revolutions are always marked by a beginning and an end, while historical and archaeological sites last. The main role of tourist destinations is to commemorate such events and remind people of historical turning points. No doubt Tahrir Square and other revolutionary sites will be tourist destinations over the coming years.