Selma Botman, The Rise of Egyptian Communism, 1939-1970 (Syracuse, 1988).
The Rise of Egyptian Communism, 1939-1970, one of several recent books that offer new insights on the experience of Marxism in Egypt before and during the Nasser era, provides an extensive account of the membership, organizational structure, theory and practice of the various communist groups which emerged in Egypt during the British occupation.
Botman’s study revolves around three questions: 1) What kinds of Egyptians were attracted to Marxism? 2) Why were the communists unable to build a mass revolutionary movement in Egypt, given some generally favorable conditions? and 3) What did the Marxist movement achieve? She draws her answers from the publications of the various Marxist groups, the personal papers of some leading figures in the communist movement, the transcripts of Egyptian court cases involving Marxists, and the reports of British ministerial and intelligence officers who operated in Egypt. This archival material was supplemented by interviews with Egyptians who belonged to or were closely involved with the communist movement during the period under study.
Botman analyzes the socioeconomic background of the founders of these groups: They were overwhelmingly from the upper classes, and quite disproportionately Jewish, a fact which was to cause controversy and divisiveness in the movement as Zionism became a central issue in the region. Drawing extensively on material from her interviews, the author shows how the young Jewish intelligentsia, even while feeling alienated from Egyptian society, became increasingly revolted by its injustices and excited by the communist ideal. The rise of fascism in Europe also attracted Egyptian Jews of both native and foreign descent to Marxism.
Four groups formed the nucleus of the communist movement. New Dawn, founded in the early 1940s, focused its efforts on the working class, particularly in the Shubra al-Khayma and Mahalla al-Kubra districts. Iskra, founded by Hillel Schwartz, concentrated its energies among both workers and the educated elite. Henri Curiel founded the Egyptian Movement for National Liberation in 1943, which successfully recruited among workers and the educated elite. Finally, the Communist Party of Egypt, the only group founded by Egyptians not of Jewish origin, was established in 1949 by Isma‘il Sabri ‘Abdallah and Fu’ad Mursi, who became Marxists while studying in France. Closely tied to the Communist Party of France, the CPE’s base was mainly among students and intellectuals.