While 50 million Egyptians were waiting yesterday to hear that they had elected a Muslim Brotherhood mediocrity over a Mubarak bag-carrier, I paid a visit to the home of Saad Zaghloul. Not for an interview, you understand (Zaghloul died 85 years ago and is buried opposite his house in a mausoleum styled like a pharaonic temple) but as a pilgrimage to a man who might have served Egypt well today, a revolutionary and a nationalist whose Wafd party stood up to the British empire and whose wife, Safeya, was one of the country's great feminists.
Mohamed Morsi is no revolutionary. No feminist. Not much of a nationalist. And the army elite has already laid its traps for him. But the "deep state" represented by his opponent, Ahmed Shafik, receded yesterday. Up to a point – and only up to a point – Zaghloul would have approved.
I am shown into a room with a vast, pink-covered bed and shuttered windows. "10pm, 23 August 1927", it says in the corner. "This is the bed where he passed away," a lady in a black veil says softly.
Unlike Morsi, Zaghloul wanted to live in a modern, progressive, secular Egypt, saying of his party in 1919 that "the present movement in Egypt is not a religious movement – for Muslims and Copts demonstrate together – and neither is it a xenophobic movement or a movement calling for Arab unity." Egypt for the Egyptians. You can see why he might be missed today, after an election campaign in which the words "Islam" and "security" seemed interchangeable.
Zaghloul wasn't a perfect man. He failed to make any impression on delegates to the Versailles peace conference after the First World War (they foolishly ignored his demands for independence). But the ordinary people, the street-sweepers and the villagers and the poor, loved him.
In the great 1919 revolution Zaghloul led against the British, hundreds of Egyptians were killed, while Safeya led protest marches through Cairo, banging on the doors of foreign embassies and demanding independence. Safeya's library is still intact – a French edition of Arthur Milner's England In Egypt nestles beside volumes on Turkey and a book intriguingly titled The Psychology of Contemporary England. It is, of course, the psychology of contemporary Egypt we must now study, an Arab nation whose army commanders will try to ensure that Morsi's powers, such as they are, will be further stripped from him. Zaghloul might have glanced at epaulettes of Egyptian generals and be reminded of General Allenby. Armies know how to safeguard their own power.
And, for a man born long before his time, it is a dismal fact that Zaghloul died despairing of his own people. "Cover me, Safeya," were his last words, spoken on that pink-covered bed. "It's of no use."Reuse content