ChAPTER 33 -- Part 1: Descent into the Abyss: World War I
The protests shook the global British imperial edifice to its very foundations.
Women's participation was mentioned a lot.
The majority of narratives dealt with elite women who marched in the streets to signal their defiance of the British colonizers.
In late May 1919, large numbers of veiled women joined the mass protests in Cairo and other Egyptian cities and towns that were sparked by the harsh wartime conditions that British demands had exacerbated and by the colonizers' refusal to give Egyptian leaders a hearing at the peace conference in Paris.
It is not likely that young working-class women, such as Shafika Muhammad and Hamida Khalil, gave much thought to what contemporary reporters or later historians would write about their activities during the tumultuous months from 1919 to 1922 in Egypt.
As Egyptians became more and more aggressive in their resistance to British attempts to crush the mounting popular protest, they were too deeply engaged in the tense demonstrations, which held the constant threat of serious injury or even death.
The young women would have been angry if they had known that they would be lumped together with prostitutes in a report.
Even though they marched in the streets unveiled, it was not a reflection of their lack of modesty.
In contrast to the well-to-do women from prominent families who dominated the nationalist movement for decades, women who labored in the processing plants and farmlands of Egypt could not work effectively if they were restricted by veils.
Unlike prostitutes, working-class women made sure that their bodies were well covered, even if that meant wearing loose-fitting pants for some of the more dangerous revolutionary endeavors they were willing to undertake.
The lives of the working women were more important than the concerns of the elite in sparking the popular risings all along the Nile valley.
The former labored long hours in the sweatshops or fields to earn meager wages or grow more food to share with their families.
The demands of the hard-pressed British rulers during World War I had proved devastating for the women and other ordinary Egyptians, who had begun to feel the effects of the global conflict within months of its outbreak in early August 1914.
Cotton was in great demand during the war because it was in great demand for uni forms, medical supplies, and many other wartime uses.
For poor women, that meant jobs in the factories.
The British decision to conscript Egyptian men in the tens of thousands caused employment opportunities for women to increase.
The British, Australian, and New Zealand armed forces used Egypt as a staging area for attacks on Turkey and to check German and Turkish threats to the Suez Canal, because most of the Egyptians worked as bearers, animal tenders, and purveyors of all sorts of services.
During the war years of Egypt, the poorly paid and dangerous jobs that were available to women like Hamida and Shafika were not enough to make up for the runaway inflation.
Ordinary Egyptians were affected by sharply rising prices for all manner of household necessities.
The demands of garrisoning tens of thousands of soldiers from throughout the empire placed increasing demands on the already overstretched food supply of the Egyptian people.
Peasant and urban workers were enraged by the British confiscation of Egyptian draft animals.
Although these and other abuses contributed to the rise of social and political pressures during the war years, the British underestimated growing signs that a revolt was in the making.
The explosions of popular risings occurred in the spring of 1919.
The Rowlatt Act in India made the case for Egyptian independence at the peace conference.
None of the colonial officials could figure out how to deal with the elite or the working-class women who were unafraid to confront the police and armed forces.
Working-class women became involved in bombings and armed assaults against railways, telegraph stations, and government buildings.
Some became martyrs of the national liberation movement, like Shafika Muhammad, who was killed by British soldiers when they fired on demonstrators on March 14, 1919.
They were revered by ordinary Egyptians at the time and the leaders of the nationalist movement for decades.
The emergence of women as a major force in resistance to continuing colonial domination in Egypt and the fact that young men in Europe were slaughtered in the trenches of World War I underscore the importance of seeing the conflict as a truly global phenomenon.
It had a huge impact on peoples and societies in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, North America, and the Pacific.
The fact that Great Britain, France, and Germany were colonial powers made them pull their empires into the precipice with them.
The British and their French allies were able to sustain the long war of attrition against Germany because they were able to draw soldiers, laborers, raw materials, loans, and donations from their colonial possessions.
There were battles in the Middle East and Africa as well as battles in China and the Pacific.
The years of slaughter on the Western Front made a mockery of European claims of superior rationality.
Europeans were willing to give roles to Africans and Indians because of a shortage of trained officials.
The first wave of decolonization was set in motion in Egypt, India, Vietnam, and other colonial societies when the British and French tried to back out of their promises.
World War I, a huge event in itself, gave rise to a troubled peace and to varied attacks on European imperialism in the ensuing decades.
Fear of Germany's growing economic and military power caused Russia to ally first with republican France and then with the even more democratic Britain.
France was menaced by Germany's formation, beginning in the growing power.
The alliances were only worsened by the posturing of Germany's new ruler, Kaiser Wilhelm II, from the early 1890s.
The French hoped that their alliance with Russia would lead to a two-front war that would check Germany's rising supremacy and allow them to recover Alsace and Lorraine, which they lost to Germany in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.
In contrast to the large swaths of territory caught up in the war on the eastern front, the areacontested and the battle lines in the west were mostly confined to a corner of Belgium and northernmost France.
Britain, Russia, and France formed the Tripleente in the early 1900s due to a growing German navy.
The Tripleente powers confronted a counteralliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy in the same decade.
Germany moved away from a defensive triple alliance with Russia and Austria-Hungary to a growing dependence on the latter alone.
The Germans tried to get the Italians into the coalition with promises of support for the Italian's colonial expansion plans.
After the outbreak of war in 1884, Italy refused to support Germany and Austria-Hungary and entered the conflict on the side of the Tripleente.
The alliance system was embittered by the atmosphere generated by imperial rivalries that were played out over most of the globe.