Muhammad Naguib

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Muhammad Naguib.

Muhammad Naguib (February 20, 1901 - August 29, 1984) was the first President of Egypt, serving from the declaration of the Republic and the end of the Muhammad Ali Dynasty on June 18, 1953, to November 14, 1954. Along with Gamal Abdel Nasser, he was the primary leader of the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, which ended the rule of the Muhammad Ali Dynasty in Egypt and Sudan. Disagreements with Nasser led to his forced removal from office, and subsequent eighteen year house arrest until his release by President Anwar Sadat in 1972. After graduating in law and political science, Naguib joined the Egyptian army and rose quickly through the ranks, serving with distinction in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. The following year he was promoted Major-General. When the Free Officers' movement began to plot revolution, he secretly joined, becoming the most senior officer to do so. As such, he became Commander-in-Chief in 1952 then President and Prime Minister, with Nasser as his deputy. However, he wanted to govern through Parliament, supporting democracy.

Naguib believed that having intervened to end an unjust regime, the army should return governance to civil society and withdraw. Nasser thought that this would hand the country over to fundamentalist Islam. Accusing Naguib of colluding with the fundamentalists, Nasser manipulated Naguib's resignation by stripping the Presidency of authority so that Naguib decided not to continue the charade of holding a ceremonial post. His seniority and public profile as a national hero had given the revolution credibility. However, Nasser had been the prime mover behind the scenes and had too much support within the Revolution Command Committee for Naguib to survive. For the next eighteen years, Nasser would exercise almost absolute power. A much more efficient administrator than the king had been, Nasser suppressed opposition ruthlessly, created a one-party state and controlled the media; in contrast, Naguib would have set Egypt on the path of multi-party democracy with freedom of the press and a healthy civil society.

Early years

Naguib was born in Khartoum, Sudan, which was united with Egypt at the time which was de facto part of the British Empire but officially still Ottoman territory. He was the eldest of nine children of an Egyptian, Youssef Naguib, and an Egyptian woman (from El Mahala El Kobra City), Zohra Ahmed Othman. He came from a long line of army officers, as his father was serving in the Egyptian army in Sudan.

Naguib spent his formative years in Sudan, where as a child ostriches and monkeys were his playmates in a house decorated with hunting trophies like elephant tusks, tiger-skin rugs and rhinoceros and gazelle heads on the wall. Naguib's favorite game, however, was playing at soldiers with his younger brother, Ali. Having built a toy fortress in the front yard, Naguib would spend hours conquering inches of land with his toy soldiers.

Nevertheless, Naguib's father did not want his sons to follow in his footsteps, believing from his own experience as an officer in the Egyptian army that the army at that time was little more than a group of auxiliaries waiting for British orders. He believed that Naguib could serve Egypt better in civilian life, and he even had Ibrahim Urabi, son of the 1882 revolutionary Ahmed Urabi, speak to Naguib and caution him that by joining the military he would become only "a supervisor in the service of the British."

As a result, Naguib first studied to become a translator, and later in life he earned a law degree, an MA in political science and another MA in civil law. He never completed his doctorate because his career in the army, undertaken in defiance of his father's wishes, by then had begun to take off. Nevertheless, he found the time to polish up his language skills, learning English, French, Italian, and German. Naguib also began to study Hebrew in the 1950s, and soon after the Revolution he ordered that Hebrew be taught at military college and at Cairo and Alexandria universities, realizing that the Egyptian army had been handicapped during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War by the fact that very few soldiers could interpret Israeli communications.

While studying in Khartoum, Naguib had often been censured and sometimes even whipped by his British tutors for criticizing Britain's occupation of Egypt and Sudan. At this time, Naguib chose Napoleon Bonaparte as a role model, even deciding to sleep on the floor instead of on a bed to imitate the great French general. Soon, however, Napoleon was replaced in Naguib's affections by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of Turkey's National Party, and later he found another hero in Saad Zaghlul. Some years after he was ousted from power, Naguib also came to somewhat admire Mohandas K. Gandhi

After the death of his father in 1916, the family moved to Cairo, while Naguib and Ali finished their studies in Sudan. In 1922, Egypt, which had been formally annexed by Britain at the start of World War II was granted independence.

Military career

Naguib worked as a guard in Cairo, but in 1924 was moved again because of a political association deemed unacceptable by the authorities. He married in 1927, pursuing his legal studies while continuing a career in the army. By 1931, he was ready to resign from the army, but as a result of an unexpected promotion he decided to turn his attention to his military career once again.

In 1934, he remarried and was transferred to the Coast Guard, where he was employed to chase smugglers across the Sinai desert, mixing with the Bedouin and helping treat their illnesses. In 1940, he was again promoted. However, despite generally favorable relations between Naguib and Farouk, Naguib refused to kiss the king's hand. A brisk hand shake was the best Naguib could offer.

Any illusions Naguib might have had about the nature of Farouk's rule evaporated on 4 February 1942 after a standoff at Abdin Palace in Cairo between the British and the king. In protest at Farouk's concessions to the British, who used the monarch to exercise post-colonial control on this occasion choosing the prime minister, Naguib sent in his resignation, saying that "since the army was not called upon to defend Your Majesty, I am ashamed to wear this uniform and ask your permission to resign."[1] On this occasion, Farouk turned down Naguib's resignation. He again attempted to resign in 1951, when Hussein Serri Amer, widely thought to be corrupt, was made head of the Coast Guard. Again, the resignation was refused.

Meanwhile, however, Naguib had continued to climb the military ladder, serving in Palestine during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War in 1948. While on active service in Palestine, Naguib would dedicate 30 minutes every morning to reading the Qur'an, a habit he picked up in childhood, to strengthen his resolve in times of adversity.

Free Officers Movement

In 1949, Naguib secretly joined the Free Officers Movement, and a year later he was promoted to the rank of Major-General. The general is considered one of Egypt's few heroes from the war in Palestine and enjoyed wide respect in the country. The Free Officers, led by Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser were young members of the military – all under thirty-five and all from peasant or lower middle-class backgrounds. Nasser's goal was to overthrow King Farouk who, although technically a constitutional monarch, constantly intervened in governance, dismissing one cabinet and appointing another with no regard for its ability to command a parliamentary majority. In addition, Farouk was infamous for his profligate lifestyle. Knowing that officers of such youth would not be taken seriously, he asked General Naguib to assume leadership of the movement. While this proved successful in strengthening the Free Officers, it would later cause great friction between the two men. Despite his disapproval of his fellow military top brass, Naguib remained in the army in order for the Free Officers not to lose their highest-ranking officer and most influential member, although many today argue that his position on the top was merely a figurehead leader to the revolutionary Free Officers Movement to lend credibility to the group.

Finally on January 6, 1952, Naguib won the elections at the army Officers' Club, almost a revolutionary step in itself, since ordinarily the king's appointees held the executive roles in the Club. However, the Free Officers' increasing influence in the army, together with Naguib's reputation, resulted in the defeat of the king's nominees, and Naguib won with a landslide victory.

Farouk was contemplating removing Naguib from his post when Egypt was thrown into turmoil following the 26 January Cairo Fires. Meanwhile, the noose was beginning to tighten around the Free Officers, and investigations being carried out to uncover dissidents in the army. The executive committee of the Officers' Club was dissolved and the Free Officers brought their plans for a revolution three years forward, taking power in July 1952.

The Revolution of 1952

President Muhammad Naguib (center) sits beside Gamal Abd al-Nasser in this 1953 photograph

On July 23, 1952, the Free Officers commenced the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 with a coup d'état to depose King Farouk. Naguib was appointed, first as Commander-in-Chief of Army, in order to keep the armed forces firmly behind the junior officers' coup. In September, Naguib was appointed Prime Minister of Egypt and a member of the Royal Regent Council, with Nasser serving in the background as Minister of the Interior.

Naguib was at the forefront of the Free Officer's movement, lending it legitimacy in the eyes of the people, the army, politicians and foreign powers. Within 24 hours of the beginning of the revolution, the newly formed Revolution Command Council (RCC) had asserted that their movement's peaceful intentions, with Naguib as its leader. Naguib's was a familiar name at the time, unlike those of the other Free Officers, who were too young and too junior in rank to have made a name for themselves.

On July 24, Naguib met former prime minister Ali Maher to ask him to form a government and communicate the revolutionaries' demands to the King, at that time in Alexandria. On 25 July, Naguib led a group of RCC members to Alexandria to supervise the ousting of the King, the RCC at the time being divided over what Farouk's fate should be. Some wanted him to be put on trial, while others wanted him to abdicate and be sent into exile. Naguib and Nasser supported exile, and after a vote, it was agreed that Farouk should abdicate in favor of his infant son Ahmed Fuad, who became King Fuad II and be exiled.

On July 26, Naguib arrived to say his farewells to the former King, arriving late and catching up with Farouk by boat, a few minutes after Farouk had set sail. After an awkward silence on the deck of the royal yacht El-Mahrousa, Naguib reminded Farouk that until the 1942 standoff with the British the army had been loyal to the monarchy, but that things had changed since then. Naguib said, "Sir, we were forced to do what we did," to which Farouk replied, "Yes, I know. Your mission is a difficult one. As you know, governing Egypt is not an easy task." Naguib later stated "I could not feel joy for his defeat."[1]

The succession of Fuad II was designed to deny the British a pretext for intervention, allowing the revolutionaries to maintain that they were opposed only to the corrupt regime of Farouk, not to the monarchy itself. However, after consolidating their power, they quickly moved to implement their long-held plans for abolishing the monarchy and the aristocracy. Ali Maher's government resigned on September 17, 1952, and Naguib was appointed Prime Minister. On June 18, 1953, almost 11 months after the revolution, Naguib declared the end of the Egyptian and Sudanese monarchy and the establishment of the Republic of Egypt.

The Presidency

With the declaration of the Republic, Naguib was sworn in as its President. At this time, Naguib had become simultaneously the president, the prime minister and chairman of the RCC and forming a government mostly composed of army officers. Nasser became deputy prime minister, and it was already apparent that he had a strong grip on domestic affairs. However, Naguib remained the most senior officer in the government and the national leader of the country and of the RCC, even as a struggle for power was brewing.

Naguib began to clash with other RCC members over how the Revolution's goals should be implemented. He wanted to phase out the political influence of the military and return the country to civilian rule, believing that the role of the military was not to rule the country, but rather to protect those in power. He wanted to "restore party rule and the Parliament and abolish censorship of the press."[2] The army, he thought, could interfere to change a corrupt regime, but then it should withdraw.

As Naguib wrote later:

…at the age of 36, Abdel-Nasser felt that we could ignore Egyptian public opinion until we had reached our goals, but with the caution of a 53-year-old, I believed that we needed grassroots support for our policies, even if it meant postponing some of our goals. I differed with the younger officers on the means by which to reach our goals, never on the principles.[1]

Nasser, by contrast, thought that any talk of democracy, or of a multi-party system, or of the withdrawal of the army from politics, would allow the Wafd, the Muslim Brotherhood and the other political parties to regain the ground they had lost in 1952. In addition, although on paper Naguib appeared to wield a lot of power, being simultaneously president and prime minister, his authority was curtailed by the fact that he needed a majority vote of the RCC for any decision to be taken, and his opinion was often ignored. The offices he occupied meant that Naguib was responsible for the government's decisions, even though he rarely sanctioned or supported them, and this meant that he was increasingly becoming merely the puppet of others. Eventually, Naguib presented Nasser, by now the real power in the RCC, with an ultimatum: Either he was given real power, or he would resign.

In late 1954, however, Nasser accused Naguib of supporting the recently outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and of harboring dictatorial ambitions. Naguib had been approached by the Brothers, who offered an alliance if he appointed their members to the Revolutionary Command Committee where they would have half of the seats. He refused, informing them that he intended to end military rule.[2]

A brief power struggle broke out between Naguib and Nasser for control of the military and of Egypt. Nasser ultimately won the struggle and managed to force Naguib to resign from the presidency of Egypt in November 1954.

On February 25, 1954, the RCC announced Naguib's resignation as president, saying that Naguib was "demanding absolute authority, which is not acceptable."[1] Street protests brought Naguib back to power the next day, but despite mass support and his reappointment, Naguib's days in power were numbered. Though reinstated as president on 26 February, Nasser now became prime minister and RCC chairman, Naguib's office therefore becoming largely ceremonial. Nine months later, Naguib refused to continue the charade, and on 14 November he stepped down for the last time, this time into a life of dispossession and oblivion. By 1956, Egypt was a one party state and the Brotherhood was an illegal organization.

After the Presidency

Mohamed Naguib Metro Station in Cairo

Following his resignation, Naguib was then isolated by President Nasser in a villa owned by Zienab Al-Wakil, wife of Mustafa an-Nahhas Pasha, ex-Prime Minister of Egypt. Naguib was released from his isolation in 1972 by President Sadat. He died in 1984 and he had a military funeral that was attended by President Mubarak. In the same year, his memoirs were published under the name, I was a President of Egypt. The book was reprinted several times and was also translated into English under the title Egypt's Destiny: A Personal Statement (1984). A station of the Cairo Metro is named in his honor.


Muhammad Naguib was the first President of the post-monarchy Egyptian republic. Although he took part in a military revolution, Naguib was a committed democrat. His view of the army's role resembles that of the Turkish military, which sees itself as the guardian of democracy and has always restored civilian rule after intervention.[3] In contrast, Nasser, who displaced Naguib, established a one party, repressive state with limited freedoms and ruled more or less as a dictator for the next eighteen years. Nasser's suppression of the political opposition and the massive expansion of the police and security apparatuses left a legacy of political repression exploited by his successors until the present time. Naguib, who has been described as "Egypt's forgotten President" would have steered the young republic in radically different direction.

Political offices
Preceded by:
Fouad II
Head of state of Egypt
1953 – 1954
Title next held by
Gamal Abdel Nasser

New Title
Republic proclaimed
President of Egypt
1953 – 1954


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Khali, 2002, The Forgotten Presidentm, Al-Ahram Weekly. Retrieved December 22, 2008.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Sagiv (1995), 35.
  3. Dodd (1983), 1.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Alexander, Anne. 2005. Nasser. Life & Times. London, UK: Haus. ISBN 9781904341673.
  • Dodd, C.H. 1983. The Crisis of Turkish Democracy. Beverley, North Humberside, UK: Eothen Press. ISBN 9780906719060.
  • el Barawy, Rashed. 1981. The Military Coup in Egypt: An Analytical Study. Westport, CT: Hyperion. ISBN 9780830500277.
  • Kamrava, Mehran. 2005. The Modern Middle East: A Political History Since the First World War. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. ISBN 9780520241497.
  • Naguib, Mohammed. 1984. Egypt's Destiny: A Personal Statement. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. ISBN 9780313244339.
  • McGregor, Andrew James. 2006. A Military History of Modern Egypt: From the Ottoman Conquest to the Ramadan War. Westport, CT: Praeger Security International. ISBN 9780275986018.
  • Pôde, Ēlî. 1995. The Quest for Hegemony in the Arab World: The Struggle Over the Bagdad Pact. Leiden, NL: Brill. ISBN 9789004102149.
  • Sagiv, David. 1995. Fundamentalism and Intellectuals in Egypt, 1973-1993. London, UK: F. Cass. ISBN 9780714645810.


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