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EGY.COM  -  ZAMALEK

T he S irdaria
by Samir Raafat
Cairo Times, 15 February 2001


Sir Lee Stack Lord Kitchener Lord Allenby
(L-R) Sirdars Sir Oliver Lee Stack and Herbert Horatio Kitchener; Sirdar of all Sirdars High Commissioner Edmund Henry Hynman Allenby.
[The first Sirdar of the Egyptian Army was General Frances Wallace Grenfell 1st Baron of Kilvey (1841-1925)]

One of Zamalek's largest pre-1936 properties fronted King Fouad Avenue (now 26th of July Street). Home to a beautiful lawn and clusters of tall trees, it stretched three blocks, from what is now Brazil Street all the way to Shagaret al-Durr. Not only was the thought of entering it next to impossible, but passers-by avoided its sidewalk for fear of choleric looks they would unavoidably receive from the tall black sentry on duty.

Everyone knew the Sirdaria was impenetrable and for good reason. It was the seat of British military intelligence in Egypt ranking second in order of colonial importance after the British 'Residence' at Kasr al-Dubara (now the British Embassy). And as the name indicates, the Sirdaria was the official seat of the Sirdar, a borrowed Perso-Indian title denoting the British Commander-in-Chief of the Egyptian Army, who, due to another colonial quirk, was also Governor General of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan.

Several Sirdars made their mark in British Imperial history, Horatio Kitchener and Reginald Wingate foremost among them. Kitchener later became Britain's pro-consul in Egypt and when World War I broke out, his country's minister of war--the Sirdar of all Sirdars.

Sirdar from 1899 to 1916 and High Commissioner to Egypt 1817-19, Sir Reginald was instrumental in quelling Egypt and Sudan's nationalist movements. Small wonder Egyptian commuters cursed the Ingilizi commander whenever their tram ran past the Sirdaria on its way to the Pyramids.

But on 19 November 1924, the harmless curses turned into extreme action. On his way back to the Sirdaria, Wingate's successor, Sir Lee Stack and his Australian driver were shot at. Rather than drive to the Sirdaria, the motorcade drove straight to the Residency in Kasr al-Dubara where a furious High Commissioner, Lord Allenby, swore revenge.

A day later Stack died at Gezira's Anglo-American Hospital. British reprisal came an hour after the state funeral.

To begin with, Egypt's popular Wafdist government was made to resign. The culprits had to be apprehended, brought to trial and hung for their deed. Then came the blood money. A check made out to the British government for half a million pounds was to be hand delivered post haste to the residency. But more importantly there was the prickly question of the Sudan. Ever since 1882, when Britain occupied Egypt, the Sudan had been under joint Anglo-Egyptian administration. The opportunity to get Egypt out of the deal was here at last. Reprisal no. 4, all Egyptian officers and regiments were ordered out of the Sudan.

The fact that Sudan was henceforth a British colony with the newly appointed Governor General (Sir Geoffrey Archer) residing permanently in Khartoum, the Sirdaria in Cairo lost its duality and half its functions. Likewise, the title of Sirdar lost its lustre and was seldom heard of again.

The last British occupant of the Sirdaria was Major General Sir (Charlton Watson) Spinks better known as El Ferik Spinks Pasha, General Inspector of the Army. Relieved of his functions on 12 January 1937 following the signing of the 1936 Anglo-Egyptian Treaty which dispensed with the services of British officers in the Egyptian army, the ex-Ferik and Lady Spinks along with their three daughters, moved into a 4th-floor apartment at "Nile View" No. 18 Saraya al-Gezira, Zamalek.

One of Zamalek's largest properties was now looking for new tenants. Enter the Anglo-Egyptian Union on one side of the old Sirdaria, and the Egyptian Officer's Club on the other.

From its name alone, one imagines the Anglo-Egyptian Union to have been a beacon for better relations between Britons and Egyptians. Here at last was a venue that could erase unhappy memories of the Sirdaria and its former occupants. Well, no. As it turned out the Union section of the ex-Sirdaria was out of bounds to 'locals' unless they had proper introductions--British, of course.

It took another World War to make the place more accessible, when the Union's bar, library and garden became a favorite with Allied forces stationed in Egypt and the more intellectual likes of Lawrence Durrell, Freya Stark and Olivia Manning, the latter cleverly capturing the club's makeup in two of her novels. In the middle of the fray a few Egyptians succeeded in becoming members.

In the words of author Artemis Cooper the Union had become "a genteel place but the influx of writers, refugees, and shade-seekers made it rather scruffy and battered about the edges. This contrasted sharply to the other side of the garden, which belonged to the Egyptian Officers' Club. Here, immaculately uniformed Egyptians, with rows of medals on their chests, play backgammon and baccarat."

Ironically, it was in that same Officer's Club, right under the Union's nose, that a coup d'état was already fermenting with one basic aim: toppling the monarchy and ousting what remained of British presence in Egypt.
 
Reader Comments
 

Subject: al sirdaria
Date: Sun, 22 Apr 2001 22:33:00 -0500
From: Michel Naggar

I read with interest your article on the Sirdaria. This brought to my mind a simple incident that marked me.

Back in the forties, still a student at the Faculty of Engineering at Fuad University, I was waiting at a tram station opposit the Collège des Frères at Daher. I believe the street's name was Sharia el Daher. Suddenly, a well dressed man, three piece suit plus a tarboosh, approached me and simply said: Ana `Abdel Fattah `Enayat (I am Abdel Fattah Enayat).

I knew whom the name designated. I knew that from reading Abdel Rahman El Rafe`i book on the 1919 Revolution and from my elders who never failed to mention the murder of the Sidar and the catastrophic results it caused (which you relate in your article). Before me, stood the man who had either killed the Sirdar, or was accused of, and indicted for killing the Sidar.

I streched my hand and said: `Abdel Fattah `Enayat? He repeated: Ana `Abdel Fattah `Enayat. We shook hands firmy. I wanted to tell him I knew who he was, but did not. I thought the firm shake hands would say it.

I was stunned. I do not know what happened next. Maybe the tram I was waiting for came to the station and I hopped into it. Until this day, the incident haunts me. Was he just released from jail? He seemed to be wanting to tell the world: I am the man who suffered, the man who dared. Was I among the first people he met then? Or maybe he was wrongly accused, or framed. I still don't know. Has History cleared this matter?

I am now 75 and I have been living in Canada for over 30 years. Ana `Abdel Fattah `Enayat still resounds in my ears. I should have spoken longer, I wanted so much to tell him I knew what he felt. And I still see the man, the strange expression of his face, the suit, the tarboosh, coming forward to me.

Kindest regards,
Michel Naggar

PS I also read your wonderful book on Maadi. You had a picture of our house in it. The House on ex-Midan Mosseri. My brother Habib still lives there.

Aciman: Read the book. I also tried to situate him, asked usually well informed ex-Egyptian Jews in Montreal abt the name: nothing. His reply to your note is revealing, nothing to allay the doubts.


From: Guy Walters
Date: 3/6/01 7:27:14 PM

I was wondering if you could help me?
I am trying to find information on a Zamalek mansion inhabited by British agents during the Second World War. It was nicknamed 'Tara' by the agents, and it had a ballroom. Other than that, I know nothing.
Any information would be most welcome, as I am writing a book that features the area during that period.
Yours
Guy Walters
29d Spencer Road
London SW18 2SP
United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 20 7228 0062
Mobile: +44 7970 259222
Fax 1: +44 870 831 1498
Fax 2: +44 7967 333923



articles posted on egy.com were published in the following books by Samir W Raafat: THE EGYPTIAN BOURSE, Zeitouna, Cairo -- CAIRO THE GLORY YEARS, Harpocrates, Alexandria -- HISTORY & SOCIETY IN A CAIRO SUBURB; MAADI 1904-1962, Palm Press, Cairo -- PRIVILEGED FOR THREE CENTURIES, printed digitally and bound by Elias Printing, Egypt

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