Egyptians and all that
Good afternoon, I’ve emailed you before. If it’s not too much trouble could you please verify whether Sir Winston actually said this? “If we have any more of [Egyptian] cheek we will set the Jews on them and drive them into the gutter from which they should never have emerged.”
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[Churchill] made a tremendous attack on the Egyptians late at night when A.E. was talking about the troubles with them. Rising from his chair, the old man advanced on Anthony with clenched fists, saying with the inimitable Churchill growl, “Tell them that if we have any more of their cheek we will set the Jews on them and drive them into the gutter, from which they should never have emerged.” He then sank back, exhausted, into his chair. None of this seemed very helpful, but it was most amusing. He talked at great length about the war and about his trips to the Middle East at that time–fascinating
reminiscences which obviously interest him more than today’s problems.
King Farouk was widely condemned for his corrupt and ineffectual governance after the Second World War. Egyptians chafed under the British presence in the Suez Canal, and their army’s failure in the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. Public discontent against Farouk rose to new levels. In December 1951, many Egyptians left the Canal Zone and the British began importing labour to replace them. It was the beginning of the end for Farouk, deposed in July 1952. Four years later came the Suez Crisis.
Like most of Churchill’s cracks about foreign peoples, this was made in private, and had nothing to do with policy. No one contemplated “setting the Jews” on Egypt over discontented Egyptians. (It took nationalizing the Suez Canal to do that: Israel joined the Anglo-French in armed intervention, withdrawing in the face of U.S. opposition.)
Churchill’s line is easy to quote out of context to label him anti-Egyptian (though in this case at least, not anti-Semitic). The spin the writers put on it is varies accordingly. Stephen Ambrose in his Eisenhower biography, says Churchill was “giving advice.” Lawrence James says WSC was “beside himself with rage.” Ponting, who despised Churchill, says it showed “his usual contempt for the Egyptians.” Makovsky says Churchill “often denigrated native peoples fighting imperial British control.” (Ponting and Makovsky apparently never read Churchill’s praise of native peoples fighting outside control from his earliest books to his Second World War memoirs.)
So, A.M., it is appropriate is to accept the diarist’s version. Shuckburgh describes it as a brief outburst from a not-very-interested PM. I think that might be true! Of course, diarists also tend to make revisions in their diaries—especially when publishing them years after the fact.