World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Cairo Fire

Cairo Fire / Black Saturday
A crowd of bystanders stands outside a burning building, with black smoke coming out of the windows.
Rivoli Cinema on fire
Location Cairo, Egypt
Date 26 January 1952 (1952-01-26)
12:30 pm – 11 pm (UTC+02:00)
Target Buildings owned by or associated with Europeans
Attack type
Riots, arson
Deaths 26[1] (inc. 9 Britons)[2]
Non-fatal injuries
Perpetrator Unknown (several theories)

The Cairo Fire (

  • "Special: Cairo Fire".  
  • "Photo Album".  

External links

  • Goldschmidt, Arthur; Johnston, Robert (2004). Historical Dictionary of Egypt (3rd ed.). American University in Cairo Press.  
  • Kerbœuf, Anne-Claire (2005). "The Cairo Fire of 26 January of 1952 and the Interpretations of History". In Goldschmidt, Arthur; Johnson, Amy J.; Salmoni, Barak A. Re-Envisioning Egypt 1919–1952. American University in Cairo Press. pp. 194–216.  
  • King, Joan Wucher (1989) [First published 1984]. Historical Dictionary of Egypt. Books of Lasting Value. American University in Cairo Press.  


  1. ^ a b c d e خسائر الحريق [The Fire Damage].  
  2. ^ a b King 1989, p. 208
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j King 1989, p. 207
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Goldschmidt & Johnston 2004, p. 83
  5. ^ a b The Rebellion Within, An Al Qaeda mastermind questions terrorism. by Lawrence Wright., June 2, 2008
  6. ^ Egypt on the Brink by Tarek Osman, Yale University Press, 2010, p.39
  7. ^ a b c Hassan, Fayza (24–30 January 2002). "Burning down the house".  
  8. ^ Muhammad, Mohsen (3 February 2011). خسارة [Khusara] (Reprint).  
  9. ^ معركة الاسماعيلية [The Battle of Ismaïlia].  
  10. ^ a b c d حريق القاهرة 1952 [The 1952 Cairo Fire].  
  11. ^ a b c d e f إقالة النحاس وثورة يوليو [The Dismissal of el-Nahhas and the July Revolution].  
  12. ^ a b c من وراء حريق القاهرة؟ [Who Was Behind the Cairo Fire].  


See also

Although some of the country's politicians may have been implicated in the initial outbreak of violence,[3] it has never been fully determined who started the Cairo Fire.[4] Historians still disagree about the identity of the initiators of the disturbances, leading to several conspiracy theories.[7] Some believe King Farouk I masterminded the disorder to get rid of the government of el-Nahhas. Others support the idea that the British instigated the chaos to punish the government of el-Nahhas for its unilateral abrogation of the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty in 1951.[12] Alternative theories put the blame on the Muslim Brotherhood or the Egyptian Socialist Party, formerly known as Misr al-Fatat.[4] Nevertheless, no material evidence has ever appeared to incriminate a specific group. Following the 23 July 1952 coup, an inquiry was opened to investigate the circumstances surrounding the Cairo Fire, but failed to identify the real perpetrators. The Cairo Fire thus remains an unsolved mystery.[12]

No one was arrested during the disorder.[10] It appears that there were organized elements in the crowd, both left-wing and right-wing.[3] According to official sources as well as eyewitnesses, the disturbances had been masterminded beforehand, and the groups responsible for it were highly skilled and trained. This was evidenced by the speed and precision with which the fires were ignited. The perpetrators held tools to force open closed doors, and used acetylene stoves to melt steel barriers placed on windows and doors. They executed their plan in record time through the use of nearly 30 cars.[12] The timing was also another clear indication of the careful planning behind the arson. Saturday afternoon was chosen due to the weekend closure of offices and department stores, as well as the post-matinée closure of movie theaters.[1]

Conspiracy theories

The king was holding a banquet at Ahmad Fuad.[7] The following day, the king dismissed the Wafdist government, a decision which slightly eased tensions with the British.[11] However, the series of short-lived cabinets he appointed afterward failed to restore public confidence in the monarchy.[4] The resultant political and domestic instability throughout the ensuing six months was among the factors that paved the way for the Free Officers coup.[2] The Cairo Fire pushed the Free Officers to advance the date of their planned coup, which took place on 23 July 1952.[11] The coup resulted in the forced abdication of Farouk I and the abolition of the monarchy a year later. It also reignited anti-British hostilities, which led to the signing of the Anglo-Egyptian Evacuation Agreement in 1954. The last British soldier stationed in Egypt left the country on 18 June 1956.[11]

The events were seen at the time as evidence of the Egyptian government's inability to maintain order.[4] They almost caused another British military occupation, although this outcome was averted by the Egyptian Army's restoration of order.[3] Prime Minister Mustafa el-Nahhas initially presented his resignation, which was refused by King Farouk I.[11] The Wafdist government of el-Nahhas and the king blamed each other for the failure to call in troops earlier.[3] The Council of Ministers imposed martial law throughout the country, and ordered the closure of schools and universities. El-Nahhas was appointed military commander-in-chief, and proclaimed a curfew in Cairo and Giza from 6 pm to 6 am. He also issued an order banning public gatherings of five or more persons, with offenders facing imprisonment.[11]


Most of the destruction, the extent of which was unforeseen by everyone,[3] occurred between 12:30 pm and 11 pm.[1] A total of £3.4 million damage was done to British and foreign property.[3] Nearly 300 shops were destroyed, including some of Egypt's most famous department stores, such as Cicurel, Omar Effendi and the Salon Vert. The damage tally also included 30 corporate offices, 13 hotels (among which Shepheard's, Metropolitan and Victoria), 40 movie theaters (among which Rivoli, Radio, Metro, Diana and Miami), eight auto shows, 10 arm shops, 73 coffeehouses and restaurants (including Groppi's), 92 bars and 16 social clubs. As for the human casualties, 26 people died and 552 suffered injuries such as burns and bone fractures. Thousands of workers were displaced due to the destruction of these establishments.[1]


The first act of arson took place in Opera Square, with the burning of Casino Opera. The fire spread to Shepheard's Hotel, the Automobile Club, Barclays Bank, as well as other shops, corporate offices, movie theaters, hotels and banks.[10] Fueled by anti-British and anti-Western sentiment, the mob concentrated on British property and establishments with foreign connections,[3] as well as buildings popularly associated with Western influence.[4] Nightclubs and other establishments frequented by King Farouk I were equally targeted. The fires also reached the neighbourhoods of Faggala, Daher, Citadel, as well as Tahrir Square and Cairo Train Station Square. Due to the prevailing chaos, theft and looting occurred, until the Egyptian Army arrived shortly before sunset and managed to restore order.[10] The Army was alerted belatedly, after most of the damage had already occurred.[3]

The following day, news of the attack in Ismaïlia reached Cairo, provoking the ire of Egyptians. The unrest began at Almaza Airport, when workers there refused to provide services to four British airplanes. It was followed by the rebellion of policemen in the Abbaseya barracks, who wished to express their solidarity with their dead and captured colleagues in Ismaïlia. Protesters then headed towards the university building, where they were joined by students. Together they marched towards the Prime Minister's office to demand that Egypt break its diplomatic relations with the United Kingdom and declare war on it. Abdul Fattah Hassan, the Minister of Social Affairs, told them that the Wafdist government wished to do so, but faced opposition from King Farouk I. As a result, protesters went to Abdeen Palace where they were joined by students from Al-Azhar. The crowd expressed its discontent towards the king, his partisans and the British.[10]


In 1952, the British occupation of Egypt was entering its 70th year, but was limited to the Suez Canal zone. On the morning of 25 January 1952, Brigadier Kenneth Exham, the British commander, issued a warning to Egyptian policemen in Ismaïlia, demanding that they surrender their weapons and leave the canal zone entirely. By doing so, the British aimed to get rid of the only manifestation of Egyptian governmental authority in the canal zone. They also wanted to end the aid the police force was providing to anti-British fedayeen groups. The Ismailia Governorate refused the British request, a refusal that was reiterated by interior minister Fouad Serageddin. As a result, 7,000 British soldiers equipped with machine guns, tanks and armour surrounded the governorate building and its barracks, containing nearly 700 Egyptian officers and soldiers. Armed only with rifles, the Egyptians refused to surrender their weapons. The British commander thus ordered his troops to bombard the buildings. Vastly outnumbered, the Egyptians continued to fight until they ran out of ammunition. The confrontation, which lasted two hours, left 50 Egyptians dead and 80 others injured. The rest were taken captive.[9]



  • Background 1
  • Events 2
  • Damage 3
  • Aftermath 4
  • Conspiracy theories 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Bibliography 8
  • External links 9


This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.