September 16, 1917 – Egyptian Laborers Strike in Marseilles
Pictured – Kam Lehloh, Kam Yaum?“ “How many days, how many nights?” 55,000 Egyptians served in overseas working gangs for the British military during World War I.
The effects of World War I affected not only European powers, but also their vast empires. Hundreds of thousands of people from all over Asia, Africa, the Pacific and the Americas moved around the world and took part in wartime service. Among them were 55,000 Egyptian men recruited as laborers by the British army. They served in gangs led by village headmen, loading freighters, constructing railroad lines, laying pipes, and serving the British military wherever it needed things brought from one place to another.
Many of these men had been recruited on the basis that their service would be short. Therefore five hundred Egyptians working as stevedores in Marseilles were dismayed to be told that their contracts had been extended until the end of the war – whenever that might be.
On the morning of September 1916 the Egyptians in Marseilles refused to leave their camp to work. Indian cavalry arrived to force them out of camp, and made them work under guard. That evening, when the Egyptians returned, scuffles broke out between them and one man, Mohamed Ahmed, knocked a British officer unconscious. He picked up a rifle but was then overpowered by three of his fellow Egyptians. Twelve days later Ahmed was shot for “a disturbance of a mutinous nature.”