British troops in Cairo shoot dead twenty ‘rioters’ with machine guns

British troops in Cairo c. July 1946.
© IWM (E 31958)

21 February 1946

On 21 February 1946, British troops opened fire, with machine guns, on protesters in Midan Ismailiya (now better known as Tahrir Square) in central Cairo, killing twenty and injuring about 300.1  According to a report in the Scotsman the following day: ‘The Square outside the Kasr El Nil Barracks was a smoke-filled battleground when British troops machine gunned rioters.’2

Large crowds had gathered, after a general strike was called by the Workers and Students Association.  They assembled outside the British embassy and the British barracks in Midan Ismailiya, some of them waving banners declaring ‘Down with England’ and demanding the immediate withdrawal of British troops. An AP/Reuters article reported that the ‘earlier peaceful demonstration… turned to violence after two British army lorries struck demonstrators near the British Army’s Kasr El Nil Barracks.’ It was a reckless attempt to drive the lorries through the crowd, which killed one protester and inured several more. According to the report, ‘enraged students and labourers captured the trucks, smashed and burned them. One British driver is reported injured. Demonstrators then attacked the near-by British barracks with stones and sticks.’3

At about this moment, British troops opened fire with machine guns. This use of overwhelming and indiscriminate firepower in the square and elsewhere in central Cairo caused so many bullet wounds, that two additional wards had to be opened at the nearby Kasr el Aini Hospital.  The figure for the number of injured was officially estimated first at 100, then at 200, and subsequently at 300, but at least two reports noted that ‘the number of injured is extremely difficult to estimate, as many hurt were removed to their homes without hospital treatment.’4  The Egyptian authorities, under pressure from the British, reacted by flooding the streets with hundreds of troops and baton wielding police. They also banned all further demonstrations, withdrew copies of Egypt’s leading nationalist newspaper, Al Balagh, off the streets because it published ‘an article calculated to incite further disorders’, and banned Egyptian state radio from broadcasting any internal news for twenty four hours.5


  1. John Newsinger, The Blood Never Dried: A People’s History of the British Empire, Bookmarks Publications, London, 2013 p. 178 and ‘Day of Rioting in Cairo,’ The Scotsman, 22 February 1946, p. 5.
  2. ‘Day of Rioting in Cairo,’ The Scotsman, 22 February 1946, p. 5.
  3. ‘Tanks Out in Cairo,’ The Western Morning News, 22 February 1946, p. 3.
  4. ‘Cairo Now Quieter,’ The Liverpool Echo, 22 February 1946, p. 5.
  5. ‘Tanks Out in Cairo,’ The Western Morning News, 22 February 1946, p. 3.

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© 2020 Alisdare Hickson All rights reserved

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