Saad Zaghloul Museum

A visit to the home of Egypt’s great leader - Saad Zaghloul In Munira, Cairo

One of the great figures in Egypt’s modern history, Saad Zaghloul was known in his day as “father of the nation.” Zaghloul, founder of the Wafd Party, was the first Prime-Minister of Egypt after the Constitution of 1923. A continuous thorn in the side of the British, he was twice exiled by their Agent in Egypt and returned each time greater in stature and popularity. A fervent nationalist, he tried to represent the interests of Egypt at the Versailles Peace Conference after the First World War. With two massive statues to his memory in Cairo and Alexandria and a mausoleum of Pharaonic proportions to house his remains, Saad Zaghloul is remembered as the one who encouraged a fledgling democracy in Egypt to flourish.

His wife, Safiya, too, of Turkish descent and the daughter of Mustafa Pasha Fahmi, who himself headed Egypt’s Cabinet five times, played her own role in mobilising women in support of the nationalist cause and, even after his death, was a force to be reckoned with. Governments ignored her opinions at their peril.

However, it is neither the great man nor his wife who concern us here, but rather his house, Beit Al-Umma, “the house of the nation,” which stands in the Cairo district of Al-Munira, not too far from the British Embassy, in the shadow of Egypt’s Parliament, next to the Metro station which bears his name, and which is now open to the public as a museum. For Egyptians not to visit this place is to omit a part of their heritage. For foreigners, it is a place which speaks of a former age and of the decency and the refinement which Egypt showed to the world in the first quarter of the twentieth century.
Saad Zaghloul.Museum
Built at the turn of the century in the European style favoured by Egypt’s political elite, Zaghloul’s home became a centre for meetings of politicians and intellectuals. Speeches were given from its balcony to vast crowds below by the prominent figures of the day. At one such meeting, when the approach to be used at the Versailles Conference was being discussed, it is said that some of those present enraged their host by their strong words. They were only able to calm him down by saying how important his house had become for such debate, as “Beit al- Umma,” the house of the nation. The name stuck and it has been known as this ever since.

As with many of these houses which once belonged to prominent figures in Egypt’s history and which have been lovingly restored by the Ministry of Culture, to enter is to enter another world. Stepping into Beit al-Umma, from the lovely gardens, is to step into the early twentieth century and to breathe the air of that time when Egypt was beginning to emerge once more as an independent nation, desirous to be free of the influence of foreign nations who for too long had meddled in her affairs.

The entrance hall is a room itself, with velvet-lined chairs, a bust of Saad Zaghloul and an elegant marble stairway leading to the first floor. Standing in the hallway you can imagine Zaghloul greeting his guests or bidding them farewell after dinner or a private meeting in which the fate of the nation had been discussed. If only those walls could talk!

Leading off the hallway is Zaghloul’s study, left pretty much the same way as it was during his lifetime, with his velvet-covered desk and all the artefacts he would use well into the night, such as spectacles and writing quills. His desk is against a large French window and Zaghloul would sit with his back to the window, looking into the room. Concern for his own safety led him to put mirrors in the room so he could see if any would-be assassin was approaching from the garden.

Another room which leads off the hallway is the elegant dining room. Rather dark for today’s taste, the room is nonetheless refined and typical of its age, with elegant silk curtains, Persian carpets and Art Nouveau décor. After his death, his wife insisted that his place at the table be left untouched, and so it has remained to this day.

At the top of the staircase are two bird cages. In them were two parrots that had been taught to greet the great man, one in Arabic and one in French, when he entered the house and ascended the stairs! On this floor can be found a room decorated in the Arabesque style, with mashrabeya and personal belongings of Zaghloul himself. The bedroom, simple and rather austere, has two large four-poster beds and a chaise- longue where he would read the newspaper each morning.

The day after his death in 1927, the Egyptian Cabinet declared the house to be the property of the Egyptian people, so important had it been and so influential a part in the life of the nation had its owner played. Safiya Zaghloul, his wife, was given the right to live there all her lifetime.
Saad Zaghloul
A visit to the home of Egypt’s great leader, Saad Zaghloul, is not only a visit to the nostalgic age of yesterday when we look at what used to be. It need not just be another tourist site on our list of things to do. It can remind us too, if we have the sense to see it, that all of us, great or small, will die and leave a legacy behind us of good deeds or bad. Others, too, will look back on our lives and have a comment on how we lived it. They will only comment on what was known. They will know nothing of the secrets of our hearts. How much more important, then, will be the comment given by the Almighty, the Knower of all things.

Saad Zaghloul.Museum
Total Objects: 1615
Bayt al-Umma, 2 Saad Zaghlul St., Al Munira, Cairo, Egypt
Tel. +20-2-3545399


Last Updated on Sunday 16th January 2011