Forty years of the campaign against narcotic drugs in the United Arab Republic

Sections

Factors which facilitated the spread of the "white" drugs in Egypt
The organization of the illicit traffic
International co-operation
"Black" drugs (hashish and opium)

Details

Author: Col. A. Ahmed EL HADKA
Pages: 1 to 12
Creation Date: 1965/01/01

Forty years of the campaign against narcotic drugs in the United Arab Republic

Col. A. Ahmed EL HADKA

The problem of narcotic drugs has been amongst the most important that have occupied the attention of the Egyptian authorities from the beginning of the twentieth century. The "white" drugs (cocaine, heroin and morphine) were unknown in Egypt until the beginning of the First World War, after which they were noticed to be spreading not only in the towns but also in the countryside. The danger they represented was immediately recognized and the Egyptian Government rapidly developed an intensive campaign against them. With the assistance of the international community the white drugs no longer represent a danger to the country. In the present situation it is the "black" drugs which continue to baffle all Egyptian efforts to combat them and it cannot be doubted that they will in the last analysis also be defeated when the greatest degree of international co-operation has come to prevail. It might be said in fact that the illicit traffic in opium and hashish can only be overcome with a degree of international co-operation greater than that with which Egypt defeated the illicit traffic in cocaine, heroin and morphine earlier in the century.

It was as far back as 1879 that the Government of Egypt promulgated a law forbidding the cultivation of the cannabis plant, the usage of hashish having already been recognized as a potential danger to society. When the inflow of white drugs became noticed after the First World War it was soon remarked that addiction to heroin, cocaine and morphine as the case might be was taking menacing proportions. The Egyptian Government proceeded to organise the Central Narcotics Information Bureau endowed with powers to combat this illicit traffic. This Central Narcotics Information Bureau which preceded the present Anti-Narcotics Bureau was established in March 1929. The first report made by the Anti-Narcotics Bureau to the League of Nations described the serious nature of the traffic in white drugs and the problem this represented to the country. The Bureau's main lines of attack on the illicit traffic were the following:

  1. To discover and, if possible, prove the origin of drugs imported into the country, the route taken by each consignment of drugs after it had been manufactured, the names of traffickers in Europe and the names of the vessels carrying them to Egyptian ports;

  2. To collect the most complete information possible on the organization of the illicit wholesale and retail traffic within Egypt, the names of the dealers and their agents both in the towns and in the countryside, and to procure their arrest and condemnation.

At the thirteenth session of the Opium Advisory Committee of the League of Nations held in Geneva in January 1930 the Director of the Anti-Narcotics Bureau made a brief historical analysis of the reasons which had permitted the infiltration of the white drugs into Egypt. He said "at the end of the war a Greek chemist domiciled in Cairo succeeded in introducing cocaine into high society and in a few years amassed a colossal fortune. The use of cocaine expanded rapidly and was soon flourishing among the middle classes also ". In 1925 pure cocaine was sold in the street at £75 (Egyptian) per kg while the price of heroin stood at Egyptian £120 per kg. Egyptian authorities trace the beginnings of the traffic in white drugs to this first trafficker in cocaine.

Factors which facilitated the spread of the "white" drugs in Egypt

Both internal and international factors appear to have facilitated the spread of the illicit traffic in white drugs in the country and they may be re-capitulated as follows:

Internal factors

Absence of legal sanctions against the possession of white drugs

Up till 21 March 1925 there was no law in the country which made the possession without licence of cocaine or heroin a criminal offence. At this date, the Government having noticed this lacuna, a law was duly promulgated to control the commerce and possession of these substances, the penalties for infringement which were laid down being from one month to three years of imprisonment and a fine which might vary from Egyptian £10 to £300, it being also provided that in case only one of the two penalties was inflicted then the period of imprisonment should not be less than six months and the fine not less than £50 for a second offence. In enacting this law, the Government stated that the abuse of narcotic substances in Egypt calls for the revamping of legislation and in doing so it had been decided to bring Egyptian law in this domain into line with laws in other countries and with the international treaties.

(2) High profits in the narcotics contraband trade

The very high profitability of the illegal narcotics trade encouraged the traffickers to develop their network of supply within the country as rapidly as possible, since trade in these drugs at that time did not infringe the law. However the first legislation to control this commerce and bring it under license carried penalties which now appear much too lenient when compared to the exorbitant profits pocketed by the traffickers, both domestic and foreign. Though cocaine was the first drug to appear in the country after the First World War, its use diminished progressively and soon it was replaced by heroin whose effects were even more dangerous. After 1928 cocaine seizures dropped rapidly as seen from table 1.

TABLE 1

Year

Kilogram

Gramme

Centigram

1927 43
-
-
1928 148
-
-
1929 2 614 50
1930 3 589 88
1931 1 651 93
1932
-
135 2

The economics of the heroin traffic are worth an examination and show that the price at which it was sold in the street in Egypt was 300 times the cost of manufacture in Europe. Table 2 will explain.

With such a high rate of profit to be enjoyed, the traffickers used every means at their disposal to circumvent the law and to push the heroin trade as much as they could. It is deplorable that at this time honest state officials who made a seizure of heroin were only rewarded at the rate of Egyptian £1 for every kg of heroin seized.

Police records show that within the space of two years in Cairo alone, an Armenian merchant sold 600 kg of heroin for £E 45,000. Drug addiction to the white drugs, especially heroin, is reported to have led to mental disease in several cases, so much so that the Director of the psychiatric hospital was nonplussed by the high number of drug addicts brought to him for mental disorders. He wrote to the Ministry of Health in 1927 that he could no longer admit all such patients and that he would be forced every year to discharge hundreds of patients whose cure was incomplete. Around the same time in 1928 it was found that the prisons lodged 4,634 prisoners implicated in narcotics cases, of whom 557 were traffickers and 4,077 addicts.

TABLE 2

Manufacturing cost of 1 kg of heroin in Europe
10
Price of 1 kg of heroin in stock
28
Price of 1 kg of heroin on entering Egypt
85
Price of 1 kg of heroin (pure), as delivered to the con- sumer
300
Price of 1 kg of heroin (adulterated), (resulting from adding 1 kg of pure heroin to 9 kg of borax and qui- nine) and delivered to the consumer
3 000
The system of capitulations

The work of the enforcement agencies at this time was made even more difficult by the system of capitulations to which the Egyptian Government was then subjected. Under the cover of the extra-territorial protection it gave them, many important traffickers and their agents were able to function with impunity. It might even be said that this system was amongst the most important factors which encouraged certain foreigners to venture into the lucrative drug trade. In many cases the consular authorities of the powers concerned were able to turn down Egyptian requests for deporting certain of their subjects involved in the drug traffic. There was, for example, the case of one Bakar in 1932 where the whole family of this name had established itself in Alexandria, and proceeding from delinquency such as cattle theft and acting under false pretenses, had finally become important drug traffickers in this city. Numerous requests for their deportation were made to the Italian Consul-General without effect. At last a raid had to be made on their premises with the Consul-General attending, in order to convince him of the criminal activities of those he was protecting. There were other hindrances to the police in Cairo carrying out their duties. If a search had to be carried out in premises used for illicit trafficking an officer of the consulate concerned was required to be present in case the owner or inhabitant was one of its citizens. Consular authority for carrying out a search was also not given between sunset and sunrise.

This extremely trying situation for the Egyptian authorities was only ended in 1937 after the Convention of Montreux, which abolished the system of capitulations. After this time foreign traffickers could be proceeded against, in the same way as Egyptian nationals and they became subject to maximum penalties of five years in prison and a £1,000 fine. Such sentences were much more severe than the foreign Consuls-General could have inflicted in the capitulation period.

The smuggling of narcotic drugs through the port of Alexandria

During this period Alexandria was the main channel for smuggling narcotic drugs into Egypt. Powers to fight this traffic were divided between several agencies: the Coastguard, the Port Police, the Harbour and Lighthouse services, the Quarantine Service and the customs, which created a problem of lack of co-ordination. It has been estimated that heroin was unloaded at Alexandria at the rate of 50 kg per week or about 2.5 tons per year during this period. Almost every boat entering Egyptian waters seems to have carried some narcotic cargo. The smuggling was of several kinds: ( a) small quantities brought in by individuals travelling as passengers or as crew; ( b) systematic smuggling, the crews being in league with big traffickers; ( c) drugs consigned in "in transit ". To fight this traffic, and keep a check on the crews of each boat entering the port was a gigantic task. Any search on board to be meaningful had to be extremely thorough and in the case of a big steamer required the employment of a team of professional searchers. In order to carry out the search effectively the enforcement officials had to be furnished with a plan of the internal construction of each boat and this was not always easy to obtain. It was also necessary that the personnel engaged in the search be both incorruptible and clever and also able to resist not only bribes but violence and threats. A search of this kind would take several hours and it is not difficult to imagine the loud protests raised by the shipping companies if their vessels could not drop anchor before the search had taken place. If by chance no contraband was discovered the owners or their agents would not fail to bring it to the knowledge of the country whose flag the ship flew, in an endeavour to embarrass the Egyptian Government diplomatically.

All these were immense practical difficulties and in time the Anti-Narcotics Bureau came to the conclusion that the only solution was to stop contraband from leaving foreign ports. On the domestic front meanwhile the Bureau had succeeded in co-ordinating the activities of the various enforcement agencies operating in the port of Alexandria.

International factors

The illicit traffic in white drugs flourished and reached menacing proportions as long as the problem it represented was viewed by each country exclusively from a national angle. In several European countries domestic legislation with respect to the white drugs referred only to internal consumption and internal trade. Countries producing heroin, which were at this time identified as the only sources supplying the Egyptian markets (the year is 1930), prohibited factories and laboratories from distributing their products in the interior of the country except through chemists and pharmacists. No offence was committed if the production was exported by these factories and laboratories. Several such factories were put up in certain countries of Europe, Asia Minor and in the Middle East and their production rose to such astonishing proportions that it could be said that a single one of these factories was producing double the quantity of white drugs needed for scientific and medical purposes for the whole world. It was inevitable that the surplus production of these factories should be thrown on the world illicit market. This was managed by well organised bands of illicit traffickers, and their network covered most of the European countries, and reached into the interior of Egypt. The traffickers had immense funds at their disposal and were quick to exploit every lacuna in the enforcement system. While the enforcement agencies, hampered by various restrictions, seemed to be running an obstacle race, the traffickers on their part could act speedily and freely, and keep the initiative. Reference has already been made to the fact that the legislation in certain European countries allowed the manufacture of heroin as long as it was not used to supply addicts within the country concerned. No attention was paid to the danger that such production had come to represent for a country like Egypt where the drug was coming into the hands even of workers and peasants. It was against this background that the Egyptian representative to the Opium Advisory Committee's thirteenth session in Geneva said that "Before these poisons came from Europe, there was no people more active, more robust and more happy than the peasants of Egypt. Today ", he said, "every Egyptian village has its victims of heroin ".

In this difficult time the Anti-Narcotics Bureau was attempting to do everything it could to stem the flood. When occasion demanded, it even sent its officers abroad to put them into direct contact with the enforcement agencies of the European countries, in order that the latter could have exact information about the traffickers and the drug factories on their soil. The Anti-Narcotics Bureau found with gratitude that its European counterparts were ready, to co-operate to the fullest extent. Whenever information was put into their hands they did their best to uncover clandestine factories and close them and put an end to the operations of the traffickers by throwing them into prison or deporting them far from the centre of their activities. Table 3 concerning cocaine and heroin seizures in the period 1929-1963 gives some idea of the course that the traffic in these two drugs took over these years:

TABLE 3

 

Cocaine *

Heroin

Year

(kg)

(g)

(cg)

(kg)

(g)

(cg)

1929 2 614 5 80 339 31
1930 3 589 88 54 668 91
1931 1 651 93 67 5 16
1932
-
135 2 26 888 27
1933
-
768 15 3 852 61
1934
-
337 46 14 739 88
1935
-
106 48 7 457 94
1936
-
407 15 26 737 55
1937
-
679 70 8 802 37
1938
-
169 15 13 784 5
1939
-
494 55 24 953 86
1940
-
890 35 7 429 47
1941
-
19 50 1 86 2
1942
-
2
-
-
532 32
1943
-
-
1 1 920 50
1944
-
-
-
-
1 50
1945 1 676 5
-
796 90
1946 1 124 50 1 267 84
1947 1 181 50 1 605 72
1948
-
405 35
-
220 15
1949
-
361 5 4 18 78
1950
-
347 15
-
636 79
1951
-
8 80
-
402 19
1952
-
-
-
-
315 90
1953
-
-
-
-
12 1
1954
-
358 28
-
23 66
1955
-
3
-
-
-
-
1956
-
8 20 1
-
-
1957
-
578 50
-
156 5
1958
-
21 50
-
-
25
1959
-
-
-
-
24 20
1960
-
-
-
-
1 17
1961
-
-
-
-
-
-
1962
-
-
-
-
-
-
1963
-
-
-
-
-
-
TOTAL
17 939 26 350 681 33

*1927: 43 kg;1928: 148 kg.

As regards drug addicts within the country, it was estimated in 1929 that 78 per cent of all prisoners were addicted to one drug or another. By 1934, fortunately, this percentage figure had fallen to 14, and it was possible to conclude from that time that white drugs were no longer a problem in the country.

The co-operation between the Anti-Narcotics Bureau and certain European enforcement authorities unearthed many famous organizations of illicit traffickers and it became possible to bring drug factories under control and limit their enormous production to legitimate medical and scientific needs. Among several cases, the following might be recalled.

La Société Roessler et Compagnie, Mulhouse, France

Vast quantities of white drugs, and above all heroin, destined for the Middle East and the Far East were produced in this establishment. Table 4 gives an idea of the scale of its productions and operations.

TABLE 4

Year

Heroin

Morphine

Cocaine

 
(kg)
(kg)
(kg)
1926 1,063 165
-
1927 667 150
-
1928 4,349 477 205
1929 335 155
-
TOTAL
4,414 947 205

It was estimated at this time that for scientific and medical needs in a European country of 50 million inhabitants, 50 kg of heroin per year would suffice, i.e. 1 kg of heroin would be considered enough to meet the requirements of 1 million inhabitants. If the world population at this time stood at 1,646 millions, the annual medical requirement of heroin for the whole world at the rate of 1 kg for 1 million people would be 1,646 kg. In the case of Roessler and Company, we see a manufacture in 1928 of 4,349 kg of heroin, which represented 2 times the needs of the whole world for that year! At the thirteenth session of the Opium Advisory Committee of the League in Geneva, the representative of Egypt appealed to the delegations of France and Switzerland in these words: "I ask you, is it proper that Europe should send poison by the ton into Egypt? You are severe in your own territory to prevent the disastrous consequences resulting from addiction to drugs. I appeal to all manufacturing countries to reflect a little on the ruin and the misery caused in Egypt by the devilish rapacity of the Heftis and the Roesslers of Europe ". This vehement appeal did not fall on deaf ears, and the Government of France soon made it known that it had taken energetic measures to control the manufacture and commerce of narcotic drugs. Similarly, Switzerland spoke of amendments to its legislation regarding morphine and its derivatives.

(2) The Orient Products Company

This factory of narcotic drugs at Constantinople, whose main production was of the alkaloids of morphine, was run by two Japanese brothers. It had existed since 1927 under a permit from the Turkish Government.

Laboratory Room No. 1, Radomir Factory

Full size image: 32 kB, Laboratory Room No. 1, Radomir Factory
The factory of Djevdet Bey

This was another factory at Constantinople which was licensed by the Turkish Government to an important French manufacturer of narcotic products. The factory's main products were morphine, cocaine and heroin. It is well known that the two above-mentioned factories in Constantinople supplied the illicit traffic into Egypt.

The Balkan Products Factory of Radomir, Bulgaria

This factory was situated near Sofia and belonged to a certain Metodi Lazoof, a Bulgarian national. It produced 750 kg of heroin per month. If one considers that 1 kg of heroin represents 250,000 medical doses, one would gather that 3,000,000 such doses were being produced at Radomir per day.

The organization of the illicit traffic

The illicit traffic made use of persons travelling between Alexandria and Vienna and passing through Genoa and Naples. They carried suitcases specially made in Vienna and known as "American wardrobes" which had secret compartments capable of holding 16 to 20 kg of heroin packed in black sacks of jute. Apart from heroin, certain other products capable of creating dependence were also being moved by the illicit traffic at this time, some of these substances being benzylmorphine, Dionyl, etc. The network of the illicit traffic at this time was installed in all corners of the European continent, above all in the following cities: Vienna, Zurich, Basle, Lugano, Genoa, Constantinople, Mulhouse, Milan, Strasbourg and Trieste. Following energetic investigations, the Anti-Narcotics Bureau came to identify the most dangerous bands of traffickers operating between Europe and the Middle East, and some of those brought to book were the following:

The organization of Zakarian and the Zellinger band

Thomas Zakarian, an Armenian subject, owned a small shop selling carpets on the rue Soliman Pasha, behind the cover of which he functioned as a wholesaler in narcotic drugs. His first supplier was a Viennese chemist, Ludwig Auer, who delivered benzylmorphine, manufactured by the Roessler Company at Mulhouse, France. Later Zakarian came into contact with two young Poles, the Zellingers, who lived at Vienna and who were able to supply him heroin which they purchased from the factory of a certain Dr. Hefti at Zurich. He was also dealing in Dionyl bought from the same source which was manufactured in great quantities. Hefti sold the Zellingers during four months 300 kg of Dionyl for £E7,800, who then resold the drug to Zakarian for £E24,000, who in turn turn made a transaction for £E27,000. (At this time Dionyl could be manufactured in Switzerland without infringing the law.) The two Zellinger brothers were arrested by the Austrian police and Zakarian, in his turn, also got a sentence of two years' imprisonment and a £300 fine.

Zellinger gang - Apparently inoffensive trunk taken apart

Full size image: 86 kB, Zellinger gang - Apparently inoffensive trunk taken apart

Zellinger gang - Trunk opened for customs inspection

Full size image: 24 kB, Zellinger gang - Trunk opened for customs inspection

Zellinger gang - Trunk with false compartments showing heroin bags hidden in cashes

Full size image: 24 kB, Zellinger gang - Trunk with false compartments showing heroin bags hidden in cashes

The Basle Organization

A certain Romanian, Maurice Grunberg, was bringing white drugs into Egypt from Europe, hidden in packages containing material for interior decoration. On 26 October 1930, eight cases, each containing 125 boxes of powdered glue, arrived at the customs in Cairo from Basle. On being opened, 24 of these boxes were found to contain 12 kg of white powder which, on analysis, proved to be a derivative of heroin. Grunberg was brought to trial and sentenced. Investigations were started to discover the source of the drug. A certain Dr. Muller was arrested and it was learned that he had been fabricating monoacetyl propionyl-morphine, an ester of morphine similar to that produced by Dr. Hefti in the Zakarian case, but like Hefti, Muller claimed that he had not violated any Swiss law. The Swiss chemist in Zurich was also arrested and testimony by him revealed that Muller had agents in Lugano, Milan, Genoa, Trieste, Mulhouse, Strasbourg and Constantinople. This investigation clearly established the existence of a vast and dangerous international band, and proved that there was a European channel of supply leading to the ports of Genoa, Trieste, Piraeus and Constantinople and moving from there to Alexandria. It is worthy of note that the traffickers in this case were fully aware of the gaps in Swiss law.

The band of Voyatzis, Eliopoulos and Delgracio

One of the most important accomplishments of the Anti-Narcotics Bureau was the discovery in 1938 of an important group of traffickers in Paris known under the name of "Eliopoulos Frères ". This band had accomplices in China and Japan under the leadership of one Jean Voyatzis. In this case the Anti-Narcotics Bureau came into the possession of extremely important documents, including a code book considered to be one of the most important seizures ever made regarding the organization of the illicit traffic in drugs. The Anti-Narcotics Bureau had the benefit of co-operation from several national authorities in other countries in unravelling all the strings of this case, and it owes a particular debt to its colleagues in the United States, the Netherlands, Germany and the United Kingdom. This case began with information from the British authorities in Tientsin that a certain Jean Voyatzis would be travelling by train from Egypt to Greece. When he arrived at Port Said his heavy baggage was sent on to Alexandria by train where it was searched by customs. Documents including the key to a code used for sending telegrams to Eliopoulos Frères and others was discovered in the baggage. The code was voluminous and together with it was a list of the members of the band in Europe at the head of which were the Eliopoulos brothers, and also a list of traffickers in China and Japan who worked under Voyatzis. Then followed the names of several well known companies who were supplying the illicit traffic as well as the name of shipping agents who were in league with the band. Then followed a series of code numbers for opium, other drugs and for apparatus for extracting alkaloids or for transforming one drug into another. Code numbers were also given for various mixtures and percentages of the different drugs. There was, in addition, a list of the shipping lines which the band used. There were also passwords and other signals that the traffickers employed in moving drugs and in making payments. After these papers had been seized the Bureau was informed by Eliopoulos in Athens that he wanted to make a statement in his defence. This testimony was taken by an officer of the Bureau sent to Athens, and it unravelled the most secret threads of the world illicit traffic.

Methods employed by the traffickers

The Anti-Narcotics Bureau has had wide experience of the ingenuity and efficient organization which marks the operations of the illicit traffic. The following cases are among the cleverest in its experience.

The case of the bogus monks

Huge quantities of hashish and opium were constantly being moved around in the Mediterranean, and as soon as opportunity occurred, they would be landed in an Egyptian port. Usually they were brought on board in Beirut with the co-operation of a few members of the crew and they would in time be taken into Port Said or Alexandria. If at the vessel's first call an opportunity for unloading did not arise, the cargo continued up to Marseilles or another European port and a second try would be made later.

In May 1938 information was received that one of these travelling drug consignments was on board the ship Marco Polo. The plan of the traffickers was not to bring ashore the drugs till the last moment before the boat sailed, when the police would be heavily occupied, especially because an official Turkish delegation was also departing by the same ship. Two members of the gang were then to be brought hurriedly on board disguised as a monk and a nun, who would then get off the boat just before it sailed, hiding on their person 28 kg of drugs coming from Beirut. However, the Anti-Narcotics Bureau was aware of this plan and it also learned that the band was looking for another woman also to be disguised as a nun for this purpose. The Bureau succeeded in planting one of its own agents who went aboard in disguise and won the confidence of the band. When the bogus monk and nuns came out to the gangway just before the boat weighed anchor, they were taken in custody and 24 packets of hashish and opium were found tied round their legs and about the stomach in muslin bags. It unfortunately happened that a genuine nun was also leaving the boat at the same time and she regrettably had to go throught the same search.

Traffickers dressed as priest and nuns

Full size image: 26 kB, Traffickers dressed as priest and nuns

Showing how drugs were hidden on the person of a pseudo priest

Full size image: 77 kB, Showing how drugs were hidden on the person of a pseudo priest

Shoes showing soles and heels in which heroin was concealed

Full size image: 48 kB, Shoes showing soles and heels in which heroin was concealed

The above photograph illustrates the method employed by the girls who were sent to meet incoming ships and bring heroin through the customs

Full size image: 50 kB, The above photograph illustrates the method employed by the girls who were sent to meet incoming ships and bring heroin through the customs

Among other cases, the Egyptian customs discovered 320 g of heroin hidden in false soles of shoes; 425 g of heroin hidden in a loaf af bread; 40 kg of hashish carried in a consignment of prunes from which the nuts had been removed and replaced by the drug; and drugs were also discovered in false bottoms of suitcases carried by travellers.

The Coastguard and Fisheries Department has had experience of other methods adopted by the traffic.

Hashish was often found in waterproof bags thrown overboard to be picked up by fishing boats; consignments of drugs were also carried in merchant vessels transporting fruit and other merchandise, who would transfer the consignment after sunset to fishing boats outside territorial waters. Small motor launches and vessels traversing the Suez Canal between the Far East and Europe were also used by the illicit traffic.

Halves of sandwich loaf showing how heroin was hidden

Full size image: 40 kB, Halves of sandwich loaf showing how heroin was hidden

The Frontier Guards were responsible for administering a territory 400,000 square kilometres in area. This force did not dispose of enough personnel to take care of the illicit traffic as completely as the situation required, given its normal duties. The Sinai Province especially, which fell into the jurisdiction of the Frontier Guards, was an important route for hashish entering from Lebanon and coming overland or sea across Palestine into the Nile Valley. Water being available in several places in the Sinai, the illicit traffickers chose alternative routes which further complicated the task of apprehending them. In fact they could move in a corridor 30 kilometres wide and yet find water on the way. Once at the western end of the desert, the drugs would either be taken across the Gulf of Suez or would follow the Red Sea coast towards Suez and Port Said. Engagements between the frontier guards and the traffickers in this area were dangerous and sometimes the chase would take four or five days, with shots being fired on both sides. It was the practice of the Government to give non-commissioned officers and other ranks awards to compensate them for their difficult task and also to keep them from being corrupted.

Unloading and transportation of the contraband

Full size image: 60 kB, Unloading and transportation of the contraband

The camel as a drug container

When the efforts of the enforcement agencies made the carriage of drugs on camel back or by porters dangerous, the organisers of the traffic turned to other means. One of the most ingenious was to pack hashish or opium in zinc cylinders which camels were forced to swallow. Once they had passed through the frontier controls, the camels would be slaughtered, the drug recovered from the carcase, and the meat sold. The police first heard about this method in October 1939. It will be recalled that the Second World War had begun a month earlier so that forces available for fighting contraband were further reduced. Some units of the Camel Corps, for example, had been assigned to purely military duties. At this time 30,000 or 35,000 camels coming from the east were passing through customs and the quarantine service at Kantara, so that the problem of discovering which of them were carrying drugs in their belly was not an easy one. This in

Sample tin of opium or hashish as found in camel's stomachs

Full size image: 96 kB, Sample tin of opium or hashish as found in camel's stomachs

Opening camels stomach in search of tins

Full size image: 49 kB, Opening camels stomach in search of tins

Plate showing the interior of the stomach of a camel: 1, Water-cells. 2, Cylinders in water-cells. 3, Aperture from esophagus to stomach. 4, Third and fourth stomachs. 5, Drug cylinders. 6, Aperture from rumen to second stomach. 7, The cud or masticated food.

Full size image: 36 kB, Plate showing the interior of the stomach of a camel: 1, Water-cells

genious trick of the illicit traffic came to light when a Bedouin refused to sell a camel for a price of 10 when the beast was not worth more than 3. The Sinai Police became suspicious and impounded this camel, together with nine others.

It was decided to slaughter one of the beasts, the risk being taken of having to recompense the owner if nothing was found. As it happened, 27 zinc cylinders 15 cm long and 4 cm in diameter were discovered. Eighteen other camels were subsequently also disembowelled and disgorged a total of 17.7 kg of hashish and 62.5 kg of heroin. It was noticed that the cylinders had been so formed that they could not pass from the animal's first stomach to the second stomach and be evacuated. According to veterinary authorities, the camel's first stomach performs hardly any digestive functions so that the creature suffers no physical harm by having these cylinders lodged inside him. Being made out of zinc, the containers would in any case not be affected by corrosive acids that might be in the stomach. Once through the customs on the Ismailia bank of the Canal, the camels used to be slaughtered in the desert and the cylinders retrieved. Needless to say, the value of the drugs sold in the animals was many times the cost to the trafficker in having to kill one prematurely.

The Egyptian authorities decided to make certain researches into the use of camels in this way. A camel was bought at Kantara and put at the disposal of the Director of the veterinary hospital. Cylinders similar to those used by the traffickers were introduced into this camel's stomach and it was found that the animal could live for weeks without any apparent change in his condition. It was noticed that the cylinders after entering the stomach had a tendency to move into one part of the organ near the xiphoid cartilage behind the abdominal fold. When the five fingers of the hand were rubbed on this part, a slight clinking could be heard. However, since 30,000 camels were going through customs at this point, it was obviously a problem to grope the stomach of each one of them in the hope of hearing this clink. An apparatus for X-raying the camels on the spot was put up and good results were obtained for a time. When the traffickers found themselves checked in this way, they started using plastic cylinders which did not show up under X-ray examination. In recent years this form of trafficking has, however, diminished, since not as many caravans as before come to the Sinai from Lebanon and beyond, through territory which is now occupied.

International co-operation

The work of the Anti-Narcotics Bureau could not have had the success it did without the co-operation of foreign countries who joined it in its humanitarian work and helped it to strangle and finally to wipe out the danger that the traffic in white drugs represented.

Turkey

The Government of Turkey co-operated closely with the Egyptian Government. It was not satisfied merely to close the clandestine white drug factories on the Bosphorus but it went further in the struggle against the illicit traffic by limiting opium production solely to medical and scientific needs. One of the reports of the Anti-Narcotics Bureau refers to a session of the Turkish cabinet of 25 December 1932 which was presided over by the President of the Turkish Republic himself. At this session the Cabinet studied the problem of drugs in all its aspects and as a result a programme of action was drawn up for submission to the National Assembly. The decisions taken were published in the Turkish newspaper Hakimieti Milliye as follows: ratification by Turkey of the international treaties related to narcotic drugs, notably the Conventions of 1912 and 1931; the idea was broached that the best means of satisfying the world's medical and scientific needs and fighting drug addiction at the same time would be to open an international factory which would be worked without any consideration of making profit; until this idea could be realized, Turkey would limit its production by establishing a monopoly under the control of the State; the export of raw opium would be controlled and regulated; the production of opium itself would be limited and brought under a system of licence; there would be total prohibition of the cultivation in Turkey of cannabis; special courts would be set up and severe penalties would be enacted for narcotics offences.

The provisions concerning the production of opium in Turkey should be considered especially meritorious since at one time the opium harvest was to the Turkish peasant what cotton is to the Egyptian.

Bulgaria

When Turkey closed the three big heroin factories on the Bosphorus, it was found that they transferred the scene of their operations to Bulgaria which became a centre of illicit production by 1932. Representations made by the Anti-Narcotics Bureau and the despatch of one of its officers to Sofia met willing co-operation from the Bulgarian authorities. It was found that there were four important factories of heroin in the country, the most important being the Balkans Products Company at Radomir descrbied earlier. This factory had been using up all the opium produced in Bulgaria and had come to depend on raw material from Turkey. When the situation came to light the Turkish Government put out a regulation that opium producers must furnish by 30 June 1934 figures of the quantity of opium remaining in their possession after the harvests of 1932 and 1933, and state the area to be cultivated for opium in 1933/34 and the quantity of opium that it was hoped to produce therefrom. The opium producers were forbidden to sell their product to anybody except persons authorized by the Directorate of Health. Through such ready co-operation between the three countries immediately concerned a stop was put to the production of heroin in Bulgaria.

Italy

It had been noticed that ships of the Italian maritime line Lloyd-Triestino were playing an important role in the transport of white drugs. In 1931 the Anti-Narcotics Bureau made a report on this problem which came to the attention of the Italian Government. The Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs communicated to the League of Nations the measures taken as a result of the information given by the Anti-Narcotics Bureau. On its side, the Lloyd-Triestino Company informed the Ministry that in its own interest and for the sake of the reputation of the Italian merchant marine it would exercise the greatest vigilance to stop the transport of drugs on its boats. It is pleasing to record that the shipping line acquitted itself of its obligations.

Greece

There was close co-operation between the Egyptian Anti-Narcotics Bureau and the Greek authorities. One of the results of this teamwork was the arrest of the Scalieri brothers by the Greek police. These traffickers were at the head of a clandestine factory. The Greek police also arrested in Salonica and Athens several individuals found in possession of heroin manufactured at Skoplje in Yugoslavia. In Greece itself in 1934 a law was passed increasing penalties for the non-medical use of drugs and for irregular prescription by doctors. The law also called for the deportation of addicts from their ordinary place of residence to places where they could be kept under surveillance, this expulsion varying from three months to two years and even five years for a recidivist.

Yugoslavia

Egypt was immediately benefited by the closure of a heroin factory in Skoplje by the Yugoslav authorities. Several traffickers involved in the operation were also arrested.

China

It seemed in 1935 that the traffic in white drugs was being carried on bWoard a large number of ships coming from China who stopped in European ports before going on to North America. At this time China was an important source of illegal white drugs in the whole world. The main source of these drugs seemed to be certain parts of the country which were directly or indirectly under Japanese domination. In 1935 the representative of China told the Opium Advisory Committee that a new law had been passed in China forbidding the cultivation of the opium poppy and seeking the progressive abolition of opium throughout the country within a period of six years. An organization had been established to co-ordinate the measures to be taken under the law and to be then placed directly under the president of the Military Council of the National Government.

"Black" drugs (hashish and opium)

As the tide of the white drugs flowing into Egypt was turned, their users began to search for substitutes. White drugs continued to enter the country in small quantities but they were intercepted before they could fall into the hands of the consumer.

Black tea

By boiling an infusion of tea repeatedly a concentrate of its essence was obtained, from which some people obtained a kind of stimulation that they had hitherto sought from drugs. Black tea had the additional advantage that neither its preparation nor consumption meant breaking the law. However, this interesting beverage could not satisfy the tastes of the addict and he soon began to turn towards the true black drugs, mainly in the form of hashish and opium which had in fact been known in Egypt from long ago.

Hashish

The cannabis plant had been cultivated in Egypt only in a small way but yet the Government put it under a ban in 1879. In the situation it was inevitable that supplies should be sought from beyond the Egyptian borders. In 1926 Syria, Lebanon and Greece became major sources of supply and enormous quantities of hashish, especially from Syria and Lebanon, began to enter Egypt. The enforcement agencies made a seizure of 18.7 tons of hashish in 1928, a huge figure which has never been equalled, even in 1958, 30 years later, when 18.6 tons were seized.

It has been estimated that in 1928 the Bekaq Valley in Lebanon had harvested the enormous quantity of 60 tons of hashish, a figure which was said to have been surpassed in 1929. It was estimated that 90 per cent of this production was being flooded into Egypt.

It is known that from about 1925 cannabis cultivation in Syria was also practised on a large scale and there was suspicion that the big land owners interested in this cultivation were able to prevent the Government from acting against it. Loads of hashish reached Egypt either hidden in steamers or sailing boats or carried across Palestine into the Sinai desert in Egyptian territory. After the Sinai, once they reached the Suez Canal the hashish consignments only had to be carried by camel trains 130 kilometres to the Nile Valley. This latter journey lasted 36 hours, of which 12 hours were made under cover of darkness. This tactic of moving in the night made it difficult for the enforcement patrols to keep on the trail of the caravans. The Anti-Narcotics Bureau got the support of the Air Force to follow the camel trains and keep them under surveillance. If the aircraft would not land its crew would send a radio signal to the desert patrol on the track of the caravan and tell it in which direction it should proceed. The problem was brought to the notice of the League of Nations in order to persuade the Governments of the two countries concerned to pass laws banning the cultivation, production and possession of cannabis.

Opium

Before 1926 opium cultivation was permitted in Upper Egypt on condition that the opium produced were either exported or sold to pharmacies and to laboratories for scientific and medical purposes. Commercial sales of opium were only permitted under licence from the Ministry of Health.

At one time 1,195 hectares were sown to the opium poppy, in addition to 945 hectares estimated to be under clandestine cultivation. Much of the production from this area went into the illicit market and for this reason the Government passed a law dated 24 May 1926 putting a total ban on the cultivation of the poppy. When this happened, the illicit traffic turned quickly to opium-producing areas abroad to keep supplying the Egyptian market. It was Turkish opium above all, known as opium "ezmerli ", which was preferred by the Egyptian addict because of its excellent quality and also because it came from a nearby area. Happily Turkey instituted controls on the cultivation and sale of opium at this time because of the part Turkish opium had already begun to play in the illicit manufacture of heroin and morphine.

The problem of the so-called black drugs remains a serious one for Egypt. Many questions remain to be answered: why has the United Arab Republic not been able to put an end to the evils of hashish and opium as it was able to do in the case of cocaine, heroin and morphine?. What are the main national and international factors which affect this situation?. What would be the most effective means for improving the situation, both in the areas where hashish and opium are produced, and in the victim countries in the Middle East, above all the United Arab Republic?