Egyptian History: British Protectorate (1882-1922)



Figure 1.--Here we see a scene from Egypt during the 1880s when the British Protectorate was established. Egyptian nationalists and Islamicists have since blamed Britain for poverty and the country's lack of development. The fact that Egyptian governments since independence have failed to resolve Egypt's problems suggest that the British were not at the heart of Egypt's problems.

Colonel Ahmad Arabi ('Urabi) and the nationalists gained control of Tawfik Pasha's cabinent (early 1882). Nationalist elements in the Army threatened the Turkish and Circassian officers. Tawfik Pasha himsel was in danger. Nationalists led riots in Alexandria and other port cities. This threatened not only Tawfik Pasha, but the Europeans living there. Both Britain and France dispatched warships to blockade Alexandria. The British landed troops and formally made Egypt a protectorate (1882). The growth of The British Empire is a complicated empire. Unlike many empires, the British were in many cases reluctant imperialists. This was represented by the long running differences between Benjamin Disreali and William Ewart Gladstone who dominated British politics in the mid/late-19th century. Disreali the Conservative argued to expand tge Empire. It was he who suggested Victoria become the Emperess of India.) Gladstone wanted to limit it. Gladstone did not forsee a prolonged occupation of Egypt or to formally seize political control. A factor here was the diplomatic consequences (the Sultan in Constantinople and other European powers), but the major factor was Gladstone's reluctance to further expand the Empire. Even Gladstone, however, was unwilling to abandon Egypt to the nationalists without securing Britain's position in Suez. And there seemed no way of doing this with a hostile nationalist regime. Thus a military presence ws deemed necessary. Subsequent colonial officials projected an extended British presence.

Background

The British occupation and establishment of the protectorate resulted in the further separation of Egypt from the Ottomon Empire. The Ottomons conquered Egypt as well as much of the Mid-East and North Africa (16th century). And since tht time the Empire's ability to actually control Egypt varied over time. The Mamelukes for a long period were essentially independent. Napoleon's invasion began the separation of Egypt (1798) and the Ottoman Visar, Muhammed Ali, sent to restore the Sultan's authority, only continued the process. Egypt became largely independent after the Napoleonic Wars. The ties between the Ottomans and Egypt were never entirely broken. Egypt aided the Ottomons in the struggle against Greek Christian independence (1820s). And the Sultan retained important religious authority even in Muhammed Ali's Egypt. Western readers able to easily comparmmentalize religion and politics nust realize thatIslsm is a political as well as a religious institution designed to create a state capable of supporting the religion. Thus the Sultan's religious authority had political connotations. France after the Napoleonic Wars began to build a North African Empire, beginning in Algeria (1830s). North Africa had been aregion dominsated by the Barbary Pirates and only monilally controlled by the Ottoman Empire. Egypt was by far the most important North African country due to its population, agricultural production, and geographic location, a transit point between Europe and the East. The construction of the Suez Canal vastly increased the imporance of Egypt--an essential link between Britain and Egypt. There was a rivalry netween France and Britain for control of Egypt, but after the construction of the Canal, the French essentially withdrew to focus more on Algeria and Tunisia. It was the Government of William Ewart Gladstone’s liberal government that brought about the Protectorate. Disreali might have created a colony along Indian lines. Gladstone on the other hand did not want a prolonged occupation or to establish formal political control as a colony. The compromose was a protectorate which kept much of domestic policy in Egyptian hands.

Suez

The construction of the Suez Canal by a British-French group made Egypt of great strategic importance to the Europeans. Egypt had been fouhjt over by the British and French in the Napoleonic Wars even before the construction of the Canal. After comstruction, Suez would figure in both world wars and be the prize in the post-War Suez War (1956). A joint stock company (England, France, and Egypt) completed the Camal (1869). This provided a direct route for British shipping to India, their major colony. The Egyptian ruler, Ismail Pasha, owned the Egyptian shares personally. He iwned 44 percent of the shares in the Canal. Due to escalating debt, he was forced to sell. The British Government during the Conservative government of Benjamin Disraeli bought Ismail's shaes for £4 million (1875). This gave Britain control the strategic waterway. After having difficulty working with the khedive, the British occupied the country when a nationalist uprising threatened to seoze control (1882).

Egyptian Foreign Debt

Ismail Pasha persued a modernization program fueld by increasing cotton export earnings and foreign loans. When the Civil War in America ended !1865) American cotton exports resumed and cotton prices fell. This reduced Egyptian cotton export earnings. And this made it difficult to meet the payments on foreign loans. Ismail attempted to increase tax collections, but finally had to sell his share in the Suez Canal joint-stock company. The European powers that loaned Egypt money formed the Caisse de la Dette Publique (Commission of the Public Debt) (1876). Members were appointed by France, Britain, Austria, and Italy. It sought to oversee the servicing of the Egyptian foreign debt.

Formation of an Egyptian Army

There was until the late 19th century no true Egyptian army. Egypt was still nominally a part of the Ottoman Empire. Thus the officer corps was Turkish and Circassian. This began to change during the reigns of Said Pasha and Ismail Pasha, Both rulers allowed Egyptians to enter the officer corps. As the Egyptians began to become an important group, they began organizing secret societies. This was both a response to discrimination by Turkish and Circassian leadership as well as an expression of Egyptian natinalism. The result was predictable. Egyptian Colonel Ahmad Arabi ('Urabi) defied the war minister which ecalated into a full-blown mutuny against the Tawfik Pasha, also referred to as the khedive. Colonel Arabi demanded a elections fpr a legislature and expanded allocations for the army.

Tawfik Pasha (1879)

The European powers pressured the Ottoman sultan to designate Ismail’s son Tawfik (Tawfiq) as the new pasha. Tawfik was more willing to cooperate with foreign creditors. This made him, however, unpopular with nationalists who were becoming an increasing force in Egypt. Egyptian nationalist groups began to be organized during the reign of Ismail Pasha. The expanding European influence in Egypt helped fueled the rise of nationalist sentiment. Egyptian nationalism included a strong Islamic element. An important Islamicist figure was Persian-born Jamal al-Din al-Afghani. He spent 8 years preaching and teaching in Egypt spreading his ideas. Egyptian intelectuals wrote plays and opened newspapers promoting both independence as well as constitutional government. The khedive was in fact an absolute monarch. Thus the constitution movement ws a threat to the khedive. The appoint of foreign debt commissioners had fueled criticism of the foreigners as well as the khedive who was seen as cooperting with them. The commissioners essentially reserved government revenue to pay off foreign loans. This mean that less money was available for other gobernment expenditures, including the military and domestoic spending (education and economic). Tawfik when he replaced his father took over in this environment and because he was seen as being even more compliant than his father became vey unpopular. Soon after becoming khedive, a nationalist uprising launched by Egyptian Army Colonel Ahmad Arabi threaten Tawfik (1881).

Establishing the Protectorate (1882)

Col. Arabi and the nationalists gained control of Tawfik Pasha's cabinent (early 1882). Nationalist elements in the Army threatened the Turkish and Circassian officers. Tawfik Pasha himsel was in danger. Nationalists led riots in Alexandria and other port cities. This threatened not only Tawfik Pasha, but the Europeans living there. Both Britain and France dispatched warships to blockade Alexandria. The British landed troops and formally made Egypt a protectorate (1882).

Disreali and Gladstone

The growth of The Britisj Empire is a complicated empire. Unlike many empires, the British were in many cases reluctant imperialists. This was represented by the long running differences between Benjamin Disreali and William Ewart Gladstone who dominated British politics in the mid/late-19th century. Disreali the Conservative argued to expand tge Empire. It was he who suggested Victoria become the Emperess of India.) Gladstone wanted to limit it.

Gladstone's Intentions

Gladstone did not forsee a prolonged occupation of Egypt or to formally seize political control. A factor here was the diplomatic consequences (the Sultan in Constantinople and other European powers), but the major factor was Gladstone's reluctance to further expand the Empire. Even Gladstone, however, was unwilling to abandon Egypt to the nationalists without securing Britain's position in Suez. And there seemed no way of doing this with a hostile nationalist regime. Thus a military presence ws deemed necessary. Subsequent colonial officials orojected an extended British presence.

Trial of the Nationalists

Britain insisted that Tawfik Pasha try Col. Arabi and his nationalist associates for treason. They were found guilty and sentenced to death, but Tawfik commuted the sentences to exile. The trial further diminished Tawfik's very limited prestige.

Administrative Reforms

Lord Dufferin, the British ambassador in Constantinople, was assigned the task of studying the situation in Egypt and assess how to proceed with the Protectorate. After a fact finding trip to Egypt, Dufferin submitted areport suggesting a series of administrative reforms. Achieving these reforms would, however, involve an extended British presence rather than the short occupation Gladstone wanted. Dufferin's position was reluctantly accepted in London. Here the British agent and consul general in Cairo, Sir Evelyn Baring, played a major role. He was awarded the title of Lord Cromer (1892).

Diplomatic Concerns

Bitain was the most important imperial power of the 19th century. There was, however, an evolving sence of international law and diplomacy. The beginning of this was the Congress of Vienna at the end of the Napoleonic Wars (1815). European powers on a number of occassioins acted through consensus. Britain thus attempted to achieve a degree of international acceptance for its actions in Egypt. The primary problem was the French. The French Government objected to the abolition of the Dual Control (December 1882). While the Protectorate ended Dual Control, the Caisse de la Dette continued to operate and the French used the forum to register a degree of opposition to the Protectorate. This was a first a problem for he British. Egyptian finances in the early years of the Protectorate were a nightmare. Gradually beginning in 1889, the Egyptians began to report a surplus. This reduced the role of the Caisse de la Dette and provided more leeway for the British and Egyptian government. An important step for the British was the Convention of London (1885). This provided for an international loan to the Egyptian government. In addition two additional members (Germany and Russia) wre added to the Caisse de la Dette. Anotgher important undertaking was the Convention of Constantinople (1888). This provided that the Suez Canal would be open to ships from every country even during times of war.

Domestic Policies

The British also had to define the nature of the Protectorate. This meant the relationship between the British and Tawfik Pasha and his khedivial government. This was the official administration of the country throughout the Protectorate. The British never attempted to establish a colonial government like the Raj in India. The basic policy that evolved was that international issues were decided by the British Government in London. In cotrast, domestic matters were normally decided in Cairo by Lord Cromer. Througout his administration, Lord Cromer steadily expanded his influence. British advisers were assigned to the various ministries of the khedival government. The British advisers were often more influential than the actual ministers. Tawfiq himself proved to be a compliant figurehead unwilling to challenge the British, least he be replaced like his father. Some of the prime ministers he appointed were less compliant. Sharif was the first prime minister (1882-84). Nubar Pasha (1884–88) and Mustafa Riyad (Riaz) Pasha (1888–91), both had trouble with Lord Cromer. They resigned because of differences over administrative control. Mustafa Fahmi Pasha was much more compliant (1891-93 and 1895-1908), no doubt explaining his longevity in the position. While the Britsh were insistent on some issues, such as the slave trade, they were willing to allow considerable Egyptian control in other areas.

The Mhadi (1881-98)

The status of the what is now Sudan was unsettled in the mid-19th cedntury. The khedive, desirng to gain control of the south, appointed General Charles "Chinese" Gordon as governor general of Equatoria (1873) His authority is extended to the entire Sudan (1877). Gordon puts his relentless energy to work gaining control of Sudan. Gordo works for 6 years to gsain control over rebelious tribes. Egyptian garrisons are establishes throughout the Sudan. When Goirdoin leaves for England, it looks like he has suceeded (1880). A year later, a charismatic tribal leader embued with Islam emerges in Sudan--Mohammed Ahmed who styled himself the Mahdi. He capitalizes on the widespreaddisdcontent anr resentment oward both the British snd Egyptians among the tribes. The Mahdi lived with disciples on an island in the White Nile. There he is inspired by the revelation that he is the long-awaited Mahdi. He procklsims his new role and calls for the creation of a strict Islamic state ryled by Shsaria. Egyptian authorities in Khartoum order his arrest. He and his small band of followers escape to the mountains. The Mahdi's skills and the religious fervor of his followers allow him to attack isolated Egyptian garrisons (1883). The Egyptians dispstch three sarmies to the Sudan, each of which are defeated. One is commanded by a Bitish general. He is able to take several importsnt tons, including El Obeid. Graduall Khartoum itself was threatened. Khartoum is populated by msny non-Sudanese civilians which face death at thevhands of the Mahdi and his followers. The British government headed by Primeminister Gladstone at the time is trying to limit the grot of the Npire. He does not want to send a British empire, dedspite increasing public pressure for sction. He decides to send General Gordon, but with very limited forces. Gordon sails down the Nile and reaches Khartoum (February 18, 1884). He sets up defenses with the small availavle force. Khartoum by this time is surrounded, except for the Nile. Gordon manages to evacuate about 2000 people (women, children and the sick). The Mahdi begins to besige the city (March 13). Girdom commands a small thorougly demoralized Egyptian garrison. The Mahdi cuts the telegraph and the British in Cairo have no communication with Gordon. He manages to hold out for 10 months. Gordon because of his work in China was an enormously popular figure. When the tegraph lines are cut, the Vritish papes begfin to demand Governent saxction. A reluctant Gladstone orders a relief mission to Khartoum, but does nor demand rapid action. Garnet Wolseley sails from London with an expeditionary force (September). The Mahdi's fanatic forces finally breach Goirdon's defenses and kill Gordon, massacring the starving troops and civiliand (Jsnuary 26). The British vanguard reaches Khartoum (January 28, 1885). They are 2 days too late and find a massacered civilian population. Wolseley's small army withdraws north. The surviving Egyptian garrisons in the Sudan attempt to make their way north. This leave the Mahdi in control of the Sudan. The Mahdi set up his camp around the small village of Omdurman. This was accross the Nile from Khartoum. From here he administered the Sudan as as Islamic state along the lines of the Great Caliphate. The Mahdi envisioned a movement that woukld recreate the Caliphate steaching from Persia to Spain, but he rules Sudan for only a short priod. He does not long survive Gordon and dies (June 1885). He appoits Abdullahi ibn Mohammed to succeeded him as caliph. Abdullahi is known simply as the Khalifa. The Khalifa rules Sudan for 13 years. He administers an Islamic state ruled by the military Sharia azlongthe lines of the caliphate. He attemts to expand and achieves some success in Ethiopia. The Khalifa did mot, however, have access to nodern weapons. The Anglo-Egyptian alliance did. Lord Herbert Kitchener who as a young officer was with Wolseley's leads a modern force south (1898). Armed wth artillery and machine guns, the expedition decimates the Khalifa's Mahdist forces at Omdurman. This restablishes British-Egyptian control of the Sudan.

Economy

Assessing economic trends during the British protectorate is difficult. A major problem is that some authors write from an ideological perspective, primarily interested in depicting the evils of colonialism rather than actually assessing economic trends. We are not yet sure just what the British impact here was, but have begun to collect information. One siimple fact should be born in mind here. While colonialism is commonly depicted as a evil system, in many cases for good reason, quite a number of countries deteriorated in economic terms after the European powers departed. Thus readers should be careful in accepting the claims of ideologically oriented authors. The principal British interest in Egypt was of course the Suez Canal which connected the country with its promsry colony--India. One source suggests that the British chaged high tolls and refused to share the revenue with the Egyptian Government. This may well be true. We are not yet sure. It is also true, however, that Egyotian businessmen and workers benefited from the support activities associated with runnng the Canal and the increased commerce the Canal brought to Egypt. One highly critical complains that the British heavily taxed the Egyptian. We are not yet able to assess this. He also writes, "... the only things that the British improved in Egypt were the health care, education, and improved farming methods". Now the use of the term "only" seems strabnge as these are all very important areas. And there was another important achievement--infrastructure. Much of the country's modern infrastructure (roads, bridiges, and railroads) were built during the British protectorate. We are not yet sure just how to assess Egypt's economic progress during the Protectorate. It must be remembered, however, that the British, unlike the regime in India, did not take over the Egyptian civil administration. Thus any fair economic assessment must take into account both the British policies and the policies of the Egyptian Government. Here it is not enough tp point to Egyptian poverty. Egypt and the rest of the Middle East were very poor when the British established the Protectorate (1882). What is important is the degree to which Egypt changed during the Protectorate which ended after World War I (1922).

Education

Egypt after the construction of the Suze Canal became one of the strategically most important countries in the world. The British as a result, established a protectorate (1882). As Egypt was not a colony, Egyptians retained responsibility for local government, including education. This meant there was still very limited public education through the first half of the 20th century. There is a tendency in the Arab world to blame problems on the relatively brief European colonial era. So we see comments like, "The British protectorate in Egypt left an exclusionary, state-controlled education system structured to serve elite (British) interests with little concern for the masses. The heritage was one of restricted opportunity, unenforced limited education (generally of poor quality), and higher education reserved mostly for the elite. Egyptians and non-English foreigners were left few options but to expand private and religious education." While in part factually correct, statements like this suggest that the British actively restricted educational oppoertunity. This is not the case. It is true that the state education system was not expanded to the rural poor. But it is also true that there were more modern schools when the Britisdh left than before. The British did not impede the Egyptian Government from building schools. This was a decesion taken by Egyptian authorities. Egypt's poor education system was primarily inherited from the khedicate, not created by the British. There were numerous private schools opened. This included Egypt's first secular university. The failure to expand the state education system related to Egypt's economic limitations and lack of interest on the part of Egyptian leaders and not on British policies. In addition, Islamic education continued virtually unchanged from medieval times. The British critics suggests thst they were responsible for expaning Islamic education. We are unsure about this. Perhaps our Egyptian readers will know more.







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Created: 7:36 PM 11/5/2007
Last updated: 3:12 AM 9/12/2010