HENRY NOEL BRAILSFORD
THE WAR OF STEEL AND GOLD
A STUDY OF THE ARMED PEACE
THE EGYPTIAN MODEL
THOSE who would test the theory that the movement of capital towards semi-civilised regions is the disturbance which sets the European Balance of Power oscillating, need be at no loss for a model to observe. There is an episode in the modern history of our foreign policy which in itself is the perfect epitome of the tendencies which we have sketched. Our occupation of Egypt had its origin in finance. It marked the ruin of the old un-Imperial Liberalism. In the interests of invested capital it is avowedly continued. To most of the groupings of the Great Powers over a period of thirty years, and to most of the struggles to preserve the balance, it is an indispensable clue. In its bearings on the fortunes of the Egyptians themselves, it exhibits in perfection the material benefits of Imperialism no less than the moral losses which mark its triumph.
"The origin of the Egyptian question in its present phase was financial." That is the opening sentence of Lord Cromer's Modern Egypt, and it spares us any historical controversy. Our statesmen drifted, our agents schemed their way into the occupation of Egypt, at the bidding of high finance, and for no other reason. Capital had been exported from France and England to the Nile Valley at an extravagant rate and with consummate imprudence. There came a moment when both countries perceived that the Khedive was injuring the security on which their capital reposed. They stepped in, precisely as a bank may foreclose on a mortgaged estate, first through the Dual Control, and then through the British occupation.
It was not Oriental stagnation which ruined Egypt, but the ferment of Western ideas. The Khedivial family, founded by that adventurer of genius, Mehemet Ali, was determined to defy geography, to reform the map and to make of Egypt a quasi-European state. French culture was acclimatised, European enterprise welcomed, the growing of cotton encouraged and the Suez canal dug. Egypt under this dynasty was tranquil and progressive, and it was no chronic or deep-seated disorder which led to the foreign occupation. The Khedive Ismail, who came to the throne in 1863, was a spendthrift of genius. But if he squandered large sums on palaces, operas and mistresses, he also did much on the lines laid down by his predecessors to develop Egyptian industries and culture. It is true that in the end he despoiled the peasantry, but the beginning of this spoliation was that the money-lenders and contractors robbed the Khedive. European contractors engaged in his great works of building and irrigation were known to have overcharged him anything from 80 to 400 per cent. For floating loans he had latterly to pay as much as 25 per cent. in interest. Of the 68 millions which was raised as a national debt, Egypt received only 44 millions, so that the nominal interest of 7 per cent. amounted in reality to 12 or 13 per cent. of a loan of 32 millions which he raised in 1873 only 20 millions ever reached the exchequer.(10) Such were the transactions which British and French diplomacy covered with their support. Behind the bond-holders stood the great cosmopolitan firm of Rothschild, and in England their interests were in the hands of Mr., afterwards Lord, Goschen, who had been a Liberal, and was to become a Unionist Minister. Diplomacy is always ready to enforce a debt against a weak State. To it contracts are sacred, but it does not dream of interfering to insist that the contracts shall be equitable. Egypt, however, could have borne even this great load of debt had the interest been fixed at a reasonable figure. There were three obstacles to the re-establishment of Egyptian finances---the character of the Khedive Ismail, the absence of any native machinery which could control his despotism, and the rate of interest charged by the European bond-holders. The two former obstacles were removed long before the occupation took place. Ismail granted a constitution, and the Egyptian Parliament, with the national army behind it, became a real power which could be trusted to resist profligate expenditure. Midway in the crisis the spendthrift Ismail was deposed. Only the third obstacle, the usurious rate of interest, remained. By delaying their consent to any satisfactory composition, the Powers kept their hold upon Egypt. It was not until Lord Cromer was firmly in the saddle that the debt was unified and the interest lowered to an equitable rate. Had Egypt been allowed to do what was permitted to Lord Cromer, she might have restored her own finances and avoided the need of foreign tutelage.
The history of the Dual Control shows with painful clearness that the agents appointed by Great Britain and France to manage Egyptian finances in the interests of the bond-holders acted with no more regard for the interests of the Egyptian people than the bailiffs of a private usurer might have shown. Ismail had been despotic, but it was under the Dual Control that the lash was most ruthlessly plied. In 1877, a year of famine, to pay the coupon due to the clients of the Rothschilds, taxes were actually collected in advance from the ruined peasants.(11) Instead of reducing the usurious rate of interest and debt, the Control cut down Egyptian expenditure. The schools were starved, and from motives of economy the control proposed at one blow to dismiss with their eighteen months' arrears of pay unpaid or only partially met, no less than two thousand officers of the Egyptian army. "Many officers and their families," Lord Cromer admits, "were reduced, to a state of complete destitution."(12) But foreign usury under a European Control takes precedence of local debts. From this act of folly and injustice dates the rise of the Nationalist party under its gifted and popular leader, a Colonel of peasant origin, Achmet Arabi Pasha. Egypt had always been ruled by foreign conquerors from the days of the Macedonians down to those of the Turks. Arabi's movement meant for the first time the emergence of a conscious Egyptian nationality, which was opposed almost as much to the Khedives and the ruling Turkish landed and military caste as to the foreign financiers and the Dual Control. The movement, as Lord Cromer says (p. 226, Modern Egypt), was at once "liberal" and "nationalist," and was directed, as our Financial Commissioner, Sir Auckland Colvin, put it, mainly against "Turkish arbitrary rule." Mr. Gladstone unluckily chose to think that he had to deal with nothing more than a military mutiny, and his inveterate prejudice against Mohammedans forbade him to see that in Egypt, as in the Balkans, a down-trodden race was "rightly struggling to be free." The parallel is remarkably close between these Egyptian nationalists and the Young Turks of our own day. Both parties drew their force from the army, and relied upon it to put pressure on the local despotism. Both were Nationalist, in the sense that they aimed at throwing off the humiliating interference of Europe in their domestic affairs. Both were in theory constitutionalists, and aimed at creating a stable parliamentary government on a European model. The Egyptian officers acted in concert with a civilian party, and with a group of Liberal theologians which had just inaugurated a "modernist" movement in Islam. To all this the two Liberal Governments in Great Britain and France were blind. They had brought about the deposition of the Khedive Ismail. They supported his successor, Tewfik, against the Egyptian Parliament, because they had in him a pliable tool who was forced to lean on foreign aid. With the new Khedive and the Conservative pashas of the Turkish ruling caste the Control contracted a close alliance against the popular party. The unexpected vitality of the Parliament, and the fact that it could rely on the army in opposing the Court, placed unforeseen obstacles in the path of the Foreign Control.
There came a point when the Dual Control realised that nothing more was to be gained by supporting a weak sovereign against his people. It was necessary to make a crisis which would seem to justify an appeal to force. Its views, as Mr. Rothstein argues, were plainly confessed in the following despatch from Sir Edward Malet. (Egyptian Blue Book, No. 7 (1882), p. 107 :--
"It should be remembered that the present (Nationalist) Ministry is distinctly hitherto bent upon diminishing the Anglo-French protection (sic), and that as a matter of fact our influence is daily decreasing. It will not be possible for us to regain our ascendancy until the military supremacy which at present weighs upon the country is broken. . . . I believe that some complication of an acute nature must supervene before any satisfactory solution of the Egyptian question can be attained, and that it would be wiser to hasten it, than to endeavour to retard it."
In plain words, Sir Edward Malet was determined to make a catastrophe. Here was a nation, emerging at last at the menace of foreign intervention, from the lethargy and oppression of centuries, determining to govern itself, establishing a Parliament on European models, throwing off the personal rule of an autocrat, and appealing to the natural sympathies of the Liberal West. Had no question of money and "ascendancy " been at stake, Mr. Gladstone and Lord Granville would have followed its progress with the indulgence and encouragement which Mr. Asquith and Sir Edward Grey extended in our own day on the Young Turks. But the bondholders were strong enough to make public opinion in England and France. To them Egypt was only a debtor, and they preferred to perpetuate the rule of a Khedive whom they knew they could control, rather than encourage the growth of a nation which aspired to govern itself. In the balance hung in one scale the promise of a new national life, in the other a usurious debt which bore its interest at 12 per cent. The 12 per cent. carried the day. Lord Granville saw only one supreme necessity, the restoration of the Khedive's autocratic authority, and the crushing of Parliament, the army and Arabi. It was frivolous intervention which could destroy a living thing, a nation fired with ideals and hopes, for the sake of a money debt. It was, moreover, a superfluous profanity, for the Nationalists neither repudiated the debt, nor disputed the authority of the Control over the ample revenues assigned to its service.
For some time the same Mr. Gladstone who would have driven the Turks "bag and baggage " out of Europe toyed with the idea of inducing Abdul Hamid to send a Turkish army to Egypt. But the extremer Imperialists had other views. We began in the conventional way by sending ships to Egypt. There was some nervousness about the safety of European lives during this critical period. But the ships were not sent to protect them. On the contrary, our agents on the spot reported to Lord Granville that the sending of ships might alarm and irritate the Egyptians, and so actually endanger Europeans. The ships were sent as a political menace, and for no other reason. "I have the honour to inform your Lordship," wrote Sir Edward Malet to Lord Granville, " that my French colleague and I think that the political advantage of the arrival of the combined squadron at Alexandria is so great as to override in consideration the danger which it might possibly cause to Europeans in Cairo." In plain words, to assert our "ascendancy," we knowingly risked the safety of the European colony in Egypt. The worse the situation became, the stronger would be the case for intervention. The ships arrived, and soon afterwards a massacre took place in Alexandria, in which some fifty Europeans, chiefly Greeks and Maltese, lost their lives. Its origin was obscure. It may have been a spontaneous outburst by the rabble; more probably, as Mr. Wilfrid Blunt argues in his invaluable Secret History, it was the work of the Khedive's agents, who wished to discredit the Nationalist Government. It is certain only that Arabi and his friends had no share in it, and regarded it with, horror and dismay. But it was not this massacre which provoked intervention, and for three months after it the ships lay inactive at Alexandria. European opinion in Egypt revolted at the absurdity of regarding Arabi as a rebel, and, knowing him to be honest, popular and tolerant, turned to him as the one man who could control a dangerous situation. So little was he regarded by disinterested Europeans as "fanatical" or lawless that the German, Austrian and French Consuls-General insisted that Sir Edward Malet's policy must be reversed, that the Khedive should consent to be reconciled with the Nationalist Ministry and that Arabi should be entrusted with the preservation of order. We were meanwhile negotiating at the Constantinople Conference for a Turkish occupation. It is doubtful whether we now desired that solution. We were quietly preparing an expeditionary army of our own, and at Alexandria our ships were getting ready for naval action. It was no disorder, but the exigencies of a financial policy which moved us, when our forces were ready, to act. So little was violence necessary in the judgment of our French partner, that when Admiral Seymour bombarded Alexandria, her ships weighed anchor as ours opened fire. We meant to be masters in Egypt, and it was because he had opposed the unmeasured pretensions of the financial control, that Arabi was declared a rebel, and crushed at Tel-el-Kebir.
The first consequence of Mr. Gladstone's policy in Egypt was to destroy or at least to maim the influence of Liberal ideas in foreign policy. Mr. Gladstone had come into power after the Midlothian campaign with a programme of resolute opposition to Imperialism. The chief act of his administration abroad was the occupation of Egypt. Henceforward Liberalism had a lie in its soul. For years to come it professed the intention of evacuating Egypt, when the task of restoring its order and solvency should be completed. It has never attempted to execute that pledge. From Egypt it was forced downwards to the Soudan, and the possession of the Soudan encouraged the grandiose scheme of the Cape to Cairo railway. The occupation had involved a flagrant breach of faith towards the Concert of Europe, which had (at our suggestion) decided that the occupation was to be the work not of a British but of a Turkish army. To retain our position, and to combat the enmities which it brought upon us, we had to abandon the traditional Liberal policy of non-intervention in the affairs of Europe, and to take our part in the incessant struggle to maintain such a balance of power as would allow us to continue our self-imposed mission. Legal title we had none. Our occupation ran two risks---from other Powers, and from the Radical wing of the Liberal party, which wished for many years to end it. It was more than anything else the difficulty of maintaining our hold on Egypt which brought the two historic parties together in their foreign policy, and established the now accepted watchword of continuity. There was now, when Liberal cabinets were being formed, a test question by which "impatient idealists" were tried. Finance continued to play its part. It is a matter of history that Mr. Cecil Rhodes offered to subscribe to Liberal party funds on the express condition that there should be no nonsense about evacuating Egypt. Under such influences Liberalism became an Imperialist party, with Lord Rosebery, and, later, Sir Edward Grey as the only possible directors of its foreign policy. Lord Rosebery belonged by marriage to the Rothschild family, and it was the Rothschild influence which brought about the occupation of Egypt. The party as a whole accepted the new situation with case and grace. Save in the consistent columns of the Manchester Guardian, it was rarely reminded that we had gone to Egypt to assure the interest on a usurious debt. The legend grew up that on the Nile we were bearing the "white man's burden" and fulfilling an unselfish mission, with the sole aim of delivering Egypt from despotism. That we had destroyed a Parliament and crushed a nation struggling for that "self-government," which, in Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's words, is better than "good government," were facts which a complacent Empire made haste to forget.
In the wider field of European politics, it would be hardly an exaggeration to say that the maintenance of our seizure of Egypt has been for a generation the master-key of our foreign policy. Its first consequence was a breach with France which lasted a full twenty years, from the bombardment of Alexandria in 1882 down to the conclusion of the Entente Cordiale in 1903. France, recovering rapidly from the consequences of the war with Prussia, was still isolated in Europe. Self-interest and national sympathy alike made for intimate relations between the two Liberal Powers. The first shock to their mutual confidence came in 1875 with Lord Beaconsfield's secret and in some respects perfidious purchase of the Suez Canal shares.(13) France felt herself cheated, out-manoeuvred and humiliated. None the less she agreed to act with us throughout the period of the Dual Control. Our diplomacy was in the end the more aggressive and adventurous, but up to the bombardment of Alexandria, France acted with us, partly because she wished for our friendship, and still more because she could not afford to allow us to act in Egypt alone. The central fact of the situation was that French influence had from the time of Mehemet Ali downwards been dominant in Egypt. It was French culture and French institutions which the Khedives had tried to adopt. French teachers and French engineers were rapidly Europeanising the country. France was proud of her work, and she enjoyed what we have never won, the confidence and sympathy of the Egyptian people. The main reason why she refused at the end to share in the risks of the occupation, was that she dreaded the European entanglements to which it might lead. France is not an island, and as M. de Freycinet put it, she could not afford to challenge the hostility of a Continent. For twenty years she cherished the memory of our duplicity in promoting Turkish intervention while in fact we were preparing to intervene ourselves, our appeal to force in bombarding Alexandria, our use of the "cavalry of St. George" (the British sovereign) in preparing the conquest of Egypt by the purchase of the Canal shares, and, above all, our failure to fulfil our continual promises that the occupation should be temporary. Every traditional prejudice, every old doubt of our national honour, was revived by our conduct in this adventure and its sequel. Moreover, as Egypt began to thrive under our rule, there was always present the bitter reflection that we were reaping where France had sowed. At the International Conference which was sitting in Constantinople when we suddenly put an end to the negotiations by bombarding Alexandria, there was already discernible that grouping of the Powers which was to govern Europe for a generation. Russia, like France, was furious, and proposed to break up the Conference as a protest. It was in 1882 that the first suggestions of a Franco-Russian Alliance were made by Gambetta and Skobeleff, though some years were to pass before it was realised.(14) That we were allowed a free hand in Egypt was mainly Bismarck's work. His master-idea was to assure his own influence by dividing the European Powers. He had made bitter enmity between France and Italy by encouraging France to take Tunis. He now perceived the possibility of embroiling France and Britain, by encouraging us to take Egypt. The plot succeeded, and for twenty years Germany exercised in consequence a species of supremacy in Europe. The two Liberal Powers were estranged, and France in due time became the ally of our traditional rival Russia. The French were slow to abandon the hope of one day forcing us to relax our hold on Egypt, and their diplomacy, though it could not defeat us, was able to hamper and annoy. The "policy of pin-pricks," as Lord Salisbury called it, culminated in 1898 with Major Marchand's daring march to Fashoda, an attempt to challenge our whole position by seizing the upper waters of the Nile on which Egypt depends. War was with difficulty averted, but the peaceful settlement of this crisis left nothing but bitter memories behind it. Twice at least during this period the country was convulsed by naval "scares," in which France or France and Russia together were supposed to be the enemy. The "Two-Power Standard," which until lately governed our shipbuilding, was a legacy from these rivalries. We have never had to fight for Egypt. But year after year we have paid in swollen armaments and increasing Budgets for the violence and ill-faith of our Egyptian policy in 1882. To measure its consequences we have only to ask ourselves what would in all probability have been the natural course of events had we maintained a modest co-operation with France, allowed the Egyptians to work out their own salvation, and contented ourselves with helping them by expert advice to restore their shaken credit. There would have been no breach with France, and the Entente Cordiale might have been established some twenty years earlier. European armaments would have been less crushing, and Bismarckian diplomacy less triumphant. Above all, the alliance would never have been concluded which filled the treasury of the Russian autocrat with French gold, and so perpetuated the cruellest of European despotisms.
No less disastrous were the consequences of our action in the Near East. France had a grievance, but Turkey, which was the Suzerain Power, had been still more seriously wronged by our occupation. From 1882 onwards Abdul Hamid became resolutely Anglophobe. Germany succeeded to the position of influence which we had hitherto held at Constantinople, and she used her power to encourage and exploit the tyranny of the Palace gang. The massacres of the Armenians, whom the Sultan always regarded as our particular protégés, were in some degree an expression of his fear of us. In 1882 he was not yet the insane tyrant that he afterwards became. The first generation of Young Turks was not yet exterminated, and the Press had still a certain liberty. Lord Beaconsfield's policy of leading Turkey gently towards reform by friendly aid and kindly pressure might conceivably have succeeded, had it been at all possible for Turkey to regard the conquerors of Egypt as friends. The result of our seizure of Egypt was that all our protests against the ill-treatment of Armenians, Cretans and Macedonians were regarded by official Turkey as the interested meddling of an enemy with Imperial ambitions to serve.
A new phase of the Egyptian question opened in 1903. France realised at last that she had nothing to hope from a policy of opposition. The Anglo-French Agreement consolidated our position on the Nile, while we in return gave her a free hand in Morocco. The result has only been to revive our troubles in a new form. We have now to reckon with the hostility of the Triple instead of the Dual Alliance. Egypt, it is true, is not the ostensible cause of quarrel. But it was none the less the necessity which we experienced of strengthening our position in Egypt which caused us to approach France, and so to challenge the enmity of the German Powers. Egypt is still the clue to our diplomacy, and like some perpetuum mobile the series of consequences started by the bombardment of Alexandria continues to pursue us. We are still arming, still passing through naval scares, still watching the oscillations of the European balance of power. And if one asks why, the answer is still the same---because somehow or other we had to assure the fruits of an act of force, and to fortify our illegal tenure of the Nile Valley.
There remains the question whether, incidentally and as a by-product of our solicitude for the financial interests of our own investors, our stay in Egypt has none the less benefited the Egyptians. A critic who ventures to give a balanced answer to this question is at once overwhelmed by the weight of authority against him. Three books have been written to prove that the occupation has been an unmixed blessing to Egypt. Their authors have unquestionably an unrivalled knowledge of the facts. But the acceptance of books by Lord Cromer, Lord Milner and Sir Auckland Colvin as final authorities on the history of a period in which they were the principal actors, is an evidence of the superb assurance of our national pride. We should not accept even three works by high Russian officials as a convincing proof of the happy consequences of Russian rule in Poland. On such a point we rather incline to follow Polish opinion. But much of the merit which these writers claim for their own achievements may be fairly conceded. In nearly all material respects Egypt has marvellously progressed under British rule. There is no more opulent soil, no more generous climate, and no more industrious peasantry in the world. Egypt made astonishing material progress under the Khedives; the advance in wealth, population, agriculture and trade, which was for a few brief years interrupted by Ismail Pasha's mad extravagance, was resumed and accelerated under Lord Cromer. French engineers did well under the Khedives; English engineers, with a freer hand, have done better in utilising the Nile for irrigation. Corruption, though not extinct, has been immensely diminished. The liberty of meeting and until recently the liberty of the press have been respected. The extortionate collection of taxes and the sale of justice have gradually under English rule ceased to oppress the peasantry. On the material plane the directors of the Occupation are entitled to the favourable verdict which they have passed upon each other's work.
The success of the Occupation from the material and financial standpoint was what one might expect from a competent Imperialism which regards Egypt mainly as a field for investment. The Occupation has done what was necessary to make it a secure and valuable field, and on the whole it has done it well. But it must not be assumed that any large proportion of the increase in the wealth of Egypt has gone to the peasants. It has gone to great speculators in the newly-irrigated lands, who sometimes refuse even to lease their fields and let them out for tillage only for a crop at a time, to mortgage banks and investment companies, and also in great measure to the larger native landowners Wages no doubt have risen, but so has the cost of food. The peasants are probably much happier and somewhat wealthier than they were in the later years of the Khedive Ismail. So indeed their old men have told me, with apparent sincerity. Yet the pictures which may be read of the poverty of the fellaheen in the graphic writings of Edmond About and Lady Duff Gordon, are still true in the main to-day. I shall never forget my first impression of their villages. As the train travelled slowly beside the endless canals from Alexandria to Cairo, I noticed near the line some quaint and untidy mud huts. I took them at first for temporary shelters, built, as I guessed, by gipsies, or by workmen engaged in repairing the line or the canals. But the whole landscape, which might, save for its palm trees and its buffaloes, have been lifted straight out of Holland, so green it was, so minutely and industriously cultivated, so intersected with canals, was dotted with these groups of tiny dilapidated mud huts and presently we reached a town of them. They are the permanent habitations of the peasants. The legend of the prosperity of the fellaheen which a study of Lord Cromer's reports had formed in my mind, had vanished ere I reached Cairo. Here indeed was wealth, order and industry, yet the villages exhibited a poverty such as I have never seen even in the mountains of anarchical Macedonia or among the bogs of Donegal. A nearer inspection of the villages only confirmed this first impression. I have heard it said that in this gentle climate no one wants a solid house. Yet the native magnates build solid and spacious and, according to Oriental notions, luxurious houses. These exceptions only emphasise the abysmal poverty of the masses. The villages are crowded slums of mud hovels, without a tree, a flower or a garden. The huts, often without a window or a levelled floor, are minute dungeons of baked mud, usually of two small rooms neither whitewashed nor carpeted. Those which I entered were bare of any visible property, save a few cooking utensils, a mat to serve as a bed, and a jar which held the staple food of maize. These things, and the cotton gowns on their backs, were all the peasants had to show as the result of their inordinate toil from dawn to sunset on every day of the year, Fridays not excepted, in a climate which has no winter, and on fields which yield three crops in twelve months. The explanation is relatively simple. There is no true system of tenancy. A peasant may hire a field for one crop or one year, or he may bargain for a share, sometimes only a sixth, in the produce of the field which he tills. But he is always at the mercy of an elaborate truck system, always in the debt of his landlord, and always in consequence tied to the land and unable to sell his labour in the open market. To improve this method of tenure, or to reform a truck system which keeps the landless peasantry in a condition of serfdom, the Occupation had done nothing nor had it, so far as I could learn, even attempted to study the question.
Worse still was the condition of the peasants who work in factories. There was then (1908) no Factory Act in Egypt. There are all over the country, ginning mills, which employ casual labour to prepare raw cotton for export, during four or five months of the year. The wages were low, from 7 1/2 d. to 10d. a day for an adult, and 6d. for a child. Children and adults alike worked sometimes for twelve, usually for fifteen, and on occasion even for sixteen or eighteen hours a day. In the height of the season even the children were put on night shifts of twelve hours. I have seen a foreman use a cane to chastise a child whose zeal flagged in this inordinate task. Fraud in some of the worst mills is so common, that the adult workers sometimes insist on receiving their day's wage in advance as they enter, pledging their outer garments in return. The atmosphere in which the children worked was so charged with cotton dust, that it resembled a November fog in London rather than the pure climate of Egypt. Lord Cromer used to say that legislation was legally impossible, because the capitulations stood in the way. His own laissez faire individualism was the more formidable obstacle. It is satisfactory to be able to add that, after a generation of neglect, a fairly satisfactory Factory Act was passed through the efforts of Sir Eldon Gorst and Mr. Harvey. This is not the only point on which Lord Cromer's successors have improved upon his work. I shall, however, continue to describe what I observed in 1908, when Egypt could still be seen as Lord Cromer left it. One ceased after a visit to an Egyptian ginnery to wonder why capital is exported to Egypt. Without a Parliament, without trade unions, without a Factory Act, Lord Cromer's province was a paradise for the investor.
It is on its moral and intellectual side that Lord Cromer's work is open to the severest criticism. We remained in Egypt professedly with a single object---to train the Egyptians to govern themselves. In every Annual Report that object was avowed, in every year's work it was ignored. The system of government which Lord Cromer erected, incomparably superior though it was to that of the Khedive's in honesty and efficiency, was like theirs a system of despotic and personal rule. We went to crush the "military ascendancy" of a national army which had extorted a Parliament; we suppressed the Parliament, and replaced it by a foreign bureaucracy, supported by a foreign army of occupation. Independence and initiative, even in English officials, were discouraged, and their words and acts were checked by an elaborate system of espionage. Natives indeed continued to be titular Ministers and titular governors of provinces, but at the side of every Minister there was an English "adviser," and above every governor an English "inspector." Ministers and governors alike were puppets, who were made to understand that they might draw their salaries so long as they treated every piece of advice as a command. Meanwhile, the importation of English officials became every year more considerable, and latterly, so little were we preparing to leave Egypt to govern herself, that Lord Cromer began to train young men at Cambridge for the Egyptian Civil Service on Indian lines.
Had we been sincere in our self-imposed task, it would have been on education rather than irrigation (if we had had to choose) that we should have concentrated our efforts. In twenty-five years we could have made a relatively well-educated nation. A young country, like Bulgaria, suddenly emancipated from Turkish rule, begins at any sacrifice by creating a system of compulsory education, and by establishing a University at which governing men may be formed. But neither in quality nor in quantity nor in kind, will our arrangements bear scrutiny. The expenditure of Prussia on Education represents one-eighth of the total Budget. Servia can spare one-fifteenth. At the close of Lord Cromer's reign education accounted for £1 in every £81 of the total national expenditure. With a population of over eleven millions she had only four governmental secondary schools for boys, and one higher primary school for girls. There was no University. Of the Mohammedan population only 4 per cent was literate. It was only in the latter years of Lord Cromer's reign that any attempt was made to create modern elementary schools for the illiterate peasantry, and even now the building and equipment of these schools is left to private benevolence. There was under the Khedive Ismail a system for subsidising Arabic literature and encouraging the translation of useful books from European languages. There was also an extensive system of bursaries and free scholarships, which enabled a poor lad to enter a primary school, and at the close of his secondary training to study at a French University. That system we entirely suppressed, partly from the individualist tendency which coloured all Lord Cromer's work, partly from mere economy. Under such conditions it became difficult to obtain competent native teachers. Poor men could not study, and the salaries which we offered would attract only poor men. We therefore imported English teachers at considerable expense in annual swarms, and the result was the complete denationalisation of the teaching. In the secondary schools all instruction was given through the medium of English, and even in the primary schools English alone was used for certain subjects. There were even for young boys no maps with Arabic lettering. Some of these schools would be in every material respect a credit to any European country, and the English teachers are usually competent and conscientious. But to their boys they are mere aliens, and nothing can compensate for the absence of instruction in the mother tongue. Worst of all, the education which is given under such grave difficulties by foreign teachers in a foreign tongue, is of a severely utilitarian character. The object of these schools is professedly to train officials, and under the Occupation the Egyptian official was expected to be a careful copyist, a docile subordinate, a reliable clerk. He learns in these schools to speak and write English and Arabic fairly well; he acquires a very little natural science and a smattering of universal history---the latter, evidently, by rote. But there are no liberal studies which might form his mind or train him to think. English and Arabic literature are almost equally neglected; the predominant aim is to make a useful quill-driver who can correspond in these languages correctly. Latin and Greek are wisely ignored, but no serious attempt has been made to put any humanising study, literary or scientific, in their place. The results of all these causes---the neglect of the mother tongue, the defects of the education itself, the absence of a University and the appointment of foreigners to every post the holding of which might encourage a capable man to study or write---may be traced in the utter death of all intellectual life in Egypt, and in the crudity of mind which prevails among the small "educated" class. The level of culture is incomparably lower and the educated class incomparably smaller than in any other country of the Near East with which I am acquainted. For that the responsibility lies with us. The Nationalists have agitated fiercely for better education and more of it.
On Lord Cromer's departure an emphatic change declared itself under the influence of Sir Eldon Gorst. Our control became less direct, our advice less imperious, our methods in education less anti-national. We still however refused the demands of the Nationalists for a Parliament. They have become, more especially since the cruelty and injustice of the Denshawai affair, a numerous and uncompromising party---crude indeed, as all the beginnings of intellectual life in Egypt are crude, but resolute and determined to stand erect. The time for leading or influencing the Egyptians has gone by. The Egyptians are by nature singularly pliable and assimilative. Their admiration, amounting almost to hero-worship, for the few Englishmen who have cared to maintain with them kindly and human relationships, is an evidence that with tact and sympathy they might easily have been led. But with rare exceptions, there has been no teaching in any higher sense of the word. The Egyptians have learned our language, our technical skill, our orderly official routine. Interchange of ideas there has been none. The normal English attitude has been one of contempt and aloofness. Lord Cromer would not take the trouble to learn their language, and his book breathes on every page his dislike of their character, his hostility to their religion, his contempt for their history, their language and their institutions. The normal Egyptian attitude is now one of distrust. The English colony lives in absolute isolation. One never meets an Englishman in a native house. Our work is professedly one of inspection and advice. But an inspector who will not mix with the people cannot know what is going on. I heard in the country constant and detailed complaints of corruption among the irrigation officials. I even met two Egyptian landowners who admitted that they themselves habitually give bribes. These complaints were always followed by another---that the English officials are unapproachable, and consequently ignorant of the real condition of affairs. It is this ineradicable national failing, the result partly of temperament and partly of tradition, which seems, to set a limit to our good work in Egypt. If we had possessed the gift of moral leadership, the magnetism that attracts and inspires, we should by now have trained up a generation competent to govern Egypt unaided. But the possibility of assuming that leadership has now irreparably gone. The Egyptians will learn nothing more from us. I ask myself whether the judges of Denshawai have anything to teach.
Why is it that we remain in Egypt? It can hardly be from any genuine love and goodwill to the Egyptians. If they cherish such a disinterested passion, our Imperialists are remarkably successful in dissembling it. One may admit at once that the Egyptians, if left to themselves, would make mistakes. But of these mistakes they chiefly would bear the brunt, and only by mistakes does a nation learn. It is probable that the mistakes of an Egyptian Parliament would be less irritating to the Egyptians themselves than were those of Lord Cromer. Capacity for government is a relative term. One may easily exaggerate the capacity even of Western races for self-government. Our armaments, our slums, our crises of unemployment would authorise some invading sage from a wiser planet to pronounce us as utterly incapable of government as we are pleased to think Oriental races. It may be said that there are too many European inhabitants in Egypt to be left to the uncontrolled caprices of a native administration. That argument ignores the fact that Europeans in Egypt are subject neither to native laws, nor to native courts nor to native taxes. It is also said that we remain in Egypt to protect the Suez Canal. Well, if that were so, the Egyptians would not refuse to surrender Port Said, if at that price they could obtain our withdrawal from the rest of the country. But our naval power and the possession of Cyprus and Aden, ought to suffice to enable us to control the Canal, which after all is not a British, but an international institution. It is well to remember a terse parable of Lord Palmerston's in this connection. "We do not want Egypt," he wrote in 1857, "or wish for it ourselves, any more than a rational man with an estate in the north of England and a residence in the south would have wished to possess the inns on the North road. All he could want would have been that the inns should be well-kept, always accessible, and furnishing him, when he came, with mutton-chops and post-horses."
The real reason why we refuse not merely to evacuate Egypt, but even to concede to the Egyptians Parliamentary institutions, is not mysterious. We conquered the country to assure the ninety millions of money, English and French, which had been sunk in its public debt. Since the Occupation the amount of capital added in one form or another to this sum has become very considerable, and is rapidly increasing. The new capital invested in limited companies created in Egypt between 1856-1905 amounted to nearly 35 millions sterling, and the new shares subscribed in 1905 alone reached a total of over 10 millions.(15) One has also to reckon the older companies, numerous companies registered abroad which operate in Egypt, the capital of individual investors, and the interests of the great English contractors engaged in the colossal irrigation works. Some of the more recent enterprises are under the guidance of persons who are in a position to exert considerable influence in the political world or at court. The new Bank has for its chairman Lord Milner, and among individual investors is Sir Ernest Cassel, whose name was often to be found in the Court Circular as the guest or host of King Edward. These foreign capitalists would regard the creation of a national government in Egypt as a disaster to their enterprises. If one enquires precisely why, the answer will require some sifting and interpretation. We should be told, of course, that a national government would be certainly inefficient, probably corrupt and possibly fanatical, all of which would be very bad for business. The real fear is, however, I think, that under a Parliamentary régime power would be entirely in the hands of the natives of Egypt, who are almost exclusively engaged in agriculture. Finance would be unrepresented, and in the inevitable clash of interests between those who own and till the land, and those who lend money on the land and handle its crops, the bias of a native government would certainly not be on the side of the foreign capitalist. The same fear which causes the City to dread and oppose a Liberal Government in Great Britain also ranges the same classes against a Nationalist régime in Egypt---not because the Egyptian Nationalists have radical tendencies (their leaders are large landowners), but because they would represent native as opposed to foreign interests. This standpoint is hardly concealed in some of Lord Cromer's recent polemics against the Nationalists. He contests in principle the claim of the natives of Egypt to any exclusive right to manage their own affairs. His demand is that if ever autonomy becomes possible, the Egyptian Government must somehow "represent the views and interests of all the inhabitants of the Nile Valley." If ever there is an Egyptian Parliament, he urges, "persons of foreign extraction should be represented on account of their intelligence and the stake they have in the country."(16)
In these sentences is outlined one of the most startling doctrines of Imperialism. It is the same claim which was put forward by the great mining houses on behalf of the Outlanders of the Transvaal. It amounts to this, that any country which is being developed by foreign capital, must be prepared to admit its foreign population to a share in its representative institutions, and this, apparently, even when the foreign population has no intention of acquiring the nationality of the country in question, or of taking up its permanent residence within it. No one who knows anything of Egypt can suppose that the Europeans resident there ere would ever dream of surrendering their favoured status as the privileged subjects of Great Powers. A European who did so would be regarded as a pariah by his fellows. Lord Cromer, however, proposes that men who will not become Egyptians should none the less have a vote in electing an Egyptian Parliament. Capital in such a claim mocks at the spirit of nationality, and degrades the conduct of a people's life to the level of a joint-stock company, in which every man who has bought a share is entitled to a vote. In one way or another, foreign capital which has once established itself in a weak country will insist on controlling its destinies ---first by diplomacy, then by armies, and, finally by the machinery of the ballot box. When Lord Cromer put forward this paradoxical proposal as an alternative to nationalism, and recommended it as an "ideal" to the Egyptians, he revealed the real reason why national self-government, in the view of the investing classes, is impossible for Egypt. Capital is opportunist. It has no rooted objection to representative institutions. It makes only one condition---that it shall somehow dominate them. It can have no illusions about Egypt. Against a solid native Moslem majority of 92 per cent., its agents could do nothing at the ballot-box. That is why it has steadily refused any real power to the rudimentary elective council which exists in Egypt. That also is why Lord Cromer, a subtle politician with a habit of forethought, looking forward to the indefinitely distant time when some kind of Parliament must at last be conceded, proposed to entrench the foreign residents, who stand on the whole for European finance, in a separate elective Upper House. Capital was strong enough to bring the occupation about. It is strong enough to maintain it. Despite all our pledges and promises, no Conservative Government will ever wish, no Liberal Government will ever dare to end it. It will last as long as our Indian Empire. When the time comes in India or in Egypt to recognise, against our will, the full maturity of the native races, we shall, in one form or another, be confronted with some proposal resembling Lord Cromer's scheme. Foreign capital has acquired a stake in these countries. It prefers to protect that stake through the strong arm of a foreign occupation. But if ever self-government becomes inevitable, it will urge that the millions which it has invested have somehow a personality which outweighs the humanity of the millions whom it exploits. Let every man, as Bentham used to say when he defined democracy, count for one, and no one for more than one. But capital must be balanced against their numbers. By arms or by diplomacy, by a commission of control or a plutocratic constitution, it will know how to acquire and to keep the effective mastery of any country which it enters.
We have traced in the recent history of Egypt the typical exploit of modern Imperialism. We have seen that the force which impelled our policy was not trade but finance. Confronted by the new power, Liberalism bent, broke, and in the end adapted itself. We have traced the influence of a single act of self-aggrandisement upon our relations through thirty years with other Powers. It made our enmities. It made our friendships. It dictated our behaviour in adjusting the balance of power. Once more and in detail, we have seen that the diplomatic rivalries and competing armaments which make the European fear, have their origin, not in the need of assuring our own homes and our own security, but only in the restless movements of capital to win fresh fields for investment. Behind the abstractions of high politics stand an indifferent democracy at home, which had in this adventure no interest to serve and no passion to sate, and in Egypt the passive figure of a subject nation, which our rule has kept ignorant amid left-handed gifts, and condemned to a paralysis of will, while it enjoyed the boons that are the by-products of our gains.
THE comparative neglect of Education under Lord Cromer in Egypt is far from being an isolated case in the records of Imperialism. It is indeed normal. In India, Mr. Gokhale and the more moderate Nationalists are still agitating with little prospect of early success for a system of compulsory elementary schooling. Our newer African colonies make an interesting study, both in what has been done and in what has been omitted. The record of good work stands beyond cavil or denial. Tribal wars and slave-raiding have been everywhere repressed. The making of railways and roads is gradually liberating the natives from the brutalising and dangerous occupation of carrying. Nomad tribes settle down to agriculture, and the agricultural tribes gradually improve their stupid and wasteful methods of cultivation. Most of these colonies have experimental botanical stations, and in the more advanced of them native instructors are going from village to village to teach the people how they may profitably grow the cocoa-palm, the rubber-vine and the cotton plant. The motive in all this is not primarily altruistic. It is being done because we in Europe require cheap and abundant tropical produce. It is none the less a civilising work of which no people need be ashamed. It is weaning the natives from rapine and war, developing in them a taste for work which is both educative and profitable, and raising their standard of living without subjecting them to servile conditions.
The ambition to make a colony profitable may achieve much, but it has its definite limitations. If the disinterested desire to civilise really played an appreciable part in the motives of colonising peoples, the work on which they would first concentrate their energies would be education. One may doubt whether a literary education is the best for negroes, and the system of attempting to Europeanise the natives which some of the older missionary organisations adopted is open to grave criticism. But there can be little intellectual advance until the natives read and write their own language and acquire some habits of orderly thought. Nature they know and observe, and they can be taught the elementary facts of science---the first step towards the destruction of superstition and the growth of the sense for the causes of things. They have eyes and ears, and can learn to draw and appreciate music. They are eager to acquire the technique of weaving, carpentry and metal work, and the practice of agriculture. The more the Imperialist insists that they are children, the more obvious is it that they ought to be taught. But the central fact which emerges from a study of the Colonial Office reports, is that teaching is the last duty which our Government dreams of assuming. In some of these colonies, notably the Gold Coast and Uganda, the Mission schools are numerous and flourishing. But even in Uganda they receive no subsidy or aid from the Government. In others, for example, Ashanti, their work is as yet inconsiderable, and the report for 1907 remarks (p. 28) that education will "progress but slowly, because the chiefs regard the Mission Schools as a means to an end, i.e. the proselytism of the children." If that is true of the Ashantis, who are primitive pagans, it must be still more applicable to Mahommedans. Yet nowhere has any attempt been made to help Islam under our flag to fulfil a civilising mission in Africa. If one turns to the records of a recent acquisition like Ashanti, one realises what really are the essential and important things in our colonial work. There are gold mines, and there is a railway to serve them. There is also a prison, in which out of a total of 691 prisoners there are 67 debtors, and 322 "political prisoners awaiting trial or detained." Under the heading of Public Works (p. 29), one finds this instructive information :--
"The following public works were commenced or completed during 1907 at Coomassie:--- Post Office, female prison, hospital and dispensary, European hospital, laundry in which to wash Europeans' clothes, and several buildings for the Gold Coast Regiment."
Turning the page, one learns that "a 13-hole golf course has been completed." Gold mines, prisons, barracks, a laundry for Europeans built with public money, and a golf course, these are our work--- of civilisation. But there is no school.
Here, clearly, is work for a critical group in Parliament to achieve. It is essential to protest against the occasional barbarism of military expeditions, the alienation of native lands, the imposition of ill-devised taxes, the stealthy introduction of servile labour conditions. But that is not enough. The first duty of an Imperial race which works itself into a passion of self-admiration over the "white man's burden" of civilising and teaching is to assume it. Niggers cannot be civilised by learning English oaths as caddies on the Coomassie golf course, nor even by washing European clothes in an Imperial laundry. The burden will be shouldered when we create in all these colonies a governmental system of education. There seems to be no real objection to subsidising Mission schools, under proper inspection, in places where (as in Uganda) large sections of the native population are quite pleased to be "proselytised." But a systematic effort should be made to raise the Mahomedans to the level of their own creed. That can be done only through Mahomedan teachers. A wise policy would begin by encouraging, in suitable centres, colleges (madrasseh) in which under qualified Moslem doctors, teachers, priests and judges would be trained, who would be missionaries of enlightenment as well as of Islam. The Arabic language and culture in an Arabic dress may penetrate where a purely Western civilisation would be a mere exotic.
Table of Contents