Kitchener in Egypt November 1 1911


Kitchener in Egypt November 1 1911


Kitchener in Egypt

WE reprint herewith an article dealing with Egypt, written by “W.” in the Contemporary Review. If the writing is not brilliant, the facts are valuable. Canadians who pretend to talk of their share in the British Empire, cannot go far astray in reading so interesting an article on England’s (and the Imperialists would say “Our”) task in Egypt. Lord Kitchener is the new proconsul. His appointment is the raison d’etre for the article.

The death of Sir Eldon Gorst at the early age of fifty has led to the appointment of Britain’s third Pro-Consul in Egypt, and a new epoch is about to begin on the banks of the Nile. There is every prospect that the Anglo-Egyptian administration, like a machine that is somewhat out of order, will be rapidly overhauled, cleaned, and set to work once more at an accelerated pace. There is not very much the matter with the machine, and there is every likelihood that the new Agent will quickly be able to set it running as it never run before.

The good sense of the Home Government in appointing Lord Kitchener to the vacant office is highly to be commended. His prestige in Egypt is enormous. In the opinion of the natives he is an. embodiment of stern justice and kindly sympathy. He represents the military power of England; and he is hailed by the natives as the creator of the Egyptian army, the conqueror of the Dervishes and of the Boers, and as the Command-

er-in-Chief of all the British forces. Many of the Arabic papers are rejoiced at the appointment. Al-Ahram, for example, writes: “If we are to be ruled, let us be

ruled by a manly man. Lord Kitchener’s appointment should be welcomed, since he is so well known to us. His justice in the army is proverbial, and Egypt is hungry for justice.”

Lord Kitchener’s reputation will alone overcome the majority of the difficulties which beset the diplomatic path in Egypt. He will not be subjected to the insults of the native press so freely as was Sir Eldon Gorst; for, whereas a diplomat with what sometimes appeared to be democratic tendencies cannot be expected to retaliate, a mighty soldier whose word seems to be law to Britain’s world-encircling armies, is not a person to be trifled with. His appearance at any Government office will set the knees of every dishonest clerk knocking together, whereas that of Sir Eldon Gorst merely aroused a soapy interest. And the General Assembly or Councils of Ministers will, at the outset, pay the respect to Lord Kitchener which they were only beginning to show to Sir Eldon after four hard years. The task of governing Egypt, which, thanks to the events of these last years, would now be a simple one to any strong man with a reputation, will be for Lord Kitchener a sympathetic and interesting labor, giving him time to study the great problems of the Mediterranean and to raise British military prestige from the Bosphorus to Fez. ít

has been rumored for a long time that Lord Kitchener was anxious to be Britain’s representative either in Cairo or at Constantinople, as he is of opinion that the Mediterranean will be the centre of the next great outbreak of hostilities ; but there is no reason to suppose that he will make Egypt but a pawn in a greater game, or that he will not give his best attention to the interesting problem of governing the Nile Valley to the satisfaction both of Imperialists and of Radicals.

We have lately heard a good deal about the “muddle” in Egypt; we have listened to the numerous complaints of dissatisfied officials; and we have been told that the country is gone to the deuce. Now, actuallv. there is no real muddle. There are numerous things which are wrong and out of order, sufficient, in fact, to have given Mr. Roosevelt some justification for his remarks at the Guildhall; there are a great many Departmental hitches and obstructions ; and there are several large matters which are encumbering and frustrating the Government as a whole, as, for example, the question of the Capitulations. But the situation is not confused ; the forward movement of the country is merely hampered by the ill-working of the machine, and matters can be set to rights' with comparative ease. The new Agent may approach his work, therefore, with little of that nerve-straining anxiety, and even perplexity, which must have been felt by Sir Eldon Gorst when he entered into office in 1907.

At that time the situation was extremely grave. The retirement of Lord Cromer was mainly induced by the fact that he did not consider his health good enough to stand the strain of so serious a crisis as that which had to be faced. He must have felt that there was some likelihood of his grip being somewhat relaxed as his physical strength gave way. He was pressed on all sides by a hundred anxieties, and he realized that his enemies were taking courage from the belief that he was past his prime. It was the crowning merit of his great career in Egypt that he was willing to hand the command over to a younger man at the moment when he felt himself not in proper fighting condition to meet the emergencies of the time.

The tragedy of Denishwai in 1906 was still in the forefront of men’s minds. Bri-

tish officers in uniform had been attacked, and one of them had succumbed, within a few miles of their camp; and, apart from all other considerations, this outrage was to be interpreted as meaning that the very symbols and insignia of British authority were despised and disregarded. The misunderstanding with Turkey in connection with the Sinaitic frontier had caused a more than usually excited outburst of anti-British feeling; and, had there been war, it is possible that the Egyptian army would have mutinied. Rumors of forthcoming massacres of Christians were frequent; and, more than once, the date was fixed for a general slaughter. Both in 1906 and 1907 a rising, directed against the English, was confidently expected; and there was one well-remembered night in Cairo when a total absence of British officers from the clubs and places of amusement revealed the fact that they were all under arms at their posts. Massacre was openly preached in the villages throughout the country; and many Europeans were subjected to insult.

The Nationalists, that is to say those Egyptians who wished to terminate the British Occupation and to introduce selfgovernment, were at this time an extremely powerful party; and the Khedive, perhaps chagrined at the attitude of the Agency towards him, was not inclined to be ill-disposed to the movement. The Russo-Japanese war had supplied a powerful stimulus to Oriental aspirations, and the Egyptians were of opinion that they, too, could rise with easy rapidity to the level of a first-class Power. The financial crisis, in which a large number of Europeans and Egyptians had lost enormous sums of money, had paralyzed the Bourse. The nerves of the whole country were on edge.

Sir Vincent Corbet, the Financial Adviser to the Egyptian Government, had sent in his resignation, and there was much confusion in that Ministry. Sir William Garstin, the indefatigable Adviser to the Ministry of Public Works, was about to resign. Major Machell, the Adviser to the Ministry of the Interior, had also to be replaced; and Sir Horace Pinching had acquainted the Government of his intended departure. Sir Elwin Palmer, one of the leading financial authorities in Egypt, had died in the previous

year; and the health of Mustafa Pasha Fehmy, the trustworthy old Egyptian Prime Minister, did not permit him to retain office. The appointment of so many new officials to the important vacancies added very considerably to the difficulties of a situation already almost desperate; and, as though purposely to increase the troubles of the new Agent, a number of ill-advised members of Parliament preached open rebellion to the Egyptian hotheads.

No sooner was Lord Cromer’s back turned than the vernacular Press attacked the Occupation with vicious energy. His strong hand being removed, the reaction set in; and the native journalists revelled in a demoniacal fantasy of abuse. Lord Cromer was accused of all the crimes in the calendar ; and it was publicly recorded that he had left the country bearing with him many millions of pounds stolen from the Egyptian treasury. The Nationalists freely stated, and seemed actually to believe, that his resignation had been brought about by their triumphant policy, and that the Home Government had required his removal, owing to his stern treatment of the Denishwai ruffians. British prestige suffered a very palpable fall, and it was thought that the days of self-government were imminent.

On these tempestuous scenes Sir Eldon Gorst arrived, without pomp or ceremony. He was a small, ill-dressed, spectacled man of some forty-six years, with a determined, but not distinguished, bearing. It was already known, and soon observed again, that he disliked notoriety. He walked on foot through the streets of Cairo, jostled by the natives; or, bare-headed and sometimes collarless, he rode his pony amidst the noisy traffic. At times he drove his own small motor-car; and, in the absence of a chauffeur, shouted to the pedestrians in the vernacular to warn them from his path. He expressed the greatest irritability when, on his official tours, the native notables presented him with the customary bouquets of flowers ; and the usual mounted policemen who were despatched by the local governors to ride behind him were sent about their business with a sharpnesà that was absolutely inexplicable to them. Before he left Egypt for the last time, he had schooled himself to bear with these distressing attributes of Oriental power in

a much more liberal manner; but on his arrival in 1907 he either bewildered or offended both natives and Europeans by his apparent imitation of the manners and customs of that most democratic and most despised frequenter of the Nile — the Cook’s tourist.

This is the more remarkable because in his public utterances he had declared himself desirous of seeing more intimacy between the native point of view and that of the resident Englishman. It was his wish, to some extent, to do in Egypt as the Egyptians do, to sympathize with their prejudices, and to give no unnecessary offence to their susceptibilities. Yet, ignoring the very essential need of discreet ostentation in the East, he held doggedly to an almost pretentious modesty and selfeffacement which was as little understood in Cairo as it would have been little noticed or questioned in London. He knew Egypt very well, having spent many years in the service of the Egyptian Government; and his manners in this respect are to be attributed rather to a want of consideration for public opinion with reference to himself than to ignorance of native custom.

Sir Eldon Gorst came to Egypt in 1886.' at the age of twenty-five, as Secretary at the British Agency. In 1890 he was made Controller of Direct Revenue; in 1892 he was appointed Under Secretary of State for Finance; and in 1891 he became Adviser to the Ministry of the Interior at the early age of thirty-three. In 1898 he was made Financial Adviser, this being the most important position in the Egyptian Government open to Englishmen. In all these offices Sir Eldon had shown remarkable abilities, and he was considered by Lord Cromer to be “endowed with a singular degree of tact and intelligence.” lí was therefore no surprise when, after his sudden and mysterious departure from Egypt in 1903, and the subsequent announcement of the “entente cordiale” with France, it leaked out that Sir Eldon had been entrusted with a large part of the diplomatic negotiations between France and England in regard to Egypt, and that the amazing success of the arbitration had been largely due to his dexterous handling of the matters in dispute. In 1904 Sir Eldon received an appointment at the Foreign Office, but resigned this to become

Lord Cromer’s successor at Cairo on May 7th, 1907.

Such was the rapid and eminent career of the man who now sat in the great house at Kasr el Doubara, staring enigmatically through his large spectacles, while the political storms gathered and broke around him. All eyes were turned upon him for some sign of his policy, and it was not long before indications were given of the direction in which he intended to move. For some time the relations between the Khedive and the British Agent had been strained, and Sir Eldon Gorst made it his first concern to institute more friendly feelings. This he did with such marked success that his Highness was soon completely won over by the careful deference paid to his rank, and by the cordial attitude adopted toward his person. “Whatever good work may have been done in the past year,” Sir Eldon was able to say in his first annual report, “is due to the hearty co-operation of the Khedive and his Ministers, working harmoniously and loyally with the British officials in the service of the Egyptian Government.”

It is difficult to decide whether Sir Eldon fully realized at the time what the result of this entente would be; but, since the effect was so immediate, it would seem that he was not acting solely from a sense of duty to his Highness, though, no doubt, his actions to some extent were the outcome of a genuine sympathy for the awkwardly situated Prince. No sooner had the Khedive laid aside his differences with the Agency than the Nationalists turned upon him, accusing him of disloyalty to his country, and threatened to dethrone him. It must have been with profound satisfaction that Sir Eldon watched this break between the Khedive and the Nationalists. The latter party had suffered a severe blow by the death of their leader, Mustafa Kamel Pasha, and now many internal quarrels occurred which hastened their fall. With the Khedive and all ^8ypüans who were loyal either to him or to the Occupation against them, their power could not be retained, and very soon their political redoubtability was reduced to an irritating, but not very dangerous, agitation.

In his first year of office Sir Eldon Gorst took another important step towards the

overthrow of militant Nationalism. The vast majority of Egyptians are Mohammedams; and as the Occupation, against which the so-called “patriotic” movement is directed, is Christian, it became a political necessity for the Nationalists to use this religious difference as one of the main planks of their platform. While the leaders wished to convey to Europe the impression that they were too highly educated to be fanatical, they were constantly using the inherent Mohammedan enthusiasm as a means of arousing the nation. Now, a large number of educated Egyptians are Copts, i.e., Christians; and the Nationalist party had, therefore, to decide whether, on the one hand, they would eliminate the religious aspect of their movement and incorporate the Coptic “patriots” with themselves, or whether, on the other hand, they should retain the important asset of religious fervor, and should dispense with the service of this not inconsiderable minority of native Christians. They were still undecided, and there was a chance that the two religious factions would unite, when the new British Agent suddenly appointed Boutros Pasha Ghali, a venerable Copt, to the office of Prime Minister, made vacant by the retirement of Mustafa Pasha Fehmy.

Again, it is not easy to say whether the probable results of this action had been carefully considered, or whether Boutros Pasha was appointed simply because‘he happened to be one of the most capable men available. The effect was immediate. The Mohammedan Nationalists, insulted at the exaltation of the Copts, turned against their Christian colleagues, and a breach was effected which it will take years to close. Soon the two factions were at one another’s throats, and at last Boutros Pasha paid for his elevation with his life, being assassinated by a Mohammedan Nationalis named Wardani in February, 1910. Sir Eldon Gorst, who had been watching the fight with a somewhat sardonic smile, is said to have been profoundly moved by the tragedy; and he certainly saw to it that the murderer suffered the death penalty, in spite of the most carefully organized propaganda in his favor. Sir Eldon was at his best when, as on this occasion, he fought the enemies of law and order by means of the ordinary

legal procedure of the country, imposing his will on magistrates and judges who, by reason of the methods employed, wTere empowered to resist him with impunity. The Nationalist leaders had sworn that Wardani should not hang, and when the black flag went up over the prison, it marked the turning point in their attitude to the Agency; for an Egyptian always knows when he is beaten.

The Copts, abandoning the Nationalist movement, now turned to the Occupation for support; and, deeming that this moment of British indignation against the assassin and his party was favorable for the redressing of certain wrongs under which they believed themselves to be laboring, they looked to Sir Eldon Gorst for encouragement. They received none. Sir Eldon, quite correctly, considered that their complaints were groundless, and he took the opportunity to tell them so with some sharpness, thereby estranging them from the Occupation as effectively as they were already estranged from the Nationalists.

Thus Egypt, which had presented a fairly united front in 1907, is now divided into four distinct factions: the Occupation and its supporters ; the Khedive and his loyal adherents, whose fraternizing with the British is rather superficial; the Copts; and the Nationalists, who themselves are much divided. For the first time for many years the task of governing the country is made simple, and internal dissensions have caused a set-back to Egyptian aspirations from which it will take many years for the nation to recover. In 1907 Sir Eldon Gorst found the British Agency besieged by an earnest crowd, all shouting for autonomy; in 1911 he left the Agency disencumbered, and calmly watching that crowd fighting with itself. But whether we have to see in these events the intervention of an unscrupulous Fortune, or whether we must ascribe each movement to the Machiavellian cunning of the British Agent, is a question which will now never be answered. Even the diplomatic Secretaries in Cairo are totally undecided upon this matter, for Sir Eldon kept his policy to himself. One prefers to think that he was not entirely respons-

ible for these dissensions and squabbles, for it is a form of cock-fighting which does not commend itself to British sentiments. Sir Eldon Gorst was not, like Lord Cromer, a born ruler in every sense of the word ; but he was amazingly clever. He was extremely anxious to benefit Egypt, and in certain minor matters he was almost ruthless in clearing obstructions from the path of what he considered his duty.

A marked difference between the rule of Sir Eldon Gorst and Lord Kitchener will probably be apparent from the outset. Lord Kitchener, by the power of his great name, and by the awe in which it is held in Egypt, will be able to keep the country quiet without exertion ; whereas—and this ought to be thoroughly understood—Sir Eldon, having at first, no particular reputation amongst the natives, had no great chance in four brief years to make himself felt; and, as has been said, it was only in 1910 and 1911 that the strength of his arm was beginning to be acknowledged. Had he been spared for a few years longer, the clearer political atmosphere, brought about to a large extent by his acuteness, would at last have given him the opportunity, of which Lord Kitchener now reaps the benefit, of overhauling the machine of Government, and setting it working smoothly once more. The hand of Death has removed him at the moment when he was beginning to launch out, secure in his knowledge of the difficulties and pitfalls, and confident of the ultimate success of that line of policy from which, in spite of all that is said to the contrary, he had not once deviated.

The two great questions which Lord Kitchener’s regime will have to answer are, firstly: Is it possible to make the

machine of Government work properly, as it must certainly be made to work at all costs, while native Ministers and officials take a large part in the administration?; and, secondly: Can we prevent “unrest” in Egypt at the same time that we give Egyptians sufficient scope to develop their administrative abilities? It is probable that the answer will still prove to be in the affirmative, as in the palmy days of Lord Cromer’s rule.