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The Egyptian's Idea of Serving His Country
N the old days, when the Mahdi was depopulating the I Sudan (so effectively, that, instead of having over eight million people living in it, as there were before the invasion, there were less than two millions after the collapse of Mahdism), no Egyptian who was recruited for the army ever expected to see his home again. Service mostly meant service in the Sudan, and being slaughtered or led into captivity by the Mahdi.
In country Egypt traditions die hard. Barely five per cent. of the population can read, and the men who bring news from the newspapers to the fellahin are mostly agitators who wish to represent the Government and all its works in the worst possible light; therefore the fool of a fellah is allowed to think that the Mahdi is still tyrannising over the Sudan, and that he will be sent there to be devoured.
Also, to the country Egyptians it has, until lately, been almost like death to be separated from their relations at all. The consequence is that the conscription has been dreaded much worse than an epidemic of cholera. We saw evidence of this at Luxor on the day we arrived down from the Sudan, where military service was quite popular. We were riding out to Karnak, intending to work hard in making its stupendous ruins tally with our various guide-books, which was probably impossible, when we found our way blocked by hundreds of weeping women, and men too. They were crowding round the office of the Mamur, and, at intervals of a few minutes, were being broken up and driven off by footpolice and horse-police, armed with canes and courbashes.
The Mamuriya of Luxor is a low building, surrounded by
broad sandy roads bordered with shady trees. Such of the crowd as were not trying to force their way into the Mamur were squatting in the dust, weeping, and wailing, and gnashing their teeth. “What is this?” I asked a donkey-boy. “Sir, it is taking our young men for the army.” “But why are they howling?” “Because the young men will not be able to stay in their homes when they are with the army." The population was wildly excited. So often as they were driven back they crowded in again towards the steps of the Mamuriya. They were evidently waiting for some one to come out. The first thing that came out was a boy about eighteen, stark naked. He was so excited about getting out that he had forgotten his clothes, such as they were. The police smacked his head and drove him back. When he re-emerged, he had not got more than three yards from the steps before several men ran forward and literally fell on his neck to kiss him. They were so elated at his not having to serve his country. He rejoiced positively, and they rejoiced in the Mamur's declaration that he was physically unfit. Presently another man came out carrying a paper which showed that he was considered fit. The whole assemblage burst out into such wails that the police began arresting them, and taking them into the Mamuriya, until it would not hold any more, when they rode over them and hit them on the faces with sticks instead. It seemed brutal; but an American missionary said that the police understood them better than we did. He may have been embittered by experience. But the impression remained. The men were crying as well as the women ; but I suppose things were not very serious, because the ghaffirs, who had been drafted in from the various villages to help the police in case it was necessary, were sitting on the ground mixed up with the mourners, and being ridden over by the police with the rest. The Egyptian policeman when he is excited takes very active measures with natives. The ghaffirs, or watchmen, the people whose disappearance is the signal for danger, some of them armed with guns and some with quarter-staves, were dressed in brown like dervishes, and wore pale brown tarbooshes, with bands of various colours according to their districts. Ghaffirs are nice men, but quite useless except as guides. I think the fellaheen boys must have thought that the Mamur would steal their clothes, for most of them came with so very little—a sort of night-shirt and a white skull-cap. At first it was highly interesting to see these boys running the gauntlet of the police out of the Mamuriya, and being received by their relatives. I say running the gauntlet, because none of them walked down the steps—they all bolted like rabbits, and the police flicked at them with their whips or canes, not to hurt them—a mere ebullition of amusement. It was a really pretty and patriarchal sight to see a boy, pronounced unfit for service, being embraced by his relatives. The men especially kissed him charmingly. Their eloquent Egyptian eyes were brimming over with feeling; tears of gladness were often raining down their cheeks. I thought of Jacob when he got Benjamin back again, and those other inimitable pictures of parental affection in the Bible. I thought of the Prodigal Son. But the reverse side of the shield did not reflect pleasantly. These boys were not going to suffer any injury; in serving their country they were going to be better housed and better clothed than they were at home. They were going to be made into fine men and smart soldiers; they were going to see the world, and there was hardly any chance of their having to do any fighting, unless there was a Nationalist riot, or they were sent to punish the desert people for some outrage. It was natural that their mothers and even their fathers, thinking as they did, and being Egyptians, should give way to paroxysms of mourning. But the boys themselves ought to have felt ashamed, for often when they reached their parents, though they were eighteen years of age, they stood there and bellowed. There were exceptions, certainly, and they were the best-looking boys in physique and class. Some of them remained firm, and begged their parents not to weep, because it was no misfortune, but a duty to their
country and an honourable means of making their living.
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children. It made no difference to them, because they were