Page images

repudiated by the home government, has rather more basis in fact than is officially admitted.

The British supremacy in Egypt dates as a practical matter from 1882; and the status quo received a decided confirmation in 1904 when, by the AngloFrench agreement, it was stipulated, on the one hand, that England would not seek further to alter the political condition of the Egyptians, and on the other, that France would not obstruct, either by demanding a time-limit or otherwise, the progress of the work which England was already doing in the country.

To define exactly the status of Great Britain in her relations with Egypt puzzles the British, apparently, almost as much as it puzzles others to understand the definition. England has on the spot a civil representative called the “British Agent," who is ostensibly no more than an envoy extraordinary such as any country maintains at a foreign court. She maintains an army of occupation which seems more likely to be increased than diminished, under the direction of the Sirdar. There is also an Egyptian army, largely under English direction. Thus the government both civil and military, while outwardly autonomous, is administered under the oversight of Great Britain ; and in many ways the situation resembles in its anomalies the situation of the United States in the Philippines.

Extension of autonomy, if it were possible, would presumably not be regarded as an alteration of the political condition of the people against the intent and meaning of the Anglo-French convention. But as it happens it is presently impossible, as the late Sir Eldon Gorst intimated in his last official report to his home government. Indeed, it seems probable that such measure of local self-government as now exists, though small and almost purely nominal, tends to hinder rather than advance the welfare of the country. The truth is that the present Egyptian people, both Mohammedan and Coptic, are by education and temperament unfit to administer a government of their own. And it is in the conflict between Copt and Moslem that most of the current unrest under British guidance arises. The Copts are the Christian Egyptians, and they appear to have imagined that when the Christian English came into virtual control the Coptic element would receive a decided preference in the matter of administration. No such result has followed, however, and the natural antipathy between these immiscible elements in the population has thus tended to increase, making the task of the British overseers the more difficult. Nationalist agitation seems at this writing to be on the increase, making it necessary now and then to deal with the seditious journalists of the country with what in other lands would pass for a high hand.

The great obstacle in the way of self-government is the prevailing illiteracy, despite the efforts to extend and make comprehensive the school system. Sir Eldon Gorst, in 1911, was obliged to report that in a total population of over 11,000,000 persons, only about 600,000 — mainly Copts — could read and write. It is clear, therefore, that the average native council must for a long time to come be representative of a very small portion of the Egyptian public, — chiefly of the pashas, or wealthier class, – and may be depended upon in consequence to lend itself very easily to class agitations and schemes. No one can say how much longer the English occupation will endure, least of all, the English. But that it must endure for a very appreciable period is certain, and even then its withdrawal would probably mean nothing more than the substitution of some other alien hand. Ever since the decline of the Ramessids, ages and ages ago, Egypt has been ruled by governors from abroad.

It so happens that the British domination of the country has been of incalculable benefit, more so than has ever been true of the previous overlords from beyond seas. The abolition of slavery, the reduction of taxes, and above all the certainty that taxes will not be collected twice and thrice over from the ignorant, the general improvement in agriculture, and the removal of the countless miseries that prevailed under the Turks, have worked almost incredible changes for the better. Unquestionably the civil service is redundant in spots, and is overmanned as most bureaucracies are apt to be. But in the main it is highly efficient and is justified a thousand times over by its works.

The one shortcoming appears to be that produced by the awkwardness of England's position. She has what odium always attaches to the name of a foreign despot without a foreign despot's power to convey the fullest measure of benefit. It seems probable that she could have done much more for Egypt if she had been able or willing to take an entirely free hand. And there are not wanting able advocates of the policy that Great Britain should step more into the open, as the part dictated both by the needs of Egypt and by the demands of sincerity and candor.

Opinions differ seriously as to whether the late Sir Eldon Gorst carried out with success the policies of the earlier and greater Lord Cromer, but probably the weight of public judgment is that he did not. What will happen under his successor is an interesting problem which the world is destined to watch with acuteness. Predictions are common that a stronger hand will be maintained than formerly, and many will not be sorry to have it so.

The Egypt of to-day is in no wise to be compared with the Egypt of fifty years ago. Her house has been set in order. Her people have been helped to an immensely better condition. Crops have been not merely doubled or trebled, but quadrupled and more. A greater diversity of products has been secured, notably including cotton. Lands have appreciated enormously in value, owing to the change in the method of irrigation, and many Egyptians have grown suddenly rich. Railroads have been extended, electricity and steam power have been introduced more widely, cities have been cleaned and made sanitary. But it is not the Egyptian who has done this. It is the English,

Most impressive of all the public works is unquestionably that by which the irrigation of the Nile Valley has been regulated and reformed. Everybody since the days of Herodotus has recognized that Egypt is the “gift of the Nile,” but it has taken a very modern generation to realize to what extent the gift could be amplified. The river, which once merely overflowed the entire country and then retreated, leaving behind a sediment of rich loam, has been harnessed and controlled. Irrigation is rapidly becoming perennial instead of purely seasonal. The

« PreviousContinue »