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country and an honourable means of making their living. Joseph, our donkey-boy, was, as I have said, one of these. His eldest brother, a very fine-looking man, had been a soldier, but his second brother, a strikingly handsome Arab, of a more effeminate type, had escaped service by the liberality of an Englishman in whose employ he had been, who had paid up his badalia or exemption money for him.
To show what a thoroughly nice family this was, I may mention that whenever this Englishman came to Egypt, the brother whose badalia he had paid gave up all other engagements, and insisted on dragomaning for this Englishman free of charge.
I shall not easily forget that sight. The square in front of the Mamuriya, and the road all round it, were full of black-coated and white-turbaned men, and black-veiled women, seated on the ground in rows awaiting the doom of their children, patient in their acquiescence, uncontrollable in their grief, in the weird but graceful poses of the Orient. The women were made more picturesque by their barbaric jewellery, and the numbers of little children sitting astride on their shoulders, after the manner of Upper Egypt, holding on like monkeys and crying too, though they did know what it was about. You could hear the people crying round the Mamuriya, from the great Luxor temple many hundred yards away. A gay little mosque and a palm grove completed the easternness of the scene.
Once or twice the people lost their patience and began an ugly rush, but the superb, military-looking trooper of the Egyptian mounted police riding, like Death, upon a white horse, would fling himself upon them, slash their faces, make his courbash of hippopotamus-hide hurtle upon their backs, trample on a few. And then the rush would stop, and there was no trace of anybody being hurt.
The Egyptian women who have reached a certain age are hideous enough when they smile, but when they are working themselves up into a frenzy of professional mourning, they are indescribable. I could not help photographing them as they sat there in their rows with the monkeying little
children. It made no difference to them, because they were much too occupied to notice me. But a pleasant young Egyptian police-lieutenant came and stood beside me, in case any persons, who had no grieving to do, tried to make a grievance out of it, and created a disturbance. None did ; no one noticed me. I photographed all I wished, and then he suggested that I should go into the Mamuriya, and see the Mamur, selecting the conscripts. I went, of course ; but the Mamur, who was inspecting them in a very dark room, where no camera would have been of the slightest use, let alone a mere kodak, was convinced that I wanted to photograph him in the execution of his duties. It was in vain that I offered to leave the camera with one of the policemen outside. He was too excited to listen to me. But as, fortunately, an Egyptian cannot express himself under about five minutes on account of his verbosity, I saw all I wanted while I was arguing the point with him.
He had a row of unhappy young Egyptians, most of them fellahin, drawn up, stark naked, in front of him. He looked as if he was giving instructions to a diving-class in that dark, bare cellar of a room. An English doctor stood beside him. I supposed that no Egyptian doctor could be trusted not to collude with the conscripts. They trembled before the great man; the doctor felt them, and kneaded them, and sounded them, and looked at their teeth and eyes. His task was an easy one.
There was an obvious defect in most, such as eyes made worthless with ophthalmia, even if neither of them was missing; and these candidates for the army were most of them desperately anxious to be plucked in their medical.
It was no wonder that the Mamur was excited ; he would have had half the population of Luxor locked up if he had had accommodation for them, and all the young men who passed their medical were locked up in the prison till they could be sent under a police escort to the railway station, after being allowed to go out and say good-bye to their friends, it is true, under the eyes of the watchful police. They had, I suppose, to be sent to a distance from their homes until they got accustomed to the army, or else they would desert.
Judging by what I saw of the Egyptian soldiers, no one would think that they did not take to their job kindly when they got accustomed to it. They looked contented enough, and they certainly looked very fine soldiers, powerful, enduring, and well-set-up. But I have been told that they nurse a grievance at being compelled to become such fine people, instead of remaining fellahin without shoes, grubbing in the mud left by the inundation, with little more mind than the buffaloes and the camels and the donkeys with which they work.
So many men are taken by conscription for the army every year—two or three thousand, I think, out of a population of nearly twelve millions. There are several pleas for exemption besides physical defects, such as being the only son of a widow, or a fikee, that is, a religious student. Sardonic people say that the exemption of a fikee from military duties supplies El-Azhar, the great Mohammedan University, with most of the Egyptians among its ten thousand students; and any one who can muster up the £20 of the badalia can buy exemption. So hated was the military service in the old days that men would blind themselves in one eye, or cut off their trigger-finger, or destroy their constitution with noxious drugs, so as to be rejected by the doctor. There was even a stereotyped way of blinding themselves by the juice of the gigantic spurge, which we call Dead Sea fruit. Service meant five years with the colours, and it might mean five years afterwards with the police. An excellent Bill is about to be passed-it may be passed ere these words are printed—to make the second five years (of service in the police) optional, recruits being secured by the excellence of the pay. Those who do not shirk their military service will then, on the completion of their term, receive £20, the sum they would have paid if they had shirked it. The exemption money paid by shirkers is to be devoted to this purpose. It is to be hoped that the Egyptian will then wish to serve his country.
HOW WOMEN CARRY THEIR CHILDREN IN UPPER EGYPT.
Women in a street in Luxor on the Day of the Conscription.