Historical Reprints History Secret History of the English Occupation of Egypt

Secret History of the English Occupation of Egypt

Secret History of the English Occupation of Egypt
Catalog # SKU3649
Publisher TGS Publishing
Weight 1.00 lbs
Author Name Wilfrid Scawen Blunt
ISBN 10: 0000000000
ISBN 13: 0000000000000


Secret History
of the
English Occupation of Egypt

Wilfrid Scawen Blunt

I desire to place on record in a succinct and tangible form the events which have come within my knowledge relating to the origin of the English occupation of Egypt-not necessarily for publication now, but as an available document for the history of our times. At one moment I played in these events a somewhat prominent part, and for nearly twenty years I have been a close and interested spectator of the drama which was being acted at Cairo.

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It may well be, also, that the Egyptian question, though now quiescent, will reassert itself unexpectedly in some urgent form hereafter, requiring of Englishmen a new examination of their position there, political and moral; and I wish to have at hand and ready for their enlightenment the whole of the materials I possess. I will give these as clearly as I can, with such documents in the shape of letters and journals as I can bring together in corroboration of my evidence, disguising nothing and telling the whole truth as I know it. It is not always in official documents that the truest facts of history are to be read, and certainly in the case of Egypt, where intrigue of all kinds has been so rife, the sincere student needs help to understand the published parliamentary papers.

Lastly, for the Egyptians, if ever they succeed in re-establishing themselves as an autonomous nation, it will be of value that they should have recorded the evidence of one whom they know to be their sincere friend in regard to matters of diplomatic obscurity which to this day they fail to realize. My relations with Downing Street in 1882 need to be related in detail if Egyptians are ever to appreciate the exact causes which led to the bombardment of Alexandria and the battle of Tel-el-Kebir, while justice to the patriot leader of their "rebellion" requires that I should give a no less detailed account of Arabi's trial, which still presents itself to some Egyptian as to all French minds, in the light of a pre-arranged comedy devised to screen a traitor. It does not do to leave truth to its own power of prevailing over lies, and history is full of calumnies which have[Pg viii] remained unrefuted, and of ingratitudes which nations have persisted in towards their worthiest sons.


I left England that autumn of 1880 on the 3rd of November, in the first place for Egypt, and without any more definite further plan than to go on from thence to Jeddah and educate myself in view of possible future opportunities. My wilder schemes in regard to the Arabs seemed for the moment impracticable, and all that I hoped for was to gain sufficient knowledge of the doctrine and modern tendencies of Islam to put it into my power to act should circumstances become more favourable. On leaving London I had arranged with Hamilton that we should correspond during the winter, and that I would let him know anything of special interest which might occur on my journey and which he might communicate to Mr. Gladstone, who was still, he assured me, though I had not seen him again, interested in my ideas. At the Foreign Office I was looked upon, though in a friendly way, more as a visionary than as anything seriously likely to affect the official view of Eastern policy, even under a Radical Prime Minister.

At Cairo, where I arrived a few days later, I found much change, and all, as it seemed to me, for the better. The old irresponsible tyranny of Ismail had given place to the comparatively mild regime of the Anglo-French Condominium. The finances had been regularized, and order put into most of the Administrations. I visited some of the same villages I had known in such terrible straits five years before, and found that the worst evils affecting their position had been put a stop to, and, though still poor and highly-taxed, there was no longer that feeling of despair among the fellahin which had made them pour out the history of their woes to me when I had first come among them as a sympathetic stranger. I went to the British Agency, and was delighted to find established there as Consul- General my friend Malet, who gave me a roseate account of the reforms that had been effected or were in project, for as yet little had been actually done except financially. All was going slowly but steadily on the road of improvement, and the only clouds he could see on the horizon were, first, in the Soudan, which was so great a drain upon Egypt's resources, and, secondly, in the Army, where there had been latterly symptoms of discontent. He spoke much in praise of the new Khedive, Tewfik, and took me to see him at the Palace, and I found him, if not very interesting, at least holding the language of a civilized and liberal-minded Prince. An echo of Malet's optimism may be recognized in my letters from Egypt of that date, and I find the draft of one I wrote to Hamilton of which the following is an extract:

"I find a great change here for the better since five years ago, and, whatever may be the shortcomings the late Government may have to answer for elsewhere, their policy in Egypt certainly was a success. The country people now look fat and prosperous, and the few I have talked to, people who in former years complained bitterly of their condition, now praise the Khedive and his administration. They seem, for once, to have gone the right way to work here, making as few changes as possible in the system of government and only taking care that the men who caused the disorder should be changed. It was a great stroke of policy getting rid of Ismail, and I feel little doubt that with proper management the present man will go straight. Egypt is so rich and such a cheap country to govern that its finances must come right, if it limits its ambition to its own natural prosperity. But there are one or two rocks ahead, the government of the Soudan for instance, which will always be an expense and will always be an excuse for maintaining an army. I cannot conceive why Egypt should charge itself with governing the Nile beyond the First Cataract, its old boundary. Putting down the slave-trade in Africa is an amusement only rich countries need afford themselves. It will also be a great misfortune if such protection and supervision as the Government gets from England should be withdrawn, at least for some years and until a new generation has grown up used to a better order of things than the old. I should like immensely to see Syria put under another such regime. That, too, if there is no at tempt to hold the desert, is a fairly rich country and might be made to pay its way. But it would require a very distinct protection from Europe to relieve it of the cost of an army. For police purposes a very small force would be sufficient, and I am convinced that people in England exaggerate immensely the difficulty of keeping the peace between the mixed Mohammedan and Christian populations there. These have all lain groaning together so long under the same tyranny that the edges of their prejudices have got worn down."

With regard to my plan of seeking Mohammedan instruction, I was from the outset singularly fortunate. Rogers Bey, a distinguished Eastern scholar whom I had known some years before as Consul at Damascus, was now an official of the Finance Office at Cairo, and from him I obtained the name of a young Alem connected with the Azhar University, Sheykh Mohammed Khalil, who came to me daily to give me lessons in Arabic, and stayed to talk with me often through the afternoons. It happened, however, that he was far more than a mere professor of the language of the Koran. Mohammed Khalil, of all the Mohammedans I have known, was perhaps the most single-minded and sincere and at the same time the most enthusiastic Moslem of the larger and purer school of thought such as that which was being expounded at that time at Cairo by his great master, Sheykh Mohammed Abdu. I like to think of him as he then was, a young man of about thirty, serious, intelligent, and good, without affectation, pious and proud of his religion, but without the smallest taint of Pharisaism or doctrinal intolerance or of that arrogant reserve which is so common with Mohammedans in dealing with persons not of their own faith. He was all the contrary to this.

From almost the first day of our intercourse he made it his duty and his pleasure to teach me all he knew. His school of interpretation was of the very widest kind. He accepted as true creeds all those that professed the unity of God; and Judaism and Christianity were to him only imperfect and corrupted forms of the one true religion of Abraham and Noah. He would hear nothing of intolerance, nothing of bitterness between believers so near akin. The intolerance and the bitterness were the evil legacy of ancient wars, and he believed the world to be progressing towards a state of social perfection where arms would be laid down and a universal brother hood proclaimed between the nations and the creeds. As he unfolded to me these ideas and based them on texts and traditions, declaring them to be the true teaching of Islam, it may be imagined how astonished and delighted I was-for they were very close to my own-and the more so when he affirmed that they were the views beginning to be held by all the more intelligent of the younger generation of students at his own university, as well as elsewhere in the Mohammedan world. He gave me, too, an account of how this school of enlightened interpretation had sprung up almost within his own recollection at the Azhar.

The true originator of the Liberal religious Reform movement among the Ulema of Cairo was, strangely enough, neither an Arab, nor an Egyptian, nor an Ottoman, but a certain wild man of genius, Sheykh Jemal-ed-din Afghani, whose sole experience of the world before he came to Egypt had been that of Central Asia. An Afghan by birth, he had received his religious education at Bokhara, and in that remote region, and apparently without coming in contact with any teacher from the more civilized centres of Mohammedan thought, he had evolved from his own study and reflection the ideas which are now associated with his name. Hitherto all movements of religious reform in Sunnite Islam had followed the lines not of development, but of retrogression. There had been a vast number of preachers, especially in the last 200 years, who had taught that the decay of Islam as a power in the world was due to its followers having forsaken the ancient ways of simplicity and the severe observance of the law as understood in the early ages of the faith. On the other hand, reformers there had been of a modern type recently, both in Turkey and Egypt, who had Europeanized the administration for political purposes, but these had introduced their changes as it were by violence, through decrees and approvals obtained by force from the unwilling Ulema, and with no serious attempt to reconcile them with the law of the Koran and the traditions. The political reforms had been always imposed from above, not suggested from below, and had generally been condemned by respectable opinion. Jemal-ed-din's originality consisted in this, that he sought to convert the religious intellect of the countries where he preached to the necessity of reconsidering the whole Islamic position, and, in stead of clinging to the past, of making an onward intellectual movement in harmony with modern knowledge.

His intimate acquaintance with the Koran and the traditions enabled him to show that, if rightly interpreted and checked the one by the other, the law of Islam was capable of the most liberal developments and that hardly any beneficial change was in reality opposed to it.

500 pages - 7 x 8½ softcover

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