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THE DWELLERS IN EGYPT
The Englishman's mission - Conditions under which it was under
taken - Population of Egypt-Its mixed character-Hostility to England-Main tenets of Islam-Its failure as a social system, Degradation of women Immutability of the law — Slavery Intolerance-Incidents of religious belief and ceremonial-Mental and moral attributes—Seclusion of women-Polygamy-DivorceCoarseness of literature and conversation-Filial piety-Government_Conservatism-Spirit of the laws—Language-Art-Music - Customs-Obstacles to England's mission.
Ar the conclusion of Chapter XVIII. of this work, the narrative was brought down to the time when Kinglake's Englishman had planted his foot on the banks of the Nile, and sat in the seats of the faithful. He came not as a conqueror, but in the familiar garb of a saviour of society.
The mère assumption of this part, whether by a nation or by an individual, is calculated to arouse some degree of suspicion. The world is apt to think that the saviour is not improbably looking more to his own interests than to the salvation of society, and experience has proved that the suspicion is not unfrequently well founded. Yet assuredly the Englishman could in this case produce a valid title to justify his assumption of the part which had been thrust upon him. His advent was hailed with delight by the lawful rulers of Egypt and by the mass of the Egyptian people. The greater portion of Europe also looked upon his action without disfavour, if not with positive approval.
I say only the greater portion of Europe, for there were two notable exceptions. In the East of Europe, the Turk chafed under the reflection that the precious jewel of political opportunity had been offered to him, and that, like the “bird in the story” of Moore's song, he had “cast the fair gem far away.' In the West of Europe, on the other hand, the Frenchman was looking on askance with a gradually awakening sense that he had made a mistake in allowing the Englishman to assume alone the part of the Egyptian saviour, and, when he once woke up to a sense of his error, he manifested his irritation in various ways.
With these two exceptions, which, however, for the moment hardly caused any discordant note to be sounded amidst the universal chorus of approbation, the Englishman was able to feel that none, whether in or out of Egypt, were inclined to gainsay the righteousness of his cause. More than this, one of the first qualifications necessary in order to play the part of a saviour of society is that the saviour should believe in himself and in his mission. This the Englishman did. He was convinced that his mission was to save Egyptian society, and, moreover, that he was able to save it.
How was he to accomplish his mission ? Was he, in his energetic, brisk, northern fashion, to show the Egyptians what they had to do, and then to leave them to carry on the work by themselves ? This is what he thought to do, but alas ! he was soon to find that to fulminate against abuses, which were the growth of centuries, was like firing a cannonball into a mountain of mud. By the adoption of any such method, he could only produce a temporary ebullition. If he were to do any good, he must not only show what was to be done, but he must stay where he was and do it hiroself. Or was he, as some fiery spirits advised, to go to the other
extreme? Was he to hoist the British flag over the citadel of Cairo, and sweep Pashadom, Capitulations, Mixed Tribunals, and all the heterogeneous mass of international cobwebs to be found in Egypt into the political waste-paper basket ? Prudence, which bade him think of the peace of Europe, and the qualms of his political conscience, which obliged him to be mindful of his plighted word, albeit it had perhaps been too lightly pledged, stopped the way.
Being debarred from the adoption of either extreme course, the Englishman fell back on the procedure, which is endeared to him by habits of thought and national tradition.
He adopted a middle course. He compromised. Far be it from his Anglo-Saxon mind to ask for that “ situation nette” which is so dear to the logical Frenchman. He would assert his native genius by working a system, which, according to every canon of political thought, was unworkable. He would not annex Egypt, but he would do as much good to the country as if he had annexed it. He would not interfere with the liberty of action of the Khedivial Government, but in practice he would insist on the Khedive and the Egyptian Ministers conforming to his views. He would in theory be one of many Powers exercising equal rights, but in practice he would wield a paramount influence. He would occupy a portion of the Ottoman dominions with British troops, and at the same time he would do nothing to infringe the legitimate rights of the Sultan. He would not break his promise to the Frenchman, but he would wrap it in a napkin to be produced on some more convenient occasion. In a word, he would act with all the practical common sense, the scorn for theory, and the total absence of any fixed plan based on logical reasoning, which are the distinguishing features of his race.
I propose eventually to answer the question of how the Englishman fulfilled the mission which, if it was not conferred on him by Europe, was at all events assumed without protest from Europe. Before, however, grappling with this portion of my task, it will be as well to say something of the conditions of the problem which had to be solved. What manner of men were these Egyptians over whom, by accident rather than by design, the Englishman was called upon
to rule without
having the appearance of ruling ? To what influences were they subject? What were their national characteristics? What part must be assigned to the foreign, that is to say, the European, Asiatic, and non-Egyptian African races resident in Egypt? What political institutions and administrative systems existed when the English stepped upon the Egyptian scene? In a word, what was the chaotic material out of which the Englishman had to evolve something like order ?
These are important questions. It is essential that they should be answered before the nature of the work accomplished by England in Egypt can be understood.
Modern Egypt measures about 1000 miles from Alexandria to Wadi Halfa. Its breadth from Port Said to Alexandria is about 200 miles. The apex of the Nile Delta lies a little north of Cairo. Southward from that point, the habitable country narrows rapidly, and is in places confined to a few yards on either bank of the river. This habitable area covers an extent of 33,607 square kilometres, or about 8,000,000 acres.
Who are the inhabitants of these eight millions of acres? Of what was the raw material composed with which the Englishman had to deal ?
It might naturally be supposed that, as we are dealing with the country called Egypt, the inhabit