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freedom in the direction of suppressing any attempt to disturb public tranquillity. What at the time I most feared was that the British Government, under the influence of public opinion in England, would first withdraw their troops and then cry out if the use of the courbash increased, and, generally, if the rough-and-ready means dear to the
hearts of Oriental rulers were employed for the maintenance of public order. I wished to warn the Government that if they decided on a policy of evacuation, they must be prepared to turn a deaf ear to the cries, which would, without doubt, be raised both in Parliament and in the press, when the Egyptian Government proceeded to govern according to their own lights.
It was with these feelings uppermost in my mind that on October 9, that is to say, about a month after my arrival in Cairo, I answered the question which Lord Granville had addressed to me on September 6. I began by stating that, after consultation with Sir Frederick Stephenson, I had come to the conclusion that the British garrison could safely be withdrawn from Cairo, and that the total force in Egypt might be reduced to about 3000 men, who should be concentrated at Alexandria. I did not express any opinion on the question of when it would be possible to withdraw the whole of the garrison, but in a private telegram to Lord Granville, dated October 8, I told him that “for the present there could be no question of total withdrawal from Egypt.” I dwelt at some length on the state of the country, and, writing with a view to ultimate publication, I indicated in a manner which was sufficiently clear that, if the Egyptian Government were to be left to themselves, they must be allowed to maintain order in their own way.
When my despatch reached London, it created a considerable stir in official circles. It became
apparent that, although perhaps the Ministers were themselves aware that they could not attain two irreconcilable objects, they thought it undesirable to place this view of the case before the public. Lord Granville telegraphed to me asking that my despatch should be divided into two, and that the portion which spoke of non-interference with vigorous measures after the withdrawal of the British garrison should be treated separately and confidentially.
I accordingly wrote two despatches. The first, which was very short, dealt with the proposed reduction of the garrison and the withdrawal of the troops from Cairo. This was published. The second, which was longer, dealt with the probable consequences of withdrawal.
not published. It is, from a historical point of view, ā document of some interest. It is reproduced in an Appendix to this chapter.
On November 1, Lord Granville wrote to me that the British Government approved of my recommendation that the British force in Egypt should be reduced to 3000 men, who were to be concentrated at Alexandria. “The British garrison being thus withdrawn from Cairo,” it was added, “the main responsibility for preserving order throughout Egypt will, as you point out, devolve upon the Government of the Khedive, and in the execution of that task they may rely upon the full moral support of Her Majesty's Government.
Three weeks later, and before any practical steps had been taken to withdraw the garrison from Cairo, news arrived of the annihilation of General Hicks's army. Lord Granville telegraphed on November 22 directing me, after consultation with Sir Frederick Stephenson and Sir Evelyn Wood, to state my opinion as to whether the existing 1 See Egypt, No. 1 of 1884, pp. 50-51.
state of affairs in the Soudan was a cause of danger to Egypt. In that case, I was requested to state my views as to what measures were desirable. In my reply, dated November 24, I said that Sir Frederick Stephenson, Sir Evelyn Wood, and myself were of opinion that “the recent success of the Mahdi was a source of danger to Egypt,” that the withdrawal of the garrison from Cairo should be postponed, and that for the time being no reduction should be made in the strength of the British force. On November 25, Lord Granville telegraphed that “the preliminary steps for the withdrawal of the British troops were to be postponed. ponement has lasted until the day on which I am writing.
It will be observed that during all this time there was no question of total and immediate evacuation. Every responsible authority on the spot was opposed to any such measure, and the Government, although anxious to withdraw entirely, saw that it was impossible to carry the policy of total withdrawal into execution at once. The only question under discussion was whether the garrison should be reduced and the British force concentrated at Alexandria with a view to eventual withdrawal at no remote period. It may be doubted whether, even if the Hicks disaster had not occurred, it would have been possible within a short while to have withdrawn the whole of the British troops. This, however, is mere conjecture.
What is more certain is that, when the military power of Egypt in the Soudan was crushed, the last chance of immediate, or nearly immediate, evacuation disappeared. Moreover, it is historically interesting to note that the deathblow to the policy of speedy evacuation was dealt by a statesman who was earnestly desirous to withdraw the British troops. If Lord Granville had not been so fearful of
incurring any responsibility in respect to the Soudan on the ground that, in doing so, he might prolong the British occupation of Egypt, and if he had placed a veto on the Hicks expedition, it is conceivable that the British garrison might have been withdrawn after a short time.
As it was, Lord Granville, in his desire to shorten the occupation, contributed by his action to its prolongation.
Before leaving this branch of my subject, I should mention that on October 28, that is, between the time when I recommended the concentration at Alexandria, and the arrival of the news of the Hicks disaster, I again urged on Lord Granville, in a private letter, the impossibility of reconciling the two policies of speedy evacuation and reform. I reproduce the whole of this letter. It was as follows:
“I have now been here long enough to take stock of the main elements of the situation. There is an immense deal to be done, and there are many difficult questions to be solved. Looking at these questions from the point of view of their intrinsic merits, there is no reason why most of them, at all events, should not be solved within a reasonable period. But there is one obstacle which stands in the way of almost every move forward, and that is the necessity of consulting every Power in Europe before any important steps can be taken.
“ To take a single instance, the Blue Book on the appointment of the Indemnity Commission last year is a positive curiosity in its way. This question was so simple that three or four people sitting round a table ought to have been able to settle it in half an hour. Yet a voluminous correspondence ensued, and endless delays occurred before Stockholm, Brussels, etc., could be got to agree.
“As matters stand, it will be scarcely possible
to carry out the whole of our programme. On the one hand, we are bound before we go to start Egypt on the high road to good government. We ought not to leave the Egyptian Government in such a position as that they may plead as an excuse for future bad government that their hands are so tied as to render them powerless to execute reforms. On the other hand, we must not, for European, Egyptian, and purely English reasons, stay too long.
“Under present conditions, it is scarcely conceivable that both of these objects should be attained. In fact, the one is almost a contradiction in terms to the other. If we are to wait until all the essential reforms have been carried out by the slow process of consulting each Power separately on every question of detail, we shall wait a very long time, and there will be danger of drifting into a policy of annexation, or something tantamount to it.
“If we cut the knot by withdrawing without having done our work, and leaving Egypt to stew in its own juice of administrative, financial, and economic anarchy, there will be a very considerable risk that something will occur before our backs have long been turned, which will raise up the whole Egyptian question again. I confess I do not see my way out of this dilemma.
“We may, indeed, before long retire without any absolute danger to public order and tranquillity in the immediate future. But surely more than this is, under all the circumstances, expected of us both by Europe and by English public opinion. If we leave a crop of unsettled burning questions behind us, we can never feel any confidence that our hands will not be forced, that is to say, that we may again find ourselves in the position of being obliged to interfere or stand aside whilst others,