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DESPATCH FROM SIR EVELYN BARING TO EARL GRANVILLE
CAIRO, October 9, 1883. My Lord-It may be advisable that in a separate despatch I should offer some further observations on the question of the withdrawal of the British troops from Egypt beyond those which are contained in my separate despatch of this day's date.
I propose, in the first instance, to make some remarks upon the question of the total withdrawal of the Army of Occupation. The frequent declarations which have been made by Her Majesty's Ministers on this subject, have weakened, but have not altogether eradicated the belief entertained by some sections of the community in Egypt that the country will be permanently occupied by British troops.
I have lost no opportunity of stating that there is no intention whatever of departing from the policy in pursuance of which the whole
of the British troops will eventually be withdrawn from Egypt. In spite, however, of the very cordial sympathy with which I regard that policy, I regret that I am at present unable to recommend the total withdrawal of the Army of Occupation. I consider that it would be at present premature to discuss the question. Under these circumstances, the only practical questions to be considered are those which are discussed in my separate despatch In making the proposals contained in that despatch, it may be desirable that I should add some observations of a general nature on the political situation of the moment.
It would be difficult to conceive of the existence of a worse Government than that of the late Khedive, Ismail Pasha. But that Government possessed one single merit—it preserved order. The methods by which it preserved order were cruel and oppressive in the highest degree, but the general
1 This was the despatch to which allusion is made on pp. 352-353, and in which it was recommended that the British garrison should be reduced and the troops concentrated at Alexandria.
CH. XLIV STRUGGLE FOR A POLICY
result was that life and property were secure from all attacks save those dictated by the action of the Government themselves. Recent events have completely shattered the system of government which prevailed under Ismail Pasha and his predecessors. The use of the “courbash” has been nearly, if not completely, abolished. Measures are being taken under which it may be reasonably hoped that arbitrary arrest and imprisonment will no longer be possible. Properly constituted tribunals are about to be established, under whose jurisdiction it may be hoped that but few persons will suffer for crimes of which they are innocent, although possibly in the first instance some guilty persons may escape punishment. In a word, a reign of law is being introduced.
The period of transition from the old to the new order of things would, under any circumstances, have been somewhat critical. It is rendered more so from the fact that recent events must have imbued the people with the idea, heretofore unfamiliar to them, that properly constituted authority may, for a time at least, be successfully resisted.
The present position of the country is that the old order of things has either passed or is rapidly passing away.
On the other hand, the new systems of administration or of judicial procedure are either in process of organisation, or have not yet acquired the stability which time alone can give to them.
I believe His Highness the Khedive and his Ministers to be sincerely desirous of introducing the reforms, whose main features were set forth in Lord Dufferin's report, and of which the country stands so much in need. But the introduction of those reforms must necessarily occupy some time. During the period of their introduction it may be anticipated that many persons, imperfectly appreciating the difficulties of the situation, may be impatient that more rapid progress is not made. On the other hand, the turbulent and lawless portion of the community may not improbably learn to disrespect a Government which does not manifest its authority, or impose its legitimate orders, by the use of those arbitrary methods to which the country has for generations been accustomed. If the system of government in Egypt is to be reformed, it is above all things necessary that order should be preserved during the process of reformation, and that any changes, whether in the existing laws or in the form of government or in the composition of the ministry, should be effected by legal and constitutional methods. Force should
be put down by force, and inasmuch as the lesson has scarcely yet been learnt in Egypt that the arm of the law is as strong as that of arbitrary and capricious power, it might, under certain circumstances, become desirable in the interests of the country that a greater degree of severity should be exercised in the suppression of disturbance than would be necessary amongst a population which had for long been accustomed to a law-abiding and orderly system of government.
The main responsibility for preserving order throughout Egypt will, as I have said in my separate despatch, devolve on the Egyptian Government. Under these circumstances, I venture to think that, within any reasonable limits, full freedom should be left to the Egyptian Government in the exercise of that power, the possession of which is a necessary condition to the assumption of responsibility. I have no reason to suppose that, should
disturbance occur at Cairo or elsewhere, the Egyptian Government would be disposed to use excessive or unnecessary severity in its suppression. The personal character of the Khedive is, indeed, of itself almost a sufficient guarantee that no such tendency exists. At the same time, it cannot be denied that the events of the last few years have shaken the authority of the Government in Egypt, a result which is not, I believe, due to any change in the personal character of the individuals who compose the Government, but to the change of system, which, most fortunately for the country, has been in course of progress since the abdication of Ismail Pasha.
In order to reassert that authority, the existence of which is essential to the progress of orderly reform, it might be deemed necessary by the Egyptian Government to exercise a degree of severity in the suppression of disturbance which might possibly not commend itself to public opinion in England.
Under these circumstances, I venture to think that it would be desirable that both the Egyptian Government and the public in Egypt should fully understand that, whilst Her Majesty's Government would view with serious displeasure any attempt to return to the system of government which prevailed in the past, they would not, save in some very exceptional case, be inclined to interfere with the discretion of the Egyptian Government in the adoption of such measures as the latter might consider desirable for the preservation of public order and tranquillity.
I make these observations not because I have any reason to suppose that any disturbance is likely to ensue upon the partial withdrawal of the British force, but because it appears to me desirable that, before the British garrison is reduced, the responsibility and the power of the Egyptian Government should alike be somewhat clearly defined.
The considerations which I have thus ventured to lay before your Lordship will, of course, apply with even greater force when the time eventually arrives for dealing with the question of the total withdrawal of the British garrison.—I have, etc.,
THE NORTHBROOK MISSION
It is decided to send a Special Commissioner to Cairo-The policy of
reporting-Lord Northbrook arrives in Egypt-His financial proposals His General Report—The Government reject his proposals.
THE difficulties and complications of the Egyptian question were, of course, greatly increased by the events in the Soudan. Amongst other causes for anxiety, the bankruptcy of the Egyptian Treasury appeared imminent. A Conference of the Powers assembled in London in the summer of 1884 to consider the financial situation, but separated without arriving at any practical conclusions. Under the circumstances, what was a well - intentioned Government, which had drifted into a position which it very imperfectly understood, to do? Undoubtedly, the question was difficult to answer.
After a short period of hesitation, Mr. Gladstone resorted to his favourite device. He determined to send to Cairo a Special Commissioner to “report and advise Her Majesty's Government touching the counsel which it might be fitting to offer the Egyptian Government in the present situation of affairs in Egypt, and as to the measures which
1 Subsequently, some decisions were taken as regards the matters discussed at the Conference. They were embodied in an Agreement signed in London by the representatives of all the Great Powers on March 17, 1885. See Egypt, No. 6 of 1885.