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Sir Henry Wolff appointed Special Commissioner-Convention of
October 24, 1885-Moukhtar Pasha-Convention of May 22, 1887 -Comparison of the_two Conventions—Frontier affairs—The army-Civil reforms_Evacuation-France and Russia oppose the Convention–The Sultan refuses to ratify it-Moukhtar Pasha permanently located in Egypt-Results of the Wolff mission.
It might have been thought that a sufficient
Sir Henry Wolff arrived in Constantinople on
August 22, 1885. On October 24, he signed a Convention with the Turkish Minister for Foreign Affairs. All that this first Convention settled was the nature of the subjects which were to be discussed. It provided that the British and Turkish Governments were each to send a Special Commissioner to Egypt, where the Ottoman Commissioner was to consult with the Khedive “upon the best means of tranquillising the Soudan by pacific means. The two Commissioners, in concert with the Khedive, were to reorganise the Egyptian army, and also to “examine all the branches of the Egyptian administration, and introduce into them the modifications which they considered necessary, within the limits of the Imperial Firmans.” The sixth and most important article of the Convention was couched in the following terms : “So soon as the two High Commissioners shall have established that the security of the frontiers and the good working and stability of the Egyptian Government are assured, they shall present à Report to their respective Governments, who will consult as to the conclusion of a Convention regulating the withdrawal of the British troops from Egypt in a convenient period.”
In a despatch, dated October 24, Sir Henry Wolff pointed out the advantages which, he thought, had accrued, or were likely to accrue, from the signature of this Convention.
“The conclusion of an arrangement,” he said, "of any kind has done much to allay the irritation that has existed for some time in the minds of the Turks towards England. ... The experience of the Sultan's Commissioner, if wisely chosen, will be useful in the elaboration of institutions which must combine both Eastern and Western elements. The same reason will hold good with respect to the regulations in the Soudan. It m:st, doubtless,
have been very difficult for English gentlemen, however able and conciliatory, to come to terms with races who had suffered so severely at our hands. The regulations which are to be undertaken, with our assent and countenance, but between the Khalif and those who recognise his authority, are more likely to lead to a rapid and satisfactory result.
Sir Henry Wolff arrived in Cairo on October 29. The departure from Constantinople of Ghazi Moukhtar Pasha, a distinguished soldier, who was named Turkish Commissioner, was delayed; he did not arrive in Cairo till December 27.
It is unnecessary to describe the lengthy negotiations which ensued. It will be sufficient to say that, after eighteen months of discussion, a further Convention was signed at Constantinople, on May 22, 1887, between Sir Henry Wolff and two Turkish Plenipotentiaries acting on behalf of the Sultan.
The two Conventions may now be compared with a view to ascertaining how far the latter accomplished the objects proposed by the former.
As regards the tranquillisation of the Soudan, Sir Henry Wolff's efforts were foredoomed to failure from the commencement. He spoke of negotiations being undertaken “ between the Khalif and those who recognised his authority." Moukhtar Pasha and other Turks were naturally slow to believe that any Mohammedans refused to recognise the authority of the Sultan as Khalif. But every one in Egypt knew that the Mahdi confounded Christians and Turks alike in one common anathema, and that the idea of conjuring with the Sultan's name in the Soudan was a delusion.
On this particular point, therefore, the negotiations conducted by Sir Henry Wolff and Moukhtar Pasha ended in failure. It was reserved for Sir
Francis Grenfell and Colonel Wodehouse to arrive at some settlement of the frontier question by methods which were efficacious because they were based on the true facts of the case, and not on the imaginary facts evolved from the brains of Turkish diplomatists. The defeats which the Dervishes sustained at Arguin and Toski in the summer of 1889, gave peace to the frontier. Powder and shot proved more effective agents than the "authority of the Khalif.”
Much discussion took place about the reorganisation of the Egyptian army.
At one time, a proposal was put forward to recruit troops in Turkey, an idea which did not find favour with the Sultan. At another time, the notion of importing a number of Turkish officers into Egypt was started. Eventually, however, nothing was done. The British officers were fortunately left to reorganise the Egyptian army after their own fashion. On this point also, therefore, the Convention of October 24, 1885, was unproductive of result.
Much the same may be said as regards administrative reforms. A Protocol annexed to the Convention of May 22, 1887, provided that the British and Ottoman Governments should jointly address the Powers with a view to modifying the Capitulations in the sense of bringing all residents of Egypt “under a local and uniform jurisdiction and legislation.” A second Protocol provided that joint representations should be made to the Powers with a view to reforming the administrations of the Domains, Daira, and Railways, defining the powers of the Commissioners of the Debt, and enacting laws relative to the press and to quarantine. But beyond making an enumeration of the points which required the attention of the reformer, nothing was done.
There remains to be considered the sixth and most important article of the Convention of October 24, 1885, namely, that which provided that the Commissioners should discuss the question of the withdrawal of the British garrison from Egypt. It was perhaps rather a bold flight of the official imagination to indulge in the hope that any possible steps taken by the two Commissioners would assure "the good working and stability of the Egyptian Government.” The good working and stability of that Government are still assured by the presence of the garrison whose speedy withdrawal from Egypt formed the main subject of the discussions which took place in 1885-87. Too much attention should not, however, be attached to the wording of the Convention of October 1885. Diplomatic instruments of this sort usually abound in euphemisms and picturesque conventionalities. In plain English, the first Convention signed by Sir Henry Wolff meant that England and Turkey were to endeavour to come to terms over the Egyptian question, and, although nothing practical came of the endeavour, some cautious and intelligent steps were taken in the direction intended.
Article V. of the Convention of May 22, 1887, laid down that “at the expiration of three years from the date of the present Convention, Her Britannic Majesty's Government will withdraw its troops from Egypt.” This clause seemed explicit enough, but it was followed by another clause, under the provisions of which the British troops were not to withdraw at the end of three years if there was any “appearance of danger in the interior or from without.” It was not specifically stated who was to judge whether the internal or external danger was sufficient to justify the retention of the British garrison in Egypt, but in the