Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Making of Modern Egypt

Sir Auckland Colvin
K.C.S.I., K.C.M.G., C.I.E.
Thomas Nelson & Sons

This lovely small blue book opens with a picture of Lord Cromer, British Comptroller-General of Egypt in 1879 and later from 1883-1907 as British Council-General of Egypt. Sir Auckland Colvin was Comptroller-General in Egypt, 1880-1882, and a financial adviser to the Khedive. The book also has a lovely foldout map of Egypt and the Sudan.

Sir Colvin begins "In the course of the year 1882 an outbreak of anarchy in Egypt led to British occupation.". The troubles of which Sir Colvin speaks began a number of decades earlier saying "the sources of the military revolt and popular disorder may be traced in the policy and practice of the reigning dynasty of Egypt, from the days of its founder Muhammad Ali to the expulsion of Ismail Pasha.".

In 1863 at the accession of Ismail Pasha, Egypt's debt amounted to less than four million sterling, and upon his expulsion on June 25, 1879, more than one hundred million pounds sterling. This led in January of 1882 to a Joint Note of "aggressive tone", to the Egyptian government by the governments of Great Britain and France.

Sir Colvin tells us "Opportunity was taken of the incident of the Joint Note and of the six months' interval that followed to induce the mass of the population to believe that the jealousies of the two Western Powers   would prevent their co-operation and that the debts of the fellaheen would be wiped out by the Egyptian party now in power.".

"It would be presumably beside the point to ask whether in 1882 there existed in Egypt any potentiality of self-government. For in spite of all evidence to the contrary, men will still maintain that the mere gift of popular institutions brings with it the capacity for freedom."

At the expulsion of Ismail Pasha his son Tewfik Pasha became Egypt's ruler controlled by the Sultan in Constantinople. We are informed by Sir Colvin "Between June 2nd and 5th, British and French ironclads appeared at Alexandria, and on the 11th of June Alexandria responded by breaking out into riot and bloodshed, in which many European lives were sacrificed."

Sir Colvin continues "On July 11th the forts of Alexandria were bombarded by the British fleet; the French fleet under instructions from its Government, having steamed out of the port of Alexandria prior to hostile operations." These operations would not be long and as a result, the Egyptian army surrendered on the 14th of September 1882.

Lord Dufferin arrived on the 7th of November to "advise the British Government as to the state of affairs in  Egypt" and to propose how to rebuild its administration. An international Caisse was set up of representatives of Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy and Turkey which were made responsible for collection and expenditure of Egypt's economy. All revenue goes to this Caisse, not the Egyptian government to manage the various debts of the country including as a high priority repayment of damages to the European victims of the riots in Alexandria in 1882.

All debts must be first managed as well as the infrastructure of Egypt needs to be maintained and improved, such as the countries irrigation systems. By about now you will realize that you are in a retelling of the legacy of English lords and knights of her majesties realm in her period of empire and Sir Auckland Colvin intends on telling it to the last pound sterling.

"The maximum issue of silver token money was not to exceed 40 piastres per head of population; the nickel and bronze coins being limited to a ratio of 8 piastres per head. The total to be ultimately issued was not to exceed L(E).2,720,000 in silver and L(E).544,000 in copper and bronze. Silver was made legal tender up to a maximum of 200 piastres; nickel and bronze up to a maximum of 10 piastres."

The book is an excellent account of Egypt's economy at the period however as books go this is very dry and detailed and definitely not for those looking for a story of monuments.

This is a detailed study of international economics on Egypt and the causes by which colonialism stemmed including the mechanisms employed in rebuilding the Egyptian economy at the turn of the last century. Whatever one thinks of colonialism we find here that history is written in the name of the empire in The Making of Modern Egypt.

No comments: