HISTORY / Bob Feldman : A People’s History of Egypt, Part 5, 1879-1890

Sir Evelyn Baring, later Lord Cromer, coined the term “Veiled Protectorate.” Painting by John Singer Sargent / National Portrait Gallery, London / Wikimedia Commons.

A people’s history:
The movement to democratize Egypt

Part 5: 1879-1890 period — Britain rules Egypt under ‘Veiled Protectorate.’

By Bob Feldman | The Rag Blog | August 6, 2013

[With all the dramatic activity in Egypt, Bob Feldman’s Rag Blog “people’s history” series, “The Movement to Democratize Egypt,” could not be more timely. Also see Feldman’s series on The Rag Blog.]

As Selma Botman noted in Egypt from Independence to Revolution, 1919-1952, by 1876 “in essence France and Britain began to control Egypt’s economy,” although Egypt continued to be officially part of Turkey’s Ottoman Empire.

So, not surprisingly, in September 1881, an Egyptian “military officer and Egyptian patriot, Ahmed Urabi, led an anti-government, anti-foreign revolt, directing his protest against both the Turkish pashas, who controlled most civil, military, and social posts…and the Europeans,” according to the same book. And a combined UK and French naval force of gunboats then arrived near Alexandria, Egypt on May 19, 1882, and anchored offshore.

In response, “inflamed popular resentment…exploded in Alexandria on June 11 [1882] in anti-European riots that killed over 2,000 Egyptians and 50 Europeans,” according to Jason Thompson’s History of Egypt. The French government’s naval force then sailed away from Alexandria. But the UK gunboats remained anchored offshore and shelled Alexandria and its residents on July 11, 1882; and, in August 1882, UK troops invaded the Suez Canal Zone and began the UK government’s military occupation of Egypt.

Ahmed Urabi’s troops were defeated on September 13, 1882, by the UK troops, Urabi was exiled to Ceylon/Sri Lanka by the UK government, and the son of Khedive Ismail, Khedive Tewfik (whom the UK government had pressured the Turkish sultan to name in 1879 as Egypt’s local ruler) was allowed to officially govern Egypt until 1892 as a UK puppet, until he was succeeded as the formal Egyptian ruler by Abbas Hilmy II.

But, in actuality, according to The Rough Guide To Egypt, “from 1883 to 1907, Egypt was controlled by the British Consul General, Sir Evelyn Baring, later Lord Cromer, who coined the term `Veiled Protectorate’ to describe the relationship between the two countries.”

A History of Egypt described in the following way how UK imperialism and Lord Cromer operated their “Veiled Protectorate” in Egypt after it was occupied militarily by UK troops in 1882:

Cromer’s official position in Egypt was…British consul general, yet he wielded power that many kings and sultans might have envied. His authority rested on no formal basis. Legally, Egypt was still a province in the Ottoman Empire… The khedive still governed nominally through his ministers, who exercised control over their ministries. In fact, the khedive could be controlled; he knew he owed his throne to the British, and alongside each of the government ministers was a British “adviser” whose advice carried the force of command.

Cromer referred to the arrangement as the “dummy-Minister-plus-English-adviser” system of government… Ministers soon learned that they would lose their posts if they paid no heed to their advisers. The long-serving prime minister during Cromer’s rule, Mustafa Fahmi, was noted for his subservience to the British. Cromer’s position was further strengthened by the presence of a British military garrison nearly 10,000 strong, while the Royal Navy could appear at Alexandria or Suez at any time, and the police forces in the cities were under European command…

The British record in education was atrocious in Egypt… He imposed tuition fees… The British never spent more than 3 percent of the budget on education. They ignored demands for a national university, fearing it would become a center of nationalism…

As Egypt from Independence to Revolution, 1919-1952 observed, the UK “occupied Egypt for both financial and strategic reasons, gaining a decisive voice in all areas of Egyptian life” and the UK imperialist “occupation” of Egypt “lasted until 1956 in various forms.”

[Bob Feldman is an East Coast-based writer-activist and a former member of the Columbia SDS Steering Committee of the late 1960s. Read more articles by Bob Feldman on The Rag Blog.]

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