Page images


[ocr errors]

1. Report of the Special Mission to Egypt. (Cmd. 1131.] 2. Papers respecting Negotiations with the Egyptian

Delegation. •Egypt, No. 4 (1921). [Cmd. 1555.] 3. Correspondence respecting Affairs in Egypt. [In con

tinuation of Egypt,' No. 4 (1921).] [Cmd. 1592.) OF the many unpleasant surprises which awaited the British people after the Great War, none was more painful than the discovery in the spring of 1919 that Egypt was in a state of rebellion. Egypt, they had been taught to believe, was a standing witness to British Administration; and its people had gratefully accepted the benefits conferred upon them by British brains and energy during the forty years of the occupation. These benefits were, indeed, many and striking. The country had been miraculously rescued from a slough of insolvency, corruption, and misgovernment, and converted into a land of prosperity and plenty. Its peasantry, relieved from the corvée and the courbash, had been enabled to reap the fruits of their toil in peace under the shadow of a protecting power which stood between them and their oppressors. Great irrigation works had been instituted, which helped to enrich both Pashas and fellabin. Foreign exploitation had been carefully kept in check, so that the Egyptian should have the first claim on the produce of Egypt. No man had ever worked with such disinterested zeal for a country not his own as Lord Cromer for Egypt; and seldom had a government been backed by more able and zealous officials. Finally, under the protection of Great Britain, Egypt had been sheltered from the miseries of the Great War, and emerged from it with her wealth increased and her taxation at a mercifully low level compared with that of the belligerent Powers. Why, then, were these people rebellious ? why, above all, the fellahin, who had always been relied upon to remain loyal to their British protectors, whatever might be the sentiments of the town populations? In any case, what was to be done ?

These, roughly, were the questions propounded to the members of the Special Mission--of whom the present writer was one-which, under Lord Milner's chairmanship, was despatched to Egypt in November 1919. A part of the answer can best be supplied by a simple narrative of events before and after the despatch of this Mission. The year 1919 had been full of trouble. The Egyptians, kindled like other Eastern peoples by the

Fourteen Points,' had made up their minds that the end of the war was the ripe moment for a resettlement of their relations with the British Empire. They had accepted the Protectorate, or so they protested, as a warmeasure, with the expectation that, when peace came, it would be followed by a revision of the whole situation. The greatly harassed Home Government, its mind filled with the coming Peace Conference, had no leisure for these side-issues; and in vain the High Commissioner, Sir Reginald Wingate, kept repeating that the question was urgent. To the Egyptians nothing in the wide world seemed so urgent. Suspicions were arising that the · Protectorate' was not after all a war-measure, but a cunning device to blot out the 'status' of Egypt and bring her forcibly under the British flag. The advanced Nationalist group under Zaghlul Pasha demanded leave to send its leader and two delegates to London with a programme of complete autonomy.' The Prime Minister, Rushdi Pasha, more modestly proposed that he should come with his colleague, Adli Pasha Yeghem, the Minister of Education, to discuss the affairs of Egypt with the British Government. To the first the answer was that 'no useful purpose would be served' by their coming, to the second that the time was not 'opportune.' This was the beginning of mischief and, however it may be excused by the exigencies of the hour, a sad and expensive blunder.

From that moment the Nationalist movement began to boil up to the danger point. The Prime Minister resigned, and no Egyptian could be found to replace him. Raising his demand from complete autonomy' to complete independence,' Zaghlul presented a petition to the Sultan, which was generally interpreted as an attempt at intimidation; and he was thereupon deported to Malta, with three of his principal associates. The agitation now took a violent form, and from March 12, 1919, to the end of the month, nearly the whole of the Delta and a large part of Upper Egypt was in a state of


[ocr errors]

active rebellion. The disorder was suppressed without great difficulty by the forces then on the spot; and on March 25 Lord Allenby, the Commander-in-Chief, who had been absent in Paris, came on the scene as special High Commissioner in the absence of Sir Reginald Wingate, who had been recalled to London to consult with the Government before the rebellion broke out. With Lord Allenby's appearance, the previous policy was reversed, and all embargoes on the departure of Egyptians desiring to travel in Europe were raised. This carried with it the release from Malta of Zaghlul and his three associates, who were now free either to return to Egypt or to transfer their activities elsewhere. Zagblul went to Paris, and conducted a strenuous campaign in Europe and America as well as Egypt.

This reversion, after the rebellion, of a disciplinary measure previously deemed to be essential could scarcely be imputed to us as an act of grace, and was bound to produce the impression, as the Mission afterwards reported, that • British policy was wavering and liable to quick changes under pressure of agitation.' As a fact, it did nothing to stem the Nationalist movement, which inevitably hardened under the punitive measures necessary after the Rebellion, moderate and judicious as these on the whole were. For the next few months Lord Allenby found himself compelled to govern without an Egyptian Ministry; and, though a group of intrepid men was eventually induced to take up the responsibility in the teeth of the opposition of their countrymen and at considerable personal risk, the situation was hard set when the Special Mission arrived in Egypt at the beginning of December. The Egyptians had made up their minds that it had come to rivet the fetters of the Protectorate upon them; and word went out that it was to be absolutely boycotted, and life made as unpleasant and dangerous as possible for those Egyptians who had dealings with it.

This background must be kept in mind if the subsequent history is to be understood. The Special Mission went out not to debate at leisure upon the ideal constitution for Egypt but to deal with an urgent and perilous situation. What might have been done with comparative ease at the beginning of the year was

[ocr errors]

extremely difficult if not impossible to do at the end of it. Under its terms of reference the Mission was required to 'report on the existing situation in the country and the form of the Constitution which, under the Protectorate, will be best calculated to promote its peace and prosperity, the progressive development of selfgoverning institutions and protection of foreign interests.' Had these words been strictly interpreted, Lord Milner would very speedily have been obliged to say that there was no form of government which, under the Protectorate, could be expected to have the desired results. The name, if not the thing, was hopelessly damned. Attempts to explain that it did not mean what the Nationalists declared it to mean were altogether futile. It was Himaya, a word notoriously signifying a servile condition, unworthy of a self-respecting people which claimed to be a nation. The most diluted of Nationalists could not be persuaded even to argue about it. For that we had ourselves very largely to thank. We had rushed to the Protectorate, on the principle of 'any port in a storm,' when the entrance into the war of Turkey, the Suzerain of Egypt, would automatically have converted the whole Egyptian population into enemy aliens, if some new status could not have been found for them; and we had deliberately adopted it in preference to annexation, which would probably have inflamed Mohammedan sentiment and possibly have created difficulties with our French allies, to whom in 1904 we had pledged ourselves not to alter the status of Egypt. But we had never explained either to ourselves or to the Egyptians what exactly we meant by it-a dangerous omission which caused the unhappy word to become the prey of suspicion and animosity in the troubled months after the war.

Within a few weeks of their arrival the question which the Mission had to face was whether they would stand on the word-in which case they would have had to report to the Government that the question of Egypt was a question for soldiers and not for them or whether they would go forward on the assumption that British interests might be secured in some other way which did not hopelessly clash with Egyptian sentiment. There could be no question or so it seemed to the Missionwhich of these alternatives was the right one; and the inquiry now took the form of determining how far the claim to independence which came unanimously from all schools of Nationalists could be reconciled with the great and acknowledged British interests in Egypt. The story is fully set out in the Report of the Mission (Cmd. 1131), and the conclusions are too familiar to need treatment in detail. But one or two general observations may be made. The report astonished the unthinking public, and even apparently some members of the Government, who had come to imagine that Egypt was an integral part of the British Empire. It is, of course, not that and never has been. Great Britain has been the occupying Power and the Protecting Power, but never, in theory, the possessing Power. She intervened in 1882 to restore order, and, in default of the co-operation of other Powers (which though invited was declined), undertook responsibilities which could only be discharged by the occupation of the country. But throughout this occupation she was studiously careful to observe the theory that Egypt was a self-governing country subject only to the suzerainty of the Sultan of Turkey; and her representative was in name merely .Agent and Consul General,' the exponent, like the representatives of other Powers, of the views and interests of his Government to the Government of Egypt. In 1887 we proposed to evacuate the country if order were maintained for three years, and were only prevented from doing so because the Sultan, at the last moment, and on the instigation of another Power, refused to sign the convention which gave us the power of intervening again if order was disturbed. Subsequent Governments have both disowned the idea of annexing the country and declared in the words of Sir Eldon Gorst that their fundamental idea' was to prepare the Egyptians for self-government, while helping them in the meantime to enjoy the benefits of good government.'

The story is still unfinished, but let me run rapidly over the subsequent stages. The Milner Mission succeeded in one way and another in breaking down the Nationalist boycott; and, after they had returned from Egypt, Zaghlul Pasha came from Paris with the members of his delegation to confer with them in London about the basis of a settlement. At the same time Adli Pasha



« PreviousContinue »