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History, British Rule

Egyptian peasants, Lord Cromer, Ottoman rulers, public flogging, Muhammad Ahmad

British forces occupied Egypt in 1882. Although the British government intended the military occupation to be brief, Britain became ever more involved in Egyptian affairs. Between 1883 and 1885 British troops attempted to crush a rebellion in Sudan that threatened Egypt’s control of the upper Nile and the Red Sea coast. The rebels, led by Muhammad Ahmad, also known as the Mahdi (“the rightly guided one”), destroyed the British armies that were sent against them. Sudan remained independent until it was conquered by a combined British and Egyptian force between 1896 and 1898.

The British exerted increasing control over Egypt’s government. Their consul general, Sir Evelyn Baring (known after 1892 as Lord Cromer), undertook to reform the country’s finances and to restore public order. His success in reforming finances restored European confidence in Egypt’s economy. However, it also caused a steady increase in the number of British advisers to the Egyptian cabinet and, over time, in the numbers of British irrigation inspectors, judges, police, and army officers. The resentment of ethnic Egyptians, who had long felt excluded from official posts by their Ottoman rulers and Europeans in general, now became focused on the British.

British control led to increased foreign investment in Egypt, greater public security, new public works to improve Nile irrigation, and lower taxation, all of which meant greater prosperity for Egypt. Nevertheless, many Egyptians felt that foreign domination was too high a price to pay for this prosperity. When Abbas II succeeded Tawfik as khedive in 1892, Egyptian nationalists demanded greater control over the ministries. Abbas tried but failed to assert control over the Egyptian army, whose high posts were held by British officers.

Egyptian nationalism was aided by the French and the Ottomans, who resented the substantial British role in Egyptian affairs. The nationalists gained strength under the leadership of Mustafa Kamil, an Egyptian lawyer who had been educated in Europe. He founded a newspaper, a school, and finally a political party, the National Party, in his campaign to end the British occupation. In 1906 an altercation between Egyptian peasants and British officers who were hunting pigeons stirred up widespread opposition to the British. The British authorities accused the peasants of assaulting the officers, conducted a hasty trial, and sentenced the accused to death, public flogging, or imprisonment. A crisis loomed, but British officials restored calm by making a few concessions. Mustafa Kamil died in 1908, and his followers split into various factions. After his death the British authorities muzzled the press.

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