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The Wellesley Periodical review identifies the author as Francis Wallace Rowsell (1838-1885), who was a lawyer in the Admiralty. In transcribing the following passage I have relied on the Hathi Trust’s online version and its invaluable OCR text and integrated brief footnotes in the main text, added additional subtitles for easier reading on screen, and added a map from the 1888 Encyclopædia Britannica. Click on images to enlarge them. Please notify the webmaster if you encounter typographical errors. — George P. Landow

The British Government professed to aim at securing the safety of the high road to India, which, rightly or wrongly, was imagined to be endangered by the revolutionary state of Egypt; while we have yet to learn that the legitimacy of this desire has ever been resisted or challenged by any Power, or by the Egyptians themselves, at any moment since the creation of the Suez Canal. — “A Voice from the East on Eastern Questions” in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine (1884)

RECENT events in Central Africa have entirely changed the aspect of the Egyptian Question, within the last few weeks, both as regards the administration of the country, the duties of the British Government, and the views of foreign Powers. It is no longer possible to direct our attention ex clusively or primarily to the courts of justice, the prisons, the public works, or the finances of Egypt, although these matters have lost nothing of their importance, and we shall have something to say of them presently. But the imme diate and paramount duty is the defence of the land from the possibility of a barbarous invasion, which may kindle a vast outbreak of fanaticism and threaten the very existence of law and order in the Walley of the Nile. The British expedition of 1882 went to Egypt to quell a revolt which threatened to establish a military despotism, and which was accompanied by a brutal massacre of Christians in several parts of the delta and in Alexandria itself. An incursion of the Arab and Negro tribes of the Soudan into Upper Egypt would be a still greater calamity, and must at all hazards be prevented by an adequate force.

The British Government have never swerved from the purpose originally announced of restoring order and the uthority of the lawful ruler in the Egyptian territory. The note touched by Lord Granville in his despatch to Sir Edward Malet, dated November 4, 1881, and which was still heard above the discords produced by the joint communication of February 1882, was again struck in Lord Granville's circular of January last. The friendly character of the British inten tions towards Egypt, enunciated before the outbreak of the rebellion, was identical with that which actuated the country after the crushing defeat at Tel-el-Kebir had placed Egypt in our power. On January 3, 1883, Lord Granville wrote to the Queen’s representatives at Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Rome, and St. Petersburg:—

The course of events has thrown upon her Majesty's Government the task, which they would willingly have shared with other Powers, of suppressing the military rebellion in Egypt, and restoring peace and order in that country. The object has happily been accomplished; and although for the present a British force remains in Egypt for the preservation of public tranquillity, her Majesty's Government are de sirous of withdrawing it as soon as the state of the country, and the organisation of proper means for the maintenance of the Khedive's authority, will admit of it. In the meanwhile, the position in which her Majesty's Government are placed towards his Highness imposes upon them the duty of giving advice with the object of securing that the order of things to be established shall be of a satisfactory character, and possess the elements of stability and progress.’

To sum up in a word the object of British policy, it has been to restore security, where none existed or yet exists; to consolidate, if possible, the Khedive’s government on a liberal basis; to win the confidence of the people in their rulers by justice and moderation; and to bring back the large foreign population of traders and capitalists who were dispersed by the revolution. But to restore security and con fidence is the work of time and power, and the task is likely to prove far more difficult than some sanguine politicians had anticipated. We hold it to be demonstrated by the force of events, that without an occupation of the country by the troops of a European Power for a considerable period of time, neither the inhabitants of the country nor foreigners will place the least reliance on the stability of the govern ment, and consequently that no improvement can be per manent which does not rest on this foundation.

For, in the first place, it is manifest that Egypt cannot only to its sovereign and his ministers, and powerless even against a barbarous enemy. The dispersion of Arabi's army left a large disaffected military element in the country, not of men, but of officers, and these especially are not to be trusted. It appears indeed that no real military force exists in the country, for the feeble detachment sent to Suakim under General Baker was raised with difficulty by drafts from the gendarmerie, and the destitution of the trans port and commissariat services is even more complete.

Secondly, we say with regret that as little confidence can be placed in most of the native servants and advisers of the Khedive. The object of the British agents in Egypt has been, as far as possible, to give the Egyptian Ministry fair play, to interfere only by way of advice with their measures, and to assist them by enforcing obedience to their orders. But, as Mr. Forster recently remarked, Orientals are not to be governed by merely giving them advice. In the East the executive power is feared and obeyed, but only when it accompanies its orders by unmistakeable signs of inten tion to have those orders fulfilled—by the presence within striking distance of material force sufficiently strong to compel compliance. Then all goes well, and there is no need to use the giant's strength. Individual men may conjure in its name, and do so mightily, but withdraw the material force or reduce it till it becomes representative, and obedience vanishes. With it vanishes all power to do good, to reform bad systems, to straighten crooked ways, to deliver men out of prison, and to act justly. We will discuss the question of what material force is necessary at a later stage, but we cannot, in dealing with an Egyptian subject, too often draw attention to that elementary factor in Eastern, politics, so commonly ignored by Westerns, that material, and not moral, force is the only pivot of action at present. This force has hitherto been supplied to the Egyptians by the belief in British power and the activity of British agents like Mr. Clifford Lloyd. But unhappily the measures of the Government itself have been marked by an extra ordinary absence of good sense and even honesty. Nothing is more to be dreaded than the mistakes of a foolish and feeble administration protected by a stronger Power, for they are armed with borrowed strength, and the responsibility falls on the protecting Power of all the evils its tolerance has failed to prevent. The expedition of General Hicks to the Soudan, the whole policy of the Egyptians in those remote provinces, and quite recently the appointment of such defend itself. No reliance can be placed on the native troops, unless they know that there is a superior force be hind them. Left to itself the Egyptian army is formidable a man as Zebehr Pasha to a command there, are signal instances of these mistakes, and it is difficult to understand how they were allowed to be committed. So again the small Egyptian forces or garrisons in the Soudan have been scattered in untenable positions, separated by the desert, and incapable of resistance when attacked.

The disasters which have followed from this cause render it unnecessary to argue the point. They prove that it is sheer folly to allow the Egyptian Ministry to plunge deeper into the Serbonian bog which surrounds it. They prove also that nothing but the intelligence and the forces of a European Power can rescue the country from collapse and ruin.

This unhappy and embarrassing situation has at least two consequences, which may eventually prove beneficial. If the British Government conceived itself to be bound and hampered by pledges given under a totally different state of affairs, nobody can contend that they are obligatory when a barbarous enemy is in possession of the Upper Nile and threatens the outskirts of civilisation in Egypt itself. We have never been able to understand by what hallucination or infatuation it could be imagined that a country of vast extent, so unsettled, and so full of inflammable elements, could safely be held by a mere handful of British troops quartered near Alexandria. In a military point of view to hold Cairo is to hold Egypt, and we can conceive no motive to justify the evacuation of it. As long as the citadel of Cairo is occupied by a strong British garrison, all other military operations are matters of detail; but that we main tain to be the primary condition on which the government and perhaps the existence of the country rests.

A second consequence is that if any jealousy of the occu pation of Egypt by Great Britain existed amongst foreign Powers, it has now been dispelled. They perceive that the task is not one of honour or profit, but of duty, involving probably considerable sacrifices. No State but England con sented to undertake it. They also perceive that the protec tion of their own interests in Egypt, whether of Frenchmen, Greeks, Germans, or Italians, depends on the presence and ascendency of the British forces. The interests of this country in the peace of Egypt may be greater than those of any other State, by reason of the extent of British commerce and the relations of this country with the East. But those interests do not conflict with the rights of any other Power. There is nothing exclusive in our policy; the results we may obtain are as much for the advantage of all mankind as for our own. [145-49]

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Rowsell, Francis Wallace. “The Egyptian Question.” Edinburgh Review. 159 (1884): 145-85. Hathi Trust Digital Library online version of a copy in the University of Michigan Library. Web. 1 September 2020.

Last modified 2 September 2020