You are at: Home > Nationalism > Pre WWI: Before WWI
Egypt, 1882-1914: Traces of Nationalism
Before the British occupation in 1882, Egyptian nationalism against foreign influences had already began to appear. In fact, it was the uprising by Ahmad Urabi (different sources spell his name differently), an officer in the army of Tawfiq, then Khedive of Egypt, that gave the excuse for British interference and the occupation. Ahmad Urabi had spoken out against the harsh rule of the Turks, but this then developed too against the increasing European influences felt in Egypt, and rallied with him the army and the people. British navy shelled Alexandria in response, and eventually landed an expedition in 1882 to quell the rebellion themselves. Unprepared and surprised themselves, they became the virtual rulers of Egypt after pulling down the nationalistic revolt at the battle of Tell-el-Kebir. The British left Tawfik as Khedive, but there was no mistake about who was truly running the show behind curtains.
The British running of Egypt was not thoroughly smooth sailing without political opposition from the people. The policies of Lord Cromer to concentrate on developing the country economically and not to concentrate on social improvements to the lives of the people eventually led to the resentment of the British occupation from the locals. The free and easy lifestyles of the Europeans were a further impetus for resentment against the British occupation. Lord Cromer for example, had spent money developing a suburb for Europeans rather than to improve the lives of ordinary Egyptians. Likewise electricity introduced to Cairo was enjoyed mainly by the Europeans and elite. These luxuries enjoyed by the Europeans were watched with envy by the ordinary Egyptians with disdain. Moreover, the civil service, the officers and businessmen were all Europeans, mainly British, in an attempt to keep Egypt closely under British hands. Resentment thus led to a natural growth of nationalism in the years following the British occupation.
Economic Status of Egypt
Another reason of disdain the Egyptians drew from was the collapse of the local products under competition from cheaper, more plentiful British goods, as mentioned earlier. Industry in Egypt did not make any significant progress and unemployment remained a problem. Even in her primary production, cotton, Egyptians resented against the British for the unfair practices they used: trading below the market price for buying Egyptian cotton. British officers too had personal interests in Egypt , and made use of their power to their own gains. Lord Cromer for example made a fortune out from speculating cotton.
The tiny industrial class that arose from the British occupation was likewise unhappy. Their low wages and work conditions that often lacked basic safety regulations remained a constant source of resentment against the British government, which refused to intervene for the benefit of the Egyptian workers against their British employers. Eventually, trade unions began to form between 1899 to 1907 to bargain for better wages and working conditions. These unions organised strikes, much to the British's displeasure, and opposed these unions. The nationalistic sentiments during Lord Cromer's term rose, and intensified in his last year in the Dinshawi Incident.
Dinshawi Incident and the Rise of Nationalism
In, 1906 in a village called Dinshawi, near the Egyptian delta, British officers shooting pigeons for sport shot and wounded the wife of the iman (religious leader) by accident. The villagers, angered, surrounded the British officers and in the confusion wounded two of them. The officers in response opened fire and fled. Eventually, one of them died of his wounds while returning to camp. The ensuing response from the British was explosive. An Egyptian peasant was beaten to death by British soldiers after the dead officer was found. Fifty-two Egyptians involved in the incident were charged, and four sentenced to death with others sentenced heavily with hard labour or public flogging. National sentiments were increased after the incident and political parties started to form in protest to British rule with the ultimate aim of independence.
Political parties were set up, mainly Mostafa Kamel's National Party (Watani Party) and Mahmud Sulayman Pasha's People's Party (Umma Party). Both campaigned among Egyptians for Egypt 's independence and set up party newspapers to rally the people behind them. The National Party called for the immediate end to British occupation and though Kamel believed Egypt did need to reform and renew, she did not need Britain's hand in her affairs. Religion was key in Kamel's thought and Islamic traditionalists and conservatives in Egypt were especially attracted to it.
On the other hand, the People's Party, though likewise contained religious ideas, was not as radical as the National Party. Ahmad Lutfi as Sayyid, the main member of the People's Party, focused more on the society rather than Islam. Though the ultimate aim remained independence, the party however believed it would come through the growing involvement of Egyptians in politics and the reform of her laws and institutions, and not through active hostility and the use of force. Constitutional monarchy, he believed, was the way for Egypt in future and that cooperation with the British and negotiation would lead to that future.
The National Party rejected the ideas of the People's Party. Eventually, people come to distinguish the two groups as ¡®extremists' and ¡®moderates' in their quests for national sovereignty. These two parties however, declined. After the death of Kamel, the National Party, although still a major force in politics, was not as strong as before. The People's Party likewise faded from politics after the First World War. Egypt 's national sentiments however, were to continue to rise.
Sir John Eldon Gorst
Meanwhile, Lord Cromer was replaced by Sir John Eldon Gorst who was less autocratic in his term as Lord Cromer before him. The growing nationalistic sentiments growing in Egypt were however, not something he could ignore like Cromer. Egypt was changing fast into a political active state, and nationalism was the hot topic. Sir Gorst's efforts to pacify the nationalists by moderating their ideas were however, unsuccessful for they accepted nothing but independence and the British were themselves divided over giving concessions to the nationalists, which would represent weakness on the British part.
Lord Herbert Kitchener
Lord Herbert Kitchener replaced Sir Gorst after his four-year term in 1911. Faced with growing nationalistic sentiments that Sir Gorst had failed appease, Lord Kitchener amended the constitution and with the Organic Law of 1913, set up a legislative assembly, locating it in Cairo. Before the British occupation, Egypt had an assembly which only gave advises to the government. This is the Assembly of Delegates that had already stopped functioning before the British occupation. Now, the new legislative assembly was larger and had more powers than its predecessor. This was the starting of a parliamentary system after that of Britain 's. The British had always been worried that the locals would reject the English way of governing, and introduced the assembly both to appease the rising nationalism and also to ensure Egypt would follow the English model after independence, should there be independence.
[back to top]