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British colonisation of egypt


Colonisation comes from the idea of imperialism, which describes one nation's dominance over another nation or territory. Imperialism by one nation gives rise to empires.

Empires of the Past

Brit. colonisation of Egypt

Empires have always existed throughout our history. Empires date from as far back as Ancient Egypt that had dominated the Middle East and seized Nubia in the South for the rich gold deposits found there. Alexander the Great forged the Greek Empire that included Egypt and stretched as far as India. Imperial Rome covered much of Europe, the Middle East and Northern Africa, establishing a Roman Empire that lasted for centuries. Genghis Khan's Mongolian Empire swept the world with the Mongolian hordes, conquering both China and Russia to form the largest empire the world had seen. The British Empire, by process of gradual colonisation, formed the largest formal empire that ended little more than fifty years ago.
Empires were driven by a strong nation with the power to dominate others, spread their influence as they conquered and assimilated, leaving various reminders of their power. Egypt for example, one of the most ancient empires, still dazzles the world with her wonderful monuments. The impact of the British Empire, the last great empire, can be seen clearly by the use of her language, English, by so many parts of the world today.

Decline of Imperialism

Empires, powerful as they were, existed however only for the benefit of the colonising nation herself, and not for the natives. The collapse of empires throughout history has shown us empires do not last, faced with the natural decay of time. Imperialism, the concept of the domination of one nation over another, herself declined after World War II, on the basis of self-determination for every nation. It was in this period that the British Empire dismantled herself and Egypt gained full independence.

Scramble for Africa

British colonisation of Egypt

The land that gave birth to the first great civilization and the Nile Valley one of the great centres from which civilization radiated throughout the ancient East and later in the west, needs little introduction. The pyramids, the minarets, the Nile – the scope of Egypt is magnificent.
Visitors are surprised to discover that those legendary pyramids are merely the tip of the archaeological iceberg. Pharaonic nations, ancient Greeks, Romans, Christians and Arab dynasties have all played their part in fashioning Egypt’s embarrassment of architectural wealth.

Arab Republic of Egypt

Area: 1,001,450 sq. km. (386,000 sq. mi.); approximately equal to Texas and New Mexico combined.
Cities: Capital--Cairo (pop. estimated at 16 million). Other cities--Alexandria (6 million), Aswan, Asyut, Port Said, Suez, Ismailia.
Terrain: Desert, except Nile valley and delta.
Climate: Dry, hot summers; moderate winters.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Egyptian(s).
Population (July 2007 est.): 80,335,036.
Annual growth rate (2007 est.): 1.72%.
Ethnic groups: Egyptian, Bedouin Arab, Nubian.
Religions: Muslim 90%, Coptic Christian 9%, other Christian 1%.
Languages: Arabic (official), English, French.

Type: Republic.
Independence: 1922.
Constitution: 1971.
Branches: Executive--president, prime minister, cabinet. Legislative--People's Assembly (444 elected and 10 presidentially appointed members) and Shura (consultative) Council (176 elected members, 88 presidentially appointed). Judicial--Supreme Constitutional Court.
Administrative subdivisions: 26 governorates.
Principal political parties: National Democratic Party (ruling). Principal opposition parties--New Wafd Party, Liberal Party, National Progressive Unionist Grouping (Tagammau), and Nasserite Party.
Suffrage: Universal at 18.

Egypt is the most populous country in the Arab world and the second-most populous on the African Continent. Nearly all of the country's 80 million people live in Cairo and Alexandria; elsewhere on the banks of the Nile; in the Nile delta, which fans out north of Cairo; and along the Suez Canal.
Small communities spread throughout the desert regions of Egypt are clustered around oases and historic trade and transportation routes. The Egyptians are a fairly homogeneous people of Hamitic origin. Mediterranean and Arab influences appear in the north, and there is some mixing in the south with the Nubians of northern Sudan. Ethnic minorities include a small number of Bedouin Arab nomads in the eastern and western deserts and in the Sinai, as well as some 50,000-100,000 Nubians clustered along the Nile in Upper (southern) Egypt.
Egypt's vast and rich literature constitutes an important cultural element in the life of the country and in the Arab world as a whole.
Egypt has endured as a unified state for more than 5,000 years, and archeological evidence indicates that a developed Egyptian society has existed for much longer. Egyptians take pride in their "pharaonic heritage" and in their descent from what they consider mankind's earliest civilization. The Arabic word for Egypt is Misr, which originally connoted "civilization" or "metropolis."
Archeological findings show that primitive tribes lived along the Nile long before the dynastic history of the pharaohs began. By 6000 B.C., organized agriculture had appeared.
In about 3100 B.C., Egypt was united under a ruler known as Mena, or Menes, who inaugurated the 30 pharaonic dynasties into which Egypt's ancient history is divided--the Old and the Middle Kingdoms and the New Empire. The pyramids at Giza (near Cairo), which were built in the fourth dynasty, testify to the power of the pharaonic religion and state. The Great Pyramid, the tomb of Pharaoh Khufu (also known as Cheops), is the only surviving monument of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Ancient Egypt reached the peak of its power, wealth, and territorial extent in the period called the New Empire (1567-1085 B.C.).
Persian, Greek, Roman, and Arab Conquerors
In 525 B., Cambyses, the son of Cyrus the Great, led a Persian invasion force that dethroned the last pharaoh of the 26th Dynasty. The country remained a Persian province until conquered by Alexander the Great in 322 BC, ushering in Ptolemeic rule Egypt that lasted for nearly 300 years.
Following a brief Persian reconquest, Egypt was invaded and conquered by Arab forces in 642. A process of Arabization and Islamization ensued. Although a Coptic Christian minority remained--and remains today, constituting about 10% of the population--the Arab language inexorably supplanted the indigenous Coptic tongue. For the next 1,300 years, a succession of Arab, Mameluke, and Ottoman caliphs, beys, and sultans ruled the country.

European Influence

The Ottoman Turks controlled Egypt from 1517 until 1882, except for a brief period of French rule under Napoleon Bonaparte. In 1805, Mohammed Ali, commander of an Albanian contingent of Ottoman troops, was appointed Pasha, founding the dynasty that ruled Egypt until his great-great grandson, Farouk I, was overthrown in 1952. Mohammed Ali the Great ruled Egypt until 1848, ushering in the modern history of Egypt. The Suez Canal was completed in his reign in 1869.
British colonization of Egypt
Trade links had existed between Egypt and Britain since long. Egypt was a key part of the old spice and trade routes between Europe and Asia. British traders had been loading and unloading their cargoes in Ottoman waters for generations.
British military and political interest in Egypt first manifested itself as it became obvious that in the eighteenth century, India was falling under the influence of Britain (and away from France). Despite, the direct sail routes around the Cape of Good Hope, Egypt still provided the quickest way of maintaining communications between Britain and India. It required a brief overland journey, but it was still substantially quicker than circumnavigating Africa.
It was the strategic foresight of Napoleon that first pointed out the importance of Egypt to Britain. In 1798, he had the audacity of landing an army in Egypt that promptly defeated the Mameluke Army at the Battle of the Pyramids. All of a sudden, British alarm bells began ringing as they realised that their profitable Indian Empire was under direct threat. The Royal Navy was able to save the day, as Nelson destroyed the French Fleet at the battle of Aboukir Bay. Stranded, there was little that the French army could do and Napoleon promptly abandoned them to their fate. A British Army was landed and defeated the remnants of the French force at the Battle of the Sphinx. The French surrendered in 1801.
At this point, it seemed as if the British forces would remain in place and that Egypt would just have remained under British control. Unfortunately for the British, in 1805 a vigorous Egyptian leader came to the fore, known as Muhammed Ali. He took control of the Mameluke army and defeated the British in 1807. This setback forced them to withdraw from Egypt. The British would not formally return for another 75 years.

Establishment of Formal Relations
For the first part of the nineteenth century, Britain remained rather hostile towards the Egyptians. Partly due to wounded pride, but also because supporting Egypt would have compromised one of their other stated policy aims, that of protecting and bolstering the Ottoman Empire. This stance was primarily undertaken as a counterweight against Russian influence in Eastern Europe, but it meant that the British found themselves defending Turkish interests in a number of unlikely areas. One such area was to be that of Lebanon, Syria and the Holy Lands in the 1830s. In 1832, Muhammed Ali took advantage of a Russia defeat of the Ottomans by declaring Egypt as independent. Emboldened by the plight of the Ottomans, he advanced into their Near East dependencies. At the time, there were serious political implications in Europe as the French and Russians tried to gain capital out of the ailing Ottoman fortunes. Whilst Britain, supported by the Austrians, desperately tried to maintain the last vestiges of Ottoman power in the area. Things turned even worse for the Ottomans as they launched an unsuccessful offensive against Muhammed Ali's Egyptian forces. The Ottomans were defeated at Nisibin and their fleet mutinied and went over to the Egyptians. At this point, the British and Austrians stepped in to save the Ottomans, and landed forces in Lebanon. These forces defeated the sitting Egyptian army and, combined with a fleet despatched to Alexandria, forced Muhammed Ali to submit and to reign back his forces.

After this event, British attitudes towards Egypt began to improve. Although the idea that Egypt would become a British colony was regarded by most as being highly fanciful. It was the French who were thought to be the most active in the North Africa region. They funded the Suez Canal and steadily increased their economic base in the country. British interest in Egypt developed during the American Civil War. At this time, British mills were starved of cotton. Alternative sources had to be found and one such source was to be Egypt whose cotton was actually a particularly good quality product. British companies began investing heavily in the production of cotton in Egypt. The hugely ambitious public works programs of the ruling Khedives also attracted British businessmen and their wares.

British strategic interest in Egypt was captured in 1869 when the Suez Canal was officially opened. The sailing times from London to Bombay were dramatically cut. British maps and ideas of the world had to be radically altered. The fact that the canal was controlled by the Khedive and the French government was initially a serious concern to the British. Although, It is from this point on that British decisiveness and speed of actions which consistently outwitted and outmanouevered the French and brought Egypt under Imperial British control. The first opportunity to pull away from the French was in 1875 when it became obvious that the Khedive had got himself into serious economic difficulties. The only way he could staive off creditors was by raising a seriously large amount of money. It was at this point that Disraeli was able to step in and offer to buy the Khedive's shares in the Suez Canal Company. The speed of action on this event left the French reeling. Overnight, the British went from being a minority shareholder to being the controlling shareholder. Her influence had grown considerably as a result.

Unfortunately for Egypt, the money raised buy the sale of her shares, was only enough to keep the government afloat for a few years. In a government reliant on patronage, structural economic reforms were difficult to implement. In only a few years the Egyptian government was again in economic difficulties. This time, the British and French governments initiated a stewardship of the finances of Egypt. In effect, this stewardship was little more than a joint form of colonization. British and French experts were to be sent to the various ministries in order to take control of day to day business of them. The Khedive's unwillingness to agree to such loss of control was rewarded by his forced abdication and replacement by his son Tawfiq. The steady loss of sovereignty was keenly felt by many Egyptians.

Through the colonization of Egypt, Britain gained control of the Suez Canal, a major part of the world trade routes. With this advantage, Britain decided to heavily tax the ships which passed through. This brought mass amounts of money of which the Egyptians never saw. Instead of going to maintain Egypt or even the Suez Canal itself, the money went straight to the British government as profit. Finally, the news that Britain had colonized Egypt and was using it as a "profitable business" reached the public. Immediately, the Egyptians began to leave the country. The British had to act quickly, for they knew that without the Egyptians to maintain the land and canal, the profit would be lost. The British government decided to impose heavy public taxes on the Egyptians, something that the Egyptians never encountered before. These taxes were so heavy that in order to pay them, people needed to stay in Egypt in order to pay them off. To make money, Egyptians were forced to maintain the land for the British.

The Egyptians decided to make a little government of themselves in secret and Egypt's once powerful, successful government was quickly reduced to a general assembly of less than 20 people. Since the British did not listen to the suggestions of the general assembly, the assembly slowly became a rebellion group and for the most part discussed revolt against the British. Without any concern for the Egyptian assembly and its ideas, the British government used the newly acquired territory to make large profits including the Suez Canal scam.

The mediocre military in Egypt greatly improved both in structure and mass since the British took over. Unfortunately, this pristine army was used entirely as a British commodity, without any Egyptian permission. The new army was composed of mostly high to upper class citizens. These citizens were chosen either because they had enough money to leave Egypt, or they were rebellious. The citizens were shipped to a British camp in Cairo where they were stripped of their money and clothes. They were given one uniform, a rifle, and a pair of shoes. The following day they would begin learning deadly techniques for battle. Throughout this process, the Egyptian citizens thought that they would be used for defensive purposes. Little did they know that the British were planning to use them to do their "dirty work" in battles that were totally non-Egypt related The Egyptians could do nothing to avoid this unfair ruling by the British.
the only things that the British improved in Egypt were the health care, education, and improved farming methods. This improvement was not for the Egyptians however, but for the traders and merchants who stayed in Egypt while crossing the Suez Canal. Although the Egyptians did not benefit from these improved resources, they were still expected to pay for it in the form of taxes.

In 1882, Arabi Pasha initiated a revolt from inside the Egyptian army. In June of that year, riots broke out against the Europeans in Egypt. From this point on Britain took the initiative. British expeditionary forces crushed a revolt, marking the beginning of British occupation and the virtual inclusion of Egypt within the British Empire. The French refused participation in a bombardment of Alexandria due to political problems back at home. Surprisingly for a Liberal government, The British finally resolved on intervention and sent an expeditionary force to the Suez Canal. The Arabists were rapidly defeated at Tel el-Kabir in September and Cairo was occupied the next day.
In the same year the British forced Napoleon Bonaparte, the leader of the French Army, out of Africa. Instead of leaving the land of Egypt to its rightful owners, the Egyptians, Britain decided to colonize Egypt and control them through a protectorate. The protectorate allowed the British government to control Egypt's economic and political decisions without intervention from the Egyptians. In other words, The Egyptians had completely lost control of their own country.

Imperial Administration

The unusual circumstances that conspired to give Britain such power and influence over Egypt also meant that she could not technically be considered a colony. Egypt had not been discovered by the British, nor had they requested British suzerainty. And yet, the British controlled the finances, government personnel and armed forces of the country. This ambivalent status would remain for many years. Internationally, the French were kicking themselves because they let the British take the prize of Egypt from under their noses. In matters concerning the international status of Egypt, the decisions were taken in London, but where the internal administration of the country was concerned, The Consul General's opinions were usually conclusive. Although throughout the occupation the facade of khedivial government was retained, British advisers attached to the various ministries were more influential than their ministers, while the Consul General steadily increased his control over the whole administrative machine.

The international status of British control over Egypt remained uncertain for nearly twenty years. It was not until the French and British decided that they needed each other and formed the Entente Cordiale that they decided to come to agreement over the status of Egypt. They basically agreed that Britain should be paramount in Egypt, and France should have a free hand in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria. Educated Egyptians were less convinced of the merits of European control as they saw all the most important decisions and jobs remaining in British hands. A growing tide of nationalism was beginning to find its leaders.
The Great War was to temporarily increase imperial control over Egypt. At the outbreak of war, Britain declared that Egypt was now a protectorate. The fate of the Suez Canal was just too serious to take any chances. Indeed, Britain declared that the Canal was closed to all but allied and neutral shipping - despite international agreements to the contrary. Also, when the Ottomans joined the Central Powers, Egypt found itself on the front line of action. Fortunately, events were to prove that the country was not in serious danger, and the war passed rather uneventfully but for the imposition of martial law.

However, with peace came nationalism. The international climate was promoting the ideas of home rule and independence. Egypt's nationalists, temporarily, saw how the rest of the Ottoman Empire was being divided up and wanted to be granted similar rights. Riots broke out and Lord Allenby and Milner were despatched from Britain to try and ascertain what to do next. They quickly came to the conclusion that it was better to grant independence to pro-British Egyptians rather than wait for nationalists to take power for themselves. In 1922, the protectorate was officially ended. However, Britain still reserved four matters to their own discretion: the security of imperial communications, defense, the protection of foreign interests and of minorities, and the Sudan. Technically, Egypt was independent. But the real power behind the throne was never really in question. And, in fact, this was demonstrated in 1942 when the King wanted to appoint some government ministers who were dangerously anti-British. In effect, the British launched a mini-coup and forced the King to reconsider. He was left in no doubt as to who the real power brokers were.
Economics of Empire

In the early years of the occupation, when Egyptian finances were in disarray, French hostility to British actions was a serious problem. It was difficult to take bold and effective action. However, from 1889 onward there was a budget surplus and consequently greater freedom of action for the Egyptians and the British. A moderate degree of international agreement over Egypt was attained by the Convention of London (1885), which secured an international loan for the Egyptian government. The previous governments may well have been profiligate spenders, but they at least left an infrastructure that was the envy of nearly all other African and Middle Eastern powers. Cotton, light industry and agriculture were all consistent earners for the government. And, it was also one of the first non-European countries to exploit tourism. They also benefited from the world wars. They were able to supply the allied countries with food and materials. It was the relative economic strength of the country that enabled Britain to declare self-rule for the country in what was an unusually early time frame for decolonisation.

Role within the Empire

The foremost British interest in Egypt was always because of its strategic position. However profitable contracts and business was in the country, it was the fact that Egypt lay between Britain and India that made it so vitally important for the British. This was true even before the Suez Canal was built but was magnified exponentially after it had been completed. It was the communications and transportation hub of the British Empire. British sensitivity to disturbances in the area were partly responsible for the occupation of Egypt in the first place. Further disturbances in Sudan were also to draw British attention to the area. During World War I, Egypt was found to be an extremely useful staging post to launch attacks on the Ottoman Empire. Whereas, in World War II, it was Italian and German interest in the strategic value of the country that led to it being such a bitter battleground.
However, it was to be the British themselves who finally pulled the rug from under their own feet. In 1947, India became independent. In this one action, British rationale for holding on to any power over Egypt and the Suez Canal had been lost. Egypt was no longer the epicentre of the Empire. And, nationalists took heart from the move in international sentiments. Britain was hanging on to the Suez Canal by her fingertips.
Withdrawal from Empire

In the post war period, the British would have been content to withdraw from active involvement in Egyptian politics. Unfortunately, a new kind of radicalism had entered Egyptian politics. The creation of Israel brought the Muslim World a new unity. They also drew from the tactics by which the Jewish settlers had extracted their concessions from Britain and the wider international scene. Politics was about to become a much bloodier affair in Egypt. Riots and bombs were directed at both the British and the ruling Egyptian party who were identified as being pro-British. Primarily due to the problem of having to renegotiate the treaties of 1922. Nationalists were concerned that too many compromises were being made. The Prime-Minister was assassinated in 1948. Guerrilla warfare broke out in the Canal Zone. By 1951 a state of emergency had to be declared.
The state of emergency exacerbated the political problems. British anti-guerrilla actions were followed by huge riots in Cairo. The Prime-minister resigned and was followed by four more in just the next six months. Egypt was ripe for a coup. It was just a matter of who would initiate it. Would it come from the Left or the Right? It was to be the army who filled the political vacuum. They ousted the Royal family in 1952 by Colonel Nasser. Almost immediately, Nasser's authority was challenged by General Nequib and the religious right. Nasser managed to gather a coalition of the security forces and working class citizens to hold on to power.

Interestingly, Nasser was actually a surprisingly moderate and pro-Western leader at first. He quite happily negotiated the independence of Sudan in 1954 (This had been a serious sticking point with previous regimes). Somewhat controversially in Egypt, he also signed an Anglo-Egyptian Treaty in 1954 whereby Britain would gradually withdraw its troops. It was actually to be Cold War concerns that pushed Nasser away from the West.
Israel's repeated mini-attacks on the Gaza strip was one of the first areas of embarrassment to the Nasser regime. The inability of an army led government to defend itself was particularly embarrassing. At this point, Britain was only guilty of association. Israel was a friend of America, America was a friend of Britain. However, this event started a series of dominoes falling. Aggrieved at American support for Israel, Egypt turned to Russia for military aid. When this was granted, the Americans withdrew funding for the High Aswan Dam and requested Britain do the same. When the British complied, Nasser announced the nationalization of the Suez Canal Company in 1956 to finance the dam. In its subsequent attack on Egypt in October 1956, Israel was joined by the British, who were enraged by the nationalization, and the French, who were angered by Egyptian aid to the revolt in Algeria. Pressure on the invading powers by the United States and the Soviet Union, however, soon ended the so-called Suez War, leaving Nasser triumphant (despite his military losses) and with the Suez Canal firmly in Egyptian hands. Britain's power in the Middle East had been lost once and for all.

In deference to growing nationalism, the U.K. unilaterally declared Egyptian independence in 1922. There followed a brief interlude until the British arrived (1882-1922). Partial independence was achieved in 1922, but the British still maintained significant control over the country. British influence, however, continued to dominate Egypt's political life and fostered fiscal, administrative, and governmental reforms. Although Britain was not the first, Britain has retained control of Egypt for nearly 40 years.
Full independence was achieved in 1936.
Post Independence

In the pre-1952 revolution period, three political forces competed with one another: the Wafd, a broadly based nationalist political organization strongly opposed to British influence; King Fuad, whom the British had installed during World War II; and the British themselves, who were determined to maintain control over the Canal. Other political forces emerging in this period included the communist party (1925) and the Muslim Brotherhood (1928), which eventually became a potent political and religious force.

During World War II, British troops used Egypt as a base for Allied operations throughout the region. British troops were withdrawn to the Suez Canal area in 1947, but nationalist, anti-British feelings continued to grow after the war. On July 22-23, 1952, a group of disaffected army officers (the "free officers") led by Lt. Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser overthrew King Farouk, whom the military blamed for Egypt's poor performance in the 1948 war with Israel. Following a brief experiment with civilian rule, they abrogated the 1923 constitution and declared Egypt a republic on June 19, 1953. Nasser evolved into a charismatic leader, not only of Egypt, but the Arab world, promoting and implementing "Arab socialism." He nationalized Egypt's economy.

Nasser helped establish the Non-Aligned Movement of developing countries in September 1961, and continued to be a leading force in the movement until his death in 1970. When the United States held up military sales in reaction to Egyptian neutrality vis-à-vis Moscow, Nasser concluded an arms deal with Czechoslovakia in September 1955.
When the U.S. and the World Bank withdrew their offer to help finance the Aswan High Dam in mid-1956, Nasser nationalized the privately owned Suez Canal Company. The crisis that followed, exacerbated by growing tensions with Israel over guerrilla attacks from Gaza and Israeli reprisals, resulted in the invasion of Egypt that October by France, Britain, and Israel.
After Nasser's death, another of the original "free officers," Vice President Anwar el-Sadat, was elected President. In 1971, Sadat concluded a treaty of friendship with the Soviet Union, but a year later, ordered Soviet advisers to leave.



SEE ALSO:  British Colonisation of the Americas | Crown Colnies  | DecolonisationDivide and Conquer | Cash Crop | European Colonial Powers


This page hase been updated on 12.08.2008, Copyright:©2007 All Rights Reserved












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