December 11, 1999
Colonialist countries like Britain, France, the Netherlands, Italy and Portugal felt some countries, such as Egypt, needed their "guidance." That sounds fair enough. But their "guidance" was imposed on the lifestyles and cultures of others. Is that fair?! Egypt had much to offer and England wanted to add this fertile region to its empire, despite the cost to the Egyptian people.
The British had been helping Egypt with its finances for years, causing Egypt to feel indebted. The British also bought stock in the Suez Canal, a very lucrative piece of property. Given these ties, it seems logical that England would help Egypt in its time of need. But, it seems that no one ever bothered to ask the Egyptians if they wanted or needed help. To make matters more complicated, the French also had their eye on Egypt. As a solution to this problem the British agreed to let the French have Morocco, if the French would leave Egypt to the English. And so the deal was agreed to, signed, sealed and delivered. Sounds like a game of chess to me. But the pieces are entire countries, not to mention the native people living in these countries.
Well, the King of Egypt (so to speak) at that time was Lord Cromer. He was the man responsible for the absolute rule of Cairo. He became a British Agent in 1883 and ruled Egypt for 24 years. He made Cairo a "happening" place, attracting well-off Britons to live in the fair city. Slowly, Western ways started to seep into the Egyptian culture.
Cromer left in 1904 and passed down his duties to Sir Eldon Gorst. Under Gorst, the influence of the British was impossible to overlook. By 1900, trams lined the city, and English shops were found on every street. Things were starting to look and feel very different.
Lord Kitchener, resident minister of Egypt, set up a legislative assembly in Cairo which was structured just like the Parliament in England. Now, what works in one country might not always work in another. The ministers were always a little wary that the Egyptians might realize they could revolt against all these changes. It was not until World War I that the dissension began.
The British began to notice the dissension among the Egyptians. Because of this internal dissension, Martial Law was introduced in 1916. This meant that basic freedoms, including freedom of speech, were suspended by the British. The Egyptian became the enemy. People were unfairly punished and many Egyptians were kidnapped to serve in labor groups.
In 1918, the Wafd Party was formed. This nationalistic movement was formed to help plan for Egypt's future. The British ignored the requests of the Wafd, and exiled its leader. Violence broke out almost immediately. The cities stood still as the Egyptians seized control. Zaghlul, the leader of the Wafd was freed from exile but was not allowed to return to Egypt. He stayed in Paris trying to glean support for his cause. Meanwhile, the British still had control and it was not until 1922 that Egypt was granted sovereignty. However, the British reserved the right to intervene should their interests be threatened.
So, independence was not complete. Fuad became King and under his rule, violence broke out against the British. As a result, the Anglo-Egyptian treaty was signed in 1936. This increased Egypt independence but the Egyptians were still not completely free. The British still controlled most of the economics of Egypt and most importantly, they still controlled the Suez Canal. They simply would not give up this strategic sea passage to their colonies in India.
The British continued to live large while the Egyptians suffered. The Egyptians were lacking in every area including education, nutrition and health care. To make matters worse, WWII broke out. The British recruited the Egyptians to help in their fight. Many became electricians, mechanics, etc. This was a good thing, since it allowed many Egyptians to develop skills they were otherwise prevented from learning under British rule. Egypt served as an important base during the war. It was there that the Battle of El Alamein took place between the British, French and Italians. This battle changed the course of the war. The British were the victors. However, when they returned to Cairo they found it had lost much of the pizzazz it had held in the past. Most Egyptians would disagree.
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