Egypt, Then and Now

A certain Englishman once asked the Khedive Ismail whether there was any news that day about Egyptian affairs.


“That is so like all you English,” replied his Highness. “You are always expecting something new to happen in Egypt day by day. To-day is here the same as yesterday, and to-morrow will be the same as to-day; and so it has been, and so it will be, for thousands of years.”

[E. Dicey. ‘The Story of the Khedivate,’ p. 528.]

Source – Arthur Weigall, The Treasury of Ancient Egypt. 1912

Arthur Weigall and his wife Hortense

Arthur Weigall was an American journalist who, through interest, contacts and study, became Inspector-General of Upper Egypt, Dept. of Antiquities. He was involved in some of the most exciting tomb finds of the early 20th Century and also was a prolific author of books that were well-informed and that were directed to the general public. Weigall was also a staunch imperialist and supporter of English colonial interventions in Egypt.

In the following quote from his book he uses his own expertise in Egyptian archaeology as a handmaiden in supporting English imperialist efforts in Egypt at the time, and to justify English interventionist activities. Control of the Suez canal and of long-staple cotton were particular interests of the English.

While current western interests in Egypt are not wholly the same, The scenario of 100 years ago is nevertheless interesting to consider:

In his report [on Egypt] for the year 1906, Lord Cromer, questioning whether the modern inhabitants of the country were capable of governing their own land, tells us that we must go back to the precedent of Pharaonic days to discover if the Egyptians ever ruled themselves successfully.

In this pregnant remark Lord Cromer was using information which the archæologist and historian had made accessible to him. Looking back over the history of the country, he was enabled, by the study of this information, to range before him the succession of foreign occupations of the Nile Valley and to assess their significance.

Lord Cromer

It may be worth while to repeat the process, in order to give an example of the bearing of history upon modern polemics…

Previous to the British occupation the country was ruled, as it is now, by a noble dynasty of Albanian princes, whose founder was set upon the throne by the aid of Turkish and Albanian troops.

From the beginning of the sixteenth century until that time Egypt had been ruled by the Ottoman Government, the Turk having replaced the Circassian and other foreign “Mamlukes” who had held the country by the aid of foreign troops since the middle of the thirteenth century.

For a hundred years previous to the Mamluke rule Egypt had been in the hands of the Syrian and Arabian dynasty founded by Saladdin. The Fatimides, a North African dynasty, governed the country before the advent of Saladdin, this family having entered Egypt under their general, Jauhar, who was of Greek origin.

In the ninth century Ahmed ibn Tulun, a Turk, governed the land with the aid of a foreign garrison, his rule being succeeded by the Ikhshidi dynasty of foreigners. Ahmed had captured Egypt from the Byzantines who had held it since the days of the Roman occupation.

Previous to the Romans the Ptolemies, a Greek family, had governed the Nile Valley with the help of foreign troops. The Ptolemies had followed close upon the Greek occupation, the Greeks having replaced the Persians as rulers of Egypt. The Persian occupation had been preceded by an Egyptian dynasty which had been kept on the throne by Greek and other foreign garrisons.

Previous to this there had been a Persian occupation, which had followed a short period of native rule under foreign influence. We then come back to the Assyrian conquest which had followed the Ethiopian rule.

Libyan kings had held the country before the Ethiopian conquest. The XXIst and XXth Dynasties preceded the Libyans, and here, in a disgraceful period of corrupt government, a series of so-called native kings are met with. Foreigners, however, swarmed in the country at the time, foreign troops were constantly used, and the Pharaohs themselves were of semi-foreign origin.

One now comes back to the early XIXth and XVIIIth Dynasties which, although largely tinged with foreign blood, may be said to have been Egyptian families. Before the rise of the XVIIIth Dynasty the country was in foreign hands for the long period which had followed the fall of the XIIth Dynasty, the classical period of Egyptian history (about the twentieth century B.C.), when there were no rivals to be feared.

Thus the Egyptians may be said to have been subject to foreign occupation for nearly four thousand years, with the exception of the strong native rule of the XVIIIth Dynasty, the semi-native rule of the three succeeding dynasties, and a few brief periods of chaotic government in later times…

This is the information which the archaeologist has to give to the statesman and politician. It is a story of continual conquest, of foreign occupations following one upon another, of revolts and massacres, of rapid retributions and punishments. It is the story of a nation which, however ably it may govern itself in the future, has only once in four thousand years successfully done so in the past.

Ismail Pacha

Neither Egypt nor any other nation will ever change; and to this it is the archaeologist who will bear witness with his stern law of Precedent.


About dianabuja

With a group of BaTwa (pygmy) women potters, with whom we've worked to enhance production and sales of their wonderful pots - fantastic for cooking and serving. To see the 2 blogs on this work enter 'batwa pots' into the search engine located just above this picture. Blog entries throughout this site are about Africa, as well as about the Middle East and life in general - reflecting over 35 years of work and research in Africa and the Middle East – Come and join me!
This entry was posted in Colonialism, Egypt-Ancient, Egypt-Recent, History, History-General. Bookmark the permalink.

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