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Upon reflection, however, it became apparent that any such evacuation, whether desirable or otherwise, was a practical impossibility. In the interest of England as well as Egypt it was impossible to surrender the coast of the Red Sea. For the credit of England equally with Egypt, it was impossible to abandon the Egyptian garrisons in the Soudan, as well as the Egyptian and European colonies in Khartoum and elsewhere, without making an effort to secure their retreat. Once more the British Government was brought face to face with the necessity for action. According to my ideas, the wiser, cheaper, and more prudent course would have been to accept this necessity openly, and to despatch British troops to carry out the evacuation of the Soudan, and the establishment of a permanent modus vivendi between Egypt and the evacuated Soudan. Once more, however, the action of the British Government was paralysed by their reluctance to accept accomplished facts and to acknowledge by name the protectorate which exists de facto.
It was, however, necessary to do something, and therefore, as usual, a temporary expedient was resorted to in order to avoid the necessity of decision and immediate action. The duty of defending Souakim and of rescuing the beleaguered garrisons of Sinkat and Tokah, which lay within easy reach of the Red Sea coast, was entrusted, not to British troops, but to an Egyptian force commanded by Baker Pasha, while the task of rescuing the garrisons of the Soudan was conferred at the eleventh hour upon Gordon Pasha alone and unsupported.
The result of the first half of this makeshift policy is already known to the world. The Egyptian forces at Souakim under Baker Pasha have been hopelessly, ignominiously and signally defeated in their first and last attempt to relieve the invested garrisons; and a British force is on its way, at the moment when I write, to occupy Souakim under the command of a British Admiral, and if possible to save the town from being captured by the insurgents. This defeat was not due to the difficulties of the enterprise, to the overwhelming number of the enemy, to any error in strategy, still less to any want of skill or courage on the part of the British officers in command of the expedition. It was due, simply and solely, to the fact that the Egyptian troops, with every advantage on their side, threw down their arms and refused to fight when brought into action. What makes the matter worse is that this result had been foreseen and foretold by everyone acquainted with the Egyptian soldiery. Unfortunately, the theory that Egyptian troops only required European officers and European training to become an effective army remained to the last an essential article of faith with those who held that the early evacuation of the country by the British army of occupation was within the region of possibility; and in obedience to this theory, Egyptian instead of British troops were despatched to Souakim. The immediate and direct results of this disaster are serious enough; but its future and
indirect results are infinitely more serious. The fate of the garrisons of Sinkat and Tokah may be regarded as sealed, as, with all the speed in the world, British troops cannot well arrive at Souakim in time to effect their release, which might, as the event proves, have been effected with ease if British troops had been sent six weeks ago to Souakim in lieu of the Egyptian force under Baker Pasha. The power and prestige of the insurgent forces have been immensely increased by their capture of arms and ammunition, and by this new defeat of an expedition led and commanded by British officers; while the chances of Gordon's success in his perilous and wellnigh forlorn enterprise have been most seriously diminished by this decisive victory.
The utter collapse of the first half of this makeshift policy is of evil augury for the success of the second and more important half. Before these lines appear in print we shall probably know the result of Gordon's mission. It is idle to prophesy about the unknown, and I, for my part, have no wish to earn the sorry credit of having predicted failure. But should Gordon's mission prove a failure, England will have to make up her mind to settle the Egyptian difficulty for once and for all.
Eighteen months ago we could have done the work easily. The campaign of Tel-el-Kebir had made our name feared throughout the length and breadth of Egypt. We had a large Indian force on the spot; and if, instead of sending them back in hot haste to India, in order to vindicate the sincerity of our professions, we had stopped them en route at Souakim, and had advanced thence upon Khartoum, we might have crushed the Mahdi's insurrection, and have made whatever arrangements we thought best for the evacuation of the Soudan. But, as in the case of Arabi, we failed to take action when action was easy, and we are now paying the penalty of our inaction. The suppression of the revolt, which was a light work then, has become a heavy one now that by the rout and capture of the Egyptian armies the Mahdi has got cannon, ammunition, stores, means of transport, and, above all, the prestige of victory. If we allow Khartoum to be taken and the Egyptian garrisons to be made prisoners, the power of the Mahdi will be increased tenfold, the insurrection will within a short time advance to the confines of Egypt proper, and then we shall find ourselves confronted by a task to whose performance we stand committed, and which may well tax our resources to the uttermost. If only we could act in time! But to so act it is essential to realise and admit the truth that we are masters of Egypt; that we have to remain masters of Egypt, whether we like it or not; and that, being masters of Egypt, we must perforce defend Egypt from within and from without.
In all speculations, however, about the course of events in the Soudan, too great allowance can hardly be made for the want of steady purpose and lack of continuity which characterise all Oriental
movements. I acknowledge, therefore, that though it seems to be a matter of wellnigh certainty that, if the Mahdi insurrection is left unchecked, it will advance till it reaches Egypt proper, yet this danger may possibly be averted by internal dissensions between the insurgent tribes, by the accidental death of their leaders, or by one of those unforeseen and unforeseeable vicissitudes which are eminently liable to occur in all countries where the personal element still remains supreme.
But if the solution of the Egyptian problem should not be forced upon England by the insurrection in the Soudan, it must, within a very brief time, be made obligatory by the financial difficulties of Egypt. I have not the space left to enter at any length into this branch of the Egyptian question. Nor, indeed, for my present purpose is it necessary for me to do so. All I need say is this. The normal revenue of Egypt has proved, and I am convinced will prove, amply sufficient to meet the whole charges of the debt and of the public service, provided always that the administration is conducted, as it is now, under foreign supervision. But accidental and exceptional circumstances, the Arabi insurrection, the bombardment of Alexandria, the cost of the army of occupation, the cholera, and the war in the Soudan, have created an extraordinary and abnormal deficit amounting in round numbers to about 6,000,000l. Now, if Egypt were an independent State, under the same conditions as other independent States, this deficit would present no serious difficulty. The deficit might either be met by gradual instalments paid at such times and in such amounts as the state of the Exchequer would admit, or a special loan might be raised for the purpose.
As it happens, however, Egypt is not in reality independent, and the conditions of her existence are utterly exceptional. She is, as a matter of fact, a bankrupt State which has made a composition with her creditors commonly known as the Law of Liquidation. By this law the Egyptian bondholders voluntarily consented to sacrifice not far short of half their legal interest; but, on the other hand, Egypt bound herself, under the most binding compact, to pay the amount still due in virtue of this composition, and not to increase her debt except within very narrow and carefully prescribed limits. No doubt, under ordinary circumstances the salus reipublicæ suprema lex adage might be put forward as a plea for the non-performance of this contract ; and, if the Law of Liquidation was a mere convention between an independent State and its creditors, it is difficult to see how this convention could be enforced, especially when an equitable plea could be alleged for its temporary violation. But Egypt-alone amidst States. having a public debt-is subjected to the direct control of an international tribunal, and this tribunal is not only authorised but compelled to take cognisance of the non-payment of any debt due from the Egyptian Government to a foreign creditor, or of any breach of
the Law of Liquidation. Thus Egypt is bound hard and fast by the law in question; and in order to meet liabilities whose payment may be enforced at any time by the action of the International Courts, she must obtain a modification of the Law of Liquidation. To obtain this she must get the consent of the Powers who are parties to the agreement, and this consent will not be given unless England, as the virtual master of Egypt, agrees to take the matter in hand.
Up to the present, Egypt, by one expedient after another, has contrived to postpone coming to any definite arrangement with regard to the deficit in question. But further delay is wellnigh impossible; and when once a settlement has to be made, the British Government will be obliged to show its hand. Thus the day is fast approaching when our policy of non-committal must be definitely abandoned, when we shall have to declare whether we intend to wash our hands of Egypt altogether, and to sacrifice all the interests for the protection of which we invaded and occupied Egypt, or whether we are prepared to carry out openly, honestly, and boldly the protectorate. which the force of facts has imposed upon us against our will.
Which alternative I should recommend it is not necessary for me to say. Nor, believing, as I still believe, in the will and the power of England to fulfil her imperial mission, can I doubt which alternative will in the end commend itself to the approval of the British Government and the British nation. But, as a word of parting advice, let me recall an incident of past history of which I, for one, have never seen mention made. In the grandest days of the Venetian Republic, in the days when the Cape route to the East had not yet been discovered, and when the City of the Lagoons was the centre of the world's commerce, a discussion took place in the State Council as to the expediency of the Republic making herself mistress of Egypt in order to protect her trade and to promote her interests in the Isthmus which then, as now, formed the highway between the East and West. The proposal was discussed for some days, and was opposed on the ground that the Republic had complications enough to deal with already; that it was more for her interest to develop her possessions nearer home; and that the cost of the undertaking might burden her finances. The non-contents carried the day, and the flag of the Lion of St. Mark was never planted on the Isthmus of Suez. The opportunity was lost, the course of trade passed into other hands and other channels, and the Queen of the Adriatic became a tradition. of the past, the shadow of a great name. Absit omen !
CAIRO: February 1881.
THE attention of all thoughtful men in this country has, during the last few months, been turned to what has now become the subject of the hour; to wit, the housing of the working classes. At the outset of the discussion that has been carried on, and concurrently with the earliest appeals that were made on behalf of the squalid classes in our large towns, a voice was raised in this Review in the interest of those in our country villages who, numerically insignificant as compared with the dwellers in the streets, are yet from the statesman's point of view no less deserving of our serious regard. It is, however, to be feared that the claims of the greater number, and the nearness of the evils complained of to those who have ample means to deal with those evils, and the tendency to count heads when setting ourselves to work out our social problems, and the lazy reluctance to mix ourselves up in small schemes which are likely to involve us in personal bother after we have paid our money and imagine we have done all that could reasonably be expected of us, may have the effect of diverting our attention from any cry that may come from the villages, and that once again people may forget the poor rusticsleave them to take their chance, and get out of their difficulties as best they may-and allow things to go on as they are, indefinitely drifting-whither?
and so of the masses.
We are worshippers of mass, Bigness impresses us with a sense of awe. Big ships, big hotels, big shops, big drums, big dinners. Sir, you should see Moscow if you want to know what architecture is,' said Tomkins, who travels in the tallow business. There, sir, are the grandest buildings in the world." • Grandest, Mr. Tomkins?' I asked. Did you say "grandest" or "biggest"? What are we coming to? Some years ago I took part in a very imposing ceremony-the inaugurating, I think they called it, of a monster pumping-engine which was to develop the infinite resources of a certain mine in Cornwall. The promoter of the undertaking rose from the rostrum erected for the inevitable speechification, and this oration began: That pump, ladies and gentlemen, has a piston wider by four inches in diameter than the one which drained the lake of Haarlem! Let us pray!' And pray we did accordingly. The