TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE darkest cloud in the political horizon is the condition of Egypt. The military movement has been stopped for the moment, its promoters being alarmed at the outburst of Western feeling, but the general position has become rather worse than better. The National party in Egypt is savage with disappointment. The Times' correspondents, and indeed all well-informed writers, now admit, what we affirmed from the first, that the movement was not directed against the Khedive—who indeed, as we believe, secretly favours it—but against " the Control,"—that is, against the attempt of England and France to govern Egypt and plunder her Treasury, without securing any of the great ends of government. The Army, though no doubt acting under interested instigation, only ex- pressed a feeling common to all men in Egypt, except the few local bondholders and the few hundreds of Europeans paid at extravagant rates to " control " everything in the country, in which the financiers of London and Paris are pecuniarily interested. The Egyptians of the upper class, who are about to be organised as "The Notables," are enraged to see every profitable office filled by disagreeable strangers, who do not understand how severely their rigid system presses, who sym- pathise neither with good nor bad, but insist not only on having the pound of flesh, but on having it before sunset of settlement day, and who cannot be conciliated even by bribes. The soldiers are indignant at finding that while they have become of little account, they are no better paid than before, and quite as hardly treated ; and the people, more especially the urban populace, are savage at the ascend- ancy of Infidels, who do not even profess to govern. A Mussuhnan understands good government just as well as a Christian, though he does not make of it an ideal, and he will submit to force majeure, as the evident expression of the will of God for the time being ; but to be ruled by Infidels who are not conquerors, and who tax everybody for their own benefit, without giving justice in return, is too much even for Asiatic patience. It is the negation of every idea a Mussul- man has as to the just government of the world. The whole country is, therefore, impatient of "the Control," and another movement against it, whether led by the Army, or the Dervishes, or the mob, or, as will probably happen, by the "Notables," who are the Khedive's nominees, is within a very short time a certainty. It may easily succeed, for beyond the port of Alexandria the Control has no physical force at its disposal ; and if it does, direct European interference cannot be far off. A really Egyptian Government un- doubtedly would, nay, must, increase the Army, bribe the Porte, dismiss the Europeans who prevent peculation, and in a few months suspend the service of the Debt. Such a Govern- ment could not pay it, if it were honest ; and it would not be honest, Even if the French would bear that, which, in the present position of the Republic, is most unlikely, the English will be feverish with suspicion • and though both should sit quiet, neither could be at rest, for an Egyptian Government purely native, or its rivals, might, and we believe in the end would, either overtax or block the Canal, the objections to allow of its defence either by France or England being identical with the objections to allow either Power to occupy Egypt. They could not keep their hands off such an instru- ment of extortion. The difficulty obviated by abandoning the Control, would be only pushed one step back ; and the situation, therefore involves this consequence, that a movement in Egypt is not only possible, but extremely probable, which cannot be met by mere inaction, yet if met by action, may bring England and France into direct and sudden collision, neither being able to allow the rival to act, while joint action means a war after a few months. No misfortune could be greater' either for us or for the world, and we desire to show why, if France will make no arrangement, we believe it to be inevitable. The words may possibly attract the more atten- tion, because we are so utterly opposed to the Forward school ; so fully aware that, while the British people reject alike all proposals for a conscription and all plans for making the Army truly effective, the "weary Titan" is already heavily over-burdened.
A Power like France—though especially France, because of her periodic fits of Chauvinism, and the petulance which occasionally overcomes her—in possession of Egypt, would be master of too much of England's destiny. The danger is not limited to India, though it is most immediate there. France holding Egypt, owning North Africa, and permanently able to occupy Mecca—which would lie at her immediate mercy— could always threaten descents on India with a composite force of Frenchmen and Arabs which it might not suit the Indian Mahommedans to oppose ; or, if it did suit them, would make them an uncontrollable, or at least most exigeant, factor in Indian politics. We could never again pass a law they dis- approved, and never again compel them, as we do now—wit- ness the scene in Mooltan last week —to keep the truce with the Hindoo population. They would be perpetually looking for aid to the Arab Army. We should be compelled, as a measure of precaution, not only to increase the garrison, for France now fights with large numbers, and sends whole corps d'armee across the Mediterranean, but to keep a powerful fleet in the Indian Ocean, and to make for it docks, coal-yards, and building-yards on the coast either of Zanzibar or Arabia, which would be as difficult to protect and garrison as Egypt itself. That fleet would cost three millions a year, and do nothing out- side its own sea. We should never have a true peace with France, any more than we now have with Russia, and the effect of the long armed truces would be aggravated by the fact that while Russia cannot invade us at home, France could, or our population would believe she could, which is just as bad. Steam has not made the Channel broader than it was in the First Napoleon's time. All our alliances, all our security throughout the world, all our confidence within our own seas, all our secret calm about Ireland, would be at an end, till every second Englishman would de- clare that war was preferable to such a peace. Nor is this all. Suppose India lost or finally conciliated, or its strange power over English imagination, from any cause, finally removed, we do not know that even then we could give up Egypt. France holding Egypt could drop the portcullis on our trade, as well as on our armies. It is difficult even to imagine the position of Great Britain without safe access to Asia and Australia by the shortest sea route. We might go round the Cape, as Mr. Gladstone once said, but, not to mention that the mercantile marine of the Mediterranean Powers would make the journey in half the time, and would, therefore, monopolise our carrying trade, in which speed is now an essential element —as witness the slow extinction of the cheap wooden ships— we should conduct that trade with a fleet of swift, armoured corvettes always lying on our flank, able to rush out of the Red Sea as out of a great dock, and cut right across the ocean path between the Cape and Asia. There would not be a port in Australia, Japan, China, India, or East Africa which could be truly safe, and the first preoccupation of trade would be the good-humour of Paris. We cannot fall back on convoy, as we did in the old wars, for the convoy necessary to protect English commercial steamers would exhaust our whole fighting marine. We do not say that such a position would be intoler- able, for the Dutch bear it ; and we should have the opportunity of great alliances, and might, but for our military system, be as formidable to France as she is to us ; but we do say the English would not tolerate it. It is quite enough to have France on both sides of the Mediterranean, with armies greater than all our force, without having her stretched right across the path leading into Asia. England would feel stifled, as if her wealth were at the mercy of any Parisian eineute. The people would not bear it, would fight to end it, even if they had to fight as they fought in 1815, and to try whether they also could not invade. They are the most patient of blunderers, and bear to spend twenty-seven millions a year in India and England on an army without getting one, because the Court likes it ; but their patience has, nevertheless, very clear limits.
We do not believe it possible that such a risk would be run, even if the statesmen said it should be ; and even when that risk has been realised fully—and we have entered into no detail —the argument is not concluded. There is no burden weighing on the Titan so heavy as Constantinople. For fifty years British policy has been spoilt, and British morality set at nought, and British people pressed with taxes, in order to keep that city in powerless hands. We have borne with the Turk, we have helped to oppress the Eastern Christian, and we have fostered misgovernment in Western Asia, rather than allow the destiny of Constantinople to fulfil itself without our controlling voice. At this very moment we must go to war if anybody threatens Constantinople. At this very moment we stand pledged, if treaties are pledges, to exhaust our national strength for all time in preventing seventy millions of white men— half as many again as there are in the American Union—from getting to the sea, whither they tend by a law as strong as that of gravitation. The task is ultimately impossible, as we shall find ; yet we must waste strength on it for ever, unless we can acquire the sovereignty of that petty isthmus. Once seated at Cairo, Constantinople is nothing to us, for our road eastward would be always open, and we could act in the Eastern Question without self-interest ; but with Cairo French, we should be left with no road free, except that round the Cape, and Constantinople would remain just as important as before. The position would be intolerable, or would be deemed intolerable ; and it is because it would be, that we deem all news from Egypt so alarming. The compromise Lord Salisbury arranged there is utterly bad, so bad that a break-down is inevitable ; yet the day it breaks down, the British people. unless some previous arrangement has been made, will insist on their Government taking a step which may be regarded in Paris as an inexpiable affront. France might not fight ; with a hundred thousand men in North Africa, she hardly could fight—though, be it remem- bered, she has means of securing aid both from Italy and Austria, and Germany would be delighted—but France, as M. Thiers said, would never forgive such an advantage taken of her momentary position. We do not want war with France, but friendship with France, at some price other than Egypt, and in that price lies one of the most difficult problems ever presented to English statesmen. Our object is not to solve it, but to impress on them, and on the country, two facts, first, that it may have to be solved at any moment—the time depending on ignorant and rash persons in Cairo—and secondly, that the condition of a safe solution is that England should possess Egypt with French consent.