THE TREATY WITH EGYPT
By J. A. SPENDER
I bear away with me from those times the memory of . one or two thrilling moments—a night at Tantah when a little Egyptian boy led me to safety through .by-ways and alleys while the mob was pouring down the main street in pursuit of me ; a moment when my railway carriage was suddenly invaded by young Egyptians, and an ingenious railway guard let me out and imprisoned them—but the abiding impression which has never left me was that the great mass of the .Egyptians are a kindly and friendly people with whom we might and ought to be on the best of terms, if we would only take some pains to understand their points of view. They share with us several characteristics which we like to think specially British. If they flare up, they have short memories and bear no malice. They prefer muddling through to the best administration. They understand our jokes and we understand their's- • a point of real importance when Tommy and " Gyppie " have to work together. Circumstances have changed since 1920, and a word or two about the intervening years may not be amiss. The main lines of the Milner Report survive : the acknowledgment of Egyptian independence, the con- clusion of a Treaty with guarantees for imperial com- munications, the safeguarding of foreign rights and interests and so forth. I have seen it stated in the last few days that the Egyptians " rejected the Milner proposals." That was not so. As presented to the Government, the 'Milner Report contained a series of proposals agreed after long negotiations with the Egyptian delegation under Zaghlul's leadership. We had hoped that the Government would accept it as a basis, and send Lord Milner to Egypt to negotiate the proposed Treaty. The Government, however, would have none of it, and, the favourable moment having passed, Zaghlul went again on the warpath, and now raised the question of the Sudan, which it had been tacitly agreed to let sleep until at least other questions had been settled.
As for the British Cabinet, it appeared to share the popular misconception that Egypt was a part of the. British Empire ; it seemed to know nothing of the law and history of the matter, or of the circum- stances in which the " Protectorate " had been pro- claimed and the promises made to the Egyptians during the War—all of them material facts governing the situation, if pledges and promises were to count for anything. I own that it surprised us that a Report dealing fully with all these matters, presented by one of the most respected of Cabinet Ministers, and backed without reservations by all his colleagues—three of whom had long and intimate experience of Egyptian ,administration —should have been thus summarily disposed of. But those were days when cool argument on such matters was heard with impatience.
From this time onwards the situation went from bad to worse, until in February, 1922, under strong pressure from Lord Allenby and British officials on the spot, the Government issued a proclamation granting Egypt independence, but reserving for .future settle- ment most of the questions dealt with in the Milner Report. It was then a case of any port in a storm and this was a very precarious shelter. It pledged the Egyptians to nothing and left them free to continue their agitations, which now took the fanatical and dangerous form that culminated in the murder of Sir Lee Stack, the Sirdar and Governor-General of the Sudan. For the next six years the Sudan question hung over all negotiations, and was fatal to each in turn. These agitations were also ruinous to Egyptian domestic politics ; struggles between parties outbidding each other in patriotic fervour led to martial law, and, in the last stages, to " Palace rule " under King Fuad.
This could not in any ease have gone on for long, but the Abyssinian crisis brought home to all parties the folly and danger of its continuance. Faced with the possible alternatives, the Egyptians realised that, given the necessity of European assistance, the British were, in spite of everything, the European nation most likely to respect their independence ; and even the most sceptical British perceived that a friendly Egypt would be a military as well as a political asset of high value. I have a lively recollection of a midnight or early morning struggle, in which Arthur Henderson invited me to participate, with the Egyptian delegation of 1930, on the question of the Sudan. I own my sympathies were on the side of the Egyptians, and I think still that the Labour Government might well have taken its courage in both hands and broken down the military opposition. It was a very simple question then as now. If Egyptian battalions were admitted to the Sudan, or Egyptian immigrants allowed to settle in it, were they likely to be centres of disaffection ? If they were, it was no use talking about it, or indeed talking at all about a friendly settlement with Egypt. If they were not, it was not only right and fair to recognise. Egyptian rights and interests in the Sudan, but a British partnership was desirable, and might some day be essential to the defence of the country.
So I think now, and it is in my view, not the least merit of the present settlement that British and Egyptians working together may relieve the British taxpayer of what might otherwise be a most serious burden. For the rest, my hopes are that the settlement of the " reserved questions " will end the nationalist unrest and leave the Egyptians free to concentrate on their own affairs. From this point of view I believe, the transfer of the British garrison from the capital of Egypt to other stations to be an intrinsically wise move. Its presence in Cairo under the nose of the Egyptian authorities inevitably reflects on our sincerity in granting their independence, but, even more important, it saps their sense of responsi- bility for keeping order, and enables Egyptians to throw back on us the odium, of everything that goes wrong and every unpopular act of their Government. It is a fatally easy argument that " these things would not be per- mitted," if the British were not here.
Under the new regime we shall have to choose our repreientatives wisely and see that they are men who understand the Egyptians and will respect their suseepti- bilities. Egyptians are very willing to take advice and even seek advice from men of this type, though they, resent having it thrust upon them. There remains the question of the capitulations, in which our aid must be freely and honestly given to break down foreign opposition. It is one thing to give foreigners guarantees through the mixed Courts against oriental ideas of justice, and quite another to give them immunities from reasonable taxation, which in effect act as a bar on taxation of Egyptians, and leave the country without funds for social progress or even good administration.
The most cheerful aspect of the Egyptian situation is the survival, through all these years of political friction and bitterness, of the friendliness between individual English and individual Egyptians. Nahas Pasha, the present Prime Minister and leader of the popular party, went away from London in 1930 saying that though he had failed to bring back a Treaty, he had brought back friendship with the English. He was at one time thought to be rather a wild man, but I hear from many sources that his conduct of the recent negotiations has been wise, moderate and statesmanlike. That is of good omen for the future. The transition from agitator to statesman is never easy, but. I believe Nahas to be capable of it.