A LETTER FROM CAIRO [To the Editor of the SPECTATOR.] SIR,—Egypt has been enjoying a political breathing space before the elections, which are to inaugurate a Constitutional Government after the spell of arbitrary rule directed by Hassan Nashat Pasha. The general progress of events since his departure has been adequately described from day to day in the Press, and it is too early yet to venture upon prophesy. Already however there has arisen a cloud on the horizon of the Coalition, and the extremists have seceded on the refusal of the Zaghlulists and Liberal Constitutionalists to grant them twenty candidates for the coming Parliament.
Nobody expected the new bloc to endure very long after the Chamber met, as the divergencies in their views on several points are too wide to admit of bridging. But that the split should have come so coon augurs ill for the future.
With the advent of a Zaghlul Cabinet or any Ministry entirely controlled by Saad Pasha and his Wafd, a total reversal in domestic policy may be expected. This, however, is of minor importance, the main desideratum being to come to some agreement if not actually to frame a Treaty to define future relations with Great Britain. And it is a question so hedged about with difficulties under present conditions that, however we look at it, it appears almost insoluble.
Every Party, except perhaps the Unionist, which is only a shadowy fiction for the Palace, is pledged up to the eyes to hold out to the last ditch for " sovereign independence," which means the Sudan for Egypt and the withdrawal of all British troops, except perhaps some garrisons on the Canal. It also means the full and unrestricted application of the Constitution, for which the country is not yet at all ripe. The only alternative is an arbitrary government by the King, in contempt of the Constitution. Unfortunately it was England who professed to grant, and guarantee, sovereign independence and a constitution. It has long since been recognized that this Declaration is not compatible with our Eastern policy, as we neither desire to abandon our position of ourselves safe- guarding our route to India, nor to permit autocratic misrule in Egypt. But no Oriental potentate will ever willingly govern constitutionally. What is the good of being a Sultan, or a King, if he cannot do what he likes in his country, choose his own Ministers to carry out his wishes irrespective of such checks as Parliaments, and generally exploit the land and its inhabitants for his own benefit ? This is the Palace idea of Kingship.
And what is sovereign independence, say the people, if we are to have strong garrisons in our capitals of Cairo and Alexandria, aeroplane bases here and there, and fleets at call in our harbours ? England now has to ring the changes between an obstreperous democracy, and a very undesirable despotism, led by equally intractable chiefs. The puzzle is too complicated for treatment in brief. Let us not prophesy evil, but wait to see how our modern St. George will deal with the Egyptian dragons.
The Cairo season has been a successful one from the hotel keepers' and dragomans' point of view. Special trains have been almost daily unloading half a thousand tourists, the majority probably Americans, who have been complaining that Cairo and Luxor are the dearest places they have ever "struck." If they will go, however, to the dearest hotels, which are all under the same management, they naturally have to pay any prices that are demanded by a management which is not at all a shy asker.
The great attraction, of course, is the golden coffin and all the other sumptuous furniture of "Tut," as he is irreverently called. The coffin is certainly a gorgeous marvel, but it makes one " furiously think " what must have been stolen, before we found them, from the sepulchres of the really mighty Pharaohs, when an almost third-rater lay so gloriously. Tutankhamen has nevertheless quite eclipsed the old favourites, who now sleep opposite his door, almost neglected in their modest eternal honeymoon.
For archaeologists and invalids Cairo and the rest of Egypt must be of absorbing interest, but otherwise it is not easy to understand the thousands of the wealthy who flock thither. All the other attractions are of no account, and there is none of the " smartness " one finds at Biarritz, Nice, Monte Carlo, Deauville or St. Moritz, and such resorts. There is very little entertaining, as even the hospitable Residency, which usually holds a house party, is not large enough for any big ceremony, and the hermit-like habits of King Fuad seldom prompt any but the most strictly official receptions at the Palace of Abdin. When anything is done there though, it is well done, as, for example, the dinner to Lord Lloyd on his recovery from his illness.
The opera this year was Italian, but did not seem to attract the public at all regularly, in spite of the occasional singing of the tenor M. Lappas and the Paris opera soprano Mine. Bugg. We also had Signor Mascagni for a week at the Kursaal conducting several of his own operas, which was a treat. The pretty Mme. Robinne and her husband, Alexandre, of the Corn di e, also gave a week's plays, but on the whole the theatrical and musical season cannot be said to have been brilliant.
A really good season was that of duck-shooting. For many years the Residency has rented a famous " birket " or piece of flooded land which is shot over at least once a week for several months, with an average bag, it is said, of 300-500 ducks. The guns are placed in butts, and the flight lasts about two hours.
By the end of March the flight to Palestine for Easter began, and in another month Cairo was almost empty till next year.
—I am, Sir, &e., Youa CAIRO CORRESPONDENT.