THE KHEDIVE AND HIS MINISTERS.
IT would be unwise to exaggerate the importance of the news from Egypt, and to talk as if the fall of Nubar Pasha and his colleagues, should it take place, would necessarily be an event of serious consequence. It is not per se of any special moment which particular set of Ministers holds sway in Egypt, for it is not they, but the three or four Englishmen who stand behind them, who, in the last resort, say the final and creative word in regard to all essential matters. The Egyptians have a popular and proverbial legend which relates how a baggage-camel was asked whether it preferred going up-hill or down. To this inquiry the camel replied by asking whether it would have, in either case, to carry its burden. The answer was "Yes." "In that case," said the camel, "it makes no difference whether it is up-hill or down-hill,- the burden is always with me." If the Englishmen who control the Egyptian Administration were asked whether they preferred to go up-hill with one set of Ministers. or down-hill with another, they would probably reply, like the camel, that it made very little difference as long as they had to bear on their backs the burden of an English Ministry. It matters little whether it is Nubar or Riaz or Tigrane or Fahkri, so long as it is necessary to carry on the Government of Egypt under the present system. But it is necessary so to carry it on, and therefore the question of a change of Ministry is not directly, and under ordinary circumstances, important. If the Khedive makes a very strong point of altering the burden, or rather of tying it up with different-coloured ribbons, the representatives of British interests at Cairo do not as a rule greatly care to interfere. They prefer to keep the exercise of their right to say the last word for more important occasions.
But though, for the reasons we have given above, an ordinary Ministerial crisis at Cairo means little or nothing, it is always possible that beneath the mere shuffling of the cards may lie some matter of real importance. In that case, the removal, or attempted removal, of his Ministers by the Khedive may be the symptom of a grave crisis. Suppose that the Khedive is anxious to change his Ministers, not merely because he is tired of them, but because he has fallen under the influence of people who prompt him to do so in order to annoy the English. Or, to put it another way, suppose Lord Cromer considers the doing of certain things essential to the welfare of Egypt, and induces the Ministry to do them ; and that the Khedive, prompted by the desire to counteract our influence, opposes the policy adopted by his Ministers, and attempts to dismiss them because they have taken action pressed on them by our representative. Under such circumstances, it is easy to see that the normal attitude of something not unlike frigid indifference which we have described would have to be changed. We could not allow men who had done the right thing against the desire of the Khedive to go unsupported, and to be replaced by persons who, it would be hoped, would do the wrong or the injudicious thing. It might then become necessary for us to support the Ministers of the Khedive against the Khedive. That we should not be acting inconsistently with the attitude we have always taken up in regard to the Government of Egypt can easily be seen by a reference to the celebrated despatch which Lord Granville wrote in 1884,—a despatch which may not unreasonably be spoken of as the fundamental law of Egypt during our occupation. "I need hardly point out," he wrote to Sir Evelyn Baring in January, 1884," that in important questions where the administration and safety of Egypt are at stake, it is indispensable that her Majesty's Government should, so long as the provisional occupation of the country by English troops continues, be assured that the advice which, after full consideration of the views of the Egyptian Government, they may feel it their duty to tender the Khedive, should be followed. It should be made clear to the Egyptian Ministers and Governors of provinces, that the responsibility which for the time rests on England obliges her Majesty's Govern- ment to insist on the adoption of the policy which they recommend, and that it will be necessary that those Ministers and Governors who do not follow this course should cease to hold their offices." These words have been acted on again and again, and it would most certainly not be going beyond them to insist that a Ministry should be kept in office, even against the personal wishes of the Khedive. It would be a strong step ; but it would not in any sense mean an extension of our claim to have the last word and be the ultima ratio in all matters Egyptian.
But though we might be willing to keep in office a set of Ministers who meant well and did well in spite of the fact that they had lost the confidence of the Khedive, it does not follow that we should find the task an easy one. The loss of the favour of an Oriental Sovereign, even though that Sovereign is not in a position to exercise his will as he chooses, seems to act upon Orientals, whether they follow Western ideals or not, as a kind of paralysis. The Effendina may not actually dismiss them, but if he makes it clear that he does not want them they are apt to lose heart. In a very little time they grow tired of the dogged resistance which is necessary to keep in office against the will of the Sovereign. We have seen something of the same kind in constitutional Monarchies. If a Ministry is actively hated by the Sovereign it withers away, unless the Premier has a very remarkable amount of grit. The fact that he has the full confidence of his real master, the Parliamentary majority, is often not enough. In Egypt., Lord Cromer is, as it were, the Parliament, and the Khedive the holder of a limited Monarchy. If then the Ministers are not very thick-skinned and very resolute, the possessor of the real power may still find it difficult to keep them in office. He may be willing to give them full support, but they may be unwilling to take it. At present, however, it looks as if the existing Ministers had screwed themselves up to the sticking-point. In that case they can only be put out of office by the direct act of the Khedive. It is, however, unlikely that he would venture to dismiss his Ministers by a sad( » act. If he did, he might find himself in very great difficulties. It is worth while to think out the course which events would probably take, should the Khedive dismiss the present Ministers contrary to Lord Cromer's advice. The next step would be to appoint a. new set of Ministers of a kind unacceptable to Lord Cromer. Under such circumstances, Lard Cromer would probably do what he did once before,—request the English Under-Secretaries to carry on the business of their departments without acknowledging the new Ministers. The new Ministers would then be Ministers in the air. If they came to their offices, they would either not be admitted, or, if admitted, would not be obeyed. There would, in fact, be a conflict of authority in every department. Now, when the physical force in a country is equally divided, such a situation means civil war. In Egypt at the present day it would not even mean that "scuffle in the passage" which a witty critic has declared to be the unfailing mark of the new novel. The English power in Egypt is abso- lutely unquestioned as long as the army of occupation remains, and the presence of a corporal's guard at each public office would be all that would be required to pre- vent the new Ministers assuming office and power until Lord Cromer and the Khedive had arrived at a proper understanding. Meantime, the government of Egypt would proceed with unusual efficiency and promptitude under the rule of Sir Elwin Palmer, Mr. Garstin, and Mr. Gorst. In each office it would be a case of—" Nothing has changed ; there is only one Egyptian the less." But this is not a situation which would please the Khedive. He would not care to see Egypt so obviously governed by Englishmen, and without his intervention, or rather in spite of his action. He is not likely to displace Nubar Pasha at the Interior, to make Mr. Gorst supreme ; to lose a subject, and get a person who is independent of his favour. The Khedive is a very clever, though not apparently a very wise man, and be is not, we should imagine, at all likely to commit so obvious a mistake. But though we do not think that there is much immediate danger from the Egyptian crisis, we hold most strongly that the continued ill-feeling of the Khedive is a very serious fact, and should be very seriously considered. It has clearly become necessary to contemplate the possibility of action such as was taken, for other reasons, in the case of Ismail. Depend upon it, the more that event is prepared for, and the more clear is the understanding of what we shall do if we are driven to act, the less likely are we to be forced to show the Khedive that he is in no sense l'h,omme neeessaire.