23 SEPTEMBER 1882, Page 12


THE FUTURE OF EGYPT. [To THE EDITOR OF THE "SPECTATOR."] SIR,—In your article on "The Future of Egypt," in your last impression, amid many remarks concerning the future of Eng- lish authority in Egypt, I failed to find a single reference to the future of the Egyptians themselves. May I hope, in company with some others of your constant readers, that in some future article, now that the cessation of war allows other than mere military interests to attract attention, you will deal with the question of the manner in which this country may utilise its newly-attained powers for the alleviation of the burdens of the Egyptian peasants ?

Many, perhaps, may take for granted that the mere pre- dominance of England in Egypt is sufficient to ensure an amelioration of the condition of all classes. But this seems very doubtful. It has been maintained, in a pamphlet (" Spoiling the Egyptians," p. 49) which has reached a fourth edition without a contradiction of importance, so far as I know, that "Egypt has already actually repaid the Bondholders every shilling of the money she received from them, together with interest at 6 per cent.; yet Egypt still has to pay nearly 8 per cent, interest per annum on the vanished proceeds of loans aggregating 90 mil- lions sterling, consuming 45 per cent of her gross annual revenues in perpetuity." In the course of the recent disturb- ances, it is calculated, by the best authorities, that more than six millions have been added to the existing burdens. It will hardly be denied that the taxes extorted for the payment of the interest of the Bondholders have already pressed heavily upon the peasants, who were described by our own Consul-General p. 46) as "severely and cruelly treated, the whip and bastinado being the necessary concomitants of every demand for the payment of taxes ;" and it is to be feared that increased taxes will now press more heavily than ever. If, therefore, the irresistible power of England is henceforth to be exerted in order to keep down insurrection, while tax-gatherers (nomin- ally Egyptian) wring from the peasants the money necessary for the payment in full of the European Bondholders, the con- sequence may be that our very maintenance of order may do a mischief, by maintaining and perpetuating a system of oppres- sion, and our honourable habit of paying our own debts may bring ruin upon a nation which we would compel to pay a debt that cannot possibly be paid.

" Repudiation " is, no doubt, a word suggestive of just dis- grace, and every Englishman hates the sound of it. It differs greatly (we all feel) from "composition with creditors." But how? In this respect, that when an honest merchant com- pounds with creditors, an impartial Court protects the interests of the creditors ; whereas a nation, when it " repudiates," adjudi- cates its own cause, and the creditors are unfairly treated. But in the present case, there is at hand the impartial Court necessary for a just composition. England, which has throughout professed to be acting in the name of Europe, can either by herself, or conjointly with other Powers, take stock of the effects of the nation now committed to her charge; and if it be found beyond a doubt that the full payment of the Egyptian debts is incom- patible with the peaceful development of the country, would it not then be lawful to make an arrangement with creditors requiring them to make some (perhaps temporary) deduction from their interest, in return for the certainty of regular pay- ments, and with the prospect of ultimate payment in full ? In any discussion of this subject, surely it is not to be forgotten that there is a great difference between a national debt, properly so called, and a debt not self-imposed by the Egyptian nation, but, for the most part, recklessly incurred by an irresponsible ruler. Before concluding this letter, permit me to make another reference to the remarkable pamphlet from which I quoted above, entitled, "Spoiling the Egyptians." With a very sincere belief in the integrity and unselfishness of our present Government, I nevertheless find it difficult, after reading these pages, not to fear that our officials in Egypt may have been unduly influenced by a regard, to quote the words of Lord Granville, for "the pecuniary interests in behalf of which her Majesty's Government have been acting." Earnestly desiring to have this pamphlet refuted and exposed, I eagerly welcomed a letter from Lord Houghton, which appeared in your pages some five or six weeks ago, in which the writer declared that it would be easy to point out omissions and insinuations in it; but the rest of that long letter seemed to fail so completely in making out the case which it attempted to make out, against a very small and un- important fact of the pamphlet, that I was reluctantly driven to believe that, since Lord Houghton had probably chosen the- weakest point for attack and found it too strong for him, perhaps what seemed to him so " easy " might be found in reality difficult.

I am. not alone in this perplexity. Friends on every side, men of judgment and accustomed to weigh evidence, are reading

this "Tale of Shame," and are becoming convinced by it; they are circulating it, and convincing others ; and by this time, the pamphlet has come to a fourth edition. I myself am not yet convinced. Long experience has taught me that even quota- tions from Blue-books may be, under the influence of pre- judice, so skilfully (though honestly) pieced together as to suggest inferences not justified. by facts. But, surely it is time to refute, say, only one or two of the most damag- ing statements in this most unpleasant work. Take one, for example.

It is said (p. 48) that the European Commission's labours' "resulted in a scheme proclaimed in Egypt on July 17th, 1880, by decree of the Khedive, and called the Law of Liquidation."• The second enactment of this law cancelled a bargain made. (with all forms of law) by the Khedive with the cultivators, by which, in return for 217,000,000 paid down (p. 49), the cultivators had "purchased the reduction in perpetuity' of fifty per cent. on the rental of their lands from ' the' year 1885." When this bargain was cancelled, the European Commission, instead of refunding the 217,000,000, decided that

the cultivators "should mereLy receive a sum of 2150,000 a year

for fifty years," i.e., they confiscated the principal, and paid less than one per cent. by way of interest, and this only for fifty years.

Let Lord Houghton deny or explain this, and he will earn the gratitude of many of your readers ; and among others, of