Africa and the Victorians: The Climax of Imperialism in the Dark Continent

By Ronald Robinson; John Gallagher et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII
Cairo or Constantinople? 1885-1890

W hile white nationalists were hastening imperial disengagement in south Africa, Egyptian nationalists and a hostile France were forcing Britain to clamp imperial control upon the Nile. The lack of loyal collaborators made for increasing distrust and contempt for Egyptians in particular, and for pessimism about Orientals in general. Salisbury and Baring personified this falling away from the earlier faith in free partnerships for progress. The restored Khedivate showed no sign of turning into a reliable and independent ally. Frustrated but determined, the British stayed on in Cairo. But the repercussions in east and west Africa were as nothing compared with the impact upon the European states-system. What most concerned Salisbury about Africa between 1885 and 1889 was the effect of the Egyptian occupation upon the Mediterranean balance.

The longer the British troops stayed in Cairo, the more marked that effect became; and as long as it went on, French hostility and the Russian threat at Constantinople increased the danger in the Mediterranean. British statesmen were thus placed in a quandary. If they could evacuate Egypt, the rewards would be great. They would reconcile the French, improve their standing in Constantinople and so strengthen the security of the Mediterranean routes to the East. On the other hand, they dared not risk giving up Egypt until they could be certain that the Turk with naval and diplomatic support could hold Constantinople and the Straits against the land power of Russia. For if they withdrew from Egypt and the Ottoman Empire was further divided, the Canal might fall into the hands of another Power. What Salisbury would do about Egypt, and so about tropical Africa, depended above all upon his appraisal of the defences of Constantinople and the stability of Egypt.

It was still the case that the British hoped to preserve the Turk as the guardian of the Straits against the Russians. But the chances of doing so seemed to diminish in the later Eighteen eighties. They were the more reduced because the French, angered by the occupation of Egypt, might not remain neutral should the British fleet have to act

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