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

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

CHAPTER IX
New Frontiers of Insecurity

I f the strategic reasons for staying in Cairo were strong, the internal Egyptian reasons against withdrawal were overwhelming. By 1889 Baring had convinced the Prime Minister that there could be no stability or security in Cairo without occupation. As the British Agent saw it, the internal crisis which had come to a head in 1882, was Still unsolved. Revolution still simmered beneath the surface tranquillity of the occupation. The chances of setting up a reliable Egyptian régime and so returning to a supremacy wielded from outside, were smaller than ever.

Baring's judgement bore the stamp of his personality. The proconsul was too much of an Indian administrator to make a success of Egyptian politics. It was in India that he had gained his early experience, first as private secretary to his cousin, Northbrook, the Viceroy, and later as Financial member of the Council. From India also he had drawn most of the British officials who filled key posts in the government of Egypt. In this way something of the administrative tradition of Calcutta was transplanted to the Nile.

It was a tradition with great virtues; and Baring had his full share of them. Like the 'Guardians' of India, he felt too much personal responsibility for the subject peoples' welfare to hand them over to a corrupt and incompetent class of native leaders. For him British rule and influence were ordained by Providence for the progress of the Orient. This faith made him detest nationalists in Egypt as in India. He judged backward Egypt by the standards of a progressive Europe and found it stunted and degenerate. Both on moral and on practical grounds, the old régime seemed past praying for. As he declared later,

'The country over which the breath of the West...has once passed... can never be the same as it was before. The new foundations must be of the Western, not the Eastern type.'1

With this outlook, it is not surprising that Baring could find no hope of a stable government in Egypt, short of reforming on western lines the whole structure and spirit of the society.

____________________
1
The Earl of Cromer, Ancient and Modern Imperialism, ( 1910), 120.

-274-

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