|‘Urabi and the Army|
|Colonel Ahmad ‘Urabi Pasha|
The Khedive Isma‘il, Viceroy of Egypt (and effectively sovereign under a loose Ottoman suzerainty) had profited greatly during the American Civil War when the Union blockade barred Southern US cotton from European markets and Egyptian cotton filled the gap. Isma‘il took the profits and spent profligately, rebuilding Cairo, launching wars in Sudan and Ethiopia, and most famously, building the Suez Canal. Meanwhile, the American war and blockade ended and the bottom fell out of the cotton market. Isma‘il found himself deeply in debt. Britain and France stepped in, effectively taking over the Egyptian economy under a system known as the "Dual Control." Major Evelyn Baring (later the first Lord Cromer) as Controller-General; Britain acquired ownership of the shares of the Suez Canal company, and more and more Europeans took senior posts in the Egyptian government. (This is a gross oversimplification; the classic account is still David S. Landes' Bankers and Pashas.) In 1878 Isma‘il gave up much if his power. The following year, at the instigation of the British and French, the Ottoman Sultan deposed Isma‘il. Under the Ottoman system, the title should have gone to Isma‘il's uncle, ‘Abd al-Halim Pasha, but Isma‘il had changed the succession to favor his son, Tawfiq, and the European controllers supported this. Tawfiq was a weak and unwilling ruler, and more or less putty in the hands of Baring and the other Europeans.
After Tawfiq's accession in 1879. he faced challenges from a National Party demanding a Parliamentary system, from nationalist such as Sheikh Muhammad ‘Abduh and Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, and from the indigenous Egyptian officer corps.All opposed European control and demanded more national independence, though they otherwise had differing agendas.
In the end, to shorten the tale, it was the Army that mattered. The Egyptian officers, the most senior of whom were colonels like ‘Urabi, first sought to neutralize the Turco-Circassian senior officers; they won some concessions from Tawfiq. The British advisers grew alarmed, fearing a nationalist army might repudiate Egypt's debt. Tawfiq sought to play the nationalists, the British, and the Sultan in Constantinople against each other, but lacked the skills. In 1881, with ‘Urabi and the colonels increasing their power, Tawfiq sought to transfer him out of Cairo. He refused, declared himself Prime Minister, and called for a Parliament.
Yet he does not seem to have been all that radical. One slogan, "Egypt for the Egyptians," may have targeted not only the outside British and French but the internal Turco-Circassian elite, but the demand was essentially for a constitutional monarchy. But the British authorities not only managed to portray ‘Urabi as a radical threat, but also to hint to the Ottoman Sultan that ‘Urabi might raise the Arab provinces of the Empire in revolt, or even proclaim a rival caliphate, though ‘Urabi's ambitions do not seem to have run in those directions: he was an Egyptian nationalist.
|Britain's View: "The Would-Be Dictator of Egypt," 1882|
‘Urabi had befriended at least one Englishman who was not an imperialist. Wilfred Scawen Blunt was an aristocrat, but also a poet; his wife Lady Anne Blunt was Lord Byron's granddaughter. They had moved to Egypt to raise Arabian horses. While Blunt was something of a dilettante romantic Orientalist, he also came to be a fierce opponent of imperialism and colonialism, in Egypt and later in Ireland. He would also be a fierce critic of Denshawai in 1906 and after. He knew ‘Urabi, Sheikh Muhammad ‘Abduh, and other prominent nationalists, and while Cromer and others thought him a utopian dreamer, his 1907 The Secret History of the English Occupation of Egypt remains the major English-language sympathetic source for the ‘Urabi revolt. Though he probably exaggerated his own role a bit, it's still an invaluable work. You can find the text free, online, in multiple formats, here.
The rest was predictable. Tawfiq had been unable to resist the colonels on his own, so his foreign patrons took charge. In 1882, unable to persuade the Ottomans to do it for them, the British intervened. In a brief war decided at the Battle of Tel el-Kebir, they defeated the Egyptian Army. Cromer, officially only a Consul General, ruled Egypt with the power of a Viceroy. (Though Britain dominated Egypt from 1882 to 1852, it was only officially a "Protectorate" from 1914 to 1922.)
|‘Urabi Pasha in Exile in Ceylon|
And that was Egypt's first colonels' coup.But Midan Tawfiqiyya in Cairo has been called Midan ‘Urabi for over 60 years now.