FROM OCCUPATION TO NOMINAL INDEPENDENCE: 1882-1923
With the occupation of 1882, Egypt became a part of the
British Empire but never officially a colony. The khedival
government provided the facade of autonomy, but behind it lay the
real power in the country, specifically, the British agent and
consul general, backed by British troops.
At the outset of the occupation, the British government
declared its intention to withdraw its troops as soon as
possible. This could not be done, however, until the authority of
the khedive was restored. Eventually, the British realized that
these two aims were incompatible because the military
intervention, which Khedive Tawfiq supported and which prevented
his overthrow, had undermined the authority of the ruler. Without
the British presence, the khedival government would probably have
In addition, the British government realized that the most
effective way to protect its interests was from its position in
Egypt. This represented a change in the policy that had existed
since the time of Muhammad Ali, when the British were committed
to preserving the Ottoman Empire. The change in British policy
occurred for several reasons. Sultan Abdul Hamid had refused
Britain's request to intervene in Egypt against Urabi and to
preserve the khedival government. Also, Britain's influence in
Istanbul was declining while that of Germany was rising. Finally,
Britain's unilateral invasion of Egypt gave Britain the
opportunity to supplant French influence in the country.
Moreover, Britain was determined to preserve its control over the
Suez Canal and to safeguard the vital route to India.
Between 1883 and the outbreak of World War I in 1914, there
were three British agents and consuls general in Egypt: Lord
Cromer (1883-1907), Sir John Eldon Gorst (1907-11), and Lord
Herbert Kitchener (1911-14). Cromer was an autocrat whose control
over Egypt was more absolute than that of any Mamluk or khedive.
Cromer believed his first task was to achieve financial solvency
for Egypt. He serviced the debt, balanced the budget, and spent
what money remained after debt payments on agriculture,
irrigation, and railroads. He neglected industry and education, a
policy that became a political issue in the country. He brought
in British officials to staff the bureaucracy. This policy, too,
was controversial because it prevented Egyptian civil servants
from rising to the top of their fields.
Gorst, who was less autocratic than Cromer, had to face a
growing Egyptian nationalism that demanded British evacuation
from the country. Gorst's attempt to create a "moderate"
nationalism ultimately failed because the nationalists refused to
make any compromises over independence and because Britain
considered any concession to the nationalists a sign of weakness.
When Kitchener arrived in Egypt in 1911, he was already famous as
the man who had avenged the death of General Charles Gordon in
Khartoum in 1885 during the Mahdist uprising. In 1913 Kitchener
introduced a new constitution that gave the country some
representative institutions locally and nationally. When the
British occupation began, the Assembly of Delegates had ceased to
exist. It was superseded by an assembly and legislative council
that were consultative bodies whose advice was not binding on the
government. The Organic Law of 1913 provided for a legislative
assembly with an increased number of elected members and expanded
On October 29, 1914, the Ottoman Empire entered World War I
on the side of the Central Powers. Martial law was declared in
Egypt on November 2. On November 3, the British government
unilaterally declared Egypt a protectorate, severing the country
from the Ottoman Empire. Britain deposed Khedive Abbas, who had
succeeded Khedive Tawfiq upon the latter's death in 1892, because
Abbas, who was in Istanbul when the war broke out, was suspected
of pro-German sympathies. Kitchener was recalled to London to
serve as minister of war.
Data as of December 1990