- Although in fact largely independent from much of the period, Egypt was formally a tributary province of the Ottoman Empire from 1800 to 1914. Napoleon Bonaparte, hoping to enhance his own prestige and to threaten India, invaded in 1898, but his forces were shortly evicted by the British. Power in Egypt fell to Mehmet Ali, an Albanian janissary in the Turkish service, who rapidly established himself as Viceroy in Egypt, killing many of the former Mameluke upper classes in the process and defeating British troops in 1807. Mehmet Ali became the forebear of the Egyptian dynasty that reigned until it was overthrown by Gamal Abdel Nasser’s “Free Officers” movement in 1952. In theory subject to the Sultan, Mehmet Ali supported his ostensible master during the Greek civil war, losing his fleet at the battle of Navarino (1827) in consequence. In 1838, Mehmet Ali declared his intention of becoming independent of Turkey, which provoked a war that went badly for the Turks, the Egyptians invading Anatolia and threatening Constantinople. Lord Palmerston, as foreign secretary, saw Mehmet Ali as a French client and in 1840, he sent forces to Egypt to force his withdrawal. Mehmet Ali died in 1849.By the 1850s, the introduction of steamships having made the Red Sea navigable all year round, an increasing quantity of British trade to India went through Egypt. Napoleon III proposed to Palmerston that England should occupy Egypt and France Morocco; the latter demurred on the grounds - justified by later events - that such an occupation would lead to innumerable diplomatic complications. The introduction of cotton cultivation further attracted Europeans and European capital, and the cotton famine caused by the U.S. Civil War resulted in a windfall for Egypt’s rulers. Borrowing for investment and for vice, Egypt descended into debt as regal spending boomed and the American war ended. Various schemes for the construction of a canal through the Isthmus of Suez had been proposed over the decades. In 1859, against Palmerston’s objections, construction started on a canal, the effort being led by Ferdinand de Lesseps; the Egyptian viceroy held a minority stake. The Suez Canal was complete in 1869, vastly increasing the strategic value of Egypt. In the 1870s, Egypt’s finances fell into complete disarray, and the Khedive was forced to both sell his shares in the canal - snapped up by Benjamin Disraeli ’s government to keep them out of French hands - and to accept foreign financial oversight in the form of a “dual control” staffed by French and British representatives. In 1879, Khedive Ismail attempted to free himself from foreign control and for his pains was replaced by his son Tewfik on the orders of the Porte, the latter acting at Anglo-French prompting. A nationalist movement under Colonel Ahmed Arabi began to gather force in Egypt, objecting to both Turkish overlordship and European control and also to the military cuts insisted on by European comptrollers. An Anglo-French note of January 1882 offered support to Tewfik, but it had only the effect of making him appear a foreign puppet. The growing power of Arabi, and anti-European riots in Alexandria in June 1882, prompted the arrival of an Anglo-French fleet. But the French government then fell, and the French fleet was ordered to sail. The British admiral on the spot considered that the arming of Alexandria’s forts by Arabi constituted a danger to his force, and on July 11, 1882, he bombarded the city. An expeditionary force under Sir Garnet Wolseley defeated Arabi’s army at Tel el-Kebir in the Canal Zone on September 13, 1882. While out of power, William Gladstone had urged strongly against intervention in Egypt, famously arguing that a British foothold there would become “the certain egg of a North African empire”; he found, in 1882, that, driven by force of circumstance, he had acquired just such an egg. Britain was soon drawn into the Sudan, and thence into Uganda and East Africa. As Gladstone had feared, dreamers like Cecil Rhodes spoke of a “Cape to Cairo” empire. From 1882 until Nasser’s coup, Egypt was effectively a British client, although it remained through 1914 formally an Ottoman province. In 1883, the British installed Sir Evelyn Baring, later Lord Cromer, as consul-general and effective mayor of the palace to the Khedive. Cromer later proclaimed that “we do not govern Egypt; we only govern the governors of Egypt.” He set about rationalizing Egypt’s finances, and he did a creditable job of paying creditors, reigning in corruption, increasing exports, restoring a healthy balance of payments, and incurring the enduring hostility of Egyptian nationalists. Cromer was skeptical of the Sudanese interventions of 1884–1885and 1896–1898 as too expensive, although others saw them as essential to Egypt or Britain’s prestige. In 1914, Britain, on going to war with Turkey, proclaimed a protectorate over Egypt, although that had in practice been the case since 1882.See also <
>; < >; < >.FURTHER READING:Cromer, Lord. Modern Egypt. London: MacMillan, 1908;Karabell, Zachary. Parting the Waters: The Creation of the Suez Canal. New York: Random House, 2003;Marlowe, John. Spoiling the Egyptians. London: André Deutsch, 1974;Robinson, Ronald, John Gallagher, and Alice Denny. Africa and the Victorians: The Official Mind of Imperialism. London: MacMillan, 1961.MARK F. PROUDMAN
Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.