The British ruled over Egypt by doing the least they possibly could. Why drain the reserves of British administrators when you can manipulate natives into doing the dirty work? Britain never annexed Egypt; The British ruled Egypt indirectly as a protectorate. Using English heads and Egyptian hands, England attempted to bring Western institutions to Egypt. They justified this through eugenics, claiming it was their duty to civilize the “primitive” Africans. Although British rule did modernize Egypt’s infrastructure and paid down it’s debts, many reforms failed to improve the quality of life of the average Egyptian.
During the 1850’s, the British brought railroads and telegraphs to Egypt, upsurging the efficiency of communication and transportation exponentially. The Suez Canal opened for business in 1869, cutting the distance between London and New Delhi from 12,300 miles to 7,200 miles. This was critical, making the Suez region of Egypt of great value to the British, even though a majority of stock in the canal was owned by the French.
In the late 1870's, Ismail of Egypt was dead broke, owing millions to European creditors. This came as demand for Egyptian cotton had risen dramatically in lieu of the end of the Civil War, but then subsequently fell as the war ended. He couldn't pay back his debts, so a dual control system was setup whereby a British and French man would oversee Egypt’s finances. Crocker was appointed as comptroller and had Ismail deposed in 1879 because he refused to declare bankruptcy. He was succeeded by Tawfiq, a European puppet.
In the 1879 British elections, the incumbent Benjam Disraeli faced off against William Gladstone. The Liberal Gladstone emerged victorious after lambasting Disraeli for interfering in Egyptian affairs. He advocated against overseas entanglement during his campaign, arguing for Egypt for the Egyptians. However, 80% of traffic flowing through the Suez Canal was British, making it especially important. Much Egyptian debt was held by British bondholders, including none other than William Gladstone. After he invaded the country, the value of his holdings rose by 40%.
In 1882 a nationalist army officer named Said Ahmed Arabi took control of Egypt, overthrowing the pro-British khedive Tewfik. Violence broke out against European residents in Alexandria. The British, led by Sir Garnet Wolseley, unilaterally invaded Egypt in 1882, capturing the Suez canal and obliterating the Egyptian army at Tel el Kebir with minimal British casualties (fifty-four as compared to two thousand Egyptian). They had tried reaching a great power authorization for the invasion, but to no avail. There’s no clear evidence that the Urabi revolt threatened the Suez Canal, however it could have eventually. Theres was some opposition to the occupation in Britain, and much in Egypt. However, the English press and people largely celebrated the victory and subsequent occupation.
Next came the civilizing mission, whereby white colonizers used eugenics to “prove” their superiority and justify their occupation and control of Egypt as altruistic. There goal was to plant Western institutions into a Muslim country, no easy task. The British promised that once they had accomplished their goals, they would leave. This turned out to be a lie, and caused much resent amongst the Egyptians.
But it wasn’t all bad. When Evelyn Baring took over, services on the debt cost Egypt around 65% of it’s revenue. This was largely caused by foreign interference in Egyptian affairs, and the higher tax rates that followed were a principal causal factor in Urabi’s revolt. In 1885, an agreement was signed authorizing a loan of nine million pounds to Egypt. By 1892, the debt crisis was over. Between 1892 and the outset of WWI, the ratio of debt to revenue went from 10 to 1 to 5 to 1. Since Egypt’s finances were guaranteed by Britain, it could borrow at a much lower interest rate than before.
Meanwhile, on March 1st, 1896, an Italian Army was defeated at Adowa against the Emperor Menelik of Abyssinia. This disaster of European prestige prompted the British cabinet to approve of an invasion of the Sudan by Kitchener. Omdurman and Addis Ababa were rejoicing, for now. The “liberation” of the Sudan was the logical corollary to the British invasion of the Sudan. When kitchener spoke at the Oxford Union in 1900, he was praised by the student body, showing just how much domestic support British imperialism had at the turn of the 19th century.
Egyptian dissent to their British overlords was voiced, largely, through newspapers, such as al-Liwa, founded in 1900. Cromer and his administration pointed out to the founder of the newspaper, Mustafa Kamil, the numerous advantages British imperialism had brought to Egypt. Tamil retorted: “The chains of slavery are still chains, whether they be forged of gold or of iron.”
Using loans, the Aswan damn was built between 1902 and 1906. This contraption stored floodwater, greatly increasing the amount of irrigable land. Egyptian peasants, though they were largely not the ones who benefited from these programs, did benefit from better infrastructure, lower taxes and access to credit. More and more people were attending schools. This was done using English heads and Egyptian hands, though there were no more than 700 Brits in Egypt in 1906.
The population Egypt doubled between 1882 and 1907. So even though Egypt got richer, most Egyptians did not. Cotton was subjected to the ebbs and flows of the global economy.
In 1906, a few white Brits went hunting in Dinshaway. They accidentally shot birds that the residents were planning on eating and subsequently shot a women reacting to her dead birds, causing a furor. One brit died in the occasion, though he died of heat stroke while running through the desert. For this, four Egyptians were hanged and dozens of others convicted. This caused backlash in the press, and gave the religious leaders and urban notables a common cause behind which to unite. Lord Cromer resigned in 1907.
From 1907 to 1911 a severe international recession occurred, cutting the price of cotton and causing hardship for peasants. In the aftermath of Dinshaway, Cromer’s successor Sir Eldon Gorst made concessions and admitted more Egyptians into the administrative ranks. At the outbreak of WWII, Egypt was declared a protectorate and that was that.
As you can see, the British occupied Egypt in order to promote British rather than Egyptian interests. Egypt’s economy did expand, however the expansions came largely in raw materials which were exported to England. Lord Cromer sough to repress Egyptians from education, however Egyptian nationalism still grew fervently through the popular press. Egypt’s population doubled from 1882 to 1907, preventing improvements in the economy from improving peasants quality of life. The Egyptian occupation of Egypt was a mixed bag, modernizing the country while subsequently repressing the people.