3.3.1 Egyptian Nationalism part 1

3.3.1 Egyptian Nationalism part 1


[BLANK_AUDIO] And how did Egypt differ from other Arabic
speaking lands? After all, in Egypt in this period, we
speak of Egyptian nationalism, something we do not speak of in countries
like Syria or Iraq. So how did Egypt differ? Egypt differed from other Arab speaking
lands in the sense that Egypt was a very separate
independent case [UNKNOWN]. Egyptian nationalism emerged against a
very specific reality that existed only in Egypt and not in other
Arab countries. And that is the British occupation. There was therefore a specific Egyptian,
rather than Arab, Muslim, or Ottoman content, to the nationalist
movement that emerged in Egypt. It had a specific geographical and
political definition. During the 19th century, as we have
already seen, Egypt underwent a series of radical changes, the foundations of the
modern state in Egypt, built by Muhammad Ali. Egypt underwent an economic revolution of
sorts. Basing the economy on an export-oriented
agriculture, particularly the growing of cotton for export and the sugar
industry. There was considerable social change in
Egypt in the 19th century. The new school system, the printing press,
generalism, and legal reform. All of that was very similar to other
parts of the Ottoman Empire. And like in other parts of the empire, the
introduction to the world of ideas and the lifestyle of
Europe. Egypt in the 1870s was Egypt in a
situation of bankruptcy and ever-increasing international intervention in Egypt’s
finances. To ensure payment of the huge debt that
the Egyptians had accumulated in the very rapid project of modernization,
instituted very much under the rule of Khedive Isma’il. In 1879, Khedive Isma’il was removed by the European powers in favor of his son
Tewfik. Egyptian Arabic speaking officers of the
Egyptian army began to express ever increasing disapproval of this international influence in Egyptian
politics. And this disapproval of the Arabic
speaking officers was also representative of more profound trends of social
disaffection inside Egypt at that time. There was increasing tension between the
Arabic speaking Egyptians and the older upper class of
Turco-Circassians officers and the landowning elite, also of Turco-Circassian
background, in many places, who had become predominant since Muhammad
Ali’s assumption of power. This Turco-Circassian elite in part
Turkish, that is, Turkish administrators and officers who had remained in Egypt and
become very prominent. Or Circassians who had served with the
Mamluks and whose origins were in the caucuses and had become part of this
new ruling elite in Egypt. And they together with Arab Egyptian
landowners were equally interested in the restriction of foreign influence,
which naturally eroded their stature too. These are the early beginnings of a very clear cut, openly expressed Egyptian
identity. Educated Egyptians were also influenced by
new archeological discovery of Egyptians’
glorious ancient past. There was a creation of a sense of
continuity between Egypt’s great pre-Islamic past and
its Islamic history. This had great impact on collective
identity. If one ventures to study Egypt’s
pre-Islamic past, one is touching upon a core issue in the
Islamic interpretation of history. The pre-Islamic past in the Islamic
interpretation of history is known as the Jahiliyya. Jahiliyya, the period of ignorance. There was nothing positive to say about
the pre-Islamic past in Egypt. It was this period of ignorance and
barbarism that was succeeded by the great
civilization of Islam. But if one is beginning to learn, because
of the great findings of Pharaoh in Egypt,
that the pre-Islamic past in Egypt was something to be proud
of, and something to be seen in a very
positive light. One is beginning to question the Islamic
interpretation of history. And if one is to value Egypt’s pre-Islamic
past, one is eroding the centrality of Islam in the
Egyptian collective identity. Rifa’a al-Tahtawi, who lived from 1801 to
1873 and was one of the leading students in the Muhammad Ali era
who studied in Paris from 1826 to 1831. Under the impact of European ideas, that’s
how we spoke frequently of nations and country, and made it clear that a nation
was bound to a specific territory. Egypt was one such country. And the Egyptians were a nation, says
Tahtawi, who should love their fatherland like the
Europeans love theirs. Tahtawi’s writings about Egypt’s
uniqueness were published in a book on the historical and geographical
distinctness of Egypt in 1869. Khedive Isma’il built a national library
and a museum. And the introduction of pre-Islamic
history in Egypt’s schools was becoming an important facet of the evolution of a
peculiar, particular Egyptian identity. Writers like Ya’aqub Sanu and Abdallah
al-Nadim popularized the terms of Egyptianness and
Egyptians in the 1870s and the 1880s, and sound of the
slogan of Egypt for the Egyptians. And was against this background that there
was ever increasing opposition in Egypt to
increasing foreign influence. And this opposition to increasing foreign
influence was expressed in the early 1880s in the Urabi Rebellion, a rebellion led by
an Arab-speaking Egyptian officer by the name of Ahmed
Orabi, who rose against this increasing foreign dominance in Egyptians’
internal affairs. There were various reasons for the defi-,
disaffection of Ahmed Orabi and his fellow
Arabic-speaking Egyptian officers. Their promotion to the highest ranks in the military were blocked by the
Turco-Circassian elite. Many lost their jobs in the financial
crisis of the 1870s. And in 1881 and 1882, there were repeated uprising of the officers under Ahmed Orabi
against the economic situation, against the
Turco-Circassian domination, and against increasing foreign intervention in
Egypt’s domestic financial affairs. Orabi spoke, for the most part, in
traditionally Islamic tense, but he also used the slogans of Abdallah
al-Nadim, or an Egypt for the Egyptians. From May 1882, Egypt became increasingly
rebellious and disorderly. Riots broke out in Alexandria in June. And the European quarter of the city was
sacked by the rioters. In July of 1882, the British navy shelled
Alexandria. And in September of that year, the British
occupied Egypt. This was to be a temporary occupation, the
British said. But in the end, it lasted for no less than
70 years. Ahmed Orabi was exiled to Ceylon, today’s
Sri Lanka. Thus begins a new period in Egypt’s
history, the period of British occupation. And this period of British occupation generated new forms of political
expression, of particularly Egyptian nationalism
against the background of the peculiar Egyptian
status. A part of the Ottoman Empire directly
occupied by the British. And Egyptian nationalism became every more
vociferous, especially in the last decade before World War 1. Further expansion of the school system under the British occupation also meant
further expansion of a relative freedom of speech
that the British did allow in Egypt. More so in Egypt than in the Ottoman
Empire. And there was a constant growth of
Egyptian national sentiment. The continued competition with the
Turco-Circassians over positions in the army and the bureaucracy also contributed
to this Egyptian national sentiment. And then, there were other specific
incidents and instances that contributed to the sense of
Egyptianness. In 1906, there was the very famous, or
perhaps one should say infamous, Dinshaway Incident, an incident in which
British officers, hunting pigeons in the village of Dinshaway in the delta, got
into a fracas with the villagers of Dinshaway, at the end of
which, a British officer died. The result was a trial of people of
Dinshaway, executions of some of them, the public
flogging of many others, and the huge outcry in Egypt
against the British occupation, in the name of the
Egyptian people. These were also the years in which, in
Egypt too, there was influence of the example of
Japan. This Asian power that had defeated the
Europe power, the European power of the Russians in 1905, which also gave an impetus to the sense of Egyptian
nationalism. 1907 was an important year for the establishment of modern style political
parties in Egypt. One of these was the nationalist party of
al-Hizb al-Watani led by Mustafa Kamil, who lived from 1874
to 1908. And the party that he established in the name of nationalism, Watani in Arabic, was
an example of how the Arabic language was beginning
to change to incorporate new, modern meanings
coming from Europe. Originally, the word watan, which now
means national, meant just the place of birth. It now became to mean watan in the French
sense of patrie. Watan acquired a new modern meaning in
connection with the nationalist idea. [BLANK_AUDIO] It now acquired, like
European nationalism, this sense of attachment and
loyalty. Kamil was an exciting artist and a writer,
but ideologically, very inconsistent. He above all else wanted the British out. He occasional supported the Khedive,
occasionally went along with Ottomans or the Islam or secular
Egyptian nationalists. Anything that served his immediate
political needs. Mustafa Kamil died in 1908 and was
succeeded by his far less illustrious companion Muhammad Farid, who was more of
an isolationist and usually pro-Ottoman. Another political party established in
1907 was that established by Ahmad Lutfi
al-Sayyid. And the name of that party, Hizb al-Umma, also meant essentially the
nationalist party. Umma originally meant community, as in the
community of believers. But now, in the modern era, Umma had also come to mean the people in the modern
nationalist sense. So Hizb al-Umma also meant the nationalist
party if one is to translate from the Arabic into
the English. And Ahmad Lutfi al-Sayyid had been a
disciple of Muhammad Abduh, the great, or the greatest one could say,
of the Islamic reformers. Abduh himself in his later years had
become supportive of Egyptian nationalism. But Ahmad Lutfi took this a few steps further, shifting from westernizing Islamic reform to uncompromising
secularism. For Ahmad Lutfi, secular nationalism meant
nationalism on a geographic, historic, and linguistic
foundation. Nationalism, as far as he was concerned,
was not about religious identity. Ahmad Lutfi was a classic European liberal
and intellectual giant, known by his generation as [FOREIGN], the philosopher or mentor of the
generation. He finally rejected religion as the
cohesive element of society. Countries must be guided by national
interests, not religious belief. The nation existed independently of the
Islamic community. And he, Ahmad Lutfi believed, in a
territorially defined nation-state. But as the British historian P.J. Vatikiotis has pointed out, Ahmad Lutfi
underestimated the political power inherent in the
instinctive adherence of Egyptians to their Islamic
heritage. Ahmed Lutfi also differed with those who
sought immediate British withdrawal. In his mind, the British presence was
actually beneficial. It would enhance the modernization of the
Muslims. So he and Muhammad Abduh believed that
Egypt was not yet ready for their ideas, and the continuation of the British
presence could actually further secular global ideas in
Egyptian society. And only after that was achieved, they thought, the, the British should leave
Egypt. But there were limits on nationalism in
this period before the First World War. Very many people still had a very strong
Islamic Ottoman allegiance. And this was indicated in a very strange
incident of drawing the border between Egypt and the Ottoman
Empire, in a negotiation that was between the Ottomans on the one
hand and the British as the de facto rulers of Egypt on
the other. In defining the boundary between Egypt and
the Ottoman Empire, that boundary which is presently the
boundary between Egypt and Israel. That boundary that runs from Rafah on the Mediterranean to Taba and [UNKNOWN] on the
Red Sea. In drawing that line in 1906, there was a
dispute between the British and the Ottomans on where the
line ought to go. The Egyptian public, in this debate, supported the Ottomans against Egyptian
territorial claims. Because these territorial claims were
being made by the British and the people still felt the strong
allegiance to the Ottomans. They were continued sectarian tensions
between Muslims and Coptic Christians in Egypt. The Coptic Christians in Egypt were
naturally very attracted to the idea of a secular
Egyptian nationalist. Secular nationalism for the Christians,
like in other parts of the region, was very
attractive. It was an ideology that would allow, in
the name of seular nationalism, for Christians and
Muslims to share an identity as equals. If the community is to remain identified
by Islam, it would make it much more difficult for the Christians or for other minorities to enjoy equality with the
Muslim majority. So there were tensions between the Copts
and the Muslims in Egypt. And these were expressed, for example, in
the assassination in 1910 of the Coptic prime minister of
Egypt, Butrus Ghali. And he was assassinated by a Muslim who
accused the Copts of being too supportive of the
European vows. Copts, as a result, became somewhat
disappointed in the nationalist movement in Egypt, and there were continued Coptic
Muslim suspicions and rivalry. The Copts tended to stress Egyptianness,
which, as already mentioned, was far more convenient
for them. While Muslims still attached great
importance to Egypt’s Islamic identity. [BLANK_AUDIO] There was an Arab dimension in Egyptian
nationalism, but it wasn’t very central. It was much more related to the hostility to the Turco-Circassian elite than to Arab
nationalists. And this hostility became increasingly
irrelevant as the Turco-Circassians assimilated ever
more into Egyptian society. Now, to draw some conclusions from this
debate about nationalism. Nationalism arraigned the idea of a
select, educated, urban minority. It was not the ideology of the masses,
certainly as long as the Ottoman Empire continued to
exist. Most people were still influenced in the main by Islamic tradition and by religious
identity. Indeed, the old education system had lost,
lost much of its power. And it no longer supplied bureaucrats and
judges who learned in the new schools. Not to mention the army officers who were at the vanguard of political and social
change. But in the villages of the rural Middle
East, the old order was still very strong. The supreme mystical religious orders
still had much sway over the people and the popular world
view. Islam remained an important component of
the nationalist movement, and one could not effectively mobilize the
masses without it. Islam was still very much at the center,
both of Arabism and of Ottomanism. And both of Arabism and of Ottomanism were forms of nationalist defense against
the West. They both took pride in the prosperity of
Islam, and in political terms, they both sought the preservation of the
Muslim empire, albeit in different ways.

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