THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, I beg to ask the noble Earl the Lord President a Question of which I have already given him notice—whether he is able to give the House any information regarding the present position of affairs in Egypt, and also regarding the intentions of His Majesty's Government in respect of that country. I feel sure that the noble Earl will admit that both Houses of Parliament have shown a proper discretion and reticence in not pressing His Majesty's Government for more information on this subject—a discretion which always ought to be exercised in important affairs with which the Foreign Office is concerned. That is due partly to the fact that, from the public sources of information, there has been reason for us to believe that the condition of affairs in Egypt has somewhat improved, and partly also to the general confidence felt in the administration of Sir Edmund Allenby there. But I am certain that the noble Earl will agree that this gives your Lordships' House a claim to as full a statement both of the present position and of the Government's intentions as is consistent with the public interest.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON)
My Lords, I gladly respond to the invitation addressed to me by the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition. Indeed, I welcome the opportunity of making such a statement to the House as Parliament, in view of the circumstance to which the noble Marquess has just drawn attention—namely, the singular reticence displayed in both Houses of Parliament on this subject—is undoubtedly entitled to receive. Six weeks have elapsed since I made my last statement in your Lordships' House on this subject, and during that period there has certainly been an improvement 674 in the situation in Egypt, although it cannot yet be described as satisfactory. All the information at our disposal, as the noble Marquess hinted, has been given to the Press, and full reports on recent occurrences have appeared.
In the Provinces order has been generally restored, and the cultivators have returned to work. In seine of the towns, however, and especially in Cairo, there have been sporadic disturbances which have had to be quelled by force. The Azhar University continues to be a centre of agitation, and the students have throughout taken a leading part in fomenting disorders. As regards what occurred in the Provinces, your Lordships will have read with horror and indignation of the dastardly murder of eight unarmed British officers and men returning from a holiday at Luxor in the Upper Egypt express. That is now many weeks ago and in the earlier stages of the outbreak. Later reports show that this crime was perpetrated by the local fellahin, and not, as was at first supposed, by the Bedouin. The peasant of Upper Egypt is naturally violent in character, and on the present occasion reports, for which there was not the remotest vestige of foundation, of outrages alleged to have been committed by British troops, such as the burning of mosques and assaults on women, may have led to such an outbreak of ferocity. The whole matter is being made the subject of judicial inquiry, and justice will be done. There was also in Cairo an organised attack on the peaceful Armenian inhabitants, forty of whom were killed or injured and several thousand others had to be collected in a refugee camp under British military protection. Such an incident had clearly nothing to do with British rule, and revealed only too obviously the hand of the Young Turk in the background. These outrages and the destruction of Greek property in the provincial towns form an instructive commentary on the Nationalist protestations that their movement is devoid of xenophobia.
Attempts have been made to represent that atrocities have been committed by the British troops in Egypt. Such allegations are a natural form for Nationalist propaganda to take. They are entirely devoid of truth. The troops have shown most praiseworthy restraint under very trying circumstances, especially when it is remembered that, apart from the out 675 rage on the Luxor express, to which I have already referred, there have been a number of brutal murders of isolated, unarmed British soldiers by the native mob, and that patrols and sentries have been sniped and ambushed without the least provocation.
I am glad to say that various reports received, and in some cases published, as to outrages and murders of British civilians and women in outlying districts do not appear to have any foundation in fact, beyond that of the murder of a British railway inspector at Wasta and the ill-treatment of his wife. But several civilians had narrow escapes, and in certain cases Egyptians have shown courage and devotion in saving them.
In my last statement to your Lordships I alluded to the good behaviour of many of the Egyptian officials and of the Army and police. In so far as certain of the first of these categories is concerned my statement was destined to be falsified. At the beginning of April nearly all the officials in Government Offices struck work, to their own detriment and to the loss and inconvenience of their fellow-countrymen, and all efforts of Ruchdi Pasha and the Egyptian Ministers to induce them to return to their duties failed. Among their demands were complete independence for Egypt and immediate official recognition of Saad Zaglul and the Nationalist leaders as the representatives of the Egyptian nation. On the 22nd of April General Allenby issued a Proclamation calling upon them to return to work at once under penalty of dismissal. This Proclamation had the desired effect, and within a short period the majority of the officials concerned had returned to their duties. Similarly the students who had left their schools and colleges were ordered to return to work by May 3. Only a very small percentage have done so, and the schools have been closed.
Immediately after his arrival General Allenby, in the exercise of the full discretionary powers granted to him as Special High Commissioner, decided that the principal Nationalists should be permitted to leave Egypt for Europe, and that the four leaders, including Zaglul Pasha, who had been interned at Malta, should be given the same freedom. This concession led to the immediate formation of an Egyptian Ministry under Ruchdi Pasha. The principal task of this Ministry was to induce the 676 Government officials to return to work, but in this task it failed completely, and after barely a fortnight in office it resigned on April 22, since which date the affairs of Egypt have been conducted without the assistance of native Ministers. In the meantime Zaglul Pasha and his partisans arrived in Paris on April 19. They have styled themselves "The Egyptian National Deputation," but the enjoyment of ample funds and the capacity to spend them does not appear so far to have been attended by definite results.
On April 22 President Wilson recognised the British Protectorate over Egypt proclaimed on December 18, 1914. Our Protectorate had been recognised by the French and by the late Imperial Russian Governments at the time that the Declaration was made. As your Lordships are aware, a clause has been inserted in the Peace Treaties with the enemy Powers under which they will all be called upon to recognise the British Protectorate over Egypt, nor can a long period elapse before it will have received universal recognition. The moment must shortly come, if it has not already arrived, when moderate and sober-minded Egyptians, for such there are, will ask themselves whether the game has been worth playing and will begin to apportion responsibilities.
I regret to record that the damage inflicted on railway equipment and communications during the outbreak has been very serious. Indispensable structures and instruments have been destroyed which cannot easily be repaired or replaced. The difficulties of transport and travelling are already causing inconvenience, but will be more severely felt at the end of the summer when the crops have to be moved. The loss and hardship will fall, not on the agitators the students who have organised and led the campaign of destruction, but upon the landowners and cultivators who may have taken part in it but will soon realise that they themselves are the principal sufferers and that they have been grievously misled.
For, my Lords, what in the end will this Egyptian outbreak, with its concomitant loss of life, widespread suffering, and destruction of property, have achieved? If it was undertaken for the purpose of terminating the British connection with Egypt and of obtaining Egyptian independence, it was foredoomed to failure. I cannot declare too emphatically that His 677 Majesty's Government have no intention whatsoever of ignoring or abandoning the obligations and responsibilities which they incurred when the task of governing Egypt was placed upon their shoulders. These obligations and responsibilities have been confirmed by the declaration of our Protectorate over the country. This fact is generally appreciated not only here but by all well-instructed foreign opinion which holds a stake in Egypt or is interested in its future prosperity and good government.
If, on the other hand, the agitation had been intended to call attention to legitimate aspirations and to grievances or dissatisfaction with the existing system of administration, it was hardly the method by which that end could best be attained. The British Government have always been ready to lend a most sympathetic ear to whatever Egyptian Ministers, or any responsible representatives of Egyptian opinion, had to say on these subjects. We have never had any intention of coming to a decision with regard to the definition of the Protectorate and to such constitutional or administrative changes as may be necessary—all of them matters vitally affecting Egyptian interests—without affording the Egyptians a full opportunity of stating their views, and an assurance to this effect had been given to the present Sultan. We should, indeed, have been quite ready to have heard Zaglul Pasha and his friends if they had not opened the proceedings by demanding our complete retirement from the country. This was an impossible condition, which did not even provide a basis for reasonable discussion.
That there are no legitimate Egyptian aspirations or grievances His Majesty's Government would be the last to declare. The former will, as time passes and as the case is established, receive an ever-increasing measure of satisfaction. The latter must be recognised, but should not be exaggerated. There are few nations that have not suffered grievances and hardships during the period of the war. Few have been in such a fortunate position as Egypt in escaping to such a large extent, owing to British protection, the losses, privations, and sufferings of the last four years. In Egypt the Government Reserve Fund has been increased threefold, and, owing to the enhanced prices of cotton and of every form of agricultural produce, the national wealth has grown by leaps and bounds. Nor is 678 there any reason to believe that the population as a whole has not shared in the general wave of prosperity. But in Egypt, as elsewhere, the official and professional classes and the town inhabitants have not benefited to the same degree as the cultivator, and have seen a rise in prices out of all proportion to the increase of their resources. This has naturally caused discontent. Egypt could scarcely escape being affected by the general wave of unrest, dissatisfaction, and vague political aspirations which is passing over the entire world as the after effect of four years of crisis.
There is, further, no doubt that the amour propreof the intellectual classes has been wounded by the fact that no place was found for Egypt at the Peace Conference, to which representatives of our Indian Empire and of the Arab Kingdom of the Hedjaz had been admitted. The widespread resentment caused by the fact that Saad Zaglul and his party were not originally allowed to proceed to Europe to advocate the cause of Egyptian independence, shows the considerable amount of success that their agitation had achieved. The forthcoming abolition of the Capitulations has raised exaggerated apprehensions as to the future Anglicisation of the Egyptian Courts. There have also been fears that we contemplated replacing Egyptian by British officials on a large scale, although no such policy would meet with any favour here. A rough draft of proposals for constitutional reforms, shown privately to Ruchdi Pasha, seems also to have created unnecessary alarm.
Nor are the causes of dissatisfaction among the agricultural classes far to seek. Successive British Commanders-in-Chief in the East have all borne witness to the valuable services rendered to our Armies by the Egyptian Labour and Camel Corps. During the last two years their numbers have been maintained at a high figure, and their recruitment has undoubtedly given opportunities to the class of minor native official for corruption and favouritism, which escaped proper control owing to the depletion in the ranks of the British Inspectorate, absorbed in other war duties. The same may be said as regards the requisition of fodder and foodstuffs. Stories of the ill-treatment of this Labour Corps have appeared in the press and are now under investigation by the military au 679 thorities. Personally I should be slow to believe that proceedings can have occurred which would be foreign to the traditions of the British Army, or that the treatment of the Labour Corps was less good than were certainly the pay and nourishment given to them. Full use has been made by unscrupulous agitators of a state of mind and of grievances, some imaginary and others undoubtedly real, but nearly all of them arising from war conditions, which predisposed the Egyptians to revolt. The result has been a systematically organised outbreak of extreme violence, and on an extended scale, in which enemy instigation and influence and prolonged preparation are clearly discernible. So much for the past.
Your Lordships will now expect me—indeed the noble Marquess directly invited me—to say something about the views and intentions of His Majesty's Government as regards the future. It had always been the intention of His Majesty's Government to take the very earliest opportunity, when the war was over and the peace negotiations had reached a stage which rendered it possible, to form and send out to Egypt a strong Commission. This Commission would determine the nature of the new Protectorate, and would submit recommendation with regard to the future administration of the country. Recent events have increased instead of diminishing the need for such an inquiry. His Majesty's Government propose, therefore, to despatch a special Mission, over which Lord Milner has been invited to preside, to inquire into the causes of the late disorders in Egypt, and to report on the existing situation in the country and the form of Constitution which, under the Protectorate, will be best calculated to promote its peace and prosperity, the progressive development of self-governing institutions, and the protection of foreign interests. The Mission will be sent with the full knowledge and approval of the Special High Commissioner in Egypt, and will rely upon his advice and assistance. In the meantime General Allenby is preparing the ground by a systematic local enquiry into the direct causes of the recent disorders and the grievances of the fellahin in respect of forced labour, requisitions and abuses of power by local authorities. The evidence thus collected will be invaluable to the special Mission when it reaches Egypt.
680 I sincerely trust and believe, my Lords, that the result of the proposed Mission will be to clear away misunderstandings, and to confirm the British Protectorate of Egypt on conditions which will be equally satisfactory to the protecting Power and to the inhabitants of the country. We have never had the least wish to repress Egyptian individuality. On the contrary, we accept the principle that Egyptians should be given an ever-increasing share in the government of their country, and it is our earnest desire to see Egypt, under our Protectorate, advance in prosperity and enlightenment, and take her rightful place as a leading Islamic Power.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I do not desire to criticise the very moderate and statesmanlike statement which has been made by the noble Earl, except to say this. He did not explain to your Lordships how it came about that this carefully prepared conspiracy, which ended in these episodes of violence on a very large scale, seemed to have escaped altogether the notice of His Majesty's Government until the catastrophe took place. We are surprised—I think the country is surprised—that the Government were not aware of what was going forward, and had not placed themselves in a position to apply a remedy before it was too late. But I do not desire at the present moment to pursue that. I only desire to put one question to the noble Earl, if he can answer it. He has told us of the outrages which have been committed, but he has not told us about the steps which the Government have taken to vindicate the law in respect of those outrages. I think your Lordships would like to know that punishment has been inflicted upon the perpetrators of these outrages up to date.
§ VISCOUNT BRYCE
My Lords, as a question has been put to the noble Earl, perhaps I may be permitted to add another. It has been stated that a good deal of the disorder in Egypt has been due to incitements conducted by an Islamic propaganda from other parts of what was the Turkish Empire, and, in particular, that those who belong to the so-called Committee of Union and Progress have been busy with their emissaries in Egypt endeavouring to make trouble there, as they have succeeded apparently in making trouble in various parts of Western Asia. I should like to know whether the noble Earl can tell 681 us what reason he has to believe that these ill-omened persons who belong to the Committee of Union and Progress, and who are believed to have resumed their pernicious activities, are still at work, and whether, if so, he does not think that more energetic steps ought to have been taken to root them out and to prevent them from making further mischief, either in Asia Minor or in Egypt.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
My Lords, I think that the first observation made by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, was not at all unfair, and although he did not expect me to give a reply upon it I think it is one to which a reply ought to be given. He said. "How did it come about, if this sinister state of affairs was arising in Egypt, that His Majesty's Government were not in a position to take steps to anticipate it?" The answer to that is quite simple. We had not the information, and the reason why the information was not given to us, and why the character of this movement was not known, or apparently was not known to any large extent, to our officials in the country, is precisely one of the subjects to which the attention of General Allenby has been called, and it will be, I think I may say, the first subject of the investigation which is now taking place.
The second question of the noble Marquess was whether I could make any statement as to the actual steps taken for the restoration of order and the punishment inflicted upon those who have been found guilty of the various crimes to which I alluded. I can only give a general reply to that, not having the details in my possession. But if at any early date the noble Marquess would like definite information as to the exact steps, either of the Special High Commissioner or of the Courts that have been held under his jurisdiction, I should be very glad to give him the information which he seeks.
The noble Viscount (Lord Bryce), alluding to the activities of the Young Turk Party and the Committee of Union and Progress, called our attention to the desirability of watching that organisation and of taking such steps as lay in our power, at Constantinople or elsewhere, to check and suppress its activities. Certainly anything that can be done in that respect is being done. But I would remind the noble Viscount of what I think he probably 682 knows, that it is not at Constantinople itself that the main activities and organisation of that Committee are at present centred. At Constantinople you have a Government which is endeavouring as far as possible to conciliate the views and wishes of the occupying Powers; but it is outside Constantinople, in the distant parts of the country, in Asia Minor and elsewhere, that the undefeated and still active organisation of the Young Turk Party is at work. And considerable as is the control that we have, owing to our military occupation over Turkey, I am afraid it is not sufficiently far-reaching to enable us to exercise the precise restraint in this matter which the noble Viscount desiderates. Of course, in so far as Egypt is concerned we are keeping a very close watch upon the situation, and I think the noble Viscount may rely upon us that, so far as lies in our power, these activities shall not be resumed at any rate in that quarter.