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The Victorians and Africa: A Reconsideration of the Occupation of Egypt, 1882*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 January 2009

A. G. Hopkins
Affiliation:
University of Birmingham

Extract

This article offers a reassessment of Britain's decision to occupy Egypt in 1882. Research published since 1961, it is suggested, does not support the view put forward by Robinson and Gallagher in their celebrated book, Africa and the Victorians, that Britain intervened reluctantly to safeguard the Suez Canal in response to disorder in Egypt, or that she was led on by French initiatives. Moreover, the decision to occupy Egypt did not have the effect claimed by Robinson and Gallagher of precipitating the scramble for West and East Africa. It is argued instead that the causes of intervention lay in the metropole rather than on the periphery. British interests in Egypt were both important and expanding, and they were upheld by Conservative and Liberal governments in the period following the khedive's declaration of bankruptcy in 1876. This conclusion makes the Egyptian case less important in understanding the scramble for tropical Africa but more important in understanding late nineteenth-century imperialism. The occupation illustrates how the emergence of a particular configuration of economic and political forces in Britain found expression abroad after 1850; and it does so without invoking narrow or deterministic forms of historical explanation. Finally, it is suggested that the Egyptian case deserves a more prominent place in the study of theories of imperialism than it has received, because most of the ideas which enter modern scholarly discussion of this subject can be traced to the contemporary debate over the highly controversial decision taken by Britain in 1882.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1986

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References

1 Sellar, W. A. and Yeatman, R. J., 1066 and All That (London, 1930), 105.Google Scholar

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3 I have tried to make the extent of my indebtedness clear in the references which follow, but I should also like to express at this point my particular gratitude to Muriel Chamberlain, Bent Hansen, Bruce Johns, and Alexander Scholch for responding so helpfully to my various enquiries.

4 It will be evident that my references are intended to be representative, not comprehensive.

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15 Ibid. 310.

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45 No attempt will be made here to discuss the huge literature on this subject. However, in reapproaching Africa and the Victorians, I have found two very different contributions particularly helpful: Quentin Skinner, ‘“Social meaning” and the explanation of social action’, in Gardiner, Patrick, ed., The Philosophy of History(Oxford, 1974), 106–26Google Scholar, and Dray's, William essay, ‘A controversy over causes: A. J. P.Taylor and the origins of the Second World War’, in his Perspectives on History (London, 1980), 6996.Google Scholar

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53 Ibid. 474.

54 Ibid. 467.

55 Ibid. 84.

56 Ibid, no , 118.

57 Ibid. 83.

58 Ibid. 94.

59 Ibid. 100.

60 Ibid. 105–8.

61 Ibid. 103.

62 Ibid. 122–55.

63 Ibid. 84.

64 Ibid. 94.

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69 Ibid. 86.

70 Ibid. 113.

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73 Ibid. xi.

74 Ibid, xi–xii.

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82 Quoted in Galbraith and al-Sayyid-Marsot, ‘The British occupation’, 473.

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96 Parsons, ‘Egypt’, 20.

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101 Hyam's suggestion that Robinson and Gallagher underestimated the importance of events in Tunisia is supported by Parsons. See Hyam, Ronald, ‘The partition of Africa: a critique of Robinson and Gallagher’, in Hyam, Ronald and Martin, Ged, Reappraisals in British Imperial History (London, 1975), 145–9CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Parsons, ‘Egypt’, 189, 191.

102 Parsons, ‘Egypt’, 176.

103 Ibid. 180–1, 184, 196; Schölch, ‘The “Men on the Spot’”, 775, 782; Galbraith and al-Sayyid-Marsot, ‘The British occupation’, 486–8.

104 Parsons, ‘Egypt’, 189, 191–2, 350–4.

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134 Galbraith and al-Sayyid-Marsot, ‘The British occupation’, 482.

135 Schölch, ‘The “Men on the Spot”’, 779, 781.

136 Ibid. 781–2.

137 Galbraith and al-Sayyid-Marsot, ‘The British occupation’, 477.

139 Schölch, ‘The “Men on the Spot”’, 777.

139 Ibid. 780.

140 Galbraith and al-Sayyid-Marsot, ‘The British occupation’, 481–2.

141 Chamberlain, ‘Sir Charles Dilke’, 236–7.

142 Johns, ‘Business’, 343–4.

143 Quoted in Galbraith and al-Sayyid-Marsot, ‘The British occupation’, 484.

144 Ibid. , 485–6; Chamberlain, ‘The Alexandria massacre’, 32–3.

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148 Galbraith and al-Sayyid-Marsot, ‘The British occupation’, 478.

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153 Quoted in Galbraith and al-Sayyid-Marsot, ‘The British occupation’, 478. On the dissenters see Crangle, ‘The British peace movement’.

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156 Ibid. 476.

157 See also Owen, Roger, ‘Robinson and Gallagher and Middle Eastern nationalism’, in Wm. Louis, Roger, ed, Imperialism: the Robinson and Gallagher Controversy(London, 1976), 215.Google Scholar

158 An attempt to steer this course has been made by Cain, P. J. and Hopkins, A. G., ‘Gentlemanly Capitalism and British Imperialism, 1688–1945’, Economic History Review, 2nd ser. xxxix (1986)Google Scholar, forthcoming.

159 But the role of manufacturing interests in the events leading to occupation has yet to be fully researched.

160 Edelstein, Michael, Overseas Investment in the Age of High Imperialism: The United Kingdom, 1850–1914 (London, 1982)Google Scholar; Landes, David, Bankers and Pashas: International Finance and Economic Imperialism in Egypt (London, 1958).Google Scholar

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170 Parsons, ‘France’, 242–3, 245–55, 257–8, 260.

171 Ibid. ch. 8.

172 One of the unstudied ironies of France's ‘defeat’ in Egypt in 1882 is that French informal influence expanded and prospered under British rule subsequently.

173 Andrew, C. M. and Kanya-Forstner, A. S., ‘Gabriel Hanotaux, the colonial party, and the Fashoda strategy’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, iii (1974), 55104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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