University of Botswana History Department

Documents on Egypt and Sudan

For course H407: North African History

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[compiled by Neil Parsons, Jan.1999]

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In the name of God [Allah] the Merciful and Indulgent. There is no God but God. He has no son and reigns without a partner. On the part of the French Republic, established on the principle of liberty, on the part of the General-in-Chief, Bonaparte the Great the Emir of the French armies, we make known to all the inhabitants of Egypt.

Egyptians! you will be told that I come here with the design to overthrow your religion, but this is a gross falsehood. Do not believe it. Answer the imposters that I have come to restore your rights, which have been invaded by usurpers-that I adore God more than the Mamelukes and that I respect the Prophet Muhammad and the Noble Koran. Tell them that all men are equal before God-that intelligence, virtue and science, are the only distinctions between them:

Happy [are] those, therefore, that will promptly unite with us, for they shall be exalted. But woe to those who join the Mamelukes. Every vestige of them shall disappear from the face of the earth.

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It was on the morning of March 1st 1811 that the Mameluke Beys rode for the last time along the streets of Cairo. Chahyn Bey was the first who appeared at the head of his household. The other Beys followed and the Viceroy [Mohamed Ali] received them with great pomp and ceremony in his great hall of audience. Coffee and the conversation of the East beguiled the time during the ceremony. When it was over the signal for departure was given, and the Beys took horse to form part of a magnificent procession to the camp. A punctilious etiquette was enforced and everyone was compelled to take place according to his rank. The main body of the infantry, the cavalry and the civil authorities followed. So the column moved towards the gate of Al Azab opening on the square of Roumeleh. The road leading thither - a credible witness who was present on that dreadful day relates that it was a winding narrow pathway cut in the rock and flanked by high houses and fortifications, Sharp turns and angles made it impossible for two horsemen to ride abreast. The ground was broken and rugged.

No sooner had the Dehlis and Janisseries [infantry and cavalry] passed the gate of El Azab than Saleh Koch ordered it to be closed and communicated to his men the Viceroy's orders for the massacre of the Mamelukes. The Albanians [loyal troops of M.Ali's] immediately faced about and their light active figures were seen ascending the rock with the agility of goats. A suspicion of treachery immediately flashed across the minds of the Beys [how does this historian know!!], but escape or resistance were alike impossible. A volley of musketry from above revealed the horror of their position... the troops in the rear, posting themselves in the neighbouring houses and behind walls, opened a murderous fire. Men and horses fell under a shower of balls; no courage could avail against an invisible enemy. In vain the Beys turned to fly; wherever they moved they were picked off by the sharp-sighted Albanians. Their horses, maddened by the shouts and firing, became unmanageable, slipping and falling at every plunge. Chahyn Bey fell, pierced with balls, before the gates of Saladin's palace. His body was dragged through the streets with a cord around its neck.

(Source: Sir Charles Murray A Short Memoir of Mohammed Ali, 1898)

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My country is no longer in Africa; we are now part of Europe. It is therefore natural for us to abandon our former ways and to adopt a new system adapted to our social conditions.

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The three months which followed this notable event were the happiest time, politically, that Egypt has ever known. Throughout Egypt a cry of jubilation arose such as for hundreds of years had not been heard upon the Nile, and it is literally true that in the streets of Cairo men stopped each other, though strangers, to embrace and rejoice at the astounding new reign of liberty which had suddenly begun for them, like the dawn after a long night of fear. (Wilfrid Scawen Blunt)

The general aim of the National Party [in Egypt] is the intellectual and moral regeneration of the country by a better observance of the law, [by] increased education and by political liberty.

(The Times newspaper, London, 3 January 1882)

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Lord Granville: Although for the present a British force remains in Egypt for the preservation of public tranquility, Her Majesty's Government are desirous of withdrawing it as soon as the state of the country and the organisation of proper means for the maintenance of the Khedive's authority will admit of it. In the meantime the position in which Her Majesty's Government are placed towards His Highness imposes on them the duty of giving advice with the object of securing that the order of things to be established will be of a satisfactory character, and possess the elements of stability and progress. (House of Lords, London, 3 January 1883)

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In the name of the gracious and merciful God, praise to the noble master and blessing upon our Lord Mohammed and upon his race. This is sent forth from the servant of his Lord Mohammed, the Mahdi, son of Seid Abd Allah, to his beloved friends in God and to all those who follow him, and give their help towards the restoration and victory of the faith. Known that God has called me to be a Caliph, and that the Prophet, Lord of life, whom God bless, has proclaimed that I am the expected Mahdi. And he has told me that whosoever doubts my mission does not believe in God, or in His prophets; whosoever fights against me will be forsaken and unconsoled in both worlds [heaven and earth] and that his goods and children are a prey for the believers.

17th century prophesy attributed to Shaykh Farah wad Taktuk: At the end of time the English will come to you, whose soldiers are called police; they will measure the earth even to the blades of the sedge grass. There will be no deliverance except through the coming of Jesus.

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the Dervishes were superb-beyond perfection. It was their largest, best and bravest army that ever fought against us for Mahdism, and it died worthily of the huge empire that Mahdism won and kept so long. They riflemen, mangled by every kind of death and torment that man can devise, clung round the black flag and the green, emptying their poor rotten home-made cartridges dauntlessly. Their spearmen charged death at every minute hopelessly. A dusky line got up and stormed forward; it bent, broke up, fell apart and disappeared. Before the smoke has cleared, another line was bending and storming forward in the same track.

(Source: Eye-witness account in Steevens, With Kitchener to Khartoum)

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Wardani! Wardani!

Illi'atal al Nusrani

Wardani! Wardani!

The one who killed the Nazarene [i.e. the Christian]

[For Boutros Ghali and the Dinshwai incident, June 1906, see Alaf Lutfi Al-Sayyid MARSOT, A Short History of Modern Egypt Cambridge University Press, 1985, pp.78-79]

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Unless I am much mistaken, a career of great usefulness lies before the present Minister of Education, Saad Zaghlul Pasha. He possesses all the qualities necessary to serve his country. He is honest; he is capable; he has the courage of his convictions; he has been abused by many of the less worthy of his countrymen. These are high qualifications. He should go far.

(Source: Lord Cromer, 1907)

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His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish people; it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.

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I have pointed out over and over again to the F[oreign] O[ffice] the danger of appointing third-rate Englishmen with very low salaries. If there is one point more than [any other] on which I have been convinced during my Oriental experience, it is the very great objection to endeavouring to rule subject races through the agency of low-class Europeans; you run a risk of cruel and unsympathetic treatment of the subject race, and also a risk of corruption of one sort or another creeping into the service. [So] I invariably refused to employ Englishmen unless they were well paid [and] I tried to get the pick of the military services and of the Universities

(Source: Lord Cromer, 4 March 1909)

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At Suez [there] were very many more ships than there had been at Durban, but Egypt looked a barren unpromising land to the Bechuana as they gazed at the harsh red encircling mountains and the desert that began from the shore of the bay itself.

To some companies the Arabs were known as the Mangaria; when their lorries stopped in the streets they were at once surrounded by beggars asking for "mangariya" or food, and their language correspondingly became known as Sengaria.

From Suez, lorries took the Bechuana north along the road beside the Great Bitter Lake, past Geneifa and its fifteen miles of tents, to the beginnings of Lake Timsah; from there into the desert at Qasassin, where many camps were being set up on the completely bleak face of the desert, four miles from the sweet-water canal and cultivation. This was Pioneer Corps Depot.

Morning and afternoon there was training, route-marching, arms drill, taking cover in slit trenches, instructions in aiming, range firing, wheeling and turning, section drill and company drill.

It was very cold at night, with the wind and the cold came sandstorms and occasional dustwhirls; life was gritty, and the Mochuana came to know that even veldcraft and direction finding from the stars at night were useless on a dark night at Qasassin with nothing but stinging dust in sight.

Each Bechuana company as it arrived in the Middle East went to the Pioneer Corps Depot and each in turn spent a month there, sometimes longer, equipping and training until it was called out to service.

[Other Bechuana Pioneer Corps companies were sent to Syria and Lebanon in 1942, but - ] Three Bechuana companies had remained in Egypt. They were the three Bechuana Garrison Companies, 1977 (Bangwato), 1979 (Bangwato) and 1983 (Bangwaketse).

These companies, which arrived at Quasassin in November and December 1941, were thoroughly trained in drill and guard duties, and in February 1942 they went out as guards under 55 Group, Royal Pioneer Corps, on military installations along the all-important Suez Canal. Their duties were to protect the installations against sabotage, theft and possible enemy paratroops.

1977 Company was centered in Ismailia and then in Port Said. Their guards included five radar stations, two of which were very isolated and stood out to sea on a sandbar. Enemy raids to obtain the secret of British radar advances were a constant fear, and the guards, though they were new to the responsibilities of such a situation, had to be kept absolutely alert and to acquire skills in things such as night patrols. In fact, enemy parachutists were eventually dropped to attack these stations; most of them fell into the sea, the six that landed on the narrow sand strip some miles from the stations being rounded up by a naval party. Other detachments of 1977 guarded water installations, ammunition dumps, and aerodromes-and from one of these aerodromes at Abu-Suier the night Beaufighters [aircraft] rose night after night to battle with the raiding bombers pinpointed by the Bechuana-guarded radar stations.

1979 Company was doing similar work on the southern half of the Canal [at] the Combined Training Centre at Kabritt on the Great Bitter Lake, where their detachment mounted guard over the tent of the Arab Chieftain, King Ibn Said.

Another of 1979's guards taken over from 1977 was a radar station set on historic ground at Tel-el-Kebir on the very summit of the position from which Arabi Pasha and his great army had been driven and routed by Lord Wolseley in 1882 in the brilliant attack which broke the Egyptian army's revolt against the Khedive despite the winds of sixty years, the low defensive ramparts of desert gravel still surround the rising ground where Arabi and his army made their standÉ

Bechuana in Egypt were the first to know the excitements of war [before they fought in Italy etc.], which came to them on many nights ears were trained to the wail of sirens and the intermittent throb of German bombers high in the sky. The sky would be alive with the bright flash of bursting Ack-ack shells and silver puffs of smoke; red streaks of Bofors tracer would spring from the ports; there would be great thuds and flashes of bombs hitting the earth or sea, and sometimes the bigger blinding flash of a plane gone cataclysmically to earth.

(Source: R.A.R.Bent, Ten Thousand Men of Africa: the Story of the Bechuanaland Pioneers and Gunners 1941-1946 London: HMSO for Bechuanaland Government, 1952, pp.12, 15 & 27-29)

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If Eden [British prime minister] had come with the British Navy and tried to invade Egypt I think the Egyptians would have forgiven and forgotten once it was all finished. Even if he had come with the French we would have said that perhaps he needed an ally. But to bring the Israelis into an adventure against the Arabs was very foolish. We were used to hating British policy but then we began to despise British policy. I hate to use the word despise. But it is the only one.

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Some vocabulary
English Arabic
Yes Aywa/ Naam
No La
Thank you Shukran
Please Lowsamaht/ Nen fadyak
Good Morning Sabah el kheir
Good Evening Masaa el kheir
How are you? Izzayak?
Fine Kwayis
Goodbye Ma'el salama
How much? Bikam?
Too much Da katteer

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Copyright © 1999 Neil Parsons
Last updated 23 August 1999