Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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EGYPT, a country situated in the northeastern part of Africa, celebrated alike for the fertility of its soil and its commercial importance through the long lapse of ages.


—The primitive civilization of Egypt, the oldest known, was effected during a long succession of centuries, under kings called in history the Pharaohs, who were at the head of a social organization, founded entirely upon the system of castes. The sacerdotal caste, whose principal functions were performed by princes of the royal family, was the educated part of the nation; its privileges comprised worship, justice, the levying and collection of taxes, and the entire civil administration. The military caste was charged with the maintenance of order at home and with the defense of the country from foreign enemies. The agricultural caste was devoted to the cultivation of the soil, whose products were subjected to taxes in kind, for the support of the king and of the upper castes Artisans, workmen of all kinds and merchants constituted the fourth class of the nation, a class which by its labor contributed its share to the wealth and the burdens of the state. In each caste, according to historians, trades were hereditary in families, as was also the rank of the family; this was a powerful cause of perfection in the details of the arts, but at the same time it produced the immutability of character which has always distinguished Egyptian society, and which caused it to yield without resistance to the tyrannical rule of its masters and its invaders. This social state, which, after such a lapse of time, seems so extraordinary to us, does not perhaps greatly differ from the present state of the Arabian world, where we find, as in Egypt, a military aristocracy (caste of warriors), a religious aristocracy (caste of the Marabouts), and the fellahs. Although there is no natural or legal barrier between these different classes, almost all the members of the tribe live and die members of the caste into which they were born. India presents the same spectacle, but in a more striking manner; and all the East is imbued, in different degrees, with that principle of fatal inequality which yields only to the principles of liberty, of progress and of justice.


—Egypt tempted the ambition of the Persians (B. C. 526), then of the Greeks (B. C. 332), and, later still (B. C. 29), of the Romans. The latter, after six centuries of rule, made way for the Arabs (638). The Koran determined only its religious destiny; the political sceptre of Egypt passed successively from the caliphs of Bagdad (639), to the Thulunide Emirs (870), to the Ikchidites (934), to the Fatimites (972), then to the Ayoubites (1171), to the Turkoman Mamelukes (1250), to the Circassian Mamelukes (1382), and finally to the Ottomans (1517), whose sultan, Selim I., subjected to his rule the region of the Nile, and by the renunciation of his claims obtained from the last Abbassi caliph, united the spiritual to the temporal power. Since then the sultans of Constantinople have been the chiefs of Islamism. Selim and his successors confided the government of Egypt to a pasha and his beys. This was an age of anarchy and oppression, which lasted till the end of the eighteenth century, when the expedition of Gen. Bonaparte conquered Egypt (1798-1801). The united efforts of England and Turkey having taken Egypt from the French, the porte re-established his sovereignty there, which soon became personified in a Macedonian soldier, chief of the Albanians, afterward celebrated under the name of Mehemet Ali. This able and audacious captain founded his personal power less on the distant and vacillating support of the porte, than upon the extermination of the Mamelukes, his rivals, and upon his own military and administrative genius. His ambition increased with his power. He thought he might be able to achieve his independence and after having spread terror throughout Arabia, he attempted to add Syria to his domains. The victories of Konieh (1832), and of Nezib (1839), gained by his son Ibrahim, while enhancing his own successes, seemed to favor his designs; but immediately after each triumph, the will of Europe arrested the advance of the rebel conqueror. The great powers, devoted to the preservation of the Ottoman empire, as necessary to the equilibrium of Europe, refused to permit the detachment of Egypt, much less Syria, from it. After prolonged negotiations, the sultan Abd-ul-Medjid, who had succeeded his father Mahmoud at a very early age, in 1839, yielding to the counsels of Europe, delivered to Mehemet Ali a firman, dated June 1, 1841, which settled the political constitution of Egypt. The chief provisions of this firman are as follows: The sultan accorded to Mehemet the hereditary government of Egypt, with its old boundaries, as traced on a map annexed. It was provided that the line of succession should be from eldest son to eldest son in the direct male line, the nomination (or rather the investiture) to emanate invariably from the sublime porte. In case of the extinction of the male line, the sultan was to appoint a successor, to the exclusion of the male children of the daughters, who had no legal right or title to succession. Although the pashas of Egypt enjoy the hereditary exercise of government, they are ranked with the other viziers; they are treated as such by the sublime porte, from whom they receive the same titles as those given to any other governor of a province. (Since 1866 they bear the title of khedive.) The principles established by the hatti-scheriff of Gulhane (1839), as well as all the existing and future treaties between the sublime porte and the friendly powers, are to have full force in the province of Egypt. It was to be the same with all laws made and to be made by the sublime porte, due regard being shown to local circumstances and to equity. All taxes and all revenues levied in Egypt are to be raised in the imperial name, and in conformity with the system pursued by the Turkish government. Every year, according to custom, corn and vegetables are to be sent to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. The pasha, or rather the khedive, is to have the right to coin money in Egypt, but gold and silver pieces must bear the name of the sultan, and have the form and value of the coins struck at the mint in Constantinople. Four hundred Egyptian soldiers were to be sent annually to Constantinople. The decorations, flags, insignia and standards of the navy were to be the same as in Turkey. The khedive was empowered to appoint the officers of the army and navy up to the grade of colonel. Above that rank he had to follow the orders of the sultan. The khedive could build no vessel of war without the express and explicit authorization of the sublime porte. Finally it was made the duty of the khedive to follow orders of his suzerain upon all important questions which might be of interest to the country. Mehemet Ali, in his reply of June 25, 1841, accepted these conditions, which united his states, as a vassal fief, to the suzerainty of Turkey. The tribute, first fixed at a quarter of the gross receipts (hatti-scheriff of Feb. 13, 1841), was afterward reduced to 7,560,800 francs, but later on raised again to over twice that amount.


—It was undoubtedly in consideration of the increase of the tribute, that a firman of the sultan, in September, 1867, extended the powers of the viceroy or khedive. The following are the words of the firman: "To my illustrious vizier Ismail-Pasha, Kedervi-el-Masr (sovereign of Egypt), acting grand vizier, decorated with the orders of Osmania and Medjidia, in diamonds. May God continue your glory and augment your power and happiness. On receipt of this imperial firman, learn our decision. Our firman, which accorded the Kedervi-el-Mesr the privilege of inheritance, ordered that Egypt should be governed, in conformity with the character of its people with right and with equity, according to the fundamental laws in force in the other parts of the empire, and based upon the hatti-humayoum of Gulhane. However, the internal administration of Egypt, that is to say, all that concerns its financial and local interests, being within the jurisdiction of the Egyptian government, we empower you, for the preservation of its interests, to make special regulations in regard to this internal administration only, while continuing to observe in Egypt the treaties of our empire. You are authorized to enter into conventions in relation to customs duties, to European subjects, to the transportation of goods and the postal service, upon condition that these agreements do not assume the form of international or political treaties. In event of the contrary, if these agreements should not conform to the above conditions and to our fundamental rights of sovereignty, they shall be considered null and void. In case the Egyptian government should have any doubt concerning the conformity of a contract of this kind with the fundamental laws of our empire, he must refer the matter to our sublime porte before coming to any definite decision. Whenever a special customs regulation in proper form shall be made in Egypt, our government shall be advised thereof in due course concerning it; and in the same way, in order to protect the commercial interests of Egypt in the commercial treaties which may be entered into between our own and foreign governments, the Egyptian administration shall be consulted. And finally, that you may have full knowledge of our will as above expressed, we have ordered our imperial divan to draw up and address to you the present firman."


—In point of fact, save the personal homage, followed by investiture, and a tribute in money and the subsidy of troops in time of war, the khedive, or viceroy of Egypt, governs according to his pleasure. He has his ministers, organizes his administration, collects and dispenses his revenues without the control of the divan.


—The right of succession in the family of the khedive, from eldest son to eldest son, was at first interpreted in the sense of the Mussulman law, that is to say, in favor of the eldest of the surviving descendants, but an imperial decree of 1866 established the succession in the order of primogeniture, as in Christian Europe.



—The administration of Egypt is carried on at present [1882] under the supervision of the governments of France and Great Britain, represented each by a "Controller General" invested with great powers, indicated as follows in a decree of the khedive in seven articles, issued Nov. 10, 1879. Art. 1. The controllers general have full powers of investigation into every public service of the state, including that of the public debt. Ministers and all public officials of every rank are bound to furnish the controllers, or their agents, with all documents they may think fit to require. The minister of finance is bound to furnish them weekly with a statement of receipts and expenditures. Other administrations must furnish the same every month. Art. 2. The controllers general can only be removed from their posts by their own governments. Art. 3. The governments of England and France having agreed that, for the moment, the controllers general will not take the actual direction of the public service, their duties are limited at present to inquiry, control and surveillance. Art. 4. The controllers general take the rank of ministers, and will always have the right to assist and speak at the meetings of the council of ministers, but without the power to vote. Art. 5. When they deem it necessary the controllers may unite with the commissioners of public debt to take such measures as they may deem fit. Art. 6. Whenever they may deem it useful, and at least once a year, the controllers will draw up a report on all questions for the khedive and his ministers. Art. 7. The controllers have the power of naming and dismissing all officials whose assistance is of no use to them. They shall prepare a budget; and monthly statements of all salaries and all resources shall be rendered to them.


—The first controllers general of France and Great Britain were M. de Blignières and Major E. Baring, K. C M. G.: but changes were made subsequently.


—By another decree of the khedive, dated April 5, 1880, there was appointed an "International Commission of Liquidation," composed of seven members. The functions of the commission were defined in the decree as follows: After examining the whole financial situation of Egypt, and hearing the observations of the parties interested, the committee will draft a law of liquidation regulating the relations between Egypt and her creditors, and also between the daira khassa and their creditors. The conditions of the issue of the domain loan are excluded from the deliberations of the committee. The committee will work upon the basis furnished by the report of the committee of inquiry, and will sit for three months after the presentation of their own report, in order to watch, in concert with the English and French controllers general, the execution of the decisions arrived at. The law of liquidation will be binding upon all parties concerned. Representatives of the international tribunals and a delegate from the Egyptian government will attend the sittings of the committee. The preamble of the decree stated that England, France, Germany, Austria and Italy had already declared their acceptance of the law of liquidation, and will collectively request the adhesion of the other powers represented on the international tribunals.


—The English and French controllers general presented their first report, dated Jan. 16, 1880, and sanctioned by the khedive, containing their definite scheme for settling the Egyptian financial situation. They fixed the interest on the unified debt at 4 per cent. Should the revenue from the provinces specially set apart for the service of the debt be insufficient to pay 4 per cent, the deficiency is to be made up out of the general revenue. If, on the other hand, the taxes assigned yield more than 4 per cent., the surplus is to be paid to the holders of the unified debt up to a maximum of 5 per cent. Any further surplus beyond that, is to be applied to half yearly purchases of stock in the open market. Any surplus of general revenue is to be divided as follows: One moiety to the administration, and the other moiety to the service of the debt.


—The list of resources applied to the service of the general debt was settled by the controllers general as follows: Besides the revenues of the provinces Garbiah, Menoufieh, Béhéra and Siout, there are the octroi duties, set down as producing £248,000 for the year; customs, producing £623,000; the tobacco, salt and other direct revenues, calculated to more than cover the unified interest at 4 per cent.


—In the budget for 1880, the first adopted by the "International Commission of Liquidation," the main heads were as follows:

Total revenue... £8,561,622

Privileged coupon, at 5 per cent.,... £ 863,599
Unified coupon, at 4 per cent., including the small loans... 2,308,537
Snez Canal shares, interest... 193,858
Daira Khassa... 34,000
Canal Ismailieh... 14,000
Floating debt... 324,598
Administration... 4,173,030
   Total expenditure... £7,911,622
Surplus... 650,000


—The capital of the debt of Egypt was returned as follows at the end of 1880:

Unified 4 per cent. debt... £38,043,240
Privileged debt... 22,609,800
Domain loans, at 5 per cent.... 8,500,000
Daira Sanieh loans, at 4 to 5 per cent... 8,800,000
   Total... £97,953,040


Not secured by any stipulations on the part of the government is the floating debt of Egypt, the exact amount of which is not known, but which is estimated to be over £5,000,000.


—The army of Egypt is raised by conscription. It consists, nominally, of eighteen infantry regiments of three batallions each, with four batallions of rifles, four regiments of cavalry, and 144 guns. But the number of men contained in the regiments and batteries varies continually, with the exigencies of the service and the state of the finances. At the close of the Russo-Turkish war, in which Egypt participated, the army was reduced to 15,000 men.


—The Egyptian navy comprised, at the end of June, 1880, two frigates, two corvettes, three large yachts for the use of the khedive—one of them, the "Mahroussa," of 4,000 tons, with 800 horse power—and four gunboats, the whole of a burden of 16,476 tons.


—The territories under the rule of the sovereign of Egypt, including those on the Upper Nile and Central Africa, conquered in 1875, are vaguely estimated to embrace an area of 1,406,250 English square miles, and to be inhabited by a population of 16,952,000, of whom about one-third are in Egypt proper. The following tabular statement gives the native population, distinguishing males and females, and inhabitants of rural and town districts, of Egypt proper, according to an official estimate of M. Amici, chief of the statistical department in the ministry of the interior, on Dec. 31, 1878:

Table.  Click to enlarge in new window.


—The area of Egypt proper is estimated to comprise 175,130 English square miles, the annexed and conquered districts, including Nubia, the former kingdom of Ethiopia, and Darfur, being estimated at 1,231,120 English square miles, with 11,434,373 inhabitants.


—Egypt proper is divided from of old into three great districts, namely, "Masr-el-Bahri." or Lower Egypt; "El Wustani," or Middle Egypt; and "El Said," or Upper Egypt—designations drawn from the course of the river Nile, on which depends the existence of the country. These three great geographical districts are subdivided into eleven administrative provinces, and had, as shown in the preceding table, a rural population of 4,948,512, and an urban population of 569,115 at the end of 1878. There are only two considerable towns, namely, Cairo, with 349,883, and Alexandria, with 212,054 inhabitants.


—At the enumeration of 1878 there were in Egypt proper 79,696 foreigners. The foreign population consisted of 34,000 Greeks; 17,000 Frenchmen: 13,906 Italians; 6,300 Austrians; 6,000 Englishmen; 1,100 Germans; and 1,390 natives of other countries.


—The commerce of Egypt is very large, but consists to a great extent of goods carried in transit. In the year 1879 the total value of the imports amounted to 500,216,341 piastres, or £5,156,869, and of the exports to 1,343,905,858 piastres, or £13,854,699. In the year 1880 the total value of the imports amounted to £6,732,500, and of the exports to £13,390,000. To the entire foreign trade Great Britain contributed 53 per cent., and the rest was divided between France, Austria, Italy and Russia, in descending proportions.


—The subjoined tabular statement shows the total value of the exports from Egypt to Great Britain and Ireland, and of the imports of British and Irish produce and manufactures into Egypt, in each of the ten years 1870-79:

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—The considerable amount of the exports from Egypt to the United Kingdom is owing, partly to large shipments of raw cotton, and partly to the transit trade flowing from India and other parts of Asia through Egypt, which latter, however, has greatly declined in recent years, owing to the opening of the Suez canal. The exports of raw cotton from Egypt to Great Britain were of the following quantities and value in each of the ten years 1870-79:

Table.  Click to enlarge in new window.


—Next to cotton the largest articles of exports from Egypt to the United Kingdom in the years 1870 - 79 were corn and flour. The total corn exports of 1879 were of the value of £1,730,137, comprising wheat, valued at £995,986; beans, £694,988; barley, £34,407; and flour, £4,669.


—The staple article of imports from the United Kingdom into Egypt consists of cotton goods, of the value of £4,290,953 in 1872, of £3,666,942 in 1873, of £1,922,505 in 1874, of £1,558,839 in 1875, of £1,436,232 in 1876, of £1,474,660 in 1877, of £1,255,938 in 1878, and of £1,416,615 in 1879. A part of these imports from the United Kingdom pass in transit through Egypt.


—BIBLIOGRAPHY. Description de l'Egypte, Paris, 1809-13, new edition, 26 vols., 1821-30, Lepsius. Denkmaler aus Aegypten und Aethiopien nach Zeichnungen, etc., Berlin, 1849-59, 9 vols.; Denkmaler aus Aegypten und Aethiopien in photographischen Darstellungen ausgewahlt und mit kurzen Erläuterungen versehen von Lepsius, Berlin. 1874, Brugsch, Monuments de l'Egypte, Berlin. 1857, and Recueil des monuments égyptiens, 2 vols., Leipzig, 1862-3; Mariette, Choix des monuments et des dessins, Paris, 1856; Wilkinson, Handbook for Travelers in Egypt, London, 1847; Lane, An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, 2 vols., London, 1836. 5th ed., 2 vols., 1871; Busch, Reisehandbuch fur Aegypten, Trieste, 1858; Clot-Bey, Aperçu général de l'Egypte, 2 vols., Paris, 1840; Schölcher, L'Egypte en 1845. Paris, 1846; Pruner, Aegyptens Naturgeschichte und Authropologie, Erlangen, 1847; Brugsch, Reiseberichte aus Aegypten, Leipzig, 1855; Von Kremer, Aegypten, Forschungen über Land und Volk, 2 vols., Leipzig, 1863; Hartmann, Naturgeschichte der Nillānder, Leipzig. 1865; Billard, Les mocurs et le Gouvernement de l'Egypte, Milan, 1867-8; Fairhold, Up the Nile and home again, London, 1868; Millie, Alexandrie de l'Egypte et le Caire, Milan. 1869; Bernard, Notice géographique et historique sur l'Egypte. Paris, 1868; Rouchetti, L'Egypte et ses progrès sous Ismail - Pascha, Marseilles, 1867; Regny, Statistique de l'Egypte d'après des documents officiels, Alexandria, 1871; Dümichen, Resultate der auf Befehl des Königs Wilhelm I. von Preussen im Sommer 1868, nach Aegypten entsendeten archäolog.-photogr. Expedition, 1 vol., Berlin, 1869; Rossi, Geografia medica dell' Egitto, Livorno, 1870; Stephan, Das heutige Aegypten, Leipzig, 1872; Lüttke, Aegyptens neue Zeit, 2 vols., Leipzig, 1873; Edouard Dorr, L'instruction publique en Egypte, Paris, 1873; Prokesch - Osten, Nilfahrt bis eu den zuciten Katarakten, Leipzig, 1874, Brugsch, Histoire de l'Egypte, Leipzig, 1859, 2d ed., 1875; Paton, A History of the Egyptian Revolution, from the period of the Mamelukes to the death of Mehemed Ali, 2 vols., London, 1863, 2d ed., 1869; Well, Geschichte des Abbasidenkhalifats in Aegypten, 2 vols., Maunheim, 1860-62: Quatremère, Histoire des sultans mameloucks, from the Arabian of Makrizi, 2 vols., Paris, 1837-41; Mengin, Histoire de l'Egypte sous Mehemed Ali, 2 vols., Paris, 1823; Mouriez, Histoire de Mehemed Ali, Paris, 1823, 2 vols.: Jolourez, Bibliothecaegyptica. Leipzig, 1857, Supplement, 1861; De Leon, The Khedire's Egypt, London, 1877; Duff-Gordon (Lady), Last Letters from Egypt, London, 1875; Ebers, Aegypten in Bild und Wort, Stuttgart, 1879; Edwards, A Thousand Miles up the Nile, London, 1877; Smith, The Nile and its Banks, 2 vols., London, 1868; Zincke, Egypt of the Pharaohs and the Khedive, London, 1872; Loftie, A Ride in Egypt, London, 1879; McCoan, Egypt as it is, London, 1877.


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