An Earlier Bombardment of Egypt

Egypt was under Arab and Turkish control for twelve hundred years up to 1873, when it secured independence from Turkey, but was still under British and French financial control. The Suez Canal, built by de Lesseps, was opened in 1869. In 1875 the British Government bought the Khedive’s (Viceroy of Egypt) shares in the canal in order to safeguard the route to India. It was the beginning of the partition of Africa amongst the European powers, chief of whom were Britain, France and Germany.
Of this partition, Major-General Fuller has this to say in his book War and Western Civilisation:

  “From 1870 onwards a veritable crusade was carried out by European nations in the name of Gold, every banker, statesman and merchant swearing on his cheque book for his personal profit to ‘civilize’ such portions of the world as could not defend themselves against the white man’s rifles and cannon; for ‘progress’ to these people was synonymous with ‘conquest’ Having since 1815 freed themselves from autocratic government, their one intention was to force the absolutism they had rejected down the throats of all peoples who happened to be any colour except white. As regards aggression, the years 1870-98 are only equalled by the age of Genghis Khan. Between 1870 and 1900 Great Britain acquired 4,754,000 square miles of territory, adding to her population 88,000,000 people: between 1884 and 1900 France acquired 3,583,580 square miles and 36,553,000 people; and in these same years Germany, a bad last, gained 1,026,220 square miles and 16,687,100 people.” (Pages 133-134.)

In 1882, under the influence of this “crusading” spirit, an Anglo-French squadron of ships was lying off Alexandria with steam always up. In Egypt a nationalist movement of revolt against European influence was being worked up by Arabi Pasha (an Egyptian officer) after the fashion of Nasser. Admiral Seymour, the commander of the fleet, learnt that the forts opposite them were being covertly strengthened and extensively armed. In the meantime rioting broke out in Alexandria and Europeans were attacked.
The Graphic newspaper for July 24th, 1882, published a supplement covering the Egyptian crisis. Of the Suez Canal it made the following remarks:

  “The safety of the Suez Canal was another source of anxiety. Alarming reports were circulated of 5,000 disaffected soldiers being on the watch, of Bedouins haunting the banks, and of explosives being stored in lsmailia. Many of the officials left, and the Egyptian Ministry were asked by M. de Lesseps to secure the protection of the traffic. Ragheb returned a vague reply, hardly calculated to allay the anxiety, which was heightened by the rumour that Arabi intended to blow up the Canal on the first sign of British hostile intentions.”

How familiar it all seems! British and foreign consuls warned their nationals to leave the country, and the authorities, one by one, removed their official property and staffs aboard ship. On the morning after the removal was completed Admiral Seymour sent an ultimatum to the Egyptian Ministry giving them twenty-four hours to surrender the forts for disarmament, under penalty of bombardment. Now let us quote the Graphic’s account of what happened:

  “The day passed without sign of submission, much to the evident satisfaction of the British officers and crews, and by 4 a.m. on the 11th inst., the order was given to prepare for action. Whilst the vessels took up their positions the men watched eagerly for signs of life in the forts, as they feared that the Egyptians would bolt without fighting, and on seeing the soldiers grouped in the defences,’ a smile of grim satisfaction pervaded all faces.’ Hopes of the encounter were, however, damped by the appearance of the Felicon, bearing some Turkish officers, who announced that they had been rowing about all night to find the Admiral. They brought a Ministerial letter offering to dismount the Egyptian guns, but Admiral Seymour replied that the time for negotiations had passed, and gave the order to commence.”

The forts were subjected to an intense bombardment and in a few hours reduced to shapeless masses. A panic was produced in Alexandria, and the Egyptian army retreated after looting the shops.
The bombardment of Alexandria was followed by the subjugation of Egypt and the Sudan and the vision of territorial control right down to the Cape.