May 2, 2012

The Beneficence of Egypt, c. 1000

Trying to Explain Some History, 1913
Rudyard Kipling

Here is a country - Egypt - which is not a country but a longish strip of market garden, nominally in the charge of a government which is not a government but the disconnected satrapy of a half-dead empire, controlled pecksniffingly by a Power which is not a Power but an Agency, which Agency has been tied up for years, custom and blackmail into all sorts of intimate relations with six or seven European Powers, all with rights and perquisites, none of whose subjects seem directly amenable to any Power which at first, second or third hand is supposed to be responsible. That is the barest outline.

Egyptian History
To fill in the details (if any living man knows them) would be as easy as to explain baseball to an Englishman or the Eton Wall game to a citizen of the United States. But it is a fascinating play. There are Frenchmen in it, whose logical mind it offends, and they revenge themselves by printing the finance reports and the catalogue of the Bulak Museum in French. There are Germans in it, whose demands must be carefully weighed not that they can by any means be satisfied, but they serve to block other people’s. There are Russians in it, who do not very much matter at present but will be heard from later.

There are Italians and Greeks in it (both rather pleased with themselves just now), full of the higher finance and the finer emotions. There are Egyptian Pashas in it who come back from Paris at intervals and ask plaintively to whom they are supposed to belong. There is His Highness, the Khedive, in it, and he must be considered not a little, and there are women in it, up to their eyes. And there are great English cotton and sugar interests, and angry English importers clamouring to know why they cannot do business on rational lines or get into the Sudan, which they hold is ripe for development if the administration would only see reason.

Among these conflicting interests and amusements sits and perspires the English official, whose job is irrigating or draining or reclaiming land on behalf of a trifle of ten million people, and he finds himself tripped up by skeins of intrigue and bafflement which may ramify through half a dozen harems and four consulates. All this makes for suavity, toleration, and the blessed habit of not being surprised at anything whatsoever.

The Beneficence of Egypt, c. 1000 
al-Muqaddasi

This is the region in ruling which Pharaoh gloried over all mankind (Qur’an, sura 43, v. 51), and supplied at the hands of Joseph sufficient to feed the inhabitants of the world. There are to be found the vestiges of the Prophets, the Wilderness, and Mount Sinai; the monuments of Joseph, the scenes of the miracles of Moses. Thither fled Mary with Jesus. God has mentioned this region repeatedly in the Qur'an, and has shown its pre-eminence to mankind. It is one of the two wings of the world, and the excellences of which it can boast are countless. Its metropolis is the dome of Islam, its river the most splendid of rivers. Through its natural prosperity is Hijaz populated, and by its populace the season of Pilgrimage is enlivened.

Its beneficence spreads to the East and to the West, for God placed it between the two seas, and has extolled its reputation in the areas of the sunrise and of the place of sunset. Let me tell you that Syria, with all its greatness, is just a rural district of it, and Hijaz, with its inhabitants, depends on it. It is said to be “the height of land” (al-Rabwa) (Qur’an, sura 23, v. 50), and its river flows with honey in Paradise. It has become again the abode of the Commander of the Faithful, and Baghdad has been superseded until the day of Judgment; its metropolis has now become the greatest glory of the Muslims. Even so, it has had drought for seven consecutive years, grapes and figs there are dear.

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