Urabi Revolt in Egypt

Urabi Revolt in Egypt
Urabi Revolt in Egypt

The Urabi revolt was a nationalist-led movement that led to the British occupation of Egypt in 1882. When Ismail was forced to step down as khedive, Tewfik, a weak pro-British ruler, replaced him in 1879. Under the Caisse de la Dette, government revenues went to repay the enormous debts Ismail’s overly ambitious building schemes had incurred.

This resulted in economic hardships, particularly in the agricultural sector where most Egyptians worked as peasant, or fellaheen, farmers. Cut-backs in military expenditures led to public discontent in the army that fueled nationalist sentiments. Secret nationalist societies were also formed.

In 1880 army officers led by Ahmed Urabi drew up a petition listing their grievances, particularly failures to pay their salaries in a timely fashion The officers also forestalled their possible arrest on the orders of Tewfik by storming the war ministry.

In 1881 Urabi accompanied with a large group of demonstrators gathered outside Abdin Palace in Cairo, where Urabi presented the demands to Tewfik. Flanked by the English financial controller, Tewfik met with Urabi and agreed to the demands that included the writing of a new constitution.

A negotiated settlement was reached through the intermediary efforts of Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, an English aristocrat and traveler. A new constitution and parliament were duly formed. To Tewfik’s displeasure, the parliament demanded control over Egypt’s finances, and Urabi was made defense minister.

In London, British officials felt it was time to formalize British control in Egypt. Riots in Alexandra caused widespread panic among the Europeans living in the city and resulted in a number of deaths in 1882. The British used the riots as an excuse to move ships into Alexandria’s harbor. They then demanded that Urabi, who was in actual control of the government, to halt all military preparations.

When Urabi predictably refused, the British bombarded the city and landed troops. The British defeated the Egyptian army in a surprise attack at the Battle of Tel-el-Kebir and within a day had occupied Cairo. Urabi surrendered and was subsequently tried for treason. Blunt, who opposed the British occupation, arranged for Urabi’s defense by English counsel, but the verdict was a foregone conclusion.

Fearing that Urabi might become a martyr to the nationalist cause if he were executed, the British arranged for his exile to Ceylon. Urabi was permitted to return in 1901 to Egypt, where he lived in virtual anonymity until his death in 1911. After some debate, the British government decided to retain its control over the Egypt, and the British were to remain a major political and military power in Egypt until a military-led revolution in 1952.