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The British Occupation of Egypt in 1882 (History Essay Example)

The history of the British rule in Egypt occupies the period from 1982, with the outbreak of the Anglo-Egyptian war and the invasion of the British army, until 1956, with signing the Anglo-Egyptian agreement and withdrawal of the British forces (Harrison 56) The British interests overseas date way back to the medieval era (Featherstone 78). Trade and commerce formed the center of its forays abroad, which illustrated its impetus to control areas such as the Suez Canal and the establishment of colonies across the world. In furtherance of these welfares, Britain invaded and occupied Egypt in 1882. Khedive Mohammed, the Egypt’s ruler during 1811-1849, initiated the modernization of governance in Egypt, which entailed the enhancement of international trade and centralization of the government to adopt the European system. The end results of these developments were the growth of business ties between Egypt and Europe. The traffic between the two regions increased, with the Suez Canal having become central in their linkage (Thompson 6-7). In this paper, the British occupation of Egypt shall be explored to provide insights on the factors that contributed to the invasion, its development, and the outcomes.

The Events that Led to Invasion

The British interests in Egypt were centered on trade. The latter got manufactured goods from the British merchants in exchange of the supply of raw materials such as cotton (Galbraith and al-Sayyid-Marsot 479). As a result, in 1846, Britain adopted a trade policy for Egypt. More Europeans moved to Egypt due to the rapid growth of its value in the international trade and economy (Thompson 32-33). The relationship between the two countries became complex due to the increased competition for the Egyptian market. It is also worth noting that France had also interest in Egypt, which was illustrated by the presence of its navy and shares in the control of Suez Canal (Tollefson 122-123). During this time, the Egyptian government depended heavily on the European funds and loans, so the British troops invaded the country so that Britain could protect its growing economic interest in Egypt (Thompson 32).

The immediate reason for the British invasion was the need to install good leadership that could be just, honest, and humane (Harrison 87). Britain saw it imperative to save Egypt from tyranny and bring about sanity in governance. The invasion was inevitable, mostly due to the need to protect the British interests that were at risk. The European interests in Egypt and the overwhelming weakness of Tewfik, the then leader of the Cairo regime, as well as unwarranted oppression led to a popular revolt (Owen102-103). The rebellion began within the army and was triggered by the financial revolution. The situation reached a boiling point when both the British army and navy and the French army were deployed in Alexandria to support the Khedive (Featherstone 34-35). The Egyptian army retaliated by killing more than 50 Christians (Owen 104).

Starting from the beginning of the 1870s, Egypt faced serious governance crisis (Hopkins 389). Extravagance, dictatorship, misgovernment and oppression brought a lot of suffering to the locals and damaged international trade. The government over-borrowed, leading to a state of extreme dependency on foreign states, which mutated into the control by external forces (Hopkins 376). The reckless leadership of the time could not hold the country to the development path; it instead speeded it down the aisle of bankruptcy. The aftermath of this development was the increased suffering of the local community, who felt the burden of shouldering a weak system of governance that was brutal and dependent on foreign aid (Tollefson 56-57).

In 1976, Egypt was officially declared bankrupt, with Britain being its primary creditor (Hopkins 384). It is important to note that by 1880, 80% of Egypt’s exports went to Britain, whereas 44% of its imports came from London. Consequently, the subsequent occupation by the British arose out of the enduring expansion of the British interests in the region. The sale of the Egyptian shares in the Suez Canal to the British government bolstered their interest in Egypt (Tollefson 76-77). Trade and commerce superseded other interests for the London regime adventures in Egypt. Subsequently, this meant that the security and stability of the country counted a lot in sustaining viable trade links between the two states. The popular unrest was a threat to the British interests, thus, a trigger of invasion to protect trade and other aspects that were vital to their welfare (Tollefson 68-69).

It should be noted that the immediate threat to the British welfare in Egypt was caused by Urabi Pasha’s army mutiny to topple Tewfik Pasha, the then Khedive of Egypt (Tollefson 102). The unrest posed a danger to the British interests, hence forcing London to respond by a military incursion. There also was an increased racial disparity between the British and the Egyptian officers, which led to even bigger revolt within the army (Tollefson 134). The revolt saw the French and British governments sending a joint message declaring that they recognized Khedive Tewfik as the leader of Egypt, a declaration that was later followed by deployment of the navies from the two countries to protect their preferred regime in Cairo. More than 100,000 Europeans stayed in Egypt by the time the British invaded, which was an illustration of the Egypt’s value for Europe (Thompson 60-62).

The British Occupation

The British occupation of Egypt between 1882 and 1914 is often called the veiled protectorate, and it represents the period under which the Khediviate of Egypt was an autonomous province ruled under Ottoman Empire (Galbraith and al-Sayyid-Marsot 486). During this period, the British did not have any legal basis over Egypt. In 1878, Ahmed ‘Urabi, an Egyptian army officer, initiated and mutinied a coup against the Khedive of Sudan and Egypt because of the perceived differences in pay between Europeans and Egyptians (Galbraith and al-Sayyid-Marsot 486). In April 1882, the French and British warships were sent to Alexandria to protect their interest and the regime of Tewfik Pasha against the popular uprising. In June 1882, unrests rocked Alexandria, which was swiftly repressed by the Egyptian military. During this anti-Christian riot, several Europeans lost their lives in the revolts. As a result, in August, the British warships retaliated by attacking the Egyptian defense installations in Alexandria. The punitive expedition triggered shared fear among the Egyptian nationalists, who tried their level best to rally the whole country behind resisting the foreign invasion (Thompson 254-256).

According to Tollefson (123), ‘Urabi Pasha, the leader of the nationalist revolution, appealed to nationalism to resist the European invasion. His followers fought to liberate Egypt from the foreign control but did not have the military sophistication to match the European powers (Thompson 119). After a cruising battle, ‘Urabi Pasha was captured, and the resistance defeated, marking the complete conquest and occupation of Egypt by Britain. Tewfik was re-installed back to the power as a puppet of the British (Thompson 123).

The invasion was accompanied by the spread of the British civilization, which was seen as superior and good for making the environment conducive for international business. Therefore, Britain used it as an avenue to impose its values on the Egyptians and bolster its influence (Featherstone 87). The status of a major power depended on its ability to control international trade and security. The invasion and occupation of Egypt projected Britain as a strong power, which added prestige to its position among other European powers of the time (Hopkins 371). The power struggles in Europe entailed control over international trade and acquisition of overseas colonies. It was the duty of each country to protect its citizens and their interests abroad. Therefore, the victory of ‘Urabi Pasha-led uprisings was a positive development in enhancing and maintaining the British influence in global trade (Featherstone 60).

Furthermore, the Egyptian question also involved the French, who had interests in the control of the Suez Canal (Thompson 87). Britain had overtaken it by purchasing more shares and deploying more troops in the area as well as controlling the largest part of Egypt. The security of trade links had a positive impact on the economy of the state, a factor that the British government pursued with vigor. In the period before 1880, Britain’s investments in Egypt grew drastically, leading to a strong tie between the two. As a result, the pressure on the London regime increased, with merchants pressing for protection of their investments abroad (Thompson 87).

The 1882 victory led to the occupation that would last until 1956 (Featherstone 67). The success of British invasion was both a political and military victory, which gave it a reason to be proud and bold in advancing its national interests abroad. During the occupation era, the investment of Britain in Egypt drastically increased, cementing the reason behind the invasion (Featherstone 126). Moreover, bond values increased as interest rates went down to the benefit of European investors (Featherstone 90). With the Unilateral Declaration of Egyptian Independence signed in 1922 and the Anglo–Egyptian Treaty of 1936, a way was paved for gradual handing back of the control and security of Egypt to the local government. The occupation period was illustrated by the strong British control of the security and economic policies of Egypt. The control of the Suez also became more of a British affair than before, which gave it an advantage in international trade (Thompson 67-68).

The Consequences of the Occupation

The invasion and further occupation of Egypt by the British had several impacts on the country as well as the occupying power. First, it led to solidifying the Britain’s influence and control over the Egyptians (Thompson 256-257). The security and the economy became more controlled by the foreign powers than before. Trade and security policies that were advanced favored European investors rather than the local community. In the long run, the local resources were exploited for the development of Europe, hence the development of Britain to the detriment of the Egyptians (Thompson 256-257).

Secondly, the control of the Suez Canal was fully placed in the hands of the European powers, with Britain enjoying a superior position due to its heavy control over the shares in the canal (Chamberlain 24). Egypt lost its place in this vital investment, which left Britain with much influence in the trade between the two countries, a loss that impacted negatively the political, economic, and the security image of the former (Featherstone 56).
Thirdly, the occupation led to the adoption of British values and norms by the local community (Chamberlain 18). The English system of governance, language and religion spread more than before in Egypt. In this respect, the Western civilization was passed to the local community, a development that favored the European exploration and strengthened its interest in this Arab country. Subsequently, the Egyptian customs and values were downgraded in favor of the foreign (Chamberlain 15).

The occupation also strengthened the relationship between Britain and Egypt, which would later define their future international relations (Chamberlain 16). The economic ties between the two were boosted but for the British. Egypt served as a source of raw materials for British industries while at the same time providing a market for manufactured goods from the same. As a result, Egypt’s dependency on Britain was cemented (Owen 102).

Further, the occupation helped Britain to strengthen its interests and influence over Egypt. The economic relations between the two nations worked for the British, which impacted positively the development of the homeland (Featherstone 43). It is for this very reason that Britain saw it imperative to ensure that it maintained control over the Suez Canal as well as the government of Egypt to protect its interest. The prosperity of the British Empire depended heavily on the welfare of its economy, hence the impetus to maintain its authority in Egypt (Featherstone 43).

Lastly, Egypt lost many lives and material assets during the British invasion and the consolidation of control over Egypt. The rebellions were punitively responded to, leaving hundreds of people dead and much property destroyed (Owen 98). Thus, the local community incurred huge loss as the foreign forces took charge of their country. Egyptians were forced to work under the British, and their interests were subordinated to those of the latter (Featherstone 43-44).


The British occupation of Egypt in 1882 is a historical event that was occasioned by the former’s economic and security interests in the region. Poor leadership and a popular uprising led by ‘Urabi Pasha prompted a military response from France and Britain in a quest to protect their protracted economic interests in Egypt. Britain had in the preceding decades increased its trade and economic ties with Cairo, a development that attracted more of its attention to the control and influence over the government and security of Egypt. The occupation secured and enhanced the British economic interests in the Arab nation as well as contributed to the spread of Western civilization in the country. The Egyptians lost much in terms of property, lives, prestige, and self-determination during the invasion and occupation period. The local economy was conditioned to be a supplier of raw materials to the European industries, particularly Britain, while at the same time serving as a market for the British manufactured products. Therefore, the 1882 occupation of Egypt by the British was mainly to protect and advance their economic interests, of which the control over Egypt and the Suez Canal were vital.