Al-Ahram: A Diwan of contemporary life (596)
This penultimate instalment of a nine-part series marking the bicentennial of Mohamed Ali Pasha's assumption to the throne concerns the Egyptian role in Sudan which was viewed as a blessing and a curse, depending on which school was espoused. Professor Yunan Labib Rizk seeks out two proponents of Nile Valley unity, thus adding Al-Ahram 's voice to the supporters of Mohamed Ali's work in the south
Perhaps no question in the study of the history of Egyptian- Sudanese relations has been as shaded by the political bias of historians, both Egyptian and Sudanese, as that of the Egyptian role in Sudan during the Mohamed Ali era.
There are two distinct schools on the subject. One of these we might term the "advocates of the unity of the Nile Valley". This body of opinion gained prominence following the British intervention in the relations between the two halves of the Nile Valley not long after the British occupation of Egypt in 1882. It acquired increasing adamancy following the Anglo-Egyptian agreement that British Consul-General Lord Cromer had forced the Egyptian government to sign in 1899 in the wake of the defeat of the Mahdist uprising in Sudan. Having acquired a foothold in Sudan under this agreement for the joint control of that region, the British initiated a multifaceted plan to sever it from Egypt. The plan was motivated by the British belief that the key to tightening their grip on the northern half of the Nile Valley lay in their exclusive control over the southern half.
Incensed by this encroachment on what they viewed as Egyptian sovereign rights, the advocates of the unity of the Nile valley argued that Mohamed Ali did not "invade," "conquer" and "annex" the south, as some claimed. Rather, they held, all he did was to "reorganise the affairs" of a region that geographically, historically and culturally was an integral part of Egypt. Of the many historical works that argued in this vein, the most exhaustive and persuasive is Egypt and Sudan: History of the Political Unity of the Nile Valley in the 19th Century, from 1820-1899 by Mohamed Fouad Shukri.
Nevertheless, in their ardour the disciples of this school were on occasion prone to an error that was quickly seized upon by the British and their proxies in the Sudanese capital. In defending the unity of Egypt and Sudan, they tended to rest their case too heavily on principles and articles of international law and by far not enough on geographical, demographic and historical evidence. This weakness became apparent during the successive rounds of Egyptian-British negotiations over Sudan. It was also evinced in some of the historical works that surfaced at the time of these rounds, perhaps the most famous of which is Egypt and its Sovereignty over Sudan by the same historian mentioned above.
The rival camp emerged from Gordon College. Founded in 1903, this institution, which formed the kernel of what was later to become the University of Khartoum, served as the "incubator" for new generations of Sudanese intellectuals raised on a non- Arabic and non-Islamic education. These generations looked northward for their cultural and intellectual inspiration, and were rewarded for their aptitude proficiency with grants to study in the American University of Beirut or in British universities.
Historians from this school viewed the Egyptian presence in Sudan as a form of colonialism and Mohamed Ali as the invader who ushered it in. To them, the unity of the Nile Valley brought nothing but ill. Indeed, the historian Mikki Shbeika referred to the 19th century Egyptian control over Sudan as the period of Turkish rule. This was no innocent appellation; deliberately intended as it was to conjure up the notorious practices of local governors of Turkish origin and present these as the rule for Egypt's style of control over Sudan. What Shbeika and historians who argue similarly failed to point out was that those types of Turkish rulers existed in Egypt as well and perhaps inflicted greater injustices upon the Egyptian people than they did upon the Sudanese.
The opposing camp stuck to its guns, drawing on various historical processes and principles. A prime example was Abdel- Azim Ramadan's The Myth of the Egyptian Colonisation of Sudan, in which he argued that the modern colonialist movement was an economic phenomenon engendered by the evolution of the capitalist system in the West. Egypt, Ramadan held, never underwent the capitalist transition that would have driven it to follow in the footsteps of Britain, France and Holland during their period of commercial expansion known as colonisation. And, it certainly had not experienced the industrial revolution that gave rise to the subsequent phenomenon of European imperialism. In fact, Egypt was one of its victims.
In 1949, at the time of Al-Ahram 's edition commemorating the centennial of Mohamed Ali's death, the debate between the two schools of thought on the history of Egyptian-Sudanese relations was still raging. Tempers of the participants were fuelled, moreover, by the failure of successive rounds of Anglo-Egyptian negotiations to reach a treaty over the relationship between the two countries. The question of control over Sudan was one of the greatest stumbling blocks in these negotiations, having been the major cause of the collapse of the Nahhas-Henderson negotiations in 1930 and the Sidqi-Bevin negotiations in 1949, only a few months before the appearance of Al-Ahram 's Mohamed Ali commemorative edition. It is little wonder therefore that the Al-Ahram editors of that edition would address the question of Mohamed Ali's role in Sudan and, moreover, solicit for this purpose the contributions of two proponents of the unity of the Nile Valley: the Sudanese historian Yehya Al-Fadli and the Egyptian professor of geography Mohamed Abdel-Moneim El-Sharqawi.
MOHAMED ALI AND THE UNITY OF THE NILE VALLEY: On Mohamed Ali and the unity of the nile valley Yehya Al-Fadli wrote, "The plethora of eloquent pages compiled by eminent intellectuals on the glories of that magnificent hero, the great Mohamed Ali, and in which they enumerated his numerous virtues, have not given sufficient credit to his legacy in Sudan and his prodigious services to that country and its people.
"I shall not, here, dwell at length on Mohamed Ali's role in Sudan. The historical records of Mohamed Ali's contributions to that southern half of the Nile Valley are already more than ample and require no additions or amplifications. Nevertheless, I would like to draw attention to an enormous work to which the various studies in all their exhaustive profusion may not have given the appreciation due to the man we are commemorating and his great benefaction to my country, Sudan", says Al-Fadli.
"Perhaps Mohamed Ali's greatest gift to Sudan is the physical shape he gave it; it was he who brought Sudan into being for the first time within its present-day political borders. Before him, Sudan was not a single unified political entity as it is today. To the west, the Sultanate of Darfour was totally separate and independent from the rest of the country. The same applied to the Sultanate of Funj on the banks of the Blue Nile. In the north there were many small disunited petty states, sheikdoms or tiny sultanates, each headed by a chieftain or king. These various sheikhdoms and petty kingdoms, which were founded upon tribal bonds, were at constant war with each other and the ravages of their incessant raids and retaliations had virtually brought an end to farming and propagation.
"One year -- by which time news of the great reforms that Mohamed Ali had instituted in Egypt had reverberated throughout Sudan -- a chieftain from one of those petty kingdoms -- perhaps it was Sheikh Nasser, king of Al-Marighab -- made the pilgrimage to the Hijaz. Deeply despondent over the torments that internal strife and intertribal battles were visiting upon his country, he must have pleaded to God while performing the rites of the Hajj to give him some guidance as to what he might do to rescue his country from the devastating storms of warfare. In all events, history relates that instead of returning to Sudan after having completed the pilgrimage he joined a caravan of Egyptian pilgrims homeward bound for Egypt. There he obtained an interview with Mohamed Ali Pasha, during which he urged the Egyptian ruler to come to Sudan to bring its disparate quarters together under his wing and to bestow upon them the types of reforms and development he had applied in the north. So it was that the Sudanese had voluntarily and on their own accord gone to Mohamed Ali to ask him to join Sudan with Egypt within a single fold, this fold being the Nile Valley", explains Al-Fadli.
"It was only natural that Mohamed would respond to this free and unsolicited plea. When Mohamed Ali breathed the spirit of resurgence into Egypt to bring it into conformity with world civilisation and consciousness, the Nile Valley began to move once more. How similar is a national awakening to the stirrings of a sleeper as the rays of the morning sun enter his room. He opens his eyes and peers at the light, then stretches his limbs as he prepares to rise. So it was with the Nile Valley at the inspiration of Mohamed Ali. Egypt, the head of the Nile Valley, turned its head towards Europe to imbibe from the rays of its culture and civilisation. Then the limbs in the south began to stir as they readied themselves for the vigorous upward thrust which requires the mobilisation of all resources and the recruitment of all forces. Sudan did not fail to heed this awakening call; indeed, it strove towards it.
"Let us turn to the description by one historian of this Sudanese response. 'Ismail Pasha entered Sudan amidst cries of jubilation, the din of congratulations and a profusion of offers of hospitality. He strolled in as a tourist not a conqueror. No weapons obstructed his path and the Sudanese evinced no hostility towards Egypt. He was greeted with great honour by the tribal leaders who escorted him into Sinar'.
"I would like to take this occasion to pay tribute to that great man who designed the first blueprint in modern history for the Nile Valley state, with its contiguous borders along the Mediterranean to the north and the Red Sea to the east. Nor did it escape this leader how important it was to have a navy to protect the coasts of this vast maritime kingdom. So formidable was this fleet that it aroused the malice of the Western powers that were lying in wait for the resurgent east and that hatched the vile conspiracy that lured our fleet to defeat in Navarino.
"Also on this memorable occasion and in response to the great honour we felt at the offer extended to us by the Egyptian army, I would like to make a proposal to the people of the Nile Valley. I suggest that the people of the north and south donate to the construction of a battleship to be presented as a gift to the Egyptian army in tribute to the eternal memory of Mohamed Ali the Great so that it can be added to the kernel of the venerable navy that will defend the maritime borders of the Nile Valley Kingdom that unites Egypt and Sudan beneath the crown of His Majesty King Farouq, may God bring him glory", concludes Al-Fadli.
ON THE ECONOMIC AND COMMERCIAL LINKS between Egypt and Sudan in Mohamed Ali's era Mohamed Abdel- Moneim El-Sharqawi wrote, "While historians may differ over the reasons and motives that compelled Mohamed Ali Pasha the Great to turn his attention to the southern half of the Nile Valley, geographers are virtually of one mind that, whatever these factors were, the consequences of that propitious step opened a new chapter in the life of our sister country. Moreover, this chapter demonstrated indisputably and beyond the shadow of a doubt the extent to which the two halves of the Valley are bound together, confirming the incontrovertible historical fact that this is an age-old bond created by the Nile which forms the permanent natural link between them.
"Nor did the desert to either side of this channel ever form an impenetrable barrier to close contact between the sister lands in other areas. This was due to the network of roads that followed certain natural lines in the topography and through which caravans could wend their way back and forth. In addition, the Red Sea played in important role in the history of communications between them", says El-Sharqawi.
"Over time, the relationship between the two countries branched out and diversified until they took certain forms, some of which were of a political nature and others of which were either commercial or purely cultural. It can further be said that if the political relations between the two lands, or more precisely between Egypt and northern Sudan, fell into decline since the Middle Ages, commercial relations remained close throughout that period, even if they were affected to varying degrees by fluctuations in political circumstances.
"With the emergence of Mohamed Ali onto the political stage in the northern half of the Nile Valley it was only natural that a new phase would begin in Egyptian-Sudanese relations. He had the wisdom and foresight to include in his national policy the aim of reviving the political link between the two countries so as to better lay the foundations for a new edifice of commercial and cultural relations that would perform the greatest services for both sides.
"Mohamed Ali put into place a system for the administration of the southern half of the Nile Valley that left no doubt that our sister countries formed one indivisible whole and that he regarded Sudan no differently than any province in Egypt. There is no overestimating the impact this had on bringing Sudan into the modern world, for with these foundations he had set into motion the process of Sudan's emergence from that oppressive darkness that prevailed during the ages of chaos and unrest into the light of development, progress and civilisation.
"Mohamed Ali wanted for Sudan what he wanted for Egypt: institutions of sound government that would stand vigil over security and order and prosperity for the people by furnishing the means to boost domestic agricultural and industrial production and by developing the sources of commerce. If his policy was founded on the belief that Egypt and Sudan naturally formed a single country consisting of two great entities merged into one, this entailed putting into effect the principle of "autonomy" which he had already chosen as the course for Egypt. In effect this meant that the two halves of the Nile Valley had to cooperate closely, whereby each would make available to the other their surplus in their diverse economic resources. Realising autonomy simultaneously involved the implementation of a programme for developing the two countries so as to facilitate the exploitation of their natural resources, be they agricultural or industrial. For this modern economic outlook to succeed, the new government had to be equipped to tend to all matters connected with law and order, the levying of taxes and all other processes needed to enhance security, foster prosperity and stimulate productivity.
"Thus, in his policy towards the southern half of the Valley, Mohamed Ali pursued all available means to stimulate trade over the largest possible area of the far-flung quarters of Sudan so as to engage the largest possible number of Sudanese in the processes of commerce. Towards these ends, he offered a variety of incentives and means of encouragement. At the same time, he strove to furnish the means to develop trade over a vast area, devoting particular attention to communications, for the success of trade relations depends above all on the ability of goods to reach their destination safely. Herein resides the secret behind Mohamed Ali's intensive efforts to bolster the political link between the two countries with another link founded upon close economic and trade relations.
"In the first phase of Mohamed Ali's trade policy, merchants were given complete freedom to market Sudanese products within the confines of the pricing regulations for all products that were subject to trade between the two countries. In the subsequent phase, however, Mohamed Ali instituted a monopoly on certain key Sudanese goods such as glue, senna, ivory, ostrich feathers, livestock and pelts. He used all available means to promote the production of these goods and would set their prices for sale both for domestic consumption and for export", continues Sharqawi.
"In his keenness for promoting close economic bonds between Sudan and Egypt, he supplied all the infrastructure to facilitate trade. He built silos and warehouses, dug wells along the caravan routes, posted patrols to ensure their safety and constructed shipyards for building the many more vessels that would be needed for maritime transport between the two countries. The latter meant the creation of a new industry for Sudan, capitalising on its excellent local forestry resources.
"Mohamed Ali's dedication to promoting Egyptian-Sudanese trade did not stop there. He regulated currency exchange so as to facilitate trade, thus ending a major dispute that had once frequently soured relations between Sudanese producers and Egyptian buyers which, in turn, often led to the instability and disruption of trade.
"The third phase of Mohamed Ali's policy of promoting commercial relations with Sudan was inaugurated in 1848 with the end of the monopoly policy and the introduction of a new customs policy under renewed conditions of free trade. This, of course, entailed increasing and upgrading the customs houses. Located in Aswan, Corsoko and Assiout, along the Nile in Egypt, and in Mussawwa and Sawakin and other ports along the Red Sea, these continued to perform their functions beyond the end of the Mohamed Ali era.
"Mohamed Ali's policy of developing and diversifying industrial production in Sudan gradually expanded the scope and diversity of trade between the two countries. The same logic lay beyond his policy of encouraging the Sudanese to expand the land area under cultivation and to introduce many new arts of agrarian economics. Under his tutelage, the Sudanese introduced Nilotic agriculture and the cultivation of cotton. Thanks to the advice and guidance he provided, they learned how better to exploit their forest resources, to improve their animal produce and to refine their breeding methods of sheep to yield better quality wool both for local consumption and for export.
"The development and expansion of trade relations between Sudan and Egypt under Mohamed Ali yielded great benefit for both sides. In exchange for Sudanese exports to Egypt, Egypt reciprocated with a range of commodity exports to Sudan, especially vitally needed foodstuffs. Egyptian rice, for example, was heavily exported to Sudan in spite of Mohamed Ali's many attempts to introduce rice cultivation into those Sudanese regions that were conducive to it. Seed, fertiliser, agricultural equipment and other requirements for improving agriculture also made their way to our southern neighbour, and Egyptian salt was exported to help the Sudanese improve their expanding tanning industry. In short, Egypt furnished Sudan with the resources it lacked or with the many products they needed to increase agricultural and industrial production. In addition, Egypt exported many of its manufactures, especially its diverse textiles.
"Such were the dynamics of the economic and trade relations between Egypt and Sudan. Moreover, these were only one dimension of the foundations Mohamed Ali laid for relations that rendered Egypt and Sudan two complementary halves of a large geo-political entity. Mohamed Ali always had the interests of both Sudan and Egypt in mind and he used similar means of fostering development in both areas yielding similar, mutually beneficial results in both cases", ends Sharqawi.