On this day in 1882, about fifty Europeans and 250 Egyptians were killed as the ʻUrabi Revolution’, a nationalist uprising in Egypt which began in 1879, exploded into violence on the streets of Alexandria. Rioters attacked Greek, Maltese and Italian businesses and battles broke out in the streets.
The Urabi Revolution led by and named for Colonel Ahmed ʻUrabi (also spelled Orabi and Arabi) and sought to depose the Khedive Tewfik Pasha and end British and French influence over the country. The uprising was ended by an Anglo-Egyptian War and takeover of the country. Thus began the History of Egypt under the British.
The exact cause of the brutal 1882 revolt is uncertain; both the Khedive and ʻUrabi have been blamed for starting it, but there is no proof of either allegation.
As the city’s garrison was maintaining the coastal defence batteries, an ultimatum was sent demanding the batteries be dismantled under threat of bombardment. The ultimatum was ignored, and the British fleet off Alexandria under Admiral Beauchamp Seymour, 1st Baron Alcester bombarded the city. The coastal batteries returned fire. The French fleet, also at Alexandria, refused to participate. A large British naval force then tried to capture the city. Despite encountering heavy resistance, the British forces succeeded, forcing the Egyptians to withdraw.
As revolts spread across Egypt, the British House of Commons voted in favour of a larger intervention. The British army launched a probing/scouting attack at Battle of Kafr El Dawwar to determine whether or not Cairo could be advanced on from Alexandria, However the British concluded that the Egyptian defences were too strong, so in September of that year a British army was landed in the Canal Zone.
The motivation for the British intervention is still disputed. The British were especially concerned that ʻUrabi would default on Egypt’s massive debt and that he might try to gain control of the Suez Canal. On September 13, 1882 the British forces defeated ʻUrabi’s army at the Battle of Tell El Kebir. ʻUrabi was captured and eventually exiled to the British colony of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).
While the British intervention was meant to be short term, it in fact persisted until 1954. Egypt was effectively made a colony until 1952. Both the British and the Khedival government did their best to discredit ʻUrabi’s name and the revolution, although among the common people ʻUrabi remained a popular figure. The government used the state media and educational system to denounce ʻUrabi as a traitor and the revolution as merely a military mutiny. Egyptian historian Mohammed Rif’at was one of the first to call the events a thawrah, or “revolution,” but he claimed that it lacked popular support. Other historians in Egypt supported this thesis, and even expanded on it, sometimes suffering government censure. During the last years of the monarchy, authors became more critical of the old establishment and especially of the British, and ʻUrabi is sometimes portrayed as a hero of freedom and constitutionalism
OTHER EVENTS OF INTEREST ON THIS DAY
1801: Tripoli declares war on US for refusing tribute.
1915: British/French troops conquer German colony of Cameroon.
1986: In South Africa, the three-year-old ‘State of Emergency’ is renewed for another twelve months, followed by an organized campaign of civil disobedience against it.
2012: A Helicopter crash near Nairobi, Kenya, kills five people, including George Saitoti, a Kenyan cabinet minister.
2020: Cameroon’s conflict with English-speaking separatists rated world’s most-neglected conflict according to Norwegian Refugee Council.