chapter  5
Pages 28

Egyptian nationalism1 emerged from its pre-history into a political field transformed by the British occupation of 1882.2 And of this occupation, one specific aspect is of utmost relevance, and exerted, indirectly, a profound influence on the trajectory of Egyptian nationalist discourse and politics for at least the next 70 years, and arguably beyond. Whatever other residues might have been bequeathed to generations of nationalists by the concatenation of forces which precipitated it, the legal status of the occupation itself and the unprecedented political entity that Egypt became decisively shaped the future development of political imaginaries in Egypt.3 For the British presence in Egypt was not a typical case of colonial conquest, nor did it possess the simple legitimacy that such conquest would have conferred.4 Rather, it was Egypt’s pivotal position in the wider field of international relations, its importance as a pawn in the political chess being played in Europe at that time between the major powers which determined the nature of the British power there. In other words, the particular political field into which Egyptian nationalism emerged was itself located at the very fulcrum of the balance of forces not just in the Middle East but of Europe and of much of the rest of the world.5 This complex, and delicate, balance of forces had to be weighed in any of the political calculations made by these powers with regards to Egypt. As Peter Mansfield has stated, ‘Britain knew that the acquisition of Egypt and its incorporation into the Empire was out of the question’.6 Thus, Egypt, the ‘Veiled Protectorate’ (designed to protect not so much Egypt itself but British imperial interests in India)7 was to find itself in an ambiguous legal situation – occupied by British forces whose presence was overwhelming, but still nominally and legally under Ottoman suzerainty. Despite being labelled ‘the sick man of Europe’, the Sublime Porte was still, therefore, a major presence in the post-1882 Egyptian political field.