Sunday, January 31, 2010

Occupy in the sky.

This is where Tony was hiding the WMDs

Tony Liar’s appearance before the Iraq Inquiry coincided with the release of this heartbreaking short documentary film on the killing of a nine year-old boy by the Blackwater private security company, and my reading of a book called “In Cairo With Kitchener”, published in 1917.

“In Cairo with Kitchener” is a gem of a book, written before governments had to dress up imperialist ambitions as acts of philanthropy, before they had to go through the tiresome processes of securing a United Nations rubber-stamp for their invasions and justify their actions retrospectively, eight years too late.

“In Cairo” is written by Sydney A. Moseley, a British journalist who spent two years in Egypt, and who is largely motivated by a desire to complain about interference in the publication and content of his book by Lord K himself. Moseley is a name-dropper par excellence and is the type of journalist who likes to shoehorn himself into the story, so this act of censorship seems to have thrilled him.

Mosely writes in the book’s preface that the Al-Shaab newspaper reported that an introduction had been written by Minister of Public Works Ismail Sirry “Pasha”, without Sirry actually having read its contents. Sirry, “having learned that the book contained many reflections on the British Agent [Kitchener]…has gone round telling all those he met that he did read the book before writing the introduction”.

We are told that Sirry did not know that Moseley would take an attitude of “frankness and independence” in his book. References to Kitchener in the edition I read were unreservedly sycophantic, so I can’t understand both what the author means by “frankness and independence” nor what the bloody fuss was about.

In any case, a strange irony has been given to the book, 90 years later. Moseley unwittingly reveals the British occupiers in all their crass, orientalist, arrogance - but he also says a couple (very few, admittedly) of things which still ring true today.

Below are some of Moseley’s thoughts on his sojourn in “the Land of Paradox”, as he insists on calling Egypt.

“There are evils in Egypt which exist not so much as a result of British policy, but because of the crass stupidity and overwhelming conceit - which always go together – of individual officials. These persons, some of whom I mention in the following pages, constitute themselves as modern Egyptian gods and expect idolatry of Ra in the twentieth century. Those who have been inured to the enervating and narrowing atmosphere of the Land of Paradox accept this well enough. The few bolder, who do not go so far as to worship, take care, nevertheless, not to blame where they are unable to praise.” - Note the separation between “individual acts” and “policy”, a favourite stratagem of the politician. No comment on “modern Egyptian gods”.

“’Robbers and blackmailers are, in Egypt, treated more fairly than editors accused of infringing the Press Law.’”
“The suppression of newspapers and newspaper men in Egypt is nothing new”. - Ya ragel.

“This unparalleled interest in his [Lord Kitchener’s] coming can only be set down to the reputation and prestige he had gained on the banks of the Nile. There could, indeed, be no plainer proof of the old saying that nothing strikes the Oriental imagination so much as success in war”. – Obama still busy trying to strike that oriental imagination.

“It is unusual for an Egyptian crowd to cheer” – he forgot to add, “under occupation”.

“It is true that on this score [Egypt’s 1st parliament] criticism has not been lacking; but while one who desires to record a situation as it actually is must examine such criticism, it should be borne in mind that a first parliament, like the first of lesser institutions, must take time before it can be rid of its defects. Only time and British representatives can do that”. - vomit.

Moseley wasn’t entirely oblivious though, and devotes an entire chapter to the consideration of “Why the Englishman is disliked”.

“The statement has been made by bewildered [LOL] British students of Egyptian politics that the Egyptian does not like the Englishman. This charmingly frank and innocent conclusion is arrived at with a tinge of bitterness…
After all we have done for them – which they fully admit – they will be glad to see the back of us [fancy that!].
Strangely enough, these writers have said nothing of the Briton not liking the Egyptian. Perhaps these students failed to notice the stand-offishness of the superior British official towards the common Egyptian. If they had given heed to this obvious fact they would have saved themselves a host of doubts and theories. The British have a natural aptitude for governance abroad [they beat insubordinate natives round the head with their stiff upper lip]. This must have originated before our advent in Egypt ; for, well as we have done there, we could have accomplished much more – the friendship of the Egyptian, for instance – if we had been wiser in our choice of civil servants. As it is, we appear to have been at pains to send our snobs to Egypt. The Land of Paradox has become the City of British Snobs.”- Again, the policy isn’t wrong, IT’S THE INDIVIDUALS. Got it???

“The fact is, the cringing and abjectness of the native have transformed many responsible Britons in Egypt from masters tolerant towards their inferiors into the kind of tyrant who recalls Egypt’s darkest history”.- It’s the natives’ faults, just like in modern day occupations where occupying troops commit atrocities because of the pressure of having to fight those ungrateful recalcitrant natives. Btw Moseley thinks that Egypt’s “darkest history” was under the Turks, who he intensely dislikes.

“The more general type of man who schemes for an “unfettered” Egypt is generally the bloated half- Turk, half-something else, whose interests, in the main, are mercenary and nothing else. He has actually no more aesthetic sentiment about the political state of Egypt than a gamoose. Let him obtain unlimited fodder at the expense of others, and he will content. It was individuals of this type who wrote the pages of Egypt’s blackest history. Heaven forfend that we should permit him to hold sway again!” – heaven forfend indeed!

“Consider yourself very fortunate that you, an outsider, should have been chosen for this wonderfully good fortune [of the British occupation. I kid you not]. You know that the reason why we sent great Englishmen thousands of miles from our own misery in order to keep yours was because circumstances, in the very inspiring form of finance, necessitated those early steps…Since he was already there the Englishman thought he might just as well knock the country into shape; for the surroundings, after all, were good to look at and the climate most inviting.” – That is: right we’re here robbing the country, let’s build a few roads.

““Self-indulgence and corruption have eaten the heart of the Turkish oligarchy,” wrote Lord Milner.
“It is the curse of the whole vast region which still lies under the blight of the Ottoman dominion, that the governing classes are devoid of the morality which essential to governing well”.
That class would again govern Egypt if England left Cairo to-day”.

I'm always astonished that countries formerly occupied by the British didn't collectively invade Britain and beat its rulers around the head with the latters' sense of entitlement.

1 comment:

Forsoothsayer said...

hilarious comments! but is perfectly true that a self indulgent and corrupt oligarchy did govern Egypt the minute the british left, though. the government is devoid of morality indeed.