HL Deb 17 June 1901 vol 95 cc527-30

My Lords, I beg to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether any Papers will be presented to Parliament respecting the return to Egypt of Arabi Pasha and other exiles now in Ceylon. My object in placing the question on the Paper is a double one. I desire in the first place to obtain, if possible, some explanation from the Government as to the reasons which have influenced them in liberating Arabi and his colleagues, and, in the second place, I am particularly anxious to ascertain—and this is much more important—whether the assent of the Egyptian Government, the Khedive, and Lord Cromer has been obtained to these proceedings. If their assent has been readily accorded, there is, of course, nothing further to be said. If, on the other hand, it has been given grudgingly and unwillingly, I think the course which has been adopted is one which may fairly be criticised. Whether the Egyptian Government and the British representatives are in favour of that course or not, in view of the many charges of inhumanity which have been brought against this country there can be no harm in reminding the House of the extraordinary, I might almost say the unheard of, generosity with which Arabi and his colleagues have been treated by this country. Arabi Pasha for some inscrutable reason—inscrutable as far as I myself am concerned—has been looked upon by many people in this country as a species of oriental Garibaldi, and he has been credited with many virtues which he does not possess. It would be much more fair to compare him to the defunct General Boulanger, of whom it may be said that he is an inferior copy. Arabi Pasha is a man of about as unheroic a character as it is possible to conceive. He first came into notoriety as a mutinous Egyptian colonel clamouring for an increase of pay—not, in itself, a particularly patriotic proceeding. Owing to the peculiar conditions which prevailed in Egypt, he eventually obtained the position of a kind of military dictator, and as a result of the anti-European feeling which prevailed in Egypt at that time, he was able to exercise practically unlimited power. In his position as military dictator he may be held liable for the disasters in Egypt and the massacres which took place at Alexandria, and he has never thought it worth while, apparently, to free himself from the charges which have been frequently brought against him of having tortured, in the most cruel way, Circassian and Turkish officers and other political opponents who fell into his power, during what may be called the interregnum. So little impressed was Lord Wolseley with his merits that after the battle of Tel-el-Kebir he recommended that Arabi should be shot. That was a course which any other Government would have adopted. But Arabi was not shot. On the contrary, legal gentlemen were sent out from this country to defend him, and they defended him with such success that his sentence was commuted. Arabi was sent to the Island of Ceylon, which, I may remind your Lordships, was not much hardship, because the Island of Ceylon is a Mussulman's paradise. Besides that, we saddled the Egyptian Government with the payment to him of a pension of £300 a year, a larger sum than he would in all probability have obtained, judging by the military capacity he displayed, if he had remained a faithful servant of the Khedive. He was relegated to the Island of Ceylon, and there he lived in comfort, surrounded by his wives and other female relatives, and received the visits of British statesmen, mostly of the Radical party, who sought his opinion on Home Rule, Parish Councils, and similar questions, on which he was supposed to be an authority, And now we are told that he is to return, full of years and full of honours, to the country of his birth. It seems to me that Arabi Pasha has been an exceedingly fortunate individual. If the Egyptian Government, the Khedive, and Lord Cromer are ready to welcome him back, there is nothing further to be said. I hope his return will not lead to misunderstandings; but I fear that the course which has been adopted will do a great deal to encourage the extraordinary delusion which has prevailed on the Continent that Arabi Pasha was in the pay of the British Government from the start; and I hope it will not act as an encouragement to mutineers all over the globe to think that it is rather advantageous than otherwise to take up arms against, and come into collision with, the British Government.


My Lords, I do not think there is any correspondence on this subject which could be usefully laid on the Table of the House. There is, of course, the Khedivial decree authorising Arabi's liberation. But that is a formal document, which I do not suppose the noble Lord would much care to see. There is besides some correspondence, but that is entirely of a confidential character, and I do not think it ought to be made public. But, in regard to the main facts, there is no mystery. These persons have now completed a period of nineteen years exile in Ceylon. We hear that Arabi Pasha has considerably suffered in health, and we are advised that his return to his own country will not be attended by any danger to the public tranquillity. The noble Lord is anxious to know whether the consent of the Khedive, the Egyptian Government, and Lord Cromer has been obtained to Arabi's liberation. Those consents have been obtained. The noble Lord said he would like to know whether their consent had been given reluctantly. I am quite unable to fathom the mind of the Khedive or his advisers, but their consent was certainly given unreservedly. I will not attempt to follow the noble Lord into his examination of Arabi's character or antecedents, or the place which he deserves in history. I do not differ from the noble Lord when he says that Arabi's conduct does not seem to him to have been of a very admirable character. Nor will I endeavour to determine whether the noble Lord was right when he told the House that the Mussulman's paradise was to be found in the Island of Ceylon. Whether it be a paradise or not I do not know, but Arabi Pasha was very glad to be allowed to leave it.

House adjourned at a quarter before Six of the clock, till tomorrow, half-past Ten of the clock.