Preferred Citation: Starrett, Gregory. Putting Islam to Work: Education, Politics, and Religious Transformation in Egypt. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1998 1998.

Education and the Management of Populations

The Regeneration of the Arab

The regeneration of the Arab is being accomplished in more ways than one. Apart from the direct processes, of which the school and the prison are instruments, other influences, less direct but still powerful, are ceaselessly at work to mould his character. These influences, which may be summed up as the environment of Western society, spread along the track of the railroad and the telegraph over the country at large.

Faith in the power of education to mold not only individual character, but the very fabric of society, had spread like Methodist revival during the latter half of the nineteenth century, and was brought actively to bear on the problems of rural and urban social control both domestically and in the far-flung regions of the Empire. As Foucault and Mitchell have shown, older forms of threat and punishment came to be considered not only cruel, but inefficient, and strategies based on discipline, organization, and moral intervention were tested as alternatives to brute force. In March of 1883, at the urging of Lord Dufferin, the Egyptian Khedive Tawfiq Pasha issued a decree to local notables and officers of his government abolishing the use of the courbash, a tough hippopotamus-hide whip, for the punishment of criminals, the extortion of confessions, or the collection of taxes in arrears. The abolition, dubbed by Cromer a “remarkable reform—if I may apply the word reform to what is really nothing less than a social and administrative revolution,” [72] was hailed as a triumph of humanitarian government even though the more immediate result was, in the words of the deputy-inspector of Alexandria, “that Mudirs [local Egyptian officials] and police officers are not now as much feared as they should be.” [73] The vice- consul of Damietta reported to Cairo that

the effect…is apparent in a steadily growing exhibition of a higher moral tone, and hopeful feeling, a feeling that they are being cared for, in a way they have hitherto been totally unaccustomed to; they are grateful…and there is every reason to hope that by a careful continuance of the efforts being made in their behalf they will become a prosperous, contented, and loyal people.[74]

But the majority of local administrators were less sanguine. In general, provincial officials replied to Cromer's queries about the abolition by saying that, as a result, “insolence and offences have increased, especially among the lower classes”; that it helps “lead them to shirk duty, and thus further aid to embarrass the present regime of the Government, and bring about the present deadlock in the public finances”; that the effect of the change “has been to increase crime and weaken authority.” [75] The British consul Spencer Carr wrote explaining the breakdown of authority and the uselessness of concurrent British reform of the prisons:

The summary suppression of the courbash has had a very bad effect on the population, as by this measure the Sheikhs of villages have been deprived of most of their power and authority, and the fellahs [peasants], having no fear of the whip, and being improvident and lazy by nature, it is a very difficult matter, under the present regime, to compel them to do their duty, especially as the reorganization of the prisons has rendered them so comfortable that the fellah has no longer any fear of imprisonment, and makes no secret of saying that he is better treated in prison than at home, and the only privation he has to put up with is the temporary separation from his harem.[76]

This paradoxical increase in the crime rate, which continued to rise throughout the Occupation, went along with an increasing prosperity that Cromer was certain had filtered to the countryside. By the early years of the twentieth century, the problem of “brigandage” that had plagued cultivated regions of Egypt in the past had disappeared with the creation of an effective standing army. The main trouble in rural areas now was property crime and acts of vengeance: the burning of neighbor's crops or houses, the poisoning of cattle, attempted murder, or false accusations. Noting that Britons were more likely to associate crime with poverty and alcohol than with rising living standards, the consul general attributed the problem to envy and to vengeance for personal quarrels. Referring in 1905 to “the special economic and moral phase through which Egypt and the Egyptians are now passing,” Cromer optimistically concluded that “improved education and the general spread of enlightenment…constitute the ultimate remedies” to the problem of rural crime.[77]

The expectation of an educational remedy for crime was not confined to Lord Cromer, who might be expected, like his fellow litterateur Macaulay, to attribute moral betterment to liberal study. When Horatio Herbert Kitchener, engineer, professional soldier, and war hero, took the consul generalcy from Sir Eldon Gorst in 1911, he complained bitterly of the police problems plaguing Asyut, the province with the highest crime rate in the country. Reporting that there were 297 murders or attempted murders in that province alone in 1911, Kitchener lamented,

Human life appears to be of little account, and the most trifling incidents result in homicide. Only recently a man who expostulated with his neighbor for crossing the end of his garden was murdered the same afternoon for no other or better reason. Such crimes, arising from sudden quarrels, family feuds, or revenge, have little connection with public security, and it is difficult to cope with them. They can only be finally checked by the spread of education and civilised ideas.[78]

Again in 1912 he illustrated Asyut's problems by citing the case of a woman murdered “for refusing to give a glass of water, a man for taking a handful of flour.” In Behera, Gharbia, and Girga, murders were committed for the stealing of single ears of corn, dates, an errant sheep eating a neighbor's clover. These offenses, incomprehensible to the European, “can only be finally eradicated by the spread of education and enlightenment.” [79] Changes in the rural economy during the nineteenth century, including the extension of year-round commercial cultivation to much of the delta, necessitated the movement of agricultural workers from regions of Upper Egypt, where slack periods in the agricultural cycle still created available labor. While such workers had long been forced to perform corvée labor both locally and in faraway regions like the Suez canal, this system was declining due to pressure from delta landowners to retain the labor of their own peasants year-round and not let them work elsewhere. This meant that workers from the south were increasingly contract laborers induced with wages and lacking the sort of supervision that accompanied the corvée. Landowners, complaining that such itinerant workers tended to criminal pursuits, thus looked kindly on efforts to extend mechanisms of socialization that promised to domesticate and render workers susceptible to efficient administrative controls rather than clumsy physical ones.[80]

Moreover, the peasant's abandonment of false ideas and primitive customs would have an invigorating effect on the maintenance of public security as well as on the progress of the economy. Lord Curzon, viceroy of India from 1899 to 1905, linked ignorance and disorder in a 1901 speech in which he held that lack of knowledge was “the source of suspicion, superstition, outbreaks, crime—yes, and also of much of the agrarian discontent and suffering of the masses.” [81] Not confining their optimism to a merely theoretical expectation of enlightenment through mass education, the British imported two practical new institutions to Egypt using instruction as a specific remedy for crime. The first was the Boys' Reformatory, founded in Alexandria in 1895 and moved to Giza three years later. Under the supervision of the British director of prisons, the reformatory was established to remove “the evils, attendant on a system in which juveniles are mixed up with adult prisoners.” [82] John Scott, in a report to the consul general on the state of the reformatory, proposed that a strict age requirement be set for the inmates of the facility since experience had shown that “manhood with its qualities and defects arrives soon in southern climates, and permanent moral influences can only be obtained over boys of tender age.” [83]

The reformatory's young inmates cultivated its garden, cleaned the buildings and were drilled daily in gymnastics, attending school in the morning to learn the elements of reading and writing. Workshops taught carpentry and other manual trades so the boys could “have an honest means of livelihood when they go back to the world.” Some years after its founding, the good work of the reformatory “elicited the special commendation of a high British authority on educational matters,” [84] and a new, expanded reformatory was constructed in 1905.[85]

The other establishment for the direct educational amelioration of crime came after the First World War, when an “industrial farm school” was established in Khanka Province, built with surplus military supplies. Large enough for several dozen adolescent boys, the farm school was intended to house destitute urban children at risk of falling into lives of petty crime. Between November of 1918 and the November following, Sir Edmund Allenby noted, Cairo police had reported over nine hundred thefts by children between the ages of nine and fifteen, and estimated that “500 vagabond juveniles could be collected at any time off the Cairo streets.” In explaining the need for the school, he wrote,

The problem [of juvenile vagrancy] can only be solved by education and training in suitable schools…[where] the younger and more promising of the waifs and strays could be sent. Instruction would necessarily be of a very elementary character combined with the simplest of regimes under which cleanliness, decent living, the formation of good habits, and training for livelihood would be the chief aims. For girls, domestic work, with such simple manual trades as straw plaiting and basket work, and for boys, such trades as tailoring, boot and shoe making, carpentry and weaving would be the chief subjects of instruction.[86]

Education and the Management of Populations

Preferred Citation: Starrett, Gregory. Putting Islam to Work: Education, Politics, and Religious Transformation in Egypt. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1998 1998.