Which country couldn’t cure its own disorder? Where was the culture too sick to treat itself? What land hired foreigners to make social reforms its rulers disdained to undertake?
The Egyptian Sudan.
From England they mainly came—Sir Samuel Baker, General Gordon, Sir Reginald Wingate; but also many other outsiders, who were usually Christian, from Austria, Italy, Germany, France, and America… And those are just the ones we know about. In the second half of the 19th-century all of them were hired and imported by Egypt’s rulers to do what the inhabitants of the Nile Valley would not, could not, did not, and—incredibly—still in 2004 cannot do for themselves: stop slave-trading and abolish slavery.
It’s very odd, and just as odd is the fact that most people know little about this history, and nothing whatever about the disastrous unintended effects of 150 years of humanitarian western intervention in Sudan, and therefore have trouble understanding the tragedy as it has unfolded today. Here, for the record, is one key episode from the past:
- In the 1860s and 1870s an oriental sybarite named Ismail Pasha got Egypt way over its head in debt as a result of his taste for grandiose public works, sumptuous entertainment, and the fleshpots of Paris
- Western banks had already been telling him enough is enough (“and we strongly disapprove of the thousands of slaves you keep”)
- The sybaritic Ismail Pasha, aka the Egyptian Khedive, then cleverly appeased his creditors, won western approval, and saved his hide, by a promise to stop trafficking African slaves from the Sudan
- Because he knew that no self-respecting Arab would lift a finger against the time-honored enslavement of Africans
- Because much of 19th-century civilization in the Nile Valley depended on slave labor, in the fields, the house, and the boudoir
- Because both Ismail Pasha and his Prime Minister were deeply insincere and hoped, in their heart of hearts, that nothing would be done to disturb their lifestyle (being adepts ofKetman—see item on Czeslaw Milosz below)
They therefore appointed a whole series of outsiders from the West to do what the region would not do for itself—abolish slavery —correctly expecting them to fail