LIMITATIONS OF BRITISH CONTROL
with the British position in that country, but that it depended upon His Imperial Majesty whether it became so." Last, but not least, we had constantly to reckon with the underground influence which the Sultan as Khalif could, and sometimes unquestionably endeavoured to, exercise to our detriment over a Mahomedan population which, great as was its hatred of the Turks as a ruling race in Egypt, recognised the Sultan as the spiritual head of Islam.
French antagonism was more subtle and therefore still more difficult to deal with. Nothing perhaps illustrated it more forcibly than the attitude of France towards the Drummond Wolff mission when the French Government preferred to defeat an agreement binding us to evacuate within three years rather than to tolerate the reservation of our eventual right of re-entry. That France had herself broken away from the policy of Anglo-French co-operation in Egypt by withdrawing her fleet from Alexandria on the very eve of the bombardment in 1882 made it none the less galling for her to see herself ousted from the pre-eminent position she had long enjoyed in a country where, apart from her political and material interests, her language had been for half a century the chief vehicle of European culture. It was a period of acute colonial rivalry all over the world, and Egypt was only one of the many points—but with the French the sorest point—where England seemed to them to have scored heavily at their expense. If France could not compel our withdrawal, she could put many awkward spokes in our wheels, and whilst the Triple Alliance was quite content to see Anglo-French antagonism intensified by the Occupation, neither Germany, nor Austria-Hungary, nor Italy, nor other smaller Powers were averse from helping France to maintain the many restraints upon Egypt by which they believed their own interests to be equally benefited.
|Some of those restraints arose out of the international arrangements described in the last chapter for liquidating two High Commissioners during a prolonged stay in Cairo failed, however, to produce danger of foreign complications.