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70                     THE EGYPTIAN PROBLEM                CHAP.
out of 145,000 cultivated and revenue-paying acres supplied the whole of the corvee. The State Domains paid redemption money for half their tenants, the larger proprietors got off scot-free, and the poorer fellaheen had to supply double the number of hands working twice the time lawfully required of them. The men on coroee received no payment ; they had to provide their own food ; they slept on the bare ground without any shelter ; their own land had often to remain uncared for whilst they were absent. It was from the merely economic point of view a very wasteful system. Experiments were made on a small scale for replacing it by contract work, and when these were successful, application was made to the Powers to facilitate the financial arrangements necessary for a more sweeping reform. It took three years to obtain their consent, but an unexpected expansion of revenue made it possible to abolish the iniquitous old system finally and completely by the end of 1889.
The abolition of the corvee furthered, instead of hampering, as some interested objectors had prophesied, the progress of irrigation, and it was irrigation that was steadily to change the face of Egypt from the abject misery of pre-occupation days to the abounding prosperity of the present time. For without coal or other minerals, at least in any appreciable quantity, Egypt has only one great source of natural wealth, the prodigious fertility of the soil when supplied with water, and in a rainless climate the water can only be supplied by irrigation from the life-giving Nile. The rest of Egypt is desert. Irrigation was, of course, no new thing in Egypt, which had once been the granary of Rome. Its importance had not escaped Mehemet Ali, and the French engineers brought over by him designed great things which they were only allowed to carry out imperfectly. Like everything else, irrigation had suffered grievously under Ismail. Fortunately, the Public Works Department was promptly rescued not only from in-f 53,000 acres