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Full text of "The Egyptian Problem"

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No greater boon was ever conferred upon the people of Egypt. But in order that the full benefit should reach the fellaheen it was essential to see that they should not again be defrauded as in the past of their rightful share of water by powerful neighbours or corrupt officials, and that unfair taxation and extortionate tax-gatherers should not rob them of the proceeds of the richer harvests which irrigation was to give them. One simple and effective step was the issue by the Finance Ministry of warrants recording the exact amount of land tax each peasant had to pay. That amount once paid, he soon learnt to defy all attempts to extort more from him. A measure requiring much more time and labour was the readjustment of the land tax all over Egypt. Already the financial situation had so far improved that between 1890 and 1894 some small reductions of the land tax could be granted in the southern districts of Upper Egypt, which had hitherto derived less benefit from the new irrigation works. But the land tax was the chief source of revenue and the State could not afford any wholesale reduction all over the country. Nor was the land tax in the aggregate an excessive impost, if equitably levied. The last settlement, however, had taken place in 1864, and even if it had then been equitable —which is a very large assumption—conditions had changed so much within thirty years that the incidence of the land tax had become in many places grossly unfair, and especially, as was to be expected, to the smaller folk. A careful valuation of all lands was therefore undertaken in which the various conditions affecting each were taken into account, and whilst the aggregate of taxation remained the same, the incidence was so readjusted as to remove the most glaring inequalities. It took about ten years to complete the work, which was begun in 1896, under the direction of Sir William Willcocks, and entrusted to ten commissions, on each of which the British official in charge had an Egyptian associated with him. In all 3,385 villages and
illdesigned, still stood as a sign-postland to pursue for a long time to