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Full text of "The Egyptian Problem"

24:0                      THE EGYPTIAN PROBLEM                 CHAP.
•
the notaries public, whose services are constantly needed in all domestic matters that come under personal law, and it should provide all the preachers and officiating clergy of the mosques, if rank jobbery did not often override even the privileges of a great religious institution. Its influence, always great in Cairo, spreads into the remotest villages. It has always been a power in the land. In the old days of the Mameluke Sultans it sometimes made or unmade them, and when Bonaparte landed in Egypt he addressed himself to tl*e Sheikhs of El Azhar and not to the temporal rulers of the country, and held them responsible for the great rising which took place a few months later in the capital. It was they again who in 1805 expelled the last Pasha sent from Constantinople to represent the Ottoman Sultan, and set up Mehemet Ali in his place, who never forgot altogether what he owed to them, even when he realised that the archaic education given at El Azhar could no longer supply the needs of the more modern State which he was bent on creating. Ismail himself, though his religion sat light on him, always had doles for El Azhar. During the early years of the Occupation, the number of its students decreased perceptibly and its influence seemed for a time to be waning. But it revived with the revival of Egyptian Nationalism.
Lord Cromer, who was always at pains to keep his finger on the pulse of the Egyptian people, saw the importance of establishing some contact with an institution that played so large a part in moulding Mahomedan thought. Any direct interference would have incurred deep suspicion as an intrusion upon a strictly Mahomedan preserve, but he gave whatever indirect support he could to the small group of men who, like Mohamed Abdu, were anxious to introduce a new and more liberal spirit into the ancient precincts of El Azhar and gave his active sympathy credit for being entirely free from sectarian arriere-pensees. Mohamed Abdu died. Lord Cromer left Egypt, and neither of his successors tooktly, however, it is to be feared, the average El Azhar student carries away with him chiefly a religious arrogance which, rooted in the belief that the world belongs by rights to Islam, resents all forms of progress emanating from Western civilisation and readily translates itself into aggressive fanaticism.