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The Legacy to Modern Egypt                375
Christian nobles.' There have been fluctuations between feudal
independence and bureaucratic dependence; there may yet be.
'In the last century the beys divided Egypt among themselves
almost in the same manner as the chiefs of the mercenaries in
the VHIth century B.C.'1
A highly centralized system requires a host of clerks, men who
can write letters and keep documents. In Ancient Egypt to
administer and to make a record are synonymous: the official
is a scribe. Then, as now, government employment enjoyed the
greatest prestige and appeared to offer the most desirable career,
because it seemed an easy life compared with other occupations
and ensured a steady livelihood from the government, or, as the
ancients expressed it, 'from the king's house'.
Since the end of the New Empire at least the governmental
machinery could scarcely be said to function as it was intended
to do. Centuries of mismanagement have schooled the village
to withdraw into itself and to run its own affairs, not by a cadre
of officials, but by public opinion. It has its code of loyalty and
secrecy. Between it and the administration stands the mayor,
half official, half squire, ready, if the central power should weaken,
to become a feudal lord, as has happened in the past. As official
he has to represent the government; as chief to keep the secrets
of the village.
Behind this invisible rampart of exclusiveness more effective
than walls of stone, the Egyptian village runs itself along grooves
traced in ancient times, by habit rather than by system. There
is no social theory, and so no crystalline pattern such as we find
in countries to the south and to the east, but a somewhat
amorphous, yet highly cohesive, crowd. Comparative evidence,
however, aided by fragments from Ancient Egypt, convince
us that this absence of system is the residue of a system as
1 G. Maspero, *Un manuel d'hierarchie egyptienne' (Journ. Asiatique,
no. 4j 1888).