THE ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA

A DICTIONARY OF ARTS, SCIENCES, LITERATURE AND GENERAL INFORMATION

ELEVENTH EDITION 1911

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ARABI PASHA (c. 1839-  ), more correctly Ahmad ‛Arābī, to which in later years he added the epithet al-Misrī, “the Egyptian,” Egyptian soldier and revolutionary leader, was born in Lower Egypt in 1839 or 1840 of a fellah family. Having entered the army as a conscript he was made an officer by Said Pasha in 1862, and was employed in the transport department in the Abyssinian campaign of 1875 under Ismail Pasha. A charge of peculation, unproved, was made against him in connexion with this expedition and he was placed on half-pay. During this time he joined a secret society formed by Ali Rubi with the object of getting rid of Turkish officers from the Egyptian army. Arabi also attended lectures at the mosque El Azhar and acquired a reputation as an orator. In 1878 he was employed by Ismail in fomenting a disturbance against the ministry of Nubar, Rivers Wilson and de Blignières, and received in payment a wife from Ismail’s harem and the command of a regiment. This increased his influence with the secret society, which, under the feeble government of Tewfik Pasha and the Dual Control, began to agitate against Europeans. In all that followed Arabi was put forward as the leader of the discontented Egyptians; he was in reality little more than the mouthpiece and puppet of abler men such as Ali Rubi and Mahmud Sami. On the 1st of February 1881 Arabi and two other Egyptian colonels, summoned before a court-martial for acts of disobedience, were rescued by their soldiers, and the khedive was forced to dismiss his then minister of war in favour of Mahmud Sami. A military demonstration on the 8th of September 1881, led by Arabi, forced the khedive to increase the numbers and pay of the army, to substitute Sherif Pasha for Riaz Pasha as prime minister, and to convene an assembly of notables. Arabi became under-secretary for war at the beginning of 1882, but continued his intrigues. The assembly of notables claimed the right of voting the budget, and thus came into conflict with the foreign Controllers who had been appointed to guard the interests of the bondholders in the management of the Egyptian finances. Sherif fell in February, Mahmud Sami became prime minister, and Arabi (created a pasha) minister of war. Arabi, after a brief fall from office, acquired a dictatorial power that alarmed the British government. British and French warships went to Alexandria at the beginning of June; on the 11th of that month rioting in that city led to the sacrifice of many European lives. Order could only be restored through the intervention of Arabi, who now adopted a more distinctly anti-European attitude. His arming of the forts at Alexandria was held to constitute a menace to the British fleet. On the refusal of France to co-operate, the British fleet bombarded the forts (11th July), and a British force, under Sir Garnet Wolseley, defeated Arabi on the 13th of September at Tel-el-Kebir. Arabi fled to Cairo where he surrendered, and was tried (3rd of December) for rebellion. In accordance with an understanding made with the British representative, Lord Dufferin, Arabi pleaded guilty, and sentence of death was immediately commuted to one of banishment for life to Ceylon. The same sentence was passed on Mahmud Sami and others. After Arabi’s exile had lasted for nearly twenty years, however, the khedive Abbas II. exercised his prerogative of mercy, and in May 1901 Arabi was permitted to return to Egypt. Arabi, as has been said, was rather the figurehead than the inspirer of the movement of 1881-1882; and was probably more honest, as he was certainly less intelligent, than those whose tool, in a large measure, he was. The movement which he represented in the eye of Europe, whatever the motives of its leaders, “was in its essence a genuine revolt against misgovernment,”1 and it was a dim recognition of this fact which led Arabi to style himself “the Egyptian.”

See Egypt: History; also the accounts of Arabi in Khedives and Pashas, by C.F. Moberly Bell (1884); and in Lord Cromer’s Modern Egypt (1908).

1 Lord Cromer in Egypt, No. 1, 1905, p. 2.


Transcriber's note: A few typographical errors have been corrected. They appear in the text like this, and the explanation will appear when the mouse pointer is moved over the marked passage. Sections in Greek will yield a transliteration when the pointer is moved over them, and words using diacritic characters in the Latin Extended Additional block, which may not display in some fonts or browsers, will display an unaccented version.

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