We had to wait nearly a century and a half before the next country broke free of the iron grasp of the British Empire.
The nationalist sentiment in Egypt is described as having been “limited to the educated elite” prior to the outbreak of the First World War. But Britain having poured masses of foreign troops into Egypt during that legalised mass murder, while also conscripting 1.5 million Egyptians into the Labour Corps, mobilised pro-independence sentiment throughout all classes in the population.
In 1919 a mass movement for full independence became mobilised at a grass-roots level using civil disobedience, and emissaries requesting independence and international recognition were promptly arrested and exiled in Malta. Killings followed, with villages and railways destroyed by British vengeance. Demonstrations and strikes across Egypt became an almost daily occurrence until normal life ‘ground to a halt’.
The British decided to have an enquiry into the causes of the disorder, and two years later, in 1921, the report recommended the end of the Egyptian Protectorate (some Protection!). London issued a unilateral declaration of Egyptian independence in 1922, although the following matters were still reserved to the British:
- Security of communications of the British Empire in Egypt
- Defence of Egypt against foreign aggression
- Protection of foreign interests in Egypt
In the years leading up to the insurrection, it’s easy to see why dissatisfaction would have fomented amongst the elite. Government expenditure in Egypt never got above 10% of GDP until the onset of the war; over the corresponding period, government expenditure in the UK was seldom below 20% of GDP, and up to 40% of GDP.
Statistics on GDP before 1950 – for many countries – is patchy. But one source at the University of Groningen estimates that in 1913, per capita GDP in Egypt was $902 (using 1990 US dollars). That makes it $1,190 in US dollars from the year 2000.
So 10 years before independence, Egypt’s per capita GDP was just 1190/7160 = 17% of the UK’s. And I called the USA ‘piss-poor’!
Once again, let’s put it into the context of today’s GDP. We already know that the UK’s GDP per capita in 2013 was $42,423. Egypt’s would be $1,850*, which would put it between Ghana and Nicaragua, in 143rd spot in the world rankings.
But where do we find Egypt in 2013? The GDP of this country that was left smashed and brutalised by the British occupation has managed to haul itself up to 127th in the world rankings, with per capita GDP of $3,110 – a full 68% improvement on where Egypt might be expected to be.
So independence for Egypt has resulted in a 68% increase in GDP relative to where it was at the end of the British occupation. Hardly a ringing endorsement of the benevolence of the Governments of His/Her Britannic Majesty.
|Date of independence||GDP at that date ($ 2013)||GDP in 2013 ($)||Independence ‘bonus’|
* The University of Groningen estimates that GDP per capita in Egypt was $649 in 1870, twelve years before the British occupation in 1882. At independence in 1923, per capita GDP was approximately $905 (all in 1990 dollars). So per capita GDP over the period of occupation grew at around $4.83 per annum. If we assume the same growth rate under a British occupation extending to 2013, we would get an additional $434.7, for a total of $1,334.7 in 1990 dollars, or $1,850 in 2013 dollars.