Of all the countries that Britain had helped during these last sixty years, there was none of which she might more reasonably be proud than Egypt.
A new era had dawned for that country when Sir Evelyn Baring (afterwards Lord Cromer) arrived in Cairo as British Consul-General in 1883. The country was wellnigh bankrupt owing to the reckless expenditure of the Khedive Ismail; the canals and dams on which the land depended had been neglected, while the gloriously fertile delta of the Nile—the granary of the ancient world—was rapidly deteriorating, owing to its clumsy and unscientific water supply.
A sum of nine millions was now raised by the six Powers and Turkey for the payment of Egypt's debts. Sir Evelyn Baring set to work to irrigate the land, which was crying aloud for water. The result was so successful that of late years many millions have been profitably spent on the further improvement of Egyptian irrigation.
Before the engineers had been at work ten years the cotton crop had trebled and the sugar crop more than trebled. A new spirit was working in Egypt. The crowning touch on the great series of irrigation works which ensured a regular water supply to both Upper and Lower Egypt was added in 1900, with the famous Assuan Dam, one of the greatest storage reservoirs in the world. It was built entirely by British engineers, some 600 miles south of Cairo, and held up the river for 70 miles, enabling a summer as well as a winter crop to be raised throughout great portions of the country.
Justice was administered, the whip was no longer used to extort taxes from the people, and the down-trodden and oppressed Egyptians began dimly to realize that there was such a thing as justice between man and man.
Meanwhile, officered and drilled by Englishmen, the Egyptians were becoming efficient soldiers, and a British Commander-in-Chief, known as the "Sirdar", was appointed.
With this increasing prosperity the time was ripening for a reconquest of the Sudan, the "land of the blacks", who were living under the cruel oppression and tyranny of the Khalifa, the Mandi's successor. There was misery throughout the length and depth of the Nile Valley, from the Egyptian boundary at Wady Haifa right away to Gondokoro.
The Nile Dam.
The task of reconquering the Sudan was entrusted to the Sirdar, afterwards known as Lord Kitchener of Khartum.
Quietly he began to prepare for that great battle which would end the power of the Khalifa, restore the richest provinces of Africa to the Khedive, safeguard the sources of the Nile, and redeem the unhappy Sudanese.
The reconquest occupied three years—from March 1896 to December 1898. The first stage was from Wady Haifa to Dongola, the second from Dongola to Abu Mimed, the third to Khartum.
By 1896 railway and telegraph were completed, and the expedition pushed forward. Before the well-organized and well-equipped Egyptian Army the Khalifa's followers fled, Dongola was captured in September 1896, and the first stage in the reconquest of the Sudan accomplished.
In August 1897 Abu named was captured, the Dervishes losing some two hundred and fifty killed, and the second stage of the reconquest of the Sudan was accomplished.
Early in 1898 the Khalifa and his troops marched northwards, only to he defeated by the Sirdar at Atbara. The battle was fought on Good Friday, and it has been called one of the most brilliant achievements in the history of Africa. The victory was won by the Sirdar after half an hour of fierce fighting; several hundred Dervishes were captured and some three thousand Arabs killed.
The Khalifa now rallied all his remaining forces for a last defence of Omdurman, which had been the capital of the Sudan since the fall of Khartum in 1885. With drums beating and great war-horns sounding, with his black banner streaming in the midst, he marched his fifty thousand black men into the open plains about Omdurman.
Here on September 12, 1898, the battle raged which was to decide the fate of the Khalifa.
Omdurman has been called "a mere massacre of brave warriors rushing on certain death from foemen armed with the best weapons and well trained in their use ". Every man of the Khalifa's bodyguard was shot down round the black banner, which flew six foot square from a long bamboo lance adorned with silver.
The battle over, the Sirdar rode to the old town, which was still held by some five thousand men, and entered without opposition. The following Sunday he crossed the river to Khartum, and formed up the troops in the open space which faced the ruined palace where Gordon had perished thirteen years before. Once again British and Egyptian flags flew side by side, and in the noonday sun a Memorial Service was reverently held for one of Britain's dearest heroes.
So the third stage of the reconquest of the Sudan was accomplished.
Gordon's death was avenged by the bringing of a new era of peace, freedom, and order to one of the most oppressed nations of the earth.
The Sirdar was made Governor-General of the new Egyptian Sudan, and the irrigation which Lord Cromer had so successfully improved in Egypt was now planned for the Sudan.
In order to carry out these reforms it was necessary to employ Englishmen, though the climate was ill-suited to them. But there, amid the silent desert land, the endless swamps, the huge spaces, the weary and waterless distances, little bands of Europeans worked out their lives in solitude and discomfort, in order to hasten the dawn of a new era.
And in the dim days to come, when the sands of the desert turn into sugar-plantations, cotton-fields, or stretches of endless wheat, the Egyptian will realize what his land owes to these Englishmen—the creation of a new Egypt.