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August 17, 2019


Edith Louisa Butcher (1854 – 1933), the English author of the famous “The Story of the Church of Egypt”, has an interesting book, Things Seen in Egypt, which was published in 1910. In it, Mrs Butcher describes in some details several social customs and the ceremonies associates with them within the Muslim and Coptic communities, and shows the differences between the two. In a previous article, S. H. Leeder’s Account of the Coptic Wedding Ceremony and Celebrations in Early 20th Century, I presented Leeder’s account. Today, I would like to add to that Mrs Butcher’s account of the same.[1] I have used headings to make the reading easier. Below is Mrs Butcher’s account:


Muslim wedding ceremony

The wedding ceremonies differ also [like in the rite of circumcision], as the seclusion of the Moslem women renders necessary. I have often heard Europeans talk of going to a Moslem wedding, but I never yet heard of any outsider except myself and one other woman who had seen the actual ceremony. It is performed in comparative privacy, and none but men are supposed to be present. Two rows of men sit opposite to each other, the bridegroom and his friends on one side, the man who does proxy for the bride, with his companions, on the other. A fiki (schoolmaster) marries the two men, solemnly joining their hands, over which a handkerchief is placed to represent the marriage canopy. The bride is supposed to be somewhere within hearing, and to acknowledge at the critical moment that she accepts the man representing her as her proxy.

Coptic wedding ceremony

In the case of a Coptic wedding, the custom, under Moslem dominion, had become something like the Mohammedan usage. The first part of the marriage service would be gone through solemnly with the bridegroom alone, sitting in his wedding garment with an empty chair at his side, while the poor little bride peeped at her own wedding from behind the door.

But when that part of the service came for which her responses were necessary, she was solemnly brought in, veiled much like an English bride, but supported, as if she were unable to walk, by a man on either side, and in the rest of the ceremony she took her proper part. Now she is recovering still more of her ancient freedom, with the full consent and encouragement of her mankind.

Christian weddings are now often solemnized in the church instead of in the house, as considerations of safety rendered necessary in the old days.

Both Christians and Moslems make the Zeffet el Hamman, or procession of the bath. The bride is dressed in gala attire, and, attended by all her female relations and friends, preceded by a band of musicians. If a Moslem, and unable to afford a carriage, the bride is enveloped in a shawl from head to foot, so completely covered as a rule that she cannot see where she is going, and has to be guided by her friends. The only difference between the two was that, until the English came, the Christians could not venture to make their processions by light of day or with sound of music, but moved through the streets at dead of night, and carrying torches.

The second procession is when the bride is taken from her own home to that of the bridegroom. In these days even the poorest people in the large towns try to afford a close carriage for the bride on this occasion; and in the case of a poor Moslem they will combine it, from motives of economy, with the circumcision of the small boys of the family. In such a case one or more little boys will be seen gaily attired in an open carriage in the procession, while the bride’s carriage is covered entirely with a handsome cashmere shawl.

On leaving a Christian bride’s house rose-leaves are generally showered over her — a pretty custom, and one which it would be well if we adopted in place of our foolish and often dangerous rice-throwing.

But the next ceremony, which takes place at the bridegroom’s house, is one which is already falling into disuse among the Christians and some of the better educated Moslems, and it is to be hoped will shortly become entirely obsolete. It is neither Christian nor Mohammedan, but comes straight down from the pagan religion of ancient Egypt. On arriving at the house, a calf or other ceremonially clean animal is slain before the bride on the threshold, and she has not only to see it done, but to pass in over the running blood.

Little red and white flags are strung across the street or over the entrance to the courtyard where a wedding is being celebrated. If the household is rich and has sufficient space, large tents are erected for the reception of the male guests in front of the house, where they are entertained for at least two, and often for several nights. As in all Eastern “fantasias,” the hosts do nothing themselves to entertain their guests: they leave it all to paid musicians and dancers. During the wedding ceremonies of both Copts and Moslems there is one night among those dedicated to festivity on which the Egyptian keeps open house in the fullest sense of the word. No one must be refused hospitality. The dragomen in Cairo have presumed on this custom to such an extent — telling the tourists that they can get them invitations to a native wedding, and then taking them in on this night uninvited — that very just and serious offence has been given, particularly as the manners of these intruders from the different hotels and boarding-houses generally leave much to be desired.

At state weddings the guests are assembled in the largest reception-room, and then the bride in full dress makes a sort of progress through the assembly, largesse being scattered among them as she passes. Tiny gold coins are specially minted for this purpose, so light that they resemble a shower of golden petals. The guests are not supposed to scramble for these, but may catch as many as they can; and I have heard that dresses for a state wedding used to be specially made so as to carry away as many as possible of these gold coins in folds and quillings, without necessity for any appearance of eagerness or grasping on the part of the wearer.

Muslim polygamy and divorce

Mohammedans, as we all know, are permitted by their religion to have four wives at once; but as in this case each wife can claim her own establishment, attendants, and conjugal rights, they find it cheaper and less trouble to divorce their last wife when they are inclined for a new one, and claim credit for having only one wife, when their religion allows them more. In any case, the principal wife (generally the first, if the mother of the first-born son) is not often divorced; she retains her rank and place, whoever else may go and come. Every Mohammedan may divorce his wife whenever he pleases and without any reason given. He has to give her one-third of the dowry he received with her, but that is generally a small sum, and the fate of these discarded wives is often very sad. But public opinion has had a certain influence upon the Egyptian Moslems of late years. I believe that it is now considered rather bad form to divorce your wife, unless you can give some better reason than mere caprice, among the educated Mohammedans. They consider it only just that they should take a second wife when the first has no son, or grows old, or when their profession obliges them to make frequent journeys between two towns, and they need a home in each. But they do not divorce and remarry as often as they used, since they have become more sensitive to the pressure of European opinion on this head.

Coptic age of marriage and the importance of mutual knowledge and consent to the marriage on the part of both man and woman

Among the Copts very early marriages are discouraged. Some time ago, as among the Moslems still, fifteen was considered quite a possible age, and twelve for the girls. Now a man must be twenty and a girl sixteen before the Patriarch, or Bishop, will grant the licence, without which no priest can celebrate a marriage. In 1895 the Patriarch issued an encyclical letter to all his clergy, reminding them that, in accordance with the Canons of the Church, young people intending to marry should not only see, but mingle with, each other, so as to know one another well beforehand, and calling upon the priests to ascertain whether there was mutual knowledge and consent to the marriage on the part of both man and woman before the ceremony was performed.

Coptic divorce and re-marriage

Divorce is very rare among the Copts, and is only granted for adultery. The innocent party may marry again with the permission of his or her Bishop or the Patriarch, but the religious service is slightly different, and the ceremony of crowning is omitted, as it is also for a widow or widower.


[1] E. L. Butcher, Things Seen in Egypt (London, 1910), pp. 42-51.


August 17, 2019

The Way of the east


I have promised the reader to read, and write about, the novel, The Way of the East, by the English Egyptologist, Arthur Weigall. He wrote it in 1924. It was published in the same year in Toronto, Canada, by The Ryerson Press, in some 318 size A5 pages. It is written in 3 parts and 26 chapters. The main protagonists are Colonel Robert Romance, an English officer in the British army in India; and a Coptic girl, Miriam Marcos, daughter of the rich Governor of Ismuay,[1] in Upper Egypt. Miriam’s mother had died at birth, and her father sent her to England, at the age of 5 years old, to receive her education there. In England she spent her life until she was in her 20s when she returned back to Egypt, having being trained in adopting the “English point of view”. Robert and Miriam fall in love, but their different races create major problems, and their love affair is used to discuss race. Does race matter? Does the colour of the skin matter? Do race and colour matter in marriage? Can training in the “English point of view” abolish racial and colour differences? Which is most important in deciding intermarriages: race, colour or culture (the “point of view”)? And if a woman from the “natives” who can be passed as white in colour and educated in the English “point of view”, like Miriam is, could be found, can an Englishman ignore her “brown” relatives and environment? Wouldn’t she bring his race and offspring down?

I read the novel twice, a few years ago and I have just finished it for the second time now. It has been a very distressing experience. Finishing it, I find my energy almost entirely sapped. The occasion of the Anglo-Coptic romance could have been used to discuss the relevant questions in a nuanced and open-minded manner, but the author has chosen to deal with it crudely and in a biased and a most hateful way. The degree of racism, white supremacism and ultra-nationalistic sentiments expressed in the novel, by many of its characters and by the novelist himself, is unimaginable. The views expressed are global, and are not confined to the “brown”, “native” Copts (the writer is fine to some extent with the “white” Copts, of which Miriam is one), who are denigrated, vulgarised and disfigured in character, and portrayed in a most unfair way, but are made in regard to all “brown” peoples of the world, and particularly to the “blacks” – the “negroes” – who, according to the novel, are closer to the animal. The English race (and the American [of course, Weigall’s wife then was American])[2] is the most superior race on earth; and England must rule the old world and its sub-ordinate races, and bring them out of darkness. I am sure every decent English man and woman – and I believe the overwhelming majority of the English people are decent – will be shocked and horrified by the views expressed in the novel today.

The novel does not rise to the level of fine literature in style or language; and there is nothing soul-uplifting, moral or entertaining in it. No wonder that it has faded into obscurity. What do I think of Weigall now? I am afraid I have found him – unexpectedly, I must say – a very nasty, nasty little man. He belongs, despite his scholarly works, to the nasty group of human beings that one can find in every nation and country across the globe, and see themselves as superior and others as inferior. It is a sad finding.

I have no energy or mood to write about the novel at the present in more detail. When I can, I will. At this stage, I just thought of sharing my thoughts in general about the novel. It may make me feel better, and may prepare the reader to when I write about the novel in detail, one day in the future as I hope to.


[1] There is no city in Egypt by this name. Weigall says it is some 400 miles above Cairo, which makes me think he means Esna.

[2] See Part I of this series.


August 16, 2019


One of the most gorgeous Coptic weddings of recent years. Which united the prominent families of Wissa and Fanous. The photograph shows the magnificent Egyptian pavilion used on ceremonial occasions, with its myriad lights. The wedding took place at Assiout. (The content of the caption are those of Leeder.)

The English writer, S. H. Leeder, describes the Coptic wedding in his book, Modern Sons of the Pharaohs.[1] I think it is a great work of ethnological description of the Coptic wedding ceremonies in the first quarter of the 20th century. He also publishes a beautiful photograph of one such Coptic wedding, the wedding of Esther Akhnoukh and Fahmy Bey Wissa, which is described below. I publish the photograph above.

Below, I publish Leeder’s description as it is. I only add headings and summary (in italics) of the three-day ceremonies.


Days of celebration of marriage

WEDDINGS are, as a rule, celebrated on the night of Saturday and Sunday. They are never celebrated during Lent or any of the fasts kept by the Coptic Church, except under very exceptional circumstances. Although very few people now keep the long fasts, these still preclude marriage for more than one-third of the year.

It is through the weekly fasts, too, that Sunday has been chosen for marriage, Wednesdays and Fridays being regular fast-days; and as three days are necessary for the proper solemnisation, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday alone are possible. As marriage is one of the seven Holy Sacraments, it is thought doubly fitting to choose the Holy Day. Tuesday is made impossible for any wedding ceremony by universal superstition as to ill luck.

Saturday, first day of the celebration of marriage: the Bride’s Night

The public bath. The Bride’s night (Henna night) at her parents’s house. Adornment of the bride. Decoration of the house. Reception. Dinner.The bridegroom’s deputation with bouquet and a wax candle that must be as long as the bride is tall.

The first night is called the bride’s night, and is celebrated at her parents’ house; it is sometimes spoken of as the night of henna, because before she goes to bed the bride applies henna to the palms of her hands and the soles of her feet, so that the red stain it leaves may be fresh the next day. In some way this is regarded as a sign of her virginity.

In the course of that day the bride, with her girlfriends and her female relatives, have been to one of the public baths, which has been specially reserved for the party; here a great frolic is held, and the prettiest compliments are paid the girl by the older women, to the special gratification of the bride’s mother.

At night she is adorned with all the splendour possible—girls of even moderate wealth will wear a valuable diamond tiara on such an occasion—and she holds a reception, to which all relatives and friends are bidden. All the guests stay to dinner, and spend a great part of the night listening to music and singing.

The house is gorgeously decorated with flowers and bunting, and at night the illuminations are brilliant, many sparkling lustre chandeliers being hired for the occasion. The women occupy the upper stories, the ground floor being reserved for the men. In most cases one of the beautiful pavilions, elaborately decorated in applique designs of many colours, and hung with countless lustre chandeliers for the candles, is erected in the courtyard or garden, or even in the street, for the use of the men, the whole house then being left for the women.

The food is prepared by special cooks engaged for the occasion. I have already described an Eastern feast, as it is served on the round metal trays placed on stools, when the guests eat with their fingers. Such Oriental feasts are often made on great ceremonial occasions, even when the hosts ordinarily eat in the French way. When a priest is present, as on this occasion, he takes precedence over all other people, whatever may be their rank. He begins by saying grace, then, taking a loaf, he blesses, then breaks it, and gives a small piece to each person present.

The groom does not put in an appearance at the bride’s house on this night, but he sends a small deputation of his nearest relatives, and along with them a bouquet, and a wax candle that must be as long as the bride is tall. This candle remains lighted in her chamber during the whole night, and is also regarded as a symbol of the bride’s virginity.

Sunday, second day of the celebration of marriage: the Bridegroom’s Night

Confession of both bride and bridegroom. Procession of the bridegroom in the bridegroom’s night at his parent’s house. Wedding procession of the bride to her future house. The killing a calf or a sheep at the bride’s feet, and the bride step over the flown blood. The sprinkling and rose leaves, to avert the effects of “the envious eye.” The arrival of the priest, acolytes and cantors. The “crowning” ceremony. The exhortation to the newly-wed. Dinner and rejoicing. The newly-wed retire to their chamber while the rejoicing continues.

On the morning of Sunday, the bride and the bridegroom should, after confession, have attended the Mass, afterwards spending the time in quiet reflection, but this is only done by the pious.

In the afternoon—called the bridegroom’s night—the shebeen, or best man, accompanied by two or three of the nearest relatives of the groom, goes to fetch the bride. The shebeen always pays for the carriages hired for this procession, and he tips the servants. The bride’s father presents him with a gold or silver cigarette case; which accounts for the fact that every man of any position in Egypt seems to possess a valuable article of this sort; sometimes this is put down by travellers to an inordinate love of display.

The bride now leaves the home of her parents, and goes in state to the house prepared by the bridegroom, preceded by a band of musicians. Some years since these processions only moved at night, and they were very effective. First came the bearers of the great torches; then the band, followed by men each carrying a candle appearing out of the centre of a bouquet; then pages, walking backwards so as to face the bride, carrying incense burners and perfume bottles, with which they sprinkled the onlookers; then the bride, leaning on the arm of the best man, followed by the ladies, with family servants in the rear.

Such wedding processions may still sometimes be seen, but now they are generally Moslem; and of course the bride is then hidden, either in a closed carriage, or in a palanquin, sometimes fixed, as I have often seen it in the country, on the back of a camel.

It is usual with the Copts of to-day, in the cities, for the bride and the ladies to be conveyed to the bridegroom’s house in closed carriages, escorted only by the best man and their few male relations.

On arriving at the house, the old custom is, however, still observed of killing a calf or a sheep at the bride’s feet in such a way that its blood shall flow on the threshold over which she must step. The flesh is given to the poor. The bride is carried or helped up to the ladies’ quarters by the best man.

As the procession leaves the bride’s maiden home, and as it enters the groom’s house, it is sprinkled with salt, and sometimes with rose leaves, to avert the effects of “the envious eye.”

Priests and acolytes and cantors, and the whole host of ecclesiastics, now arrive at the house to prepare for the religious ceremony.

After resting a little and partaking of slight refreshment, the wedding or “crowning” ceremony is begun. It is general for it to take place in the house; though there is no rule against its being celebrated in the church.

A table has been placed in the middle of one of the largest halls in the house, and on this a copy of the Holy Gospel is placed, in its sealed silver case, surrounded six silver crosses, to each of which three wax can are fixed. This symbol of the Holy Trinity is used many of the Coptic services. A golden cross and golden wedding ring are also placed upon the table.

Two arm-chairs are placed in front of the table the use of the couple to be married.

In another room the groom is robed in a rich embroidered cope, and then conducted in a procession, preceded by the choir, to the hall. He takes the left-hand chair—as one would expect, seeing that in the West he would take the right-hand—for East and West are always opposite.

The clergy and choir then go to bring the bride, who is dressed in white, adorned with orange blossoms, her face being covered with a thin veil. She wears diamond and gold ornaments. The deacons carry candles and bells, and the cantors clash the cymbals, all singing, “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord,” and, “O King of Peace, give us Thy peace.”

In the old days the robing of both the man and the woman was part of the service, the priest blessing the garments and vesting the bride and the bridegroom at the table.

The priest begins the service by saying three times, “We are assembled to solemnise the union of N. and M.,” repeating after each announcement the Lord’s Prayer, in which all present should join inaudibly.

The priest then says the Thanksgiving, and offers incense. Then several chapters from the Old and New Testament are read, referring to marriage. There are three beautiful Prayers of Betrothal, and a Thanks-giving for the Betrothal.

There is a prayer over the oil with which the couple are anointed, and then comes the Rite of Coronation. Two crowns of gold are placed upon the foreheads of the pair, and they are made to exchange rings and to join hands. Their heads are drawn close together and are both covered with a single embroidered sash. The couple are also bound together with a ribbon, as a symbol of the indissoluble character of marriage, and that they are no longer two, but one.

At the close of the service the priest lays the cross upon their heads as he pronounces the benediction. The crowns, as well as the wedding robes and the sash, are the property of the church.

In the exhortation at the end of the service (which takes three hours for its proper celebration), the priest, first addressing the groom, says, “I deliver to you your bride N., who is now your wife. You have now more authority over her than her parents. You must always treat her with love and kindness, and never neglect any of her wants,” and so on.

Turning to the bride he says to her, “You have heard, according to the Scriptures, that your husband is your head, as Christ is the head of the Church. That means that you must obey and respect him, as Sarah obeyed Abraham and always addressed him as ‘my master.’ You must keep his house well, and make his home always cheerful,” and so on.

Finally, speaking to both, he says, “If you obey what you have heard, God will bless you as He blessed Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca.”

The service is concluded by the singing of hymns in Coptic and Arabic, and the women, who are never able to contain themselves, accompany the hymns by their peculiar zagreet, the sort of yodelling cry they use to express either joy or sorrow as the occasion may demand.

After the ceremony the bride goes to the hareem, and the bridegroom to the men’s apartments, to take dinner and to receive the congratulations of friends, amidst great rejoicing. About an hour before midnight the bride and bridegroom retire, but the music goes on during the greater part of the night.

Monday, third day of the celebration of marriage

Relatives gather at the newly-wed house. Gifts and contributions to wedding expenses.

On Monday the nearest relatives of both sides spend the day at the groom’s house. The bride waits on them herself, and every guest presents her with a gift according to means. These gifts may be a diamond or a gold ornament, or a sum of money, £1 to £10; every one receiving in return a handkerchief embroidered by the bride.

On the occasion of a wedding it is the custom of all intimate friends to help by contributing something towards the coming fête—one will send a sheep, another fowls, others rice, sugar, coffee, candles, and so on.

The recipient generally makes a list of all the things received, and on a similar occasion returns something of the same value if he be of the same means, or of more or less value, as he is a richer or poorer man.

In spite of this custom, however, the temptation to the Egyptian seems irresistible to spend far too much on display, and it is no uncommon thing for families to cripple their resources in this way. I have been to many weddings, on the festivities of which sums ranging from £1000 to £10,000 have been spent, and in nearly every case it was out of proportion to the means of the families concerned.

Divorce and remarriage

Divorce is not very common amongst the Copts. Remarriage is not greatly favoured, and it may only take place by the innocent party applying to the Patriarch for permission. No person can be crowned in marriage a second time.

An account of the wedding of Miss Esther Fanous and Mr Wissa in Assyut, 1913[2]

One of the most gorgeous weddings of recent years, unequalled in Oriental magnificence, it is said, since the spacious days of Ismail, took place at Assiout, between two of my acquaintances, shortly after I had left Egypt after my last visit, in 1913. Miss Esther Fanous, the bride, had read to me some of her charming poems, written in English, and I had often had the pleasure of hearing her speak of her deep joy in the beauties of her beloved country, and of its magnificent, time-old history; and I had also seen her, type of the new Egyptian womanhood, using her gifts to uplift the poor fellaheen by her eloquent pleading in the name of the Cross. I had also met Mr. Wissa, the bridegroom, a graduate of Cambridge, and a member of one of the great Coptic families of Upper Egypt.

I give a short account of this wedding, for which I am indebted to a Coptic friend who was present, because it illustrates several things to which reference has been made, and especially shows how the native customs assert themselves on such occasions, in spite of the use that is made of some of the Western modes of life.

“Nothing had been spared to make the ceremony the complete success it proved to be. Eastern beauty and Western science blended harmoniously in the gorgeous marquee (suvan) with the myriads of ancient oil lamps and the gorgeous modern electric chandeliers. In this pavilion no fewer than 8000 guests were entertained on one night. Khedivial banners and a magnificent triumphal arch adorned the streets leading to the bridegroom’s house. The preparations are said to have cost £20,000.

“The entertainment lasted for three days continuously, and the guests, who came from all over the country, included native Pashas, Beys, Omdehs, sheikhs, and other notables, besides European Government officials and a host of minor folk.

“On the first day eight hundred village notables were entertained to lunch and dinner, à la Turque, by the parents of the bride; and in the evening, Abdulhalim Effendi Nahas, the renowned singer, and Sami Effendi Shawas, the violinist, displayed their talents to the delight of a select audience, being accompanied on the mandolin (kanoun) by Mohammed Effendi Omar, most of the pieces being rapturously and repeatedly encored.

“On another day the guests from Cairo and Alexandria, and many from Assiout, including native and foreign officials, distinguished residents and their families, were entertained to lunch at the Wissa mansion, and in the evening they attended a special reception given by the bride’s mother, Mme. Akhnoukh Fanous, whose house was beautifully decorated with flowers and coloured lights. At 8 p.m. the guests began to arrive, being greeted by the band of the Wissa school with Arabic and European airs; and at nine o’clock Fethy Pasha, the Mudir of Assiout, led the way to supper. After this, the toasts and speech-making ended, the male guests proceeded to the Wissa mansion to hear Arabic songs by Mohammed Effendi el Saba, accompanied by Mohammed Effendi Omar’s orchestra.

“Another day was devoted to the entertainment of the native ladies, who lunched with the bride’s family, and took part in the procession to the bridegroom’s house, the Wissas meantime entertaining hundreds of native villagers, Moslem and Christian, to a Turkish luncheon.

“On the afternoon of each of the three days, splendid displays of horsemanship were given in front of the bride’s house by members of leading local families on richly caparisoned steeds, each performance ending with a procession round the house, the horsemen beating drums and shouting such phrases as, ‘Amar ya bib Fanous!’— ‘May the house of Fanous flourish for ever!’

“An interesting incident took place when the leading horseman, noting Dr. Fanous (who is an invalid) on the balcony, rode his horse up the great flight of steps to salute him, the doctor rising to his feet to grasp the hand of the cavalier, who then rode down again, amid the frenzied shouts and cheers of the vast crowd below.

“At 8 p.m. on the evening of the wedding itself, the procession, preceded by the band and torch-bearers, and a contingent of mounted police, and composed of over a hundred carriages, proceeded to the large marquee. Here it was met by Coptic choristers, chanting a hymn of welcome, who accompanied the bride and her party to the dais, where the wedding ceremony was performed by the Coptic bishops and clergy. The officiating clergy included Orthodox and Protestant representatives, the Patriarch having delegated two bishops to represent him, writing at the same time his great regret that age and infirmity prevented his personal attendance. There were also present the Bishops of Assiout, Khartoum, and Kena, the latter being accompanied by the full choir of his church.

“The five prelates, and the Reverend Mouawad Hanna, united the bridal pair with full Orthodox and Protestant rites, according to the desire of the Patriarch, the Coptic Orthodox and Protestant choirs chanting sacred verses and selected psalms. Both bride and bridegroom belong to the Protestant Church, Dr. Akhnoukh Fanous being President of the Church Council, the Megliss el Milli.

“After the ceremony, which lasted an hour, Khalil Moutran, the native poet, and others, recited beautiful epithalamia in prose and verse.

“At 11 p.m. a sumptuous supper was first served to three hundred guests, and afterwards to several thousands of the poorer people, the feasting going on until 2 a.m. The Moslem and Christian ladies were privately entertained meantime in the house. The festivities were not over until 5 a.m., when they ended in singing and dancing.”


[1] S. H. Leeder, Modern Sons of the Pharaohs (London and New York Hodder and Stoughton, 1918), Coptic Wedding, Chapter VIII: pp. 112-122.

[2] This wedding of Esther Akhnoukh to Bey Wissa (an Oxford graduate) took place on 24 July 1913 in Assyut, Upper Egypt, when they were 17 and 29 years old, respectively. The couple had engaged a year earlier, in 1912. See: Hanna F. Wissa, Assiout, the Saga of an Egyptian Family, Revised Edition (2000).


August 15, 2019


Arthur Weigall with his wife, Hortense, outside the entrance to the tomb (KV2) of Ramesses IV

In Part I, I gave a general biography of the Egyptologist, Arthur Weigall, and I promised to analyse his novel, The Way of the East, which is a romance between an English colonel, Robert Romance, and a Coptic woman, Miriam Marcos. But, before we read together through the novel it will help to know the author’s social and political views of Egypt, Egyptians in general and the Copts in particular. Weigall has written many books on ancient Egypt; and in these there is no mentioning of his views on modern Egyptians, whether Muslims or Copts. Fortunately, he has written a book about modern Egypt, The History of Events in Egypt from 1798 to 1914,[1] which he published in 1915. This was a year after he left Egypt for England. From this book we can gather his relevant political views.

Weigall attaches a poem at the front of his book by the nineteenth century American poet, Walt Whitman:

With antecedents,

With Egypt . . .

With the fading kingdoms and kings,

With countless years drawing themselves onward

And arriving at these years —

O, but it is not the years: it is I, it is You . . .

We stand amid time beginningless and endless,

We stand amid evil and good . . .

I know that the past was great and the future will be great,

And that where I am or you are this present day

There is the centre of all days, all races,

And there is the meaning to us of all that has ever come

Of races and days, or ever will come.

He then writes a Preface[2] in which he gives his excuse, being an Egyptologist, of writing such a book:

My fellow-workers may ask why an Egyptologist, deserting for a while his temples and his mummies, should meddle with modern affairs and politics. I must, therefore, give my reasons for having turned my attention to these nineteenth- and twentieth-century studies in Egyptian history.

Weigall starts off by, what I think, an erroneous conclusion: that anthropologically the modern Egyptians and ancient Egyptians are one and the same, physically and mentally; and that the purity of their blood resisted all invasions and occupations:

It has lately been definitely proved that the ancient and modern Egyptians are one and the same people. Anthropologically there is no real difference between them, and it would seem that neither the Arab nor any other invasion materially affected the purity of their blood. They have suffered a certain nervous deterioration, and have perhaps lost some of their initiative and strength of purpose, just as any individual in his lifetime may, after a long illness, find himself not so energetic as once he was; but physically and mentally the modern Egyptians are not different from their ancestors of the days of the Pharaohs.

Studying the past will inform the present, and studying the present will enlighten our understanding of the past, hence the importance of studying the modern Egyptians and their “national character”:

This being so, I do not see how an Egyptologist can hope to understand the ancient inhabitants of the Nile Valley unless he make some study of their modern descendants. The antiquarian will reply that modern politics are of too transitory a nature to interest him; but in answer, I would point out to him that all historical episodes are transitory, and yet in bulk they serve to define the only permanent quality by which a people may be judged — namely, the national character. The antiquarian must remember that in his archaeological work he is dealing with a people who are still alive, still contributing their strength to the labours of the world. The affairs of bygone times must be interpreted in the light of recent events, just as modern conditions can be rightly appreciated only by those who know what has of one before. There must be a constant interchange of suggestion between the past and the present, and both in the study of the distant ages and in that of modern days, we must not lose sight of the fact that the long road of Time stretches in one unbroken line from the far past into the far future, and that the traveller upon that road is indeed a lost wanderer if he sees not from whence it comes and into what direction it seems to go.

Egypt has recently passed under the Protection of the British people, and it is therefore incumbent upon those who take their national responsibilities with seriousness to understand how it comes about that we are in any way concerned with the people of the Nile. Lord Cromer once remarked to me that no statesman could hope to understand the Egyptian Question unless he had made some study of ancient history ; and with equal reason it may be said that no antiquarian can expect to interpret rightly the events of Egypt’s mighty past unless he has been an interested spectator of Egyptian actions in modern times.

Weigall then tells us that his own study of modern Egypt has helped him to understand its past; and then – rather astonishingly, I must say – he states his confidence that the modern Egyptians, with the help of the British Occupation (he always, though, mentions “England” rather than the “Britain”), will be able to re-establish Egypt’s past greatness:

Such is my excuse for spending many of my spare hours in the preparation of the following chapters, which, as far as I am concerned, have served to enlighten me very considerably upon certain remote episodes, and have produced in my mind an unbounded confidence in the ability of the Egyptian nation to re-establish its greatness under our very eyes, and, by England’s high-minded aid, to become, as the new Sultan has said, “a centre of intensive cultivation, both moral and material.”

Chapter VI in Weigall’s book, which he dedicates to Eldon Gorst, is very relevant to our study. Gorst became second Pro-Consul in 1907 after Lord Cromer had resigned his post. It is interesting that that was a couple of years after Weigall was made Chief Inspector of Antiquities for Upper Egypt in 1905. Weigall tells us of the extremely grave situation the British Occupation was in when Gorst took up office:

The tragedy of Deneshwai in 1906 was still in the forefront of men’s minds. British officers in uniform had been attacked, and one of them had succumbed, within a few miles of their camp; and, apart from all other considerations, this outrage was to be interpreted as meaning that the very symbols and insignia of British authority were despised and disregarded. The misunderstanding with Turkey in connection with the Sinaitic frontier had caused a more than usually excited outburst of anti-British feeling; and, had there been war, it is possible that the Egyptian army would have mutinied. Rumours of forthcoming massacres of Christians were frequent, and more than once the date was fixed for a general slaughter. Both in 1906 and 1907 a rising, directed against the English, was confidently expected; and there was one well-remembered night in Cairo when a total absence of British officers from the clubs and places of amusement revealed the fact that they were all under arms at their posts. Massacre was openly preached in the villages throughout the country, and many Europeans were subjected to insult.

The Nationalists — that is to say, those Egyptians who wished to terminate the British Occupation and to introduce self-government — were at this time an extremely powerful party ; and the Khedive, perhaps chagrined at the attitude of the Agency towards him, was openly inclined to be well-disposed to the movement. The Russo-Japanese war had supplied a powerful stimulus to Oriental aspirations, and the Egyptians were of opinion that they, too, could rise with easy rapidity to the level of a first-class Power. The financial crisis, in which a large number of Europeans and Egyptians had lost enormous sums of money, had paralysed the Bourse. The nerves of the whole country were on edge.

No sooner was Lord Cromer’s back turned than the vernacular Press attacked the Occupation with vicious energy. His strong hand being removed, the reaction set in; and the native journalists revelled in a demoniacal fantasy of abuse. Lord Cromer was accused of all the crimes in the calendar; and it was publicly recorded that he had left the country bearing with him many millions of pounds stolen from the Egyptian treasury. The Nationalists freely stated, and seemed actually to believe, that his resignation had been brought about by their triumphant policy, and that the home Government had required his removal owing to his stern treatment of the Deneshwai ruffians. British prestige suffered a very palpable fall, and it was thought that the days of self-government were imminent.

Gorst arrived, and the British and Egyptians were waiting to see how he would address the situation and rule. And it seems that he lost no time in implementing a policy of divide and rule; and he first started by distancing the regressive Khedive Abbas II (1892 – 1914) from the Nationalists:

All eyes were turned upon him for some sign of his policy, and it was not long before indications were given of the direction in which he intended to move. For some time the relations between the Khedive and the British Agent had been strained, and Sir Eldon Gorst made it his first concern to institute more friendly feelings. This he did with such marked success that his Highness was soon completely won over by the careful deference paid to his rank, and by the cordial attitude adopted towards his person. “Whatever good work may have been done in the past year,” Sir Eldon was able to say in his first annual report, “is due to the hearty cooperation of the Khedive and his Ministers, working harmoniously and loyally with the British officials in the service of the Egyptian Government.”

It is difficult to decide whether Sir Eldon fully realised at the time what the result of this entente would be; but, since the effect was so immediate, it would seem that he was not acting solely from a sense of duty to his Highness, though, no doubt, his actions to some extent were the outcome of a genuine sympathy for the awkwardly situated Prince. No sooner had the Khedive laid aside his differences with the Agency than the Nationalists turned upon him, accusing him of disloyalty to his country, and threatening to dethrone him. It must have been with profound satisfaction that Sir Eldon watched this break between the Khedive and the Nationalists. The latter party had suffered a severe blow by the death of their leader, Mustafa Kamel Pasha, and now many internal quarrels occurred which hastened their fall. With the Khedive and all Egyptians who were loyal either to him or to the Occupation against them, their power could not be retained, and very soon their political redoubtability was reduced to an irritating but not very dangerous agitation.

Gorst then paid attention to breaking any possible unity between the Muslims and Christians of Egypt:

In his first year of office Sir Eldon Gorst took another important step towards the overthrow of militant Nationalism. The vast majority of Egyptians are Mohammedans; and as the Occupation, against which the so-called “patriotic” movement is directed, is Christian, it became a political necessity for the Nationalists to use this religious difference as one of the main planks of their platform. While the leaders wished to convey to Europe the impression that they were too highly educated to be fanatical, they were constantly using the inherent Mohammedan enthusiasm as a means of arousing the nation. Now, a large number of educated Egyptians are Copts — i.e., Christians — and the Nationalist party had therefore to decide whether, on the one hand, they would eliminate the religious aspect of their movement and incorporate the Coptic “patriots” with themselves, or whether, on the other hand, they should retain the important asset of religious fervour and should dispense with the services of this not inconsiderable minority of native Christians. They were still undecided, and there was a chance that the two religious factions would unite, when the new British Agent suddenly appointed Boutros Pasha Ghali, a venerable Copt, to the office of Prime Minister, made vacant by the retirement of Mustafa Pasha Fehmy.

Again, it is not easy to say whether the probable results of this action had been carefully considered, or whether Boutros Pasha was appointed simply because he happened to be one of the most capable men available. The effect was immediate. The Mohammedan Nationalists, insulted at the exaltation of the Copts, turned against their Christian colleagues, and a breach was effected which it will take years to close. Soon the two factions were at one another’s throats, and at last Boutros Pasha paid for his elevation with his life, being assassinated by a Mohammedan Nationalist named Wardani in February 1910. Sir Eldon Gorst, who had been watching the fight with a somewhat sardonic smile, is said to have been profoundly moved by the tragedy; and he certainly saw to it that the murderer suffered the death penalty, in spite of the most carefully organised propaganda in his favour. Sir Eldon was at his best when, as on this occasion, he fought the enemies of law and order by means of the ordinary legal procedure of the country, imposing his will on magistrates and judges who, by reasons of the methods employed, were empowered to resist him with impunity. The Nationalist leaders had sworn that Wardani should not hang, and when the black flag went up over the prison it marked the turning-point in their attitude to the Agency, for an Egyptian always knows when he is beaten.

This is perhaps the only place where Weigall mentions the Copts as a people. The Copts are “Christian”; they are “not inconsiderable minority of native Christians”; they represent “a large number of educated Egyptians”; and they, with the Muslims of Egypt, are just “two religious factions”.  The Machiavellian Gorst has managed to estrange the Copts from the Nationalists, but he has no intention of being seen as in alliance, or sympathising, with the Copts:

The Copts, abandoning the Nationalist movement, now turned to the Occupation for support; and, deeming that this moment of British indignation against the assassin and his party was favourable for the redressing of certain wrongs under which they believed themselves to be labouring, they looked to Sir Eldon Gorst for encouragement. They received none. Sir Eldon, quite correctly, considered that their complaints were groundless, and he took the opportunity to tell them so with some sharpness, thereby estranging them from the Occupation as effectively as they were already estranged from the Nationalists.

The Copts are now, effectively, friendless. The British Occupation has deafened its ears to their grievances, which better English souls than Weigall, such as Flinders Petrie (1853 – 1942), Alfred Butler (1850 – 1936) and Archibald Sayce (1845 – 1933), have supported and saw their justification. Weigall does not show towards the Copts or their grievances. Further, he lauds Gorst’s policy:

Thus Egypt, which had presented a fairly united front in 1907, was now divided into four distinct factions: the Occupation and its supporters; the Khedive and his loyal adherents, whose fraternising with the British was rather superficial; the Copts; and the Nationalists, who themselves were much divided. For the first time for many years the task of governing the country was made simple, and these internal dissensions caused a set-back to Egyptian aspirations from which it will take many years for the nation to recover. In 1907 Sir Eldon Gorst found the British Agency besieged by an earnest crowd, all shouting for autonomy; in 1911 he left the Agency disencumbered and calmly watching that crowd fighting with itself. But whether we have to see in these events the intervention of an unscrupulous Fortune, or whether we must ascribe each movement to the Machiavellian cunning of the British Agent, is a question which will now never be answered. Even the diplomatic Secretaries in Cairo were totally undecided upon this matter, for Sir Eldon kept his policy to himself. One prefers to think that he was not entirely responsible for these dissensions and squabbles, for it is a form of cock-fighting which does not commend itself to British sentiments. Sir Eldon Gorst was not, like Lord Cromer, a born ruler in every sense of the word, but he was amazingly clever. He was extremely anxious to benefit Egypt, and in certain minor matters he was almost ruthless in clearing obstructions from the path of what he considered his duty.


There is no doubt that Weigall was an ardent colonialist and an English nationalist who saw in the English (and the American as we shall see in his novel)[3] the greatest race. This is not unusual by the measures of the time. What surprises me is that his Preface, in which he expressed good feelings, in general, towards the modern Egyptians, does not stand the test when one reads the main text. Weigall next discusses Gorst’s views on the Egyptian Question:

Meanwhile, his policy in regard to the larger aspect of the Egyptian question was straight-forward and logical. “British intervention in the affairs of this country,” he wrote in one of his reports, “is directed to the sole end of introducing and maintaining good administration and gradually educating and accustoming the Egyptians to carry this on for themselves.” England entered Egypt in 1882 for the purpose of supporting the Khedive, who nominally represented law and order, against his rebellious subjects; and she took this step almost solely in the interest of the Europeans resident in the country, or those who had financial interests in it. The Army of Occupation remained in Egypt after the suppression of the rebellion, in order to maintain the peace and thereby bring prosperity to all classes; and it may be said that the healthy financial condition of the country is due primarily to the confidence and sense of security inspired by the presence of the British troops. But when the English had arrived it was found that the entire administration of the Government was corrupt and rotten, and it was not many years before Lord Cromer decided to call in a large number of English officials thoroughly to overhaul and reorganise different departments. England, being on the spot, could not sit idle and watch the mismanagement; and it was certainly her only moral course to set to work in this manner. Nevertheless, in order to quiet the agitation of those who felt that annexation was now very near, it was officially stated that it was the intention of England to educate and train the Egyptians to govern themselves. Having declared so much, Lord Cromer was able to settle down to his labours with a will, and very soon the whole machinery of government was running like clockwork, to the great comfort of the masses, but to the annoyance of those classes who no longer found fat billets awaiting them, and who had now been spoiled of the opportunities of making money by illicit means. “This is all very well,” said intelligent natives, “but we are not learning how to govern ourselves in the least; we are not being taught, we are being ousted.” The more hot-headed Egyptians went further than this. “We are already as fit to govern ourselves as we ever shall be,” they declared, with some truth, “and we demand that the English shall now withdraw.” Lord Cromer was not the man to be hustled; but gradually, and in his own time, he took certain steps to increase the participation of Egyptians in their own government. The concessions thus made were attributed by the now powerful Nationalist party to British weakness, and the demands for autonomy became louder and more violent in consequence.

Matters were in this ferment when Sir Eldon Gorst arrived; and it was deemed advisable, both by him and by the Foreign Office, that England’s policy should be stated in clear terms, and should be backed by deeds. The world was therefore once more reminded that the Egyptians were being trained to rule themselves, and certain offices previously held by Englishmen, on becoming vacant, were handed over to natives. This caused a storm of indignation amongst the English officials, who had come to feel that Egypt was a British possession under the sole management of British officials. Sir Eldon Gorst, therefore, addressed himself in his 1910 report to the Englishmen in the service of the Egyptian Government, and pointed out to them that, by the terms of the unchanged policy laid down by the British Government in the early days of the Occupation, Egyptians had of necessity to be given offices; but that his countrymen need not on that account fear that their positions were endangered, for self-government was not yet in sight. As long as the standard of the Englishmen employed was retained at a high level they could not fail to be of use to Egypt. But, he added, “The only justification for the employment of non-Egyptian officials is found in their possession of qualities which do not exist among the natives of the country.”

Weigall was convinced that the Egyptians do not possess a combination of honesty, brains, and activity as he found in the English; and he thought Gorst was underestimating the fefects of the Egyptians:

This, as a matter of fact, was not putting the case as strongly as might be supposed. A first-rate official must possess honesty, brains, and activity; and, while these qualities are often to be found in combination in an Englishman, they are very seldom united in an Egyptian. Nobody can shut his eyes to the fact that native officials are given to taking bribes, and it is common knowledge that positions which have yielded to their English holders no more than the small salary attached to them, have, on being given to natives, produced thousands of pounds a year for their enrichment. A wealthy landowner is always willing to pay the irrigation-inspector a few hundreds in order to get a larger supply of water than that to which he is entitled. Contractors will offer the engineers of the Ministry of Public Works thousands as a bribe to secure them some good contract. Judges are peculiarly exposed to temptation, and police-officers are offered money every day of their lives. Englishmen, on the other hand, are absolutely free from this taint, and they therefore do “possess qualities which do not exist amongst the natives” as a rule, and Sir Eldon was well aware of this.

Nevertheless, the English officials were considerably disturbed, and the slightly increased powers of the Egyptians were deeply resented. That type of Englishman who was inclined to pursue his capable way without regard for the fact that he was supposed to be teaching rather than ignoring his Egyptian colleagues did not attempt to understand Sir Eldon’s very correct attitude. He regarded the British Agent with unmixed feelings of bitter mistrust; and Sir Eldon, on his part, did not always hide the irritation which was caused him by this lack of appreciation. The feud developed, and the uncompromising tone of the Agent, the hard, unrelenting, fearless abruptness which characterised his actions, was misinterpreted as vindictiveness — a kind of inherent nastiness. His policy was entirely misunderstood, and he was called a weak man, though nobody who came into direct contact with him laboured for long under that delusion.

The English were divided on how to rule Egypt; and the division was to a large extent based on what they thought about the Egyptians. Weigall examines the three available policies “which it was then possible for a British Agent in Egypt to pursue.”

Firstly, there was the policy of the iron-grip:

The population of Egypt consists of about eleven million peasants, or fellahin, and a few thousand educated persons, or effendiat. The peasants dress in native costume; and, though a certain percentage of them can read and write, the majority are illiterate. They are, however, an intelligent people, clever with their fingers, industrious, imitative, and inquiring. They are sober, patient, not unfaithful, not revengeful, and, on the-whole, law-abiding. The educated classes wear European dress, ape the manners of the French or sometimes of the English, and have their heads turned with extraordinary ease. They are often noisy, officious, and bullying. Their object is to live in Cairo or Alexandria, where they degenerate, in many cases, into cafe-loafers and wastrels. Their morals are usually of the lowest, and they have little regard for those injunctions of the Koran which effect complete teetotalism amongst the peasants. A minority are good workers and are popular with Englishmen, but their almost unanimous contempt for muscle and backbone leads them to participate as little as possible in the more active labours of administration, and thereby estranges them from their more strenuous white colleagues. They despise the peasantry, who are the strength of the nation, and treat them like dogs.

Thus it comes about that the sympathies of the English official in Egypt are very largely with the peasant; and the comfort of the small farmer upon his acre or two of ground is a matter far nearer the heart of the British inspector than is the ease of the effendi in his office. This attitude is strengthened and justified by the knowledge that the effendi deems it permissible to fleece the fellah on every possible occasion, or to assist him only on payment of an exorbitant bakshish. In 1882 the effendiat were waxing fat on the tribute extorted from the fellahin; and it has been the task of the English to check this tendency and to protect the peasant against the upper classes.

The policy of the iron-grip stated that the interests of the fellahin had thus to be safe-guarded, and that this could only be accomplished by the very thorough sitting upon the upper ten thousand. The native official, being corrupt and prone to bribery, was to be kept out of administrative positions as much as possible, such offices being given to Englishmen, who might always be trusted to do justice and to deal fairly without hope of reward. The Government, in fact, was to be largely taken out of the hands of the Egyptians; and the little group of rather objectionable educated natives might go hang in order that the huge body of very agreeable peasants might be at peace.

Thus, by an amazing paradox, the autocratic rule of the iron -grip became a democratic and popular movement, which acted as though it were designed solely for the comfort of the masses at the expense of what may be called the aristocracy.[4]

The policy of the iron-grip pointed out, of course, that the ultimate granting of a constitution to Egypt and the evacuation of the country by the Army of Occupation were not in the region of practical politics. It felt that a new situation had arisen since the days when the talk of educating the Egyptians to govern themselves was current, and that the happiest solution to the difficulty was now the declaration of a British Protectorate in Egypt, or the actual annexation of the country by purchase from Turkey. It believed that the encouragement and development of certain Egyptian industries would provide work for the majority of the educated Egyptians, while the numerous minor positions in the Government would give employment to the remainder of that class. The vast lower classes, meanwhile, obviously would be only too delighted at an indefinite continuation of the security and justice which they enjoyed under British rule. Being unhampered by the need of experimenting in individual Egyptian capacity for administrative work, the Government would be free to tune things up and to make a model job of it.

Secondly, there was the policy of the velvet-hand:

This policy regarded the partial or complete evacuation of Egypt in the near future as an axiom. It declared that the honour of England compelled us to abide by our original promise to retire as soon as the Egyptians appeared to be able to govern themselves, and it wished to hasten that day by giving the natives every possible opportunity of trying their hand at the task of administration, whether their attempts involved the tyrannising of the lower classes or not. English officials, it said, ought to understand that they hold only watching briefs. The Egyptians should carry on the work of the Government, and the Englishmen should keep a fatherly eye upon them from a discreet distance. All natives should be treated with courtesy, sympathy, and even deference, as being lords in their own country, and their misdemeanours should be reproved with gentleness and should not lead to discouragement.

Here, Weigall gives two examples why natives should not be treated with courtesy, sympathy, and even deference, as being lords in their own country, and their misdemeanours should be reproved with gentleness and should not lead to discouragement:

We will take two cases at random which will show how this policy would work. It sometimes happens in the Egyptian provinces that a single rest-house provides accommodation for native and English inspectors of any one department. Now, an Englishman may be on excellent terms with his Egyptian colleague as they ride side by side through their district (and, in fact, it generally happens that they do get on very well indeed together), but he may not appreciate him so easily when they inhabit the same house. The manners of the two nations are so different; and the Englishman is notoriously narrow in his belief in the correctness of the habits practised by himself — bathing daily, airing the room, changing his clothes sometimes, refraining from expectorating on the dining-room carpet, not hiccoughing loudly in public, and so forth. He is therefore inclined to resent this cohabitation, and to demand a rest-house exclusively for his own countrymen and for those Egyptians who have become Europeanised. But the policy of the velvet-hand denied his right to complain: he was serving the Egyptian Government, and he must put up with the proximity of his Egyptian colleagues.

When an English inspector sits in the ante-room of the office of his chief, waiting, with native officials, for an interview, the policy of the velvet-hand declared that those native officials should be invited to enter the sanctum before him, as not being foreigners; and if it was argued that this precedence was detrimental to British standing, the answer was given that it was the dignity of Egypt and not the already assured prestige of Britain for which we were striving.

The policy of the velvet -hand attempted in every possible way to increase the self-confidence and dignity of the Egyptians, and to introduce them into the councils of the nations. It considered that the small upper class was the mouth-piece of the nation, and it was willing to confide the interests of the eleven inarticulate millions to the care of that class, believing that the possible sufferings caused to the peasantry would not be so considerable as the pains endured by the Egyptian patriot who saw his country ruled by the foreigner.

Thirdly, there was the policy of the guiding-pressure:

[This is] the policy, that is to say, which directed the Egyptians along the path upon which they ought to tread, but brought pressure to bear upon them at all times. This was the policy which was pursued by Sir Eldon Gorst with the sanction of the home Government and of Lord Cromer, and it is the policy in which all serious students of Egyptian affairs should have acquiesced, so long as Egypt was a part of the Turkish Empire and its incorporation in our own Empire was not forced upon us by powerful circumstances. The policy gave the Egyptians a certain control over their own affairs, but it held the power of veto unquestionably with England. It felt that we had no right to take Egypt’s freedom from her, so long as that freedom was not abused. On the other hand, it believed that England had a certain right to be in Egypt, and it deemed it correct to ensure the acknowledgment of that right were the country threatened with interference from Turkey or any Western Power. The English officials were urged to deal sympathetically with their native colleagues, but to keep an eye upon them, and to exert to the full their powers in suppressing evil practices. The policy stated that Egypt was not ripe for self-government, or for the preservation of order without the aid of the Army of Occupation; but it endeavoured, nevertheless, to give the native every chance, and to place him in any post which could be safely given to him. It felt that the most simple definition of its conduct was that which explained that, owing to England’s high sense of the rights of subordinate nations, Egypt was being submitted to a series of small, thoroughly supervised experiments in self-government, preparatory to possible larger ones ; but that, though the trials would be continued as circumstances permit, the results were not yet sufficiently encouraging to allow of any alteration in the status quo during the present generation. Meanwhile it endeavoured to do all in its power to make British control as palatable as possible to the Egyptians; but, believing that the effendiat did not in any way represent the nation, it felt that as yet there had been no real or unanimous expression of disapproval of the Occupation as such.

It must be repeated that this policy involved the making of experiments, the giving and withdrawing of certain liberties, and the constant changes of portfolios; and it must be understood that the Egyptians are such a docile race that government under these conditions was a possibility, provided that the guiding-pressure was firm and the controlling hand sufficiently known to be recognised.

Sir Eldon Gorst, in carrying out this policy, made the experiment of giving the native General Assembly and Legislative Council greater powers, a step which was very severely criticised by a section of the British residents, who did not realise that it was a tentative move forced upon the Agent by a sense of fair-play. The experiment was a failure, and Sir Eldon Gorst did not hesitate to admit it. In his last report he turned upon the erring native politicians, and gave them as straight a lecturing as any national body has ever received; and it was with evident relief that, voicing the opinion of the home Government, he felt himself able to put an end to the experiment. The attempts to increase the scope of the Provincial Councils met with greater success, and no retrogression was necessary. Both Lord Cromer and Sir Eldon made experiments in allowing native Ministers a certain freedom of action in their Ministries, not always controlled by the English advisers; and this caused a certain amount of mischief, though the policy was by no means a failure.

But while measures such as these were giving the Egyptians the opportunity of showing their powers and failings, there were two matters which called for some show of the iron-grip on the part of the British Agent. Owing to a number of causes, not the least of which was the retirement of Lord Cromer, crime in the provinces had increased to an alarming extent, and there were many cases of pure brigandage with which the police seemed to be powerless to cope. In 1909, therefore, Sir Eldon Gorst introduced the much-discussed exile laws, by which a certain class of undesirable was liable to be transported to a criminal colony in an oasis amidst the wastes of the western desert. The effect of this law was instantaneous, and the crime returns at once began to go down. In the same year the Press Law was revived, and was applied on a few occasions against journals which had published extremely inflammatory matter. This also had a good effect, and the native papers became, for a time, considerably less prone to frenzied and often obscene ravings.

Evidently, Weigall was for a combination of two policies: the guiding-pressure and the iron-grip.


We may agree or disagree with Weigall in his assessment of the Egyptians and his views on Egypt and the modern Egyptians. This article is meant to represent his views as accurate as possible, and hence the lengthy quotations, in order that we understand his novel, The Way of the East, which is already said is intense with racial references that make difficult reading. My objective is to find out what he thought about the Copts. Sadly, there isn’t much one can find in his other books to tell us about that; and for one to study his views on them, a careful reading of his novel is a must. However, the above socio-political views on Egypt and the Egyptians in general must help in understanding the novel.


[1] Arthur Weigall, The History of Events in Egypt from 1798 to 1914 (New York, 1915). All quotations from the book in this article are from Chapter VI, Sir Eldon Gorst, pp. 206-236.

[2] Ibid, pp. vii-ix.

[3] One of his wives was American.

[4] Weigall adds: “Incidentally, it may be pointed out that when certain English Labour Members of Parliament came to Egypt to assist the Egyptians to obtain self-government, they were actually taking the part of the aristocracy against the peasantry, and were enthusiastically giving countenance to a movement which aimed at empowering the effendiat to tyrannise the fellahin, and which might well have called for their wildest denunciation had the case been applied to English people. These misguided politicians acted as though the cry for autonomy arose from the throats of the whole Egyptian nation. The thought did not seem to occur to them that only about two percent of the Egyptians were asking for it. The remaining ninety-eight per cent, being more or less inarticulate, though none the less thoughtful for that, were not considered. As well might Mr Keir Hardie and his friends have accepted the voice of Mayfair as the sole expression of English opinion.”



August 13, 2019


The English Egyptologist and author, Arthur Weigall in 1923

Arthur Weigall[1] (1880 – 1934) was an English Egyptologist, prolific writer and a show businessman and lyrics writer. Weigall was born in 1880 to Arthur Archibald Denne Weigall and Alice Henrietta Weigall (née Cowen). His father was an army officer (Major), who died on the North West Frontier,[2] a region in British India, in 1880, and in the same year Arthur was born in Ceylon.[3] He was raised by his mother, who became a missionary in the inner-city slums of England. He had one sister, Geraldine (Geanie) F. Rutter (née Weigall), who spent some time with him in Egypt.

His fascination with ancient Egypt started from early age. Weigall entered New College, Oxford, 1900; but, finding that Oxford had no department of Egyptology, he left it after a short residence to become, in 1901, assistant to the famous Egyptologist, Flinders Petrie, first at University College London and then at Abydos in Egypt, in Egypt, on the staff of the Egypt Exploration Fund (EEF).[4] In 1905, at the age of 25, he was made Chief Inspector of Antiquities for Upper Egypt,[5] residing in Luxor, where he held his post until 1914. He made it his job to prevent the stealth and exportation of Egypt’s antiquities and to preserve what was left. During that period, the tomb of Yuya and Tuya and the tomb of Horemheb were discovered. In Egypt, he came in contact with the likes of Flinders Petrie, Friedrich Wilhelm von Bissing, Howard Carter, Lord Carnarvon, Alan Gardner, Gaston Maspero, Theodore Davis, Percy Newberry and John Storrs. During this period, Weigall published:

  • Abydos:Parts I-III (1902 – 1904)
  • A Report on the Antiquities of Lower Nubia (1907)
  • A Catalogue of the Weights and Balances in the Cairo Museum (1908)
  • A guide to the antiquities of Upper Egypt from Abydos to the Sudan Frontier (1910)
  • The Life and Times of Akhenaten, Pharaoh of Egypt (1910, rev. 1922)
  • The Treasury of Ancient Egypt: Miscellaneous Chapters on Ancient Egyptian History and Archaeology (1912)
  • Travels in the Upper Egyptian Deserts (1913)
  • A Topographical Catalogue of the Tombs of Thebes, with A. H. Gardiner (1913) [This was later supplemented by Reginald Engelbach]
  • The Life of Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt (1914, rev. 1924)

In 1914, just before WWI, he returned to London, where worked in the theatre and cinema, and was a film critic journalist for some time. As a journalist working at the Daily Mail, he came back to Egypt in 1923 to cover the opening of KV62, the tomb of Tutankhamun, which was discovered by Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon a year earlier. Weigall later went to America and was married twice.

Even though, Weigall spent most of his time following the break of WWI in Britain and the USA, he continued to write about Egypt; and his writings included archaeological subjects, but also historical and romantic novels:

  • The Life and Times of Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt (1914)
  • A History of Events in Egypt from 1798 to 1914 (1915)
  • Madeline of the Desert (1920)
  • Burning Sands (1921)
  • The Life and Times of Marc Antony (1921)
  • Bedouin Love (1922)
  • The Glory of the Pharaohs (1923)
  • Tutankhamen and Other Essays (1923)
  • Ancient Egyptian Works of Art (1924)
  • The Dweller in the Desert (1924)
  • The Way of the East (1924)
  • A History of the Pharaohs, in two volumes: Volume 1, the first eleven dynasties; Volume 2, the 12th to 18th dynasties (1925)

In A History of the Pharaohs, Weigall displayed considerable arrogance towards other contemporary Egyptologists, including Howard Carter, who, with Lord Carnarvon, had discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922.

Weigall was not confined to Egyptian topics – he wrote other books:

  • Wanderings in Roman Britain (1926)
  • Wanderings in Anglo-Saxon Britain (1927)
  • Personalities of Antiquity (1928)
  • Paganism in Our Christianity (1928)
  • Flights into Antiquity (1928)
  • Sapho of Lesbos: Her Life and Times (1932)
  • Alexander the Great (1933)
  • Laura Was My Camel (1933)
  • Nero: Emperor of Rome (1933)
  • A Short History ofAncient Egypt (1934) [His last book]

Weigall married twice. His first wife was Hortense Weigall (née Schleiter),[6] an American woman, whom he married in 1901,[7] when both of them were 20 years old, and who accompanied him to Egypt.[8] They had five children: Alured, born 1907; Anthony, 1910; Geraldine, 1913; Philippa, 1914; and Veronica, 1915. In 1927, Hortense filed a wife’s petition of divorce in the US and obtained one.[9] It seems that the basis for the divorce was infidelity. Weigall lost no time, and in 1928, aged 47, he married the Canadian divorcee,[10] Frances Muriel Weigall (née Lillie), who was born in 16 years his junior.[11] She was a pianist and sister of the famous comedian Beatrice Lillie. This marriage allowed him to get involved again in the world of show business as a writer of lyrics.

Weigall died in London on 2 January 1934 at the London Hospital, aged 53. In 2007, his granddaughter, Julie Hankey, wrote a biography of him: A Passion for Egypt: Arthur Weigall, Tutankhamun and the ‘Curse of the Pharaohs.[12]

Weigall, as the reader can see, wrote many books in Egyptology, some scholarly but other popular, and also books on other topics, including novels. But, it is his romantic novel, The Way of the East, which Weigall published in 1924, that I am concerned about here. It is a romance between an English man, Colonel Robert Romance, and a Coptic woman from Upper Egypt, Miriam Marcos; a romance that brings about topics in race. I shall talk about this novel in the coming articles.


[1] Full name is: Arthur Edward Pearse Brome Weigall.

[2] Present-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in India.

[3] Other sources say he was born in St. Helier, Jersey.

[4] The Egypt Exploration Fund was founded in Britain, in 1882, by Amelia Edwards and Reginald Stuart Poole as a non-profit organisation in order to explore, survey and excavate Egypt. In 1919, its name was changed to “Egypt Exploration Society”.

[5] Succeeding Howard Carter who resigned as a result of what is called the Saqqara Affair.

[6] Hortense was born in 1880, in Germantown, Clinton, Illinois, United States of America to Oscar Schleiter and Carrie F. Schleiter. She died in 1943, aged 63.

[7] The scanty literature mentions sometime between 1901 and 1905.

[8] It is not clear in what year she joined her husband. It may be only in 1905 when he was in a well-paid, secure job.

[9] Divorce Court File: 5433.

[10] Her first husband was John Dinwoodie Burnet.

[11] Frances Muriel was born in 1896, in Ireland.

[12] Published by Tauris Parke Paperbacks in London and New York.


August 12, 2019



Mountolive, which was published in 1958, is the most Coptic of all Lawrence Durrell’s tetralogy, The Alexandria Quarter. It is the third novel in the series. In previous articles, I have suggested that Durrell never knew the Copts, and his knowledge about them was obtained from others; and that his “Coptic Plot”, which he first entertained in the second novel of the tetralogy, Balthazar (1958), of working with the Zionists in Palestine against British and Arab interests, is an unrealistic work of sheer imagination.

One of Durrell’s extraordinary and bizarre writings about the Copts comes in Chapter I: the outburst[1] of the head of the Hosnani Family, Falthaus, in response to a gaffe by the young English diplomacy trainee, David Mountolive, who is later to become British Ambassador in Cairo. Mountolive, “a junior of exceptional promise, [who] had been sent to Egypt for a year in order to improve his Arabic and found himself attached to the High Commission as a sort of scribe to await his first diplomatic posting, but he was already conducting himself as a young secretary of legation, fully aware of the responsibilities of future office”, went to Egypt in the 1930s, before the start of WWII. There, he was first hosted by the Hosnani family for ten days to learn Arabic and Egyptian ways. The Hosnanis were a rich Coptic Christian family who owned a large villa by the Lake of Mereotis, near Alexandria. It consisted of Falthaus, the head of the family, who was in his sixties at the time, and was “dying of some obscure disease of the musculature, a progressive atrophy”. Durrell calls him, “the sick man” and “the invalid”. Fathaus’ wife is Leila, a woman in her forties, “though she looked much younger”. Mountolive, who was in his twenties, as one gathers, falls in love with Leila, and is sexually involved with her, which Falthaus knows, and is comfortable with for as long as she doesn’t fall in love with the Englishman! The family has two sons: the eldest, Nessim, is an intelligent student in his last year at Oxford, and has “a Byzantine face such as one might find among the frescoes of Ravenna – almond shaped, dark-eyed, clear featured”; and Narouz, the younger brother, who Durrell describes as hare-lipped, heavy built and ugly, who rejoiced in bloodshed and manual work. Narouz is to be the farmer of the family, while Nessim the banker.

After returning from a romantic rendezvous with Leila – a matter which not only Falthaus knew about, but also Nessim and Narouz – the family and their guest gather at the dinner table. This happened after Falthaus had rehearsed a suicidal attempt by shooting himself with a pistol, and telling himself, while Narouz was in earshot, “And now if she should fall in love, you know what you must do.” Mountolive did not know of this incident, which happened shortly after dinner, and which cast its shadow over the dinner. It took a gaffe from Mountolive to make Falthaus burst. Durrell does not tell us the details of the gaffe, but the reader can gather it was along the Cromerian[2] belief that there is no difference between the Copts and Muslims in Egypt.

I shall copy Durrell’s description of the “outburst” below.


But how indeed was Mountolive to know all this? He only recognized a reserve in Narouz which was absent from the gently smiling Nessim. As for the father of Narouz, he was quite frankly disturbed by him, by his sick hanging head, and the self-pity which his voice exuded. Unhappily, too, there was another conflict which had to find an issue somehow, and this time Mountolive unwittingly provided an opening by committing one of those gaffes which diplomats, more than any other tribe, fear and dread; the memory of which can keep them awake at nights for years. It was an absurd enough slip, but it gave the sick man an excuse for an outburst which Mountolive recognized as characteristic. It all happened at table, during dinner one evening, and at first the company laughed easily enough over it — and in the expanding circle of their communal amusement there was no bitterness, only the smiling protest of Leila: “But my dear David, we are not Moslems, but Christians like yourself.” Of course he had known this; how could his words have slipped out? It was one of those dreadful remarks which once uttered seem not only inexcusable but also impossible to repair. Nessim, however, appeared delighted rather than offended, and with his usual tact, did not permit himself to laugh aloud without touching his friend’s wrist with his hand, lest by chance Mountolive might think the laughter directed at him rather than at his mistake. Yet, as the laughter itself fell away, he became consciously aware that a wound had been opened from the flinty features of the man in the wheel-chair who alone did not smile. “I see nothing to smile at.” His fingers plucked at the shiny arms of the chair. “Nothing at all. The slip exactly expresses the British point of view — the view with which we Copts have always had to contend. There were never any differences between us and the Moslems in Egypt before they came. The British have taught the Moslems to hate the Copts and to discriminate against them. Yes, Mountolive, the British. Pay heed to my words.”

“I am sorry” stammered Mountolive, still trying to atone for his gaffe.

“I am not,” said the invalid. “It is good that we should mention these matters openly because we Copts feel them in here, in our deepest hearts. The British have made the Moslems oppress us. Study the Commission. Talk to your compatriots there about the Copts and you will hear their contempt and loathing of us. They have inoculated the Moslems with it.”

“Oh, surely, Sir!” said Mountolive, in an agony of apology.

“Surely,” asseverated the sick man, nodding his head upon that sprained stalk of neck. “We know the truth.” Leila made some small involuntary gesture, almost a signal, as if to stop her husband before he was fully launched into a harangue, but he did not heed her. He sat back chewing a piece of bread and said indistinctly: “But then what do you, what does any Englishman know or care of the Copts? An obscure religious heresy, they think, a debased language with a liturgy hopelessly confused by Arabic and Greek. It has always been so. When the first Crusade captured Jerusalem it was expressly ruled that no Copt enter the city — our Holy City. So little could those Western Christians distinguish between Moslems who defeated them at Askelon and the Copts — the only branch of the Christian Church which was thoroughly integrated into the Orient! But then your good Bishop of Salisbury openly said he considered these Oriental Christians as worse than infidels, and your Crusaders massacred them joyfully.” An expression of bitterness translated into a cruel smile lit up his features for a moment. Then, as his customary morose hangdog expression appeared, licking his lips he plunged once more into an argument the matter of which, Mountolive suddenly realized, had been preying upon his secret mind from the first day of his visit. He had indeed carried the whole of this conversation stacked up inside him, waiting for the moment to launch it. Narouz gazed at his father with sympathetic adoration, his features copying their expression from what was said — pride, at the words “Our Holy City”, anger at the words “worse than infidels”. Leila sat pale and absorbed, looking out towards the balcony; only Nessim looked serious yet easy in spirit. He watched his father sympathetically and respectfully but without visible emotion. He was still almost smiling.

“Do you know what they call us — the Moslems?” Once more his head wagged. “I will tell you. Gins Pharoony. Yes, we are genus Pharaonicus — the true descendants of the ancients, the true marrow of Egypt. We call ourselves Gypt — ancient Egyptians. Yet we are Christians like you, only of the oldest and purest strain. And all through we have been the brains of Egypt — even in the time of the Khedive. Despite persecutions we have held an honoured place here; our Christianity has always been respected. Here in Egypt, not there in Europe. Yes, the Moslems who have hated Greek and Jew have recognized in the Copt the true inheritor of the ancient Egyptian strain. When Mohammed Ali came to Egypt he put all the financial affairs of the country into the hands of the Copts. So did Ismail his successor. Again and again you will find that Egypt was to all intents and purposes ruled by us, the despised Copts, because we had more brains and more integrity than the others. Indeed, when Mohammed Ali first arrived he found a Copt in charge of all state affairs and made him his Grand Vizier.”

“Ibrahim El Gohari” said Narouz with the triumphant air of a schoolboy who can recite his lesson correctly.

“Exactly,” echoed his father, no less triumphantly. “He was the only Egyptian permitted to smoke his pipe in the presence of the first of Khedives. A Copt!”

Mountolive was cursing the slip which had led him to receive this curtain lecture, and yet at the same time listening with great attention. These grievances were obviously deeply felt. “And when Gohari died where did Mohammed Ali turn?”

“To Ghali Doss” said Narouz again, delightedly.

“Exactly. As Chancellor of the Exchequer he had full powers over revenue and taxation. A Copt. Another Copt. And his son Basileus was made a Bey and a member of the Privy Council. These men ruled Egypt with honour; and there were many of them given great appointments.”

“Sedarous Takla in Esneh” said Narouz, “Shehata Hasaballah in Assiout, Girgis Yacoub in Beni Souef.” His eyes shone as he spoke and he basked like a serpent in the warmth of his father’s approbation. “Yes,” cried the invalid, striking his chair-arm with his hand. “Yes. And even under Said and Ismail the Copts played their part. The public prosecutor in every province was a Copt. Do you realize what that means? The reposing of such a trust in a Christian minority? The Moslems knew us, they knew we were Egyptians first and Christians afterwards. Christian Egyptians — have you British with your romantic ideas about Moslems ever thought what the words mean? The only Christian Orientals fully integrated into a Moslem state? It would be the dream of Germans to discover such a key to Egypt, would it not? Everywhere Christians in positions of trust, in key positions as mudirs, Governors, and so on. Under Ismail a Copt held the Ministry of War.”

“Ayad Bey Hanna” said Narouz with relish.

“Yes. Even under Arabi a Coptic Minister of Justice. And a Court Master of Ceremonies. Both Copts. And others, many others.”

“How did all this change?” said Mountolive quietly, and the sick man levered himself up in his rugs to point a shaking finger at his guest and say: “The British changed it, with their hatred of the Copts. Gorst initiated a diplomatic friendship with Khedive Abbas, and as a result of his schemes not a single Copt was to be found in the entourage of the Court or even in the services of its departments. Indeed, if you spoke to the men who surrounded that corrupt and bestial man, supported by the British, you would have been led to think that the enemy was the Christian part of the nation. At this point, let me read you something.” Here Narouz, swiftly as a well-rehearsed acolyte, slipped into the next room and returned with a book with a marker in it. He laid it open on the lap of his father and returned in a flash to his seat. Clearing his throat the sick man read harshly: “‘When the British took control of Egypt the Copts occupied a number of the highest positions in the State. In less than a quarter of a century almost all the Coptic Heads of Departments had disappeared. They were at first fully represented in the bench of judges, but gradually the number was reduced to nil; the process of removing them and shutting the door against fresh appointments has gone on until they have been reduced to a state of discouragement bordering on despair!’ These are the words of an Englishman. It is to his honour that he has written them.” He snapped the book shut and went on. “Today, with British rule, the Copt is debarred from holding the position of Governor or even of Mamur — the administrative magistrate of a province. Even those who work for the Government are compelled to work on Sunday because, in deference to the Moslems, Friday has been made a day of prayer. No provision has been made for the Copts to worship. They are not even properly represented on Government Councils and Committees. They pay large taxes for education — but no provision is made that such money goes towards Christian education. It is all Islamic. But I will not weary you with the rest of our grievances. Only that you should understand why we feel that Britain hates us and wishes to stamp us out.”

“I don’t think that can be so,” said Mountolive feebly, now rendered somewhat breathless by the forthrightness of the criticism but unaware how to deal with it. All this matter was entirely new to him for his studies had consisted only in reading the conventional study by Lane as the true Gospel on Egypt. The sick man nodded again, as if with each nod he drove his point home a little deeper. Narouz, whose face like a mirror had reflected the various feelings of the conversation, nodded too. Then the father pointed at his eldest son. “Nessim,” he said, “look at him. A true Copt. Brilliant, reserved. What an ornament he would make to the Egyptian diplomatic service. Eh? As a diplomat-to-be you should judge better than I. But no. He will be a businessman because we Copts know that it is useless, useless.” He banged the arm of his wheel-chair again, and the spittle came up into his mouth.

But this was an opportunity for which Nessim had been waiting, for now he took his father’s sleeve and kissed it submissively, saying at the same time with a smile: “But David will learn all this anyway. It is enough now.” And smiling round at his mother sanctioned the relieved signal she made to the servants which called an end to the dinner.

They took their coffee in uncomfortable silence on the balcony where the invalid sat gloomily apart staring out at the darkness, and the few attempts at general conversation fell flat. To do him justice, the sick man himself was feeling ashamed of his outburst now. He had sworn to himself not to introduce the topic before his guest, and was conscious that he had contravened the laws of hospitality in so doing. But he too could now see no way of repairing the conversation in which the good feeling they had reciprocated and enjoyed until now had temporarily foundered.

Here once more Nessim’s tact came to the rescue; he took Leila and Mountolive out into the rose-garden where the three of them walked in silence for a while, their minds embalmed by the dense night-odour of the flowers. When they were out of earshot of the balcony the eldest son said lightly: “David, I hope you didn’t mind my father’s outburst at dinner. He feels very deeply about all this.”

“I know.”

“And you know,” said Leila eagerly, anxious to dispose of the whole subject and return once more to the normal atmosphere of friendliness, “he really isn’t wrong factually, however he expresses himself. Our position is an unenviable one, and it is due entirely to you, the British. We do live rather like a secret society — the most brilliant, indeed, once the key community in our own country.”

“I cannot understand it” said Mountolive.

“It is not so difficult,” said Nessim lightly. “The clue is the Church militant. It is odd, isn’t it, that for us there was no real war between Cross and Crescent? That was entirely a Western European creation. So indeed was the idea of the cruel Moslem infidel. The Moslem was never a persecutor of the Copts on religious grounds. On the contrary, the Koran itself shows that Jesus is respected as a true Prophet, indeed a precursor of Mohammed. The other day Leila quoted you the little portrait of the child Jesus m one of the suras — remember? Breathing life into the clay models of birds he was making with other children. . . .”

“I remember.”

“Why, even in Mohammed’s tomb,” said Leila, “there has always been that empty chamber which waits for the body of Jesus. According to the prophecy he is to be buried in Medina, the fountain of Islam, remember? And here in Egypt no Moslem feels anything but respect and love for the Christian God. Even today. Ask anyone, ask any muezzin.” (This was as if to say “Ask anyone who speaks the truth” — for no unclean person, drunkard, madman or woman is regarded as eligible for uttering the Moslem call to prayer.)

“You have remained Crusaders at heart,” said Nessim softly, ironically but still with a smile on his lips. He turned and walked softly away between the roses, leaving them alone. At once Leila’s hand sought his familiar clasp. “Never mind this,” she said lightly, in a different voice. “One day we will find our way back to the centre with or without your help! We have long memories!”


Now, I have mentioned this outburst as extraordinary and bizarre matter, for I don’t believe that the gist of the uttering put in the mouth of Falthaus Hosnani could come from a Copt. Durrell, in fact, is putting in the mouth of Falthaus the words, and makes him express the views, of another Englishman, whom Durrell does not mention. Plagiarism is a frequent allegation made against Durrell (see, e.g., A. F. Hassan, Lawrence Durrell and the Alexandria Quartet: Influences Shaping His Fiction [1980]). I do contend here that Durrell has plagiarised a lot from S. H. Leeder’s Modern Sons of the Pharaohs, written in 1918; and for this, I shall dedicate my next article.


[1] Lawrence Durrell, Moutolive (Faber Paper Covered Editions, 1958), pp. 39-46.

[2] Lord Cromer, First Consul-General of Egypt (1883 – 1907). Lord Cromer advanced in his book, Modern Egypt, the view that the Copts do not differ from the Muslims of Egypt in anything except that the former worship in churches while the latter worship in mosques.


August 11, 2019

The BBC: Face to Face, 1961| Martin Luther King, Jr

The Copts face injustice like what the Negro (and I use this term as Martin Luther King, Jr, a hero of mine, uses) in the US had faced in the period before and around the launch of the Civil Rights Movement – different in detail but similar in essence. But while the Negroes of America found a leader in Martin Luther King, Jr, to guide them into salvation, using the method of non-violence, we have never had such a leader. In the 1970s and early 1090s, we had in Pope Shenouda III a leader of almost similar dimensions, but his religious role perhaps prevented him from perusing this noble role to the full, coupled with the cowardice and selfishness of some in the clergy and laity.

Martin Luther King, Jr, was a great man: a charismatic man of Faith, courage and humility; an educated, intelligent and articulate man, as the interview with him in the BBC programme, Face to Face, in the 1961, would show.

I am convinced that our problem cannot be solved except through a non-violent resistance like the one led by Martin Luther King, Jr, and which enlisted almost all the Negroes of the US in what came to be known as the Civil Rights Movement. I hail the Negroes of the US for their courage. We need to learn from them. And we need a leader like Martin Luther King, Jr.

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