The British Response to Denshawai Versus Mubarak’s Response to Tahrir

The Egyptian people faced mistreatment from the British colonizers during the 20th century, paralleling the mistreatment they faced from Mubarak’s regime. One example of  this mistreatment was the Denshawai incident in 1906. Tensions spiked between British occupiers and the Egyptians when five British officers went pigeon hunting in Denshawai, a small town that survived by pigeon farming. When the villagers confronted the soldiers,  one soldier’s gun went off, non-fatally wounding a woman, the wife of Abd-el Nebi. Believing his wife was dead, Abd-el and an elderly pigeon farmer attacked the soldiers. Two soldiers escaped the violence, one of whom would later succumb to heatstroke. A villager, after attempting to help the heat-stricken soldier, was beaten to death by British troops  who had assumed the villager had killed the soldier.The other three soldiers survived the initial confrontation when village elders stopped the violence, allowing the soldiers to go free. British Documentation on the Denshawai Incident reveals the parallels between British occupation and Mubarak, including a dysfunctional justice system, lack of governmental accountability, and a lack of proper communication between the government and it’s citizens.

The British government responded to civil unrest with disproportionate retribution. The day after the incident, the British army returned to the village and arrested most of the villagers, sentencing four to death by hanging. Wilfred Blunt, the British poet, claimed that despite Lord Cromer’s (the ruler behind Egypt’s figurehead)  focus on “his past services in the cause of justice and moral progress in Egypt… and concerned mainly with the reform of the Native Courts,” the courts punished the Egyptians for the Denshawai Incident. This indicates Cromer failed to create a court system free of corruption. Blunt also reveals that the courts claimed that since the villager, who was beaten to death, died of a skull fracture, there was no evidence that the troops were responsible for the death, shielding the soldiers from justice.

Police brutality and extreme punishment were rampant under Mubarak. One American Embassy Cable claimed, “The police use brutal methods mostly against common criminals to extract confessions, but also against demonstrators, certain political prisoners and unfortunate bystanders,” revealing that not only were criminals suffering cruel and unusual punishments, but innocents were also being victimized by the government (qtd. in Harding). During the 2011 Revolution in Egypt, 846 protestors were killed by the police force (Kingsley). Only two police officers were incarcerated for their crimes. Like the British, Mubarak’s regime responded to the public’s discontent with violence and protecting violent governmental employees.

In 1907, the mainstream British magazine, Edinburgh Review, published an article addressing the Denshawai Incident. The article stated, “Five British officers in uniform … were attacked by the villager and very severely handled, one officer dying of his injuries and two others being badly hurt.” This statement neglects to mention the soldiers shot the villagers’ pigeons and a woman, while implying that the villagers killed the heat-stricken soldier. The author proceeds to dismiss Egyptian patriotism by referring to the concept using scare quotes, further demeaning the civilians and their right to self-preservation and self-determination.

Mubarak accepted responsibility for Egypt’s problems, yet refused to abdicate. During the 2011 protests, he stated, “I take responsibility for the security of this country and its citizens. I will not let this country live in fear…. I am dismissing the government and appoint a new one” (qtd. in Fleishman and Hassan). This statement further incited the masses as Mubarak refused to abdicate, instead punishing the rest of the government by firing them. This was also an unintentional display of power, as he proves he can change the entire government at his whim.

In 1908, the radical, Westminster Review, published an article about Cromer’s book. It blamed the government for the Denshawai Incident, claiming that “it would never have occurred if the British officer concerned had been able to speak the language of the villagers whose pigeons they were shooting.” By reaffirming that the pigeons belonged to the villagers and suggesting that the soldiers should have known Arabic, the reviewer shifts blame directly onto the soldiers. He claim’s Lord Cromer’s “ignorance of Arabic” caused a rift between the Egyptians and the British, predicating the growing chasm between Egypt’s government and Egypt’s citizens.

During Egypt’s revolution, Mubarak  “asserted that Egypt’s uprising would not have happened had he not given the people so much freedom of expression,”  revealing he regrets allowing the populace to communicate their opinions (Johnson). This speech, along with all government affairs, was conducted in Modern Standard Arabic rather than a dialect used by protestors, leading to a feeling of disconnect between the Egyptian populace and Mubarak’s Regime (Wane).

All of these lead to unrest among the Egyptian People. The Denshawai Incident allowed Egyptians to realize that the justice system was corrupt, the British government refused to take responsibility for their actions, and the colonizers lacked interest in proper communication. The Egyptian people responded with nationalism. A poem written in 1907 by Hafiz Ibrahim addresses Lord Cromer, asking “Art thou wrath with us because we have feelings [of patriotism].” Ferid Bey writes that “village poets have composed verses about the Denshawi affair…. and that they have begun to sing them around their campfires and at their festivals,” revealing how the anger towards the British was becoming part of daily life.  He goes on to claim that this shows, “the patriotic party has borne fruit,” reiterating that the Denshawai Incident only made Egyptian patriotism stronger. Eventually this lead to Egypt revolting against the British in 1919. Mubarak failed to learn from history, letting his government abuse the public. Like Denshawai, the Egyptian public built a sense of nationalism. They protested. Because Mubarak failed to address the protestors, allowed police to abuse the people, refused to face consequences for his actions, and addressed the public in an overly formal language, he fueled the protestors. They no longer could be satisfied by small changes  and protested until Mubarak stepped down. Had Mubarak paid attention to the mistakes of the British and avoided making the same errors, he might have been able to remain president.


1906. Granger.

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