Denshawai: More Than a Pigeon

Denshawai: More Than a Pigeon

            Some actions made in one culture can be completely taboo in another. This can be as simple as differences in table manners, to differences in the sacredness of objects or living organisms. Two that have many differences between each other are the British and Egyptian cultures. In the early 1900’s, Egypt was under British occupation. During this time, the Denshawai incident occurred. This is a critical event in Egyptian history, and helped solidify the growing tension between the British and Egyptians. Prior to this incident, an Egyptian had already spearheaded support against the European imperialists.

About 25 years prior to the Denshawai incident, the Urabi revolt occurred. British and French representatives had control over the Egyptian finances, which were in ruins. The Egyptian leader Isma’il Pasha tried to gather support from the Egyptian people against the European powers, but was swiftly removed by the British and replaced[i]. Europeans ran the upper positions in the army, business, and civil service. Egyptians saw the Europeans as blocking them from there own achievements, and the Egyptian peasants were fed up with their heavy taxation going to the wealthy, upper, European class[ii]. With tension rising, a movement, led by Ahmed Urabi, whose goal was to take down the Khedive and end British and French influence sparked a wave of Egyptian nationalism. For a while, the revolt was able to seize power and establish an elected government filled with Urabi’s allies, but was soon brought to an end by a British invasion. Even though deemed an unsuccessful, it did spark a nationalistic ideology in the native Egyptians. With tensions still high between the now British occupiers and native Egyptians, any small step over the line by the British would spark a conflict.

Egyptian Swift Pigeon        In 1906, five British soldiers went pigeon hunting in Denshawai. The villagers told them that they couldn’t hunt pigeons there because they are domestic animals and a source of food. Still, a pigeon was accidentally shot by a soldier. This angered the villagers because the soldiers were killing an animal precious to their way of life for fun. Beyond this, and the major catalyst causing the strife was the accidental shooting of the wife of a local prayer leader[iii]. With this, the pigeon, and previous tension, the Egyptians mobbed the British officers and camp. The soldiers then opened fire, and set fire to one of the villager’s crops[iv]. This event is known for the shooting of the pigeon, but it is more than that. This was an easily avoidable event that showed the disregard the British had toward the Egyptians. The actions committed by the British didn’t end here.

Inflamed, the British saw this as not an act of self-defense but an aggressive act by the villagers, and must be handled. They arrested and tried fifty-two men, and the officers said they were guest and didn’t commit their actions on purpose. With the trial going in the British’s favor, half of the arrested men were found guilty. The majority had charges of hard labor, while a couple had life sentences or sentenced to death[v]. The action was seen as cruel and just an establishment of dominance over the Egyptians. This made the Egyptian leaders believe there was no working together with the British anymore, and created an even greater sense of Egypt nationalism. There were more pushes by the Egyptian leaders for the removal of the British forces, and it lead to an anti-colonial struggle during WWI. As the war continued, more strife came out about with inflation and food shortages. When 1919 arrived, Egypt was ready for a revolution. This extreme chain of events leading to revolt all started with the incident at Denshawai, where British went too far for the last time.

Denshawai could have been a non-problematic event, but escalated to a point beyond repair. The British completely disregarded the wishes of the Egyptians in Denshawai, showing their complete disrespect and apathetic attitude for the native Egyptian people. They continued to go on scared of the rise of nationalism among the Egyptian leaders and their followers, and out of fear didn’t admit wrongdoing. Instead, they committed more injustice to the people of Denshawai. This, in turn, did the exact opposite and gave rise to more outrage against the colonist and Egyptian nationalism. This incident is now a turning point in the long fight for freedom of modern Egyptian history.

In the history of civilizations, there are always key events and points, where everything changes. These events can’t be reversed or forgotten. Denshawai was one of these events. The seemingly avoidable incident is now a huge marker for the development in the rise of Egyptian nationalism and anti-British occupation in the early 1900’s. This later gave rise to more tension, uprisings, and important revolts that shaped Egyptian history; but the Denshawai incident can be seen as a point in Egyptian history where there was not going back.

 

References:


[i] Lyngaas, Sean. “Ahmad Urabi: Delegate of the People Social Mobilization in Egypt on the Eve of Colonial Rule.” Al Nakhlah (2011): 1-13. The Fletcher School Online Journal for Issues Related to Southwest Asia and Islamic Civilization. Web.

 

[ii] Lyngaas, Sean. “Ahmad Urabi: Delegate of the People Social Mobilization in Egypt on the Eve of Colonial Rule.” Al Nakhlah (2011): 1-13. The Fletcher School Online Journal for Issues Related to Southwest Asia and Islamic Civilization. Web.

 

[iii] Blunt, Wilfrid Scawen. “As To the First Facts.” Atrocities of Justice under British Rule in Egypt. London: T.F. Unwin, 1906. 37-39. Print.

 

[iv] Blunt, Wilfrid Scawen. “As To the First Facts.” Atrocities of Justice under British Rule in Egypt. London: T.F. Unwin, 1906. 37-39. Print.

 

[v] Luke, Kimberly. “Order or Justice: The Denshawai Incident and British Imperialism.” History Compass 5.2 (2007): 278-87. Web.