Ramifications of Denshawai Judicial Decisions

The greatest travesty committed during the Denshawai incident was not the incident itself, it was how the matter was resolved. The incident itself was just the spark to the fire. Six egyptians were wounded, including the wife of Abd-el-Nebi, the prayer leader of the Denshawai mosque. In retaliation for being fired upon, the villagers struck the British officers with sticks and stones. One British officer perished from his own incompetence, dying from heat stroke trying to escape. In modern terms, this is akin to a team of professional boxers trying to fight a group of middle schoolers and then one of them stumbling into oncoming traffic and dying. Instead of stripping the British officers of their rank for their actions, the first thing British army officials did upon arriving in Denshawai was to arrest fifty-two village members for their involvement. Thus begun one of the most lopsided series of sentencing, a clear statement from British officials that they were their to control, not aid.
Of the fifty-two men arrested, four men were convicted of murder for the officer who had died from heatstroke. Abd-el-Nebi and another Egyptian were sentenced to work camps for life. For defending the life of his wife with a stick, the prayer leader had his life taken from him. Of the remaining forty-six men arrested, twenty-six were committed to varying lengths of work time and were all whipped. To recap, of the men who had stood up for their livelihoods and dignity, with almost negligible amounts of violence, four were executed, two spent the rest of their lives in work prisons, and the majority of the other men spent time doing hard labor. All of these actions depicted British colonialism in such a negative light that the world outside of Egypt was forced to recognize the problems with British rule. Political activist and playwright George Bernard Shaw wrote that if the actions taken in Denshawai represented how Britain would continue to spread the power of its empire, “then there can be no more sacred and urgent political duty on earth than the disruption, defeat and suppression of the Empire…” (Carstens, 203). Historians look back on this gross over reaction by the British as one of the first steps toward the end of British occupation in Egypt, and ultimately British colonialism as a whole.
One might ask if the judges during the trial were all British officials, only to find out that several of the judges were Egyptian. Why would Egyptian officials serve such harsh penalties on their brethren? You only have to look at what happened to the Egyptian official who accompanied the British officers to see what the Egyptian officials had to fear from the British. In return for an honest testimony that backed up the statement of the villagers, the official was stripped of his rank, served two years in prison and was given fifty lashes. An Egyptian official, in Egypt, is given fifty lashes and two years in prison for objectively describing how British officials antagonized and fired upon Egyptian villagers. Egyptian’s were understandably upset about the outcome of the trials.
The trials following the Denshawai incident served as proof to the Egyptians that the British officials stationed in Egypt were to serve as enforcers, not caretakers. Naturally this caused widespread resentment of the British occupation of Egypt and distrust between the two countries. Less than two decades later this national anger and distrust of the British occupiers would result in the 1919 revolution. All of this could have been mitigated if the tribunal had not served as an indictment of the Egyptian villagers. If the British officials had faced the events that occurred honestly, they could have been stationed elsewhere and further bloodshed could have been avoided. Instead, the British took this as an opportunity to make a point of their dominance over the Egyptian people and further beat down an already downtrodden community.

Carstens, Patrick. “The Encyclopædia of Egypt during the Reign of the Mehemet Ali Dynasty 1798-1952: the People, Places and Events that Shaped Nineteenth Century Egypt and its Sphere of Influence”. 1st ed. 1 Vol. FriesenPress, 2014. 200-203. Print.