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Veiled Protectorate: The British in Egypt

The British Mandate in Egypt instituted a form of government called the Veiled Protectorate amid economic and military crises across the Middle East in the wake of World War I.

Egypt under British rule began in 1882 when English forces occupied the country during the Anglo-Egyptian war. The first period of rule which lasted until 1914 was dubbed the Veiled Protectorate, where the Khedivate of Egypt stood as an autonomous province of the Ottoman Empire and the British held a de facto protectorate over the country. The Veiled Protectorate lasted until the Ottoman Empire joined World War I.


Veiled Protectorate: Before the Formality

The ruling dynasty of Egypt in the 19th century spent mass sums of money in infrastructural development but was unable to repay the loans invested in these projects. Consequently, the country was overtaken by mainly European financers which took control of the Egyptian treasury, reorienting the economy towards capital gain and profitability.


By 1882, many Arabic Nationalist and Islamic groups posed a strong opposition to European influence in the Middle East, leading to palpable tension amongst natives. During this time, Egypt was the most powerful and influential of all Arab countries, and a dangerous opposition led by the Egyptian army was formed. The Egyptian military saw the reorientation of Cairo’s finances as progress away from autonomous control and a threat to Egyptian privileges. A military demonstration (called the ‘Urabi Revolt) in 1881 forced Khedive Tewfiq to denounce the Prime Minister and impose rule by his decree.


In April of that year, both France and Great Britain sent warships to Alexandria to bolster Khedive Tewfiq and to protect European assets.  Army officewrs led by Ahmed Urabi seized control of the government, and by June control had fully transferred to Urabi’s rule, wherein the new revolutionary government began to nationalize all assets in the country. When anti-European violence broke out the British began a naval bombardment of the city.


The Formal Protectorate

The British established a formal protectorate in 1914 after declaring a war with the Ottoman Empire. Here, they reposed the Khedive and replaced him with a family member who was appointed Sultan by the British. Following this, a delegation attended the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 to demand Egypt’s independence. The group was soon thereafter arrested and deported to Malta, which triggered a massive civil uprising in Egypt.


Many years after the end of the Veiled Protectorate, the last British forces withdrew from Egypt in 1956 in accordance with an agreement set in 1954 after the Suez Crisis.

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