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France and the Levant/Chapter 9


IX. Gain and Loss in Egypt

The prestige if not the power of France in the Levant was further advanced by the cutting of the Suez Canal by de Lesseps, who thus realized the project commended by the Directory to Bonaparte in 1798 and popularized by the disciples of Saint-Simon in the middle of the century. The Canal was opened in the presence of the Empress in 1869; and during the reign of the Khedive Ismail French influence was supreme in Egypt. The excavations of Mariette increased the reputation of French Egyptology, which had been brilliantly inaugurated by Champollion's deciphering of the Rosetta Stone. The creation by England and France in 1876 of the Dual Control to check the extravagance of Khedive Ismail, seemed to hold out the promise of growing power in the Valley of the Nile. Gambetta was eager to cooperate with Great Britain in defending the throne of the Khedive Tewfik against the rebellious Arabi; but the fall of Gambetta, after holding office for two months, brought a more cautious Ministry into power. Freycinet was ready for the military occupation of the Canal; but, scenting the hostility of Bismarck, he refused to recommend armed intervention. The Chamber refused to vote funds even for the limited project, and the decision sounded the knell of French power in Egypt; for Great Britain, after suppressing the revolt, naturally became the real ruler of the country. For another twenty years France hesitated to recognize the position which her abstention had created; but the Agreement of 1904, by which France withdrew her opposition to the British occupation of Egypt in return for British recognition of French claims in Morocco, brought a period of painful tension to a close.