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Henry George Farmer and the First International Congress of Arab Music

Henry George Farmer and the First International Congress of Arab Music (Cairo 1932)

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 Henry George Farmer And The First International Congress Of Arab Music
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Amnon Shiloah
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The First International Congress of Arab Music (Cairo, 1932)

On February 28, 1922, precisely a decade prior to the convening of the First International Congress of Arab Music, Great Britain concluded its eight-year protectorate status of Egypt, thus declaring Egypt’s independence, albeit with limited sovereignty.1

A fortnight later, on March 15th, the fifty-five year old Aḥmed Fuʾād Pāshā, who had ruled as Sultan of Egypt and the Sudan since October of 1917, now proclaimed himself King Fuʾād I of Egypt. He was the grandson of the first Khedive Moḥammad ʿAlī (d. 1849) and youngest son of the fifth Khedive Ismāʿīl Pāshā (d. 1879).

More than a century had passed since the French attempted to colonize Ottoman Egypt.2 Inasmuch as their primary intentions were to secure trade interests, hinder Britain’s overland access to India, and spread French culture consistent with the trends of the Enlightenment, they, nonetheless, made noteworthy improvements to Cairo’s infrastructure during their brief occupa-tion, known as the Egyptian Campaign (1798–1801).3

Having antagonized both the Sublime Porte and Western rivals by their abrupt yet determined incursion, the French were successfully ousted by Turkish armies, with the support of British and Russian troops. Whereas the Turks regained control of their so-called Ottoman province, the British remained in Egypt until 1803, thus ending their first period of occupation.

For the following two years, Egypt was in a state of anarchy, particularly in Cairo, where a group of restless officers from the occupying Turkish army were vying for power. Among them was the young Albanian-born Moḥammad ʿAlī Pāshā (1769–1849), who had distinguished himself militarily. Through a series of self-promoting intrigues and political alliances, he became the commander of Egypt’s Ottoman army. In 1805, he seized control of the government and established a dynasty of Ottoman khedives who would rule Egypt as an inde-pendent state until December of 1914, four months after the outbreak of the First World War.4

Moḥammad ʿAlī’s reign brought vast improvements to the country through such vital domestic projects as industrialization, irrigation canals, railways, the cultivation of cotton, and a flourishing publishing indus-try (particularly guide books to attract tourists). He also renovated the coun-try’s system of education, its urban centers, and the military to meet European standards.

With these achievements, undertaken with responsible fiscal man-agement, he ushered Egypt into an era of Westernization and modernization, thereby encouraging the first mass wave of European immigration and tour-ism. Although he attempted to secure political and economic independence for Egypt, he chose not to sever relations with his Ottoman superiors.

The succeeding reigns of Ibrāhīm (1848), ʿAbbās Ḥilmī I (1849–54), and Moḥammed Saʿīd (1854–63) could not match that of the ambitious, French-educated Ismāʿīl Pāshā (1863–79). His wish to control the entire Nile Valley as far as Tanzania was ultimately placed in the hands of the British. Irresponsible and somewhat naïve, he not only approved the financing of the Suez Canal project, but actively monitored its construction. In anticipation of its grand opening in November of 1869, he had squandered millions from the Egyptian treasury to modernize Cairo.

For that occasion, he ordered the construction of new palaces, Parisian-like boulevards, luxurious hotels, and even an opera house (the Dār-al-Ūbirā)5 and other elegant establishments for the entertain-ment of his invited guests and foreign dignitaries.6

By the mid-point of Ismāʿīl’s lavish reign,7 the country’s staggering debt had increased to such proportions that the British and French governments peti-tioned the Ottoman Sultan, ʿAbdulḥamīd II, to depose him. Ismāʿīl’s replace-ment by his eldest son Tawfīq Pāshā, on June 26, 1879, was coupled with the simultaneous intrusion of the rivaling British and French, who installed their respective ministers to stabilize the bankrupt economy and safeguard Tawfīq’s governance. Ruling under Dual Control during the turbulent years 1879 to 1882, Egypt’s finances were principally in their hands, yielding immense profits through their unscrupulous banking practices, construction, and communica-tion enterprises,8 and from whatever other institutions that fell under their jurisdiction.

 Moreover, their incessant meddling in the country’s internal and external affairs precipitated even greater public hostility, thus widening the rift between the discontented populace and the government. Clearly a national revolt was taking shape.

In July of 1882, at the behest of Tawfīq Pāshā, British troops, with naval support—including the initial participation of the French—invaded Egypt to quell what was developing into a civil war between the forces of Tawfīq, whose authority was restricted to British-controlled Alexandria and the Suez region,9 and the mutinous forces of Colonel Aḥmad Urabi, the anti-imperialist spokesman for the oppressed, who ruled over Cairo and the provinces.

At the decisive battle of Tel-el-Kebīr (situated in the triangle formed by Alexandria, the Suez Canal, and Cairo) on September 13th, the British defeated Urabi’s army, forcing the Colonel into exile (to the then British colony of Ceylon, now Sri Lanka). Egypt, of course, continued to remain under de jure Ottoman rule, whereas Britain, which sought to protect its strategic interests (the Suez Canal, the Nile’s tributaries in the Sudan and Ethiopia, the cotton trade, etc.), now ensconced itself with a substantial military presence. The British invasion henceforth became known as the 1882 Anglo-Egyptian War.10

Cairo, during Tawfīq’s ineffectual reign, had borne witness to a continu-ous influx of Europeans, especially their infiltration into positions of lead-ership in the military, civil service, and commerce. Whereas Ismāʿīl’s earlier Europeanization policies were now held in abeyance, Tawfīq could not appease the city’s disenchanted native population, whose growing exposure to cultural changes and social habits were alien to them, and among whom the middle class merchants, educated fellāḥīn, and ruling pāshās were profiting greatly from the presence of foreigners and their financial and commercial enterprises.

More astoundingly, foreign residents were exempt from taxes, while at the same time enjoying legal protection under the jurisdiction of their respective consul-ates, following the system—known as capitulations—of the Ottoman sultans, who granted special privileges to citizens of foreign governments. As Tawfīq’s rule became increasingly insubordinate to the British, Egypt’s economy and security again became matters of prime concern.11

Tawfīq’s untimely death on January 7, 1892, at the winter resort of Helwan (south of Cairo), brought to the throne his almost eighteen-year-old son, ʿAbbās Ḥilmī II. Educated in Switzerland and Vienna, he spoke Turkish, German, French, and English, but no Arabic (Mansfield, The British, 150).

Under Ḥilmī’s reign (1892–1914), the country recovered from its economic debts and had begun to revitalize its industrial sector. Yet public opinion demanding independence from foreign rule was gaining even greater momen-tum. Early in his reign, Ḥilmī was virulently pro-French, but after the signing of the Entente Cordiale by the United Kingdom and the French Third Republic in London on April 8, 1904,12 he formally recognized Britain’s position in Egypt, hoping that the agreement would insure a period of peaceful coexistence.

Little did he realize that Britain would exert even greater control.13 Meanwhile tourism had increased exponentially, introducing native Cairenes to fin-de- siècle and early twentieth-century European cuisine, dress, cultural trends, and entertainments that were affecting the city’s traditional life.

At the outbreak of World War I in August of 1914, while ʿAbbās Ḥilmī was in Istanbul recovering from an attempted assassination, Great Britain, on August 4th, declared war against Germany because it refused to withdraw from Belgium. When the Turks entered the conflict on October 2nd as an ally of Germany, both Britain and France waged war on Turkey the following week.

Turkey’s alliance with Germany served both as the pretext for severing Egypt’s ties with the Ottoman Empire and the reason for Ḥilmī’s deposition.14 Thus four centuries of Ottoman rule had officially ended on December 18, 1914, which also marked the initial date of the British Protectorate and its declara-tion of martial law.15

On the following day, Prince Hussein Kāmil (b. 1853), the eldest surviving male of Muḥammad ʿAlī’s family was installed as the Sultan of Egypt. While Kamil ruled during a period of uncontrolled unrest, he fully cooperated with the British. By the fall of 1917, his health had so deteriorated that he died in Cairo on October 9th. The line of succession fell to his son, Prince Kamāl al-Dīn Ḥusain, who adamantly declined. Therefore his brother, Prince Aḥmed Fuʾād (b. 1868), became the ninth ruler of the khedival dynasty, bearing the title Sultan of Egypt and the Sudan.

Born in Cairo, but educated in Geneva and later in Italy, where his father Ismāʿīl was then living in exile, Fuʾād returned to Egypt during the 1880s. He served briefly with the Egyptian army as aide-de-camp to his nephew ʿAbbās Ḥilmī II.

 A decade prior to his ascension to the throne, he played an active role in upgrading the quality of Egyptian life through varied philanthropic enter-prises (educational, social, cultural, and scientific), thus earning the respect and trust of his countrymen. With his brother’s death and the world war still in progress, he found himself in an awkward position. Having now become the country’s supreme leader, he had little choice but to side with the allies.

 At the war’s conclusion, nationalism again became the rallying cry. Because of Fuʾād’s inability to negotiate independence with Sir Reginald Wingate, the British High Commissioner in Egypt, huge demonstrations were held throughout the country. Several factions threatened additional violent agitation. Meanwhile prominent English diplomats and military men, as well as Egyptian “stooges,” had been assassinated.

As the situation grew more volatile, Viscount Edmund Allenby, Wingate’s successor, appealed to his government to send a commission of inquiry to  determine the outcome of the Protectorate. Meanwhile, as he was outwardly exhibiting good faith, Allenby inwardly held firm to the position that its termi-nation was not negotiable. Until the so-called Milner Commission, headed by Lord Alfred Milner, concluded its meetings in Cairo (where its sessions were held from December 7, 1919 to March 1920 in the presence of Fuʾād and his ministers), its recommendations, to Allenby’s surprise, laid the foundation for a unilateral declaration to abolish the Protectorate.

For the next two years, for-mal negotiations between Britain and Egypt remained in abeyance due to the sought for Egyptian concessions that Britain was reluctant to accept. Even Lord George Curzon’s attempt, in July of 1921, to resume negotiations proved futile, because Britain wanted to retain its forces wherever it deemed essential in the country. As it also wished to exert its authority concerning Egypt’s external affairs, civic condemnations and yearnings for independence again invoked mass public demonstrations and strikes throughout the country.

Likewise, the persistent meetings between the unyielding Egyptian nationalist delegates and British authorities had aroused such consternation that Allenby finally agreed to an imminent solution. Having convinced the British House of Lords, a dec-laration was ultimately issued on February 28, 1922 to end the Protectorate, to recognize Egypt’s independence, and to install Sultan Fuʾād as its first king.16 The British, however, were still permitted to provide such governmental ser-vices as:

finding jobs for the newly educated Egyptians; furnishing affordable housing; extending the city’s transportation routes to suburban areas; and, as in the past, maintaining the country’s vital infrastructures (e.g., the on going construction of the Aswān Dam, irrigation canals, and bridges across the Nile). For reasons of security, its forces were relegated solely to the Suez Canal Zone. On March 15, 1922, when Fuʾād ascended the throne, Cairo’s population numbered more than one million inhabitants, ninety percent of whom were Arabic (Sunni) Muslims.17 The remaining ten percent included Circassians, Christian Copts, Europeans, and Turks, who inhabited distinct sections, whereas the Armenians and Jews (Oriental and Sephardic) were firmly established in the middle of the city (i.e., Midān Taḥrīr) among the middle-class Arab-Egyptian merchants and artisans.

The older Jewish community remained in Fusṭāṭ.18 The prosperous European section (the Ismailia quarter), bordering on the Nile’s eastern bank and boxed in (to the north) by the Egyptian Museum and (to the east) by Midān Taḥrīr, embodied the elegant shopping district with its fine department stores, along with the various consulates and fashionable hotels, and, by extension, the Ksar ed-Dubāra quarter, now known as Garden City, and Gezira, where the British were the most conspicuous. Garden City com-prised the center of government, from whose focal point the British controlled the country’s political and economic life, as well as tourism.

 The suburb of Heliopolis, to the northeast of the city, was developed (beginning in 1906) as a spacious residential section for British officers and officials, and later for thriv-ing Egyptians and Europeans, with a metro railway to transport them to the city. Muslim peasants, along with Nubians and Ethiopians who were brought to Egypt from adjacent lands to the south, comprised the city’s unskilled labor force. Their living conditions in the city’s poorest sections were deplorable and their existence miserable.

The year 1923 heralded Egypt’s liberal age (which was to last until 1952, the year of the Egyptian Revolution). At its outset, the competing political ideolo-gies of the King, the Residency, and the various individuals who opposed them, gave rise to a spectrum of political parties (national, monarchial, religious, etc.).

Some of the most notable political personalities of this period included: Saʿad Zaghlūl (1859–1927; representing the Wafd Party); ʿAdli Yakan (1864–1933) and Abdel Khāliq Sarwat (1873–1926), who formed the anti-Wafd Liberal Constitutional Party; Ismāʿīl Ṣidqī (1875–1950; the Liberal Constitutional Party); Muṣṭafā Naḥās (1879–1965; the Wafd Party), and Ḥassan al-Banna (1906–49), who initiated the Muslim Brotherhood).

Marking the beginning of a somewhat turbulent decade, which included the planning of the Arab music Congress and its destined occurrence in the Spring of 1932, Egypt’s elite continued to rule the country under the guise of a European-styled constitutionalism, whereas the varied political camps sought social and economic reforms that would conform to their respective ideolo-gies (secularism, monarchism, Islamic fundamentalism, Marxism, liberalism, etc.). Still, with all their differences, their united goal was to rid the country of the British.

 Nonetheless, the struggle for statehood continued, stressing Egypt’s problem as an Egyptian and not pan-Arabic one, and seeking its role as a par-ticipating member of the greater Mediterranean society.19

Egypt’s Musical Life, Especially Cairo’s from 1800 to 1932

For almost three centuries (1516–1798) Egypt was controlled by the Ottoman Turks through a succession of Mameluke viceroys (pāshās) who cared little about the manners, customs, and language of the country’s inhabitants.

Yet they continued, albeit on a much lesser scale, to support the fine and perform-ing arts dating from the reign of the Ottoman sultan, Murād II (1421–51).20 And, inasmuch as the viceroys and district governors (beys) possessed their own ret-inues of Turkish-trained instrumentalists and female singers to provide musical entertainment for the stately banquets and special festivities that were held at their courts, private dwellings, and makeshift pavilions, they also maintained military bands (Ottoman mehters)21 to perform exclusively for their royal processions and lavish outdoor ceremonies (mawākib).

Concomitantly, the wealthy Turkish bourgeoisie and Arab merchant and professional classes, including military and court officials of lesser rank, hired smaller ensembles to perform for their private parties and other social occasions.

During the same era, the musical activities of Egypt’s urban and rural pop-ulations continued along traditional lines, conforming to the needs of their……

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