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216

SYSTEM OF CONSCRIPTION.

sword of the enemy and the unhealthy climate of Syria, he has been forced to adopt the system of conscription.

This was originally of the most arbitrary - and unsparing kind: indeed, so ill was it understood, that an instance is recorded of forty-eight thousand men having been sent from all parts of Egypt to the camp of Hankah, from which twelve thousand only were to be selected. Lame, blind, decrepid, all were sent without distinction. Twentytwo thousand women and children accompanied this levée en masse, so that the fields were left without hands to cultivate them, and

many villages without an inhabitant. The system has, however, undergone many improvements of late years; amongst others, that of dividing the country into military arrondissements, and sending proper officers

-as well medical as military—to inspect the conscripts at the depôts of the different districts. Still many glaring abuses remain to be corrected, and that of all others which cries out for a remedy is the power left in

CONDUCT OF THE SHEIKS.

217

the hands of the Sheiks-el-Belled, whose business it is to furnish the quota of conscripts prescribed for each village, and of whom — provided the specified number be forthcoming-few questions are asked touching the mode by which it was levied.

The Sheiks are, consequently, by no means scrupulous of laying their hands upon any eligible persons who come within their reach, in order to save their own relations or friends. Whole boats' crews have been thus kidnapped to save the inhabitants of a village, whilst, on the other hand, the inhabitants of the village itself are selected completely at his whim or caprice, without being allowed a chance of escape, by ballot or substitute. Those who mutilate themselves (which numbers formerly did) to avoid being taken for the army or navy-if found to have rendered themselves incapable of being turned to account in the cotton factories, &c.,-are sent to labour in chains at the public works; and thus, in addition to the pain and loss (sometimes even of a hand) which they have in

218

THE EGYPTIAN FELLAH.

in a way

flicted on themselves, are subjected to a much harder fate than if they had quietly submitted to become useful members of society, though

that

appears to have but few charms for them.

The dislike that the fellah of Egypt has to quit his native place is unconquerable. To us Englishmen, it appears almost incredible that young men of from eighteen to twenty-five years of age should regard as a hardship the being obliged to leave home: it is with them, nevertheless, the grievance universally complained of, and may be accounted for by the ties of early marriages; the indolence in which men grow up who possess the means of subsistence at the cost of but little exertion and fatigue; the total want of mental cultivation, and consequent ignorance of there being any other pleasures in this life, besides the gratification of the passions in common with the brute creation: the full enjoyment of which is the reward held out to the good Mussulman, in the sensual paradise of his prophet.

The Egyptian fellah sees a companion —

CONSCRIPTION UNAVOIDABLE.

219

perhaps a brother — who wallowed in the same filth, and was covered with the same disgusting vermin as himself; who fed on the same coarse food, and was clothed with similar rags; dragged in handcuffs from his native village to be made a soldier or sailor. He sees him return in a few years, metamorphosed into a half-civilized being, provided with all the necessaries of life, smart in his appearance, and liking his new state of existence; but neither his envy nor his ambition is excited. Of patriotism he has little notion, except that he would rather be governed by the Sheik el belled, his countryman, than spurned and bullied by his former oppressor, the Turk.

With such men as these, a conscription is an unavoidable evil-for a recruiting party, with all the allurements of drums, ribbons, and promises, might march from Rosetta to Assouan without picking up a single volunteer-and yet, the first prejudices overcome, the fellah takes a great liking to the military life; and his carriage and deportment clearly

220

DREAD OF THE MILITARY SERVICE.

show that he is quite conscious of having taken a higher grade in the scale of society.

Desertion is very rare, but it is much to be regretted (at least by those who wish to see Egypt become civilized) that the constant wars in which Mohammed Ali has been engaged since the establishment of the Nizam have not allowed the soldiers such frequent opportunities of visiting their friends and native places as is desirable. This, therefore, tends to keep up the dread entertained for the military service, it being considered as certain death to enter it; for writing being altogether unknown amongst the lower orders of the Arab population of Egypt, and the opportunities of conveying information by other means extremely rare; the relatives of a conscript, after a lapse of some time without hearing of him, come to the conclusion that he has fallen a a victim to the sword or disease.

It is said that the number of men taken by conscription in the Delta, which is the most productive part of Egypt, bears no proportion to that levied in the other provinces. I

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