Evelyn Baring, 1st Earl of Cromer, GCB, OM, GCMG, KCSI, CIE, PC, FRS (February 26, 1841, – January 29, 1917, was a British statesman, diplomat and colonial administrator. A loyal son of Empire, Lord Cromer served in India and Egypt and became one of the most well known colonial officials of his time. He was an able and benevolent administrator, who did much to develop modern infrastructure and institutions for the peoples in his charge. He ruled Egypt for 24 years as British Consul (1883–1907), one of the longest colonial administrations in British history. Nevertheless, his attitude of effortless cultural superiority helped define eurocentrism and runs counter to modern respect for cultural diversity and the dignity of all people.
Lord Cromer was one of the most experienced and famous colonial administrators, perhaps second only to Lord Curzon in terms of his public reputation. He was considered to be an authority on how to rule subject peoples, about whom he claimed considerable expertise. His attitudes about the inability of non-Europeans to govern themselves informed colonial policy as well as imperial politics, including the way in which the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 divided up much of the world as trusteeships under European authority. He assumed that non-Europeans would take a long time before they could rule themselves, if indeed they would ever be sufficiently mature. Cromer's attitudes, through his writing, became widespread in European and North American writing about the religious and cultural Other. According to Edward Said, Cromer was the quintessential Orientalist, who made his career in, described and governed the East, depicting it in authoritative writings in ways that bore little resemblance to any actual reality.
Cromer was born at his family estate, Cromer Hall, in Norfolk. He belonged to a branch of the famous banking family, the Barings, originally from Bremen, Germany. In 1855, he started training for military service at Woolwich Royal Military Academy. He was commissioned as a Royal Artillery office and saw service in the West Indies and Malta. In 1867, he was sent to the Staff College before being posted to India as Attaché to his cousin, Lord Northbrook, Viceroy of India. He remained in India until 1887. A year later, he was appointed to Egypt as a special commissioner to represent British financial interests there. The Egyptian government, which enjoyed a large degree of autonomy from the Ottoman Empire of which it was officially part, was increasingly indebted to Britain and France. During 1879 he was British controller in Egypt before being re-stationed in India as finance member of the viceroy's council, a senior position. Following the British occupation of Egypt in 1882, now Sir Evelyn, he was reassigned there as Consul-General, a position that was to all intents and purposes that of Viceroy. Although Egypt was officially still ruled by the Khedive, Cromer was de facto ruler for the next 24 years, one of the longest colonial administrations in British history.
Britain considered Egypt financially irresponsible and unable to govern itself properly. Britain also wanted to protect their interests in the Suez Canal, and valued Egypt strategically as a base to extend their commercial interests in the Middle East as well as to protect the passage to India. During his unusually long consulship, he undertook many reforms of the civil service, agriculture, built up a communications and trasnsport infrastructure in many respects becoming the architect of modern Egypt. However, he opposed Egyptian nationalism, refused to allow women to enter government funded schools and even discouraged the efforts of the Muslim reformer, Muhammad Abduh (1845-1905, to establish a woman's college).
While he reputation as someone who almost personified British imperial rule grew at home, he was not a popular person at all with Egyptian nationalists because of his constant intruding in Egyptian politics, and he was eventually forced to resign in the wake of protests over the Denshway incident in 1906 when four Egyptian peasants were hanged and many others received severe punishment just because they were accused of "killing" a British officer who actually died of a sunstroke. He would not countenance an elected Assembly, and continually turned down Egyptian requests for more say in their own nation's governance.
Cromer married twice. His first wife died in 1898. In 1901, he remarried, to Lady Katherine Thynne, daughter of the Marquess of Bath. Evelyn Baring, 1st Baron Howick of Glendale, was his son, later Governor of Kenya.
In 1910, he published Ancient and Modern Imperialism, an influential study of the British and Roman Empires. However, it was his 1908 book, Modern Egypt that earned him his reputation as an authority on how Muslims in particular and Asians generally, should be ruled. He regarded himself as all that stood between Egypt and chaos, and in his writing depicted the British Empire as a bulwark against a world of irrationality, disorder and danger that needed to be tamed. He believed that he knew the needs of his subjects better than they did themselves. "Subject races" (a term he employed), in view, simply did not know what was good for them (Said, 1978, 37). He did, because his long experience in India and Egypt gave him an authority that few could question. Thus, his book was regarded as a manual of how to rule Orientals everywhere because they were thought to be much the same: lazy, illogical, cunning, and "suspicious":
The European is a close reasoner; his statements of fact are devoid of ambiguity; he is a natural logician ... The mind of the Oriental, on the other hand, like his picturesque streets, is eminently wanting in symmetry. His reasoning is of the most slipshod description ... They are often incapable of drawing the most obvious conclusions from any simple premises .... "Islam reformed," he said, "Was Islam no longer." Egypt's future "lies not in the direction of a narrow nationalism," he declared, 'but rather in that of a larger cosmopolitanism".
Cromer did much to promote the idea that although at some distant point in the future, colonized people might be capable of self-governance, and that until then they needed British supervision, which was Britain's moral duty, Rudyard Kipling's "white man's burden." Much literature and scholarship reflected these attitudes, depicting the Orient as exotic, sometimes as sexually alluring, romantic and exciting, a place where fortunes and careers could be made but also as a zone that required European domination. Said (1978) described these attitudes as "Orientalism," which he claimed was "essentially an idea, a creation, with no corresponding reality" (5). It was a device to control, manipulate and dominate the non-Western world. Such attitudes continue to inform the view that essentially dichotomizes the East and the West, regarding them as inalienably different. Too easily, the east is regarded as on some sort of collision course with the West, a notion that has been promoted by talk of a clash of civilizations (Huntington 1996). Curzon suggested the need for a School of Oriental and African studies, where students could learn about the people over whose territories they might rule and thus better fulfill their "duty to the Empire" (Huntington 1996, 214). The eventual resulted in SOAS, a school of London University (founded 1916).
Speaking in the House of Lords on September 27, 1909, Cromer told the Upper House of the British Parliament that it was British understanding and grasp of the history, feelings, traditions and customs of the East that would enable them "to maintain in the future the position we have won" (Said 1978, 214). He compared the British Empire with a palace, of which the foundation was the British Isles, while the colonies were the pillars.
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