Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/160

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146
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

grimy white shirt girded about his loins, plows, sows, and reaps to-day as his forefathers have done before him for thousands and thousands of years, this tax meant that his houses, his cattle, and his lands "were but so much food placed before the lips of our lord (the Khedive) that he might eat thereof and have his fill."

"The seed was often barely sown for the coming crop before the tax-gatherer appeared with the usurer as his familiar spirit at his heels, claiming not only heavy tithes of the treasury, but the many tithes of those tithes which never reached the treasury, waylaid on the road along the steep ascending gradients of a predatory hierarchy. For what purposes or to what amount he could be mulcted the fellah had no means of knowing. The only record he kept was the number of strokes from the koorbash which had wrung from him his last piastre. The only certainty he acquired by long and bitter experience was that, let his harvest be good or bad, only so much would be left to him as would barely suffice to keep body and soul together. Every year brought fresh imposts, and every new tax became in the hands of a corrupt administration a fresh pretext for unlawful exactions. To satisfy them the land was made to yield more frequent and more valuable but also more exhausting crops, until the soil itself caught the contagion of universal impoverishment. Still the arrears of taxation grew, and with them arrears of private indebtedness," until at last whole villages not infrequently petitioned the pasha "to accept the fee simple of their lands on condition merely that they should be allowed to rent them from him at an annual rental greater than the land tax itself, but still vastly less than the total amount of illegitimate imposts grafted on to the land tax."

Extortion for the purpose of obtaining revenue for the state, and plunder for the officials intrusted with its collection, was not the only form of oppression to which the miserable Egyptian peasantry were subjected. By an ancient Asiatic institution called the corvee, the fellah was liable at any moment to be seized and dragged perhaps off to some distant part of the country to work under constant dread of the taskmaster's whip at any task suggested by the caprice of the Khedive or some powerful pasha; and it was under this system of compulsory, unpaid, severe, unfed labor, and with great attendant sacrifice of the lives of his subjects, that the then Khedive, Ismail Pasha, mainly built the Suez Canal. In addition there was a system of "military conscription invested with the terrors of the press-gang; there was the water supply for irrigation, generally inadequate and often dependent upon the caprice of some local magistrate or corrupt official; there was the greed of unjust judges; there was the whole hungry bureaucracy, feeding upon those beneath it in order that it might in turn feed those above it."