Mr. Cardwell to Mr. Rives.
Cairo, Egypt, January 4, 1888. (Received February 1.)
Sir: I am in receipt of a note from the minister of foreign affairs for the Egyptian government, asking the adhesion of the Government of the United States to a proposed khedivial decree having for its object partial suppression of the corvée.
The corvée, as you know, in Egypt applies to labor on river embankments, canal excavations, and dikes, ditches, etc., as well as to work on public roads. It is a public measure similar to what is in force in almost every State of the Union. Enforced labor is imposed in the United States for usually not exceeding ten days of every year, while the Egyptian law, except in cases of dangerous emergency, requires service for not exceeding thirty days. In a country without rain, where its agriculturists may work in their fields for three hundred and sixty-five days in the year, and where agriculture could return nothing without public irrigation, as well as public protection against the inroads of floods, this service is, in my opinion, exceedingly proper. For the Government of Egypt to propose to abolish the corvée would entail upon it an expense which would wreck almost any nation. The question has been presented to the world as one in which civilization is involved.
The European powers, signing at London, contemplated indefinite abolition or the corvée, probably under pressure of this idea, but some of them have held out against its proposed definite enforcement. France positively refused for a time to sanction the submittal of a decree and Russia showed obstinacy, but the powers are now asked to assent to the proposition to partially suspend the corvée. It contemplates contracts in partial substitution of the corvée, and to make contracts money must be used out of the Egyptian treasury. The proposition is to expend annually 250,000 Egyptian pounds, the equivalent of $1,250,000, in employing voluntary labor by means of contracts in place of enforced labor for the government. Where it is necessary the thirty days’ limit will remain in full force and be even exceeded.
I am, etc.,