The Minister in Egypt ( Howell ) to the Secretary of State

No. 415

Sir: I have the honor to call the Department’s attention to the subject of taxation as applied to Egypt, same known as Gaffir Tax, a police provision respecting which there has recently arisen, by reason of suspension of Martial Law, not a little agitation. While Egypt was under Martial Law in 1915 (and only recently abolished) a proclamation was issued by British authority as follows: “All persons in Egypt wherever resident and of whatever nationality who are, or shall be assessed by the local authorities for the payment of Gaffir cess in accordance with the rule and practice heretofore followed, are hereby required regularly and punctually to pay such cess during the period of the war.”

Investigation develops the fact that this Gaffir cess was claimed from and paid by foreign residents before the war, and that the proclamation was issued merely as a military order to facilitate the collection of a particular and recognizable tax, ear-marked to contribute to the public security.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I have [etc.]

J. Morton Howell

Note on the Gaffir Tax 1

The Gaffir Tax was established by a Decree of November 10, 1884, as a police regulation for the security of rural property, and as a true complement of the land tax. Article 49 of this Decree provides [Page 709] in intent that “collectors of taxes are also charged with the collection of the Gaffir Tax and that the Sarrafs of the villages shall inform the authorities of the names of persons who refuse to pay their quota, in order that they may be treated as those who are in arrears with their taxes.”

Subsequently the Gaffir Tax was extended to cities by a Decree of February 17, 1896, which, at the same time established “joint and separate liability between proprietors and tenants of each house for the payment of his quota as a contribution to the Gaffir Tax.”

In taking this position the Egyptian Government has kept within the limits which were imposed upon it by international agreements concerning real property of foreigners. Article 2 of the Ottoman Law of the 7th of Safar, 1284, specifies in intent that “foreign proprietors of landed property, city or rural, are likened to Ottoman subjects in all that concerns their real property, and that this assimilation is for legal effect:

  • “1st. It binds them to conform to all laws, and to all police or municipal regulations which govern at the present time, or will govern in the future, the possession, transmission, legal conveyance of property to another, and the mortgaging of landed property.
  • “2nd. To pay all charges and taxes, under whatever denomination they are levied, or shall hereafter be levied, on city or rural property.”

Now it is manifest that all this taxation applies as well to the owner as to the tenant of city or rural property, and that, therefore, it is perfectly right that the Government address the tenants as well as the proprietors for payment.

To insure the collection of this tax, the Egyptian Government orders the seizure and administrative sale against the tax-payer. But these methods of procedure are necessarily slow, and in order to avoid all difficulty or delay during the war, the General Commander-in-Chief of the forces of His Britannic Majesty in Egypt, responsible for order and security, thought it necessary to support, by proclamation these means of coercion respecting tax-payers. Under these conditions the said proclamations were not able to be considered as having established the Gaffir Tax since it already existed and was perfectly legal, but simply as having been used as a mode of additional coercion, for its collection. Consequently the abolishment of Martial Law would not have any effect upon the legality of the tax which continues to be due from all the inhabitants of the territory.

  1. This note was sent by the Egyptian Ministry of Finance to the British Consulate at Cairo with a view to its subsequent communication to the consuls of the other powers.