Memorandum by the Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs (Murray)

Our Chargé d’Affaires at Cairo has sent us by delayed cable7 further details regarding the recent note from the Egyptian Government asking our consent to the principle that native judges shall have the right to preside over chambers of the Mixed Court.

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Mr. Engert states that the note berates the Mixed Courts for not keeping in touch with the evolution of Egypt and accuses them of retaining the feature of foreign predominance and everything pertaining to capitulatory privileges. The Egyptian Government adds that it “is therefore obliged to terminate this anomaly and pending action which it will soon take to this end”, it feels that the right of Egyptian judges to preside over chambers and the use of the Arabic should be formally recognized.

As I pointed out in my last report on this subject there is probably no reason why we should not agree to having qualified Egyptian judges preside over chambers of the court. So far as the use of the Arabic language goes, that right has long since been fully recognized. For reasons of convenience and for administrative purposes, however, it has been the practice of the court to draft its decisions in French. It is difficult to see how this system could be changed without creating difficulties and slowing down the administration of justice.

We are not quite clear what the Egyptians have in mind in stating that they will soon take action to terminate “this anomaly”. Most likely they refer to a proposed conference to consider changes in the Mixed Court régime or they may be considering unilateral action with a view to terminating the courts. In the latter case foreign nationals would presumably return to the full capitulatory or consular jurisdiction which prevailed in Egypt prior to the establishment of the courts in 1878.

It seems unlikely that the Egyptians will take any precipitate action, however, for the British will undoubtedly hold them in check, since they are responsible for the protection of foreigners in Egypt. In this connection it is to be observed that the British High Commissioner and his first two assistants are now absent from Egypt and a temporary Acting High Commissioner (a Foreign Office official) is now in charge. It seems quite possible that the Egyptians have seized the opportunity to issue this circular note to the Powers with the thought that it will have a good effect in domestic affairs.

In any case, it appears unnecessary for us to take any action until we receive a complete mail report from Cairo.

Wallace Murray
  1. Not printed.