Dr. José Rizal and the coup d’ état of 1882, Egypt: Then and Now

POSTED: Saturday, September 17th, 2011

A Look at Dr. José Rizal’s Diary:  The Timeless Tragedy of the Suez Canal, Egypt, then and now.

On  2nd June 1882, Dr. José Rizal  was aboard the steam ship Djemnah on his way to Marseilles, France via the Suez Canal. Rizal wrote down his observations of Aden complete with a pen and ink sketch of the port of call.  From Aden, his ship navigated the Red Sea and then entered the Suez Canal.

When Rizal arrived at Suez Canal, (while their ship was quarantined and docked on port),  the Egyptian ruler was deposed through a coup de état. He learned about this political event through the physician who boarded the ship.  It appears that a young army officer  (a colonel, sounds familiar ?) by the name of Arabi Bey Pasha led a revolt against the ruler who served as an ally to the British in Egypt.  (sounds familiar?).  The anti-government agitation began in Alexandria and spread throughout Egypt under the slogan “Egypt for the Egyptian people.”  (Sounds similar to people power ?). The British consequently interfered with armed force to keep the canal open to foreign passage.

Looking at a satellite map today, we can clearly see what Rizal was writing about when he wrote: “The Canal, which opened in the middle of a dessert of sand and stone, I believe in the reliability of Rizal’s land estimates and measure.  While a student at the Ateneo Municipal in Manila, in 1881, he studied and earned a Land Surveyor’s License. Apparently Paciano had asked him to survey the parcel of land belonging to the family..

Rizal continues with his description of the Canal. “It is not straight throughout its length; it has curves but small ones; sometimes it flows into a lake; where it is  narrowest it is believed Moses passed  though while wandering in the desert.  It crosses three lakes in its course. On both banks. which are all yellow and white; where it is a real jewel to find grass, are erected some telephone stations at regular intervals.”

From Suez Canal, Dr. José Rizal  embarks and lands in Port Said, a cosmopolitan city that straddles Africa and Europe.  He noted with interest  the various members  of several nationalities who lived in that city.

Today, I hope that the Egyptian contemporary political situation stabilizes because in July of this year, 2011, I will be tracing the footsteps of Dr. José Rizal as he entered through the Suez Canal to Port Said.  I already booked my flight and I’ll be sure to get a fairly good grasp of what Dr. José Rizal  saw then in the 19th century (1882) and what he would have observed had he arrived now in the 21st century (2011).

(by: Penelope V. Flores)

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