Law and Order in Egypt, (28 March 1910) Cairo, Egypt


After Theodore Roosevelt left the presidency in 1909, he embarked on a 15-month tour of Africa and Europe—a journey that captured the interest and imagination of people at home and abroad. Roosevelt’s adventures were chronicled in the 1910 volume, African Game Trails, where he detailed his enchantment with big game hunting and the geographical, botanical, and zoological landscape of Africa.1 Leisurely pursuits aside, Roosevelt also sought to create both physical and political distance between himself and his successor, William Howard Taft.2 As an ex-president, Roosevelt’s tour did not entail a formal diplomatic role. Yet, he did engage in unofficial American diplomacy. Most importantly, Roosevelt intended to strengthen American imperialism in the Philippines by comparing United States relations with the Philippines to its British counterparts in Africa.3

Egypt, the last leg of Roosevelt’s tour through Africa, was fraught with political uncertainty. Though technically ruled by a Khedive, an Egyptian leader that was part of the Ottoman Empire, Egypt was, practically speaking, a British protectorate. Egypt, like other colonial protectorates at the time, was subjected to the evolving shifts in modern nationalism.  Nationalist movements across the country demanded “Egypt for Egyptians” and “Egypt for Moslems” in the form of self-government.4 Prime Minister Boutros Ghali Pasha, a Coptic Christian and a strong supporter of British oversight in Egypt, attracted the ire of the Nationalist Party because of his support for extending the French lease on the Suez Canal and for wrongly sentencing five Egyptians to death for the alleged murder of a British officer.5 On February 10, 1910, just a few weeks before Roosevelt’s visit, a member of the Egyptian Nationalist Party assassinated the Boutros Ghali Pasha.6 A political assassination of this kind was unprecedented in Egypt and the British had yet to try the perpetrator in court by the time Roosevelt arrived.7 Lord Eldon Gorst, then Counsel-General of Egypt, feared complicating an already volatile situation and discouraged Roosevelt from commenting on the assassination in his public remarks.8 Roosevelt, in an attitude of confident “indifference,” condemned the assassination and those who supported it in no uncertain terms in his “Law and Order in Egypt” speech.9

The “Law and Order in Egypt” speech was delivered at the National University in Cairo (now known as the University of Cairo) to commemorate its establishment as an institution of higher learning. One of the most notable members of Roosevelt’s audience was Prince Ahmed Fouad, the uncle of the Khedive. The audience also included British dignitaries and a largely nationalist student body.10 In his speech, Roosevelt extolled the virtues of education in the advancement of a civilization while strongly encouraging Egyptians to be patient in their pursuit of self-governance. Egyptians, according to Roosevelt, needed to cultivate their moral character under the auspices of the civilizing power—an attitude he inherited from his father who was a religious reformer in New York City. 11

Reception to Roosevelt’s message was mixed. Conservative commentators in London like The Spectator, called Roosevelt’s speech “so wise and so honorable.”12 Liberal British observers found Roosevelt’s call for more exacting rule in Egypt a haphazard interference in British affairs.13 Egyptian responses were not quite so diverse. Though some Egyptian conservative and Christian newspapers were delighted with Roosevelt’s recommendations, the streets of Cairo erupted with protests following the “Law and Order in Egypt” speech.14 The Young Egypt Committee called the speech “offensive to the whole nation” and accused Roosevelt of fashioning it only to appease his hosts—the British colonial governors.15 Despite his controversial speech, Roosevelt was still awarded the highest honorary degree from the university.16

The “Law and Order in Egypt” speech, when read in tandem with his speeches “Peace and Order in the Sudan” (Khartoum, March 16, 1910) and “British Rule in Africa” (London, May 31, 1910), illustrates Roosevelt’s complicated philosophy on self-government and imperialism.17


  1. Theodore Roosevelt, African Game Trails: An Account of the African Wanderings of an American Hunter-Naturalist (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1919), vii–x.
  2. J. Lee Thompson, Theodore Roosevelt Abroad: Nature, Empire, and the Journey of an American President (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), x.
  3. Roosevelt made the argument, for example, in this way: “It is of interest to all civilized men that a similar success shall attend alike the Englishman and the German as they work in East Africa; exactly as it has been a benefit to everyone that America took possession of the Philippines;” Theodore Roosevelt and Lawrence F. Abbott, “British Rule in Africa: Address Delivered at the Guildhall, London, May 31, 1910,” in African and European Addresses (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1910), 205.
  4. John Callan O’Laughlin, “Roosevelt to Have Keen Guard in Cairo,” New York Times, March 23, 1910, 4.
  5. John Callan O’Laughlin, 4.
  6. David H. Burton, Theodore Roosevelt: Confident Imperialist (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1969), 179.
  7. John Callan O’Laughlin, “Roosevelt to Have Keen Guard in Cairo,”4.
  8. Stephen Wertheim, “Reluctant Liberator: Theodore Roosevelt’s Philosophy of Self-Government and Preparation for Philippine Independence,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 39, no. 3 (2009): 503.
  9. John Callan O’Laughlin, “Roosevelt to Have Keen Guard in Cairo,”4.
  10. John Callan O’Laughlin, “Roosevelt Censures Killing of Boutros,” New York Times, March 29, 1910, 4.
  11. Burton, Theodore Roosevelt: Confident Imperialist, 9–10.
  12. “Roosevelt and Egypt: Liberal Organs in England Blame and Conservatives Praise Cairo Speech,” New York Times, April 2, 1910, 6.
  13. “Liberal Organs in England Blame and Conservatives Praise Cairo Speech,” 6.
  14. John Callan O’Laughlin, “Egyptians Resent Roosevelt Speech,” New York Times, March 30, 1910, 4.
  15. “Condemns Roosevelt Speech,” New York Times, April 1, 1910, 4.
  16. John Callan O’Laughlin, “Roosevelt Censures Killing of Boutros,”4.
  17. Wertheim, “Reluctant Liberator: Theodore Roosevelt’s Philosophy of Self-Government and Preparation for Philippine Independence,” 495–96.