ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday March 2, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 40
Kandy Times  

That exile from Egypt who inspired many

125th anniversary celebration of Orabi Pasha’s arrival in Ceylon

By Udumbara Udugama

Colonel Orabi Pasha came to Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, 125 years ago. A special programme has been planned on March 8 at the Orabi Pasha Cultural Centre in Kandy to commemorate his visit, Director of the Orabi Pasha Cultural Centre, Mohamed Saleemdeen told Kandy Times.

The event will take place under the patronage of Gehan Amin, Ambassador of the Arab Republic of Egypt in Sri Lanka with Tikiri Kobbekaduwa, Governor, Central Province as the Chief Guest.

Orbi Pasha was a famous Egyptian nationalist and Army leader exiled to Ceylon from 1883 - 1901. He was born in 1842 to a peasant family. After studying at Al-Azhar, Orabi was conscripted to the Army and rose to be a remarkable officer. He was the leader of the National Revolt in Egypt. The discrimination in the Army and mismanagement of the Khedive led to the formation of the National Movement in 1881 under the leadership of Colonel Orabi. They compelled the Khedive to appoint a Revolutionary Government with Orabi as War Minister.

Orabi led a national revolt against the injustices of the Turkish ruler Fewfik, who called on the British to protect him. The Egyptians under Orabi fought gallantly but vainly against the British troops who entered Cairo and occupied Egypt for 70 years. Orabi was arrested and sentenced with six other officers to exile for life in Ceylon.

Orabi is remembered here as a great patriot who inspired the nationalists in Ceylon and influenced the Muslims to build the first modern Muslim school "Zahira College". According to the information published by the Orabi Pasha Foundation, Colonel Orabi Pasha and six other officers were sent with their families by a special train to Suez under tight security. The following day, December 27, 1882 they left Suez on the chartered ship SS Mariotis. Its destination was Serendib or Ceylon, which was chosen as the country of exile for these seven soldiers.

On January 10, 1883 the Mariotis anchored in the Colombo harbour. It is stated that the Muslim community gathered to welcome the exiles. The Police cleared the way to the carriages prepared to transfer the exiles to their residences. Orabi Pasha was taken to the Lake House and the rest to different places. A Muslim constable was assigned to each house to guard the occupants.

The exiles established good relations with the Ceylonese, particularly with the Muslims. This association influenced the language and dress of the Muslims who began to wear the Egyptian trousers and the fez (Turboush), imitating the Pashas. During his 19 years of exile, Orabi Pasha inspired the Ceylonese nationalists and influenced the Muslim community. He guided them and they, with the leading members of the community such as Siddi Lebbe, Wapiche Marikar and Careemjee Jefferjee, founded Zahira College in 1892 in honour of Orabi Pasha who was chosen as the first Honorary Chairman of the School.

Orabi Pasha: Remembered as a great patriot.

It was called Zahira after Al Azhar University in Cairo, which pays for the maintenance of four teachers in the college. The exiles had felt the ill effects of the climate in Colombo. Helmi Pasha died in 1891 in Colombo. The others moved to Kandy in 1892. Orabi Pasha lived in the house known as 'Arabi House'. Mohamed Fahim Pasha died in 1894 and Yacoub Pasha in 1899. Toulba Pasha was the first exile to be permitted to return to Egypt in 1899 due to ill health. Thereafter, El Barondi Pasha left for Egypt. Ali Fahmi Pasha and Orabi Pasha got their pardon in 1901. On September 17,1901 the German Ship 'Princess Irene' sailed from the Colombo Harbour with Orabi Pasha and his family to their motherland Egypt, where he died peacefully on September 21, 1911.

Mr. Saleemdeen stated that the Orabi Pasha Cultural Centre and the Museum of the Embassy of Egypt in Sri Lanka which was established in Kandy are a glowing tribute to these heroes. The Cultural Centre and the Foundation are dedicated to the upliftment of the standard of education of the less privileged students of all communities.

The Cultural Centre has a library and a reading room. Five university students have been selected for scholarship grants this year. There is a pre-school at the Centre with over 25 children in attendance. The Professional Studies Department trains pre-school teachers who obtain a diploma. He stated that most of these teachers are from nearby villages in Kandy and once they pass the examination they open their own pre-schools in their villages.

There are language courses in Arabic, Sinhala and English. Vocational training is provided in the fields of dress-making, cookery & Wilton cake decoration, beauty culture and bridal dressing. "We will start computer studies in the near future," Mr. Saleemdeen said. Classes in knitting, crochet work, patchwork & quilting, fabric painting, flower making, ribbon and machine embroidery, curtain making are very popular where many girls have been trained and most of them are self-employed.

The Centre also has other activities such as Islamic religious events, educational seminars and workshops, health and nutrition awareness programmes and exhibitions and sale of the students’ work. "During the past 20 years our Centre has trained over 3700 girls mostly school leavers in the field of vocational education. Most students attending our classes are from low income families. So, we charge a very nominal fee. Therefore, we face regular financial constraints to meet our monthly budgeted expenditure for maintenance and staff salaries. We depend on donations from well-wishers to bridge our budget," Mr. Saleemdeen said.

In 1983, in anticipation of the Centenary Commemoration of the arrival of Orabi Pasha in Ceylon Dr. M.C.M. Kaleel as President of the 'All Ceylon Muslim League' appointed the Orabi Pasha Centenary Committee. They organised a meeting on January 1, 1983 at Zahira College, Colombo, under the auspices of R. Premadasa, the Prime Minister at the time. At this meeting it was decided to declare 1983 as Orabi Pasha Year in Sri Lanka and the Prime Minister approved the following recommendations - the purchase of the Orabi Pasha House in Kandy by the Egyptian Embassy for its transformation into a permanent Museum, the naming of part of Maradana Road as Orabi Pasha Street, and in return the naming of a road in Cairo as Sri Lanka Street; and the issuing of a commemorative stamp for Orabi Pasha (the Egyptian Government also decided to do the same)

The Sri Lanka Stamp Bulletin No. 148 - commemorative issue - 13, November 1983 states: "The Minister of Posts and Telecommunication will issue today a postage stamp in the denomination of .50 cents to mark the Orabi Pasha Year in Sri Lanka.”

During the course of the Orabi Pasha Year 1983, President J.R. Jayawardene paid an official friendly visit to the Arab Republic of Egypt from June 18 - 26. This was the first State visit of any Sri Lankan President to Egypt. The Orabi Pasha Museum at No. 26, George E. de Silva Mawatha, Kandy was inaugurated on November 13, 1983 in the presence of an Egyptian delegation headed by Mohamed Abdl Hamid Radwan, Egyptian Minister of State for Culture, as representative of Mohamed Hosni Mubarak, President of the Arab Republic of Egypt.

Mr. Saleemdeen stated that on March 8, 2008 at the 125th anniversary celebration, there will be an extensive programme with an opening address by the Ambassador of the Arab Republic of Egypt in Sri Lanka, a video film on Orabi Pasha, a students' programme, 125 Anniversary Souvenir launch, Orabi Pasha oration by Dr. M.S.M. Anes, address by the Chief Guest Tikiri Kobbekaduwa and presentation of awards. There will be an exhibition of the work of the students of the Orabi Pasha Cultural Centre.

(The information on Orabi Pasha is from the publications by the Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt and the Orabi Pasha Foundation.)

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