This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: IWM 23).


The funeral of Hussein Kemal, first Sultan of Egypt, in Cairo, 10 October 1917.

The chief mourner is the Sultan's brother and successor, Ahmed Fuad I. The road to the palace has many spectators, and British soldiers lining the route as an honour guard. Lancers of the Sultan's bodyguard lead the parade, followed by Sultan Fuad in a landau, the Lancers of the Guard, and other carriages. The next scene is the funeral procession on foot to the Rifai Mosque, with many Egyptian mourners in black, the coffin being carried by Egyptian Marines, and British naval and military representatives (including one Australian officer) as official mourners. The coffin comes to the front of the mosque and is taken up the steps and inside. Finally, the new Sultan leaves the mosque, enters a car and drives away.


Title: this is taken from the shotsheet.



The strategic value of Egypt to Britain grew following the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 as the country now provided the main trade route to and from India. Britain assumed control of Egypt in 1882, although the country remained nominally a part of the Ottoman Empire. A flashpoint occurred at the outbreak of World War I. The Ottomans supported the Central Powers, as did Abbas II Hilmi Bey, the last Khedive of Egypt. Abbas, who had had an occasionally fractious relationship with the British since coming to power in 1892, also endorsed an attack on the Suez Canal. The British Government responded in December 1914 by declaring Egypt a British protectorate, deposing Abbas and installing in his place his uncle, Husayn Kamil. Kamil was given the title of Sultan of Egypt, the first time that the term had been used since the Ottoman conquest of the country in 1517. The real power in Egypt nevertheless lay with the British High Commissioner.

He was still at college in Vienna when the sudden death of his father raised him to the Khedivate, and he was barely of age according to Egyptian law; which required an age of  eighteen for succession to the throne. For some time he did not cooperate very cordially with the United Kingdom, whose army had occupied Egypt in 1882. As he was young and eager to exercise his new power, he resented the interference of the British Agent and Consul General in Cairo, Sir Evelyn Baring, later made Lord Cromer. At the outset of his reign, Khedive Abbas surrounded himself with a coterie of European advisers who opposed the British occupation of Egypt and Sudan and encouraged the young Khedive to challenge Cromer by replacing his ailing prime minister with a nationalist. At Cromer's behest, Lord Rosebery, the British Foreign Secretary, sent him a letter stating that the Khedive was obliged to consult the British Consul on such issues as Cabinet appointments. In January 1894 Abbas, while on an inspection tour of Egyptian army installations near the southern border, as Mahdists were still in control of Sudan, made public remarks disparaging the Egyptian army units commanded by British officers. The British commander of the Egyptian army, Sir Herbert Kitchener, immediately offered to resign. Cromer strongly supported Kitchener and pressed the Khedive and Prime Minister to retract the Khedive's criticisms of the British officers. From that time on, Abbas no longer publicly opposed the British, but secretly created, supported, and sustained the nationalist movement, which came to be led by Mustafa Kamil. As Kamil's energies were increasingly aimed at winning popular support for a National Party, Khedive Abbas publicly distanced himself from the Nationalists.

In time he came to accept British counsels. In 1899 British diplomat Alfred Mitchell-Innes was appointed Under-Secretary of State for Finance in Egypt, and in 1900 Abbas paid a second visit to Britain, during which he frankly acknowledged the great good the British had done in Egypt, and declared himself ready to follow their advice and to cooperate with the British officials administering Egyptian and Sudanese affairs. The establishment of a sound system of native justice, the great remission of taxation, the reconquest of Sudan, the inauguration of the substantial irrigation works at Aswan, and the increase of cheap, sound education, each received his formal approval. He displayed more interest in agriculture than in statecraft. His farm of cattle and horses at Qubbah, near Cairo, was a model for scientific agriculture in Egypt, and he created a similar establishment at Muntazah, near Alexandria. He married the Princess Ikbal Hanem and had several children. Muhammad Abdul Mun'im, the heir apparent, was born on 20 February 1899.

His relations with Cromer's successor, Sir Eldon Gorst, were excellent, and they co-operated in appointing the cabinets headed by Butrus Ghali in 1908 and Muhammad Sa'id in 1910 and in checking the power of the Nationalist Party. The appointment of Kitchener to succeed Gorst in 1911 displeased Abbas, and relations between him and the British deteriorated. Kitchener often complained about "that wicked little Khedive" and wanted to depose him.

The Times described Kamil as ‘a true patriot’, who ‘considered it the duty of all patriotic Egyptians to cooperate loyally with the Occupying Power’ (The Times, 10 October 1917). The paper further stated that the British administrators of Egypt ‘recognized the extreme value of his sound and disinterested counsel’ (The Times, 10 October 1917). Within Egypt itself there were those who opposed him; Kamil survived two assassination attempts in 1915, and died of natural causes in 1917.

Kamil’s son, Prince Kamal al-Din Husayn, refused to succeed him. A character in Naguib Mahfouz’s novel Palace Walk exclaims ‘What a fine man Prince Kamal al-Din Husayn is! Do you know what he did? He refused to ascend the throne of his late father so long as the British are in charge’ (Mahfouz, 1990, 12). Kamil’s brother, Ahmed Fuad, succeeded in his place. The Times said of this new ruler that there is ‘a confident expectation that he will follow the wise and patriotic example of his distinguished brother’ (The Times, 10 October 1917).

Kamil’s funeral was filmed by Harold Jeapes, a veteran of the British film industry and chief cameraman for the Topical Film Company. This company was founded in 1911 by his brother William Jeapes and Herbert Wrench, and it was responsible for ‘Topical Budget’ one of the three major British newsreels of the silent era (McKernan, ‘Topical Budget (1911-1931)’). In 1917 the company was taken over by the War Office Cinematograph Committee (WOCC), and provided the first war propaganda newsreel sponsored by the British Government. The WOCC was also responsible for stationing Harold Jeapes in Egypt and Palestine. Issues of the Topical Budget would appear bi-weekly and a standard edition would carry five subjects, each running for approximately two minutes (Keshen, 1996, 37). In March 1918 the newsreel came under the control of the newly formed Ministry of Information, before returning to private ownership in 1919. Luke McKernan has stated that the ‘official’ period of Topical Budget is ‘marked by access to footage from the war fronts’; however he adds that ‘The newsreel had to include popular, general items, even at times had to appear not to be a war newsreel at all, if it was to gain a wider acceptance, which would in turn allow it to get its messages across’ (McKernan, ‘Topical Budget: War and Propaganda’).

Following the conclusion of the war Egypt remained in control of the British. At the Imperial Conference of Prime Ministers in 1921 it was declared that ‘the Empire could survive anything else but not the loss of its main artery’ (Balfour-Paul, 2001, 498). However, Egypt was the most politically advanced country in the Middle East and there was a strong nationalist movement. In 1922 Britain’s wartime protectorate was revoked and Egypt was declared a ‘sovereign independent’ country. Under these conditions Britain retained control over defence, imperial communications and the Sudan. Fuad now adopted a different title: he became known as the King of Egypt and Sudan.



Harold Jeapes’ long experience of making films is in evidence in The Sultan of Egypt’s Funeral. In each of the three scenes that comprise the feature he adopts a good vantage point, enabling him to detail as much of the proceedings as possible. Only occasionally does he have to adopt a panning movement for the camera, and when he does the movement is subtle, leading to a comfortable viewing experience.

Jeapes captures the mixture of British and Egyptian leadership, and a mixture of British and Egyptian traditions. In the first scene British officers line the road to the Sultan’s palace, forming a guard of honour. Their formalities are observed for a procession that is led by Egyptian troops. Although most of the soldiers and officials in this procession are Egyptian, they assume a formation that is familiar from British regal tradition. We witness synchronised troops on horseback advancing ahead of Sultan Fuad. The new sultan travels in an open-topped landau, flanked by foot soldiers. He is wearing a western-styled suit. Egyptian traditions are in evidence in the fezzes that some of the troops wear and in a scimitar flag that can be witnessed flying from one of the buildings. The crowd is not vast and is made up mostly of Egyptians, but with a few British present.

The second scene shows the funeral procession en route to the Rifai Mosque. Once again the military form a guard of honour. The funeral procession is vast and is dominated by groups of male Egyptians. It is formed of sections, each of which adopts a particular form of dress. Some sections of Egyptian mourners wear black suits and ties; others wear white shirts and fezzes; while still more wear gowns and turban-styled headgear. It is only after we have seen several hundred mourners that Hussein Kemal’s coffin appears. It is larger than a conventional British coffin and appears to be covered with fabric. Later still the first British mourners can be witnessed. They too adopt matching dress: black suits and shiny top hats.

The final scene depicts the climax of this procession as the coffin arrives at the Rifai Mosque. This scene also features a guard of honour, but this time made up of Egyptian troops, who line up for Sultan Fuad as he leaves the mosque. His clothing displays a final mixture of Egyptian and British styles: he wears a black suit and carries a cane, but wears a fez upon his head.

Although this film effectively captures the scenes of the Sultan of Egypt’s Funeral, background information is required for us to understand what is taking place. This is partly due to the film itself: it has no title cards to explain the footage that is on display. It is also due to the form in which the film now exists. The version held by the Imperial War Museum features only these funeral scenes; we are missing the other Topical Budget features that might have accompanied it and there are no opening and closing credits.

Richard Osborne (September 2009)


Works Cited

Balfour-Paul, Glen, ‘Britain’s Informal Empire in the Middle East’, in The Oxford History of the British Empire: Volume IV: The Twentieth Century, ed. by Judith M. Brown and Wm. Roger Louis (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 490-514.

‘The First Sultan of Egypt’, The Times, 10 October 1917, 5.

Keshen, Jeff, Propaganda and Censorship During Canada’s Great War (Edmonton: University of Alberta, 1996).

Mahfouz, Naguib, Palace Walk (London: Doubleday, 1990).

McKernan, Luke. ‘Topical Budget (1911-1931)’, Screenonline

McKernan, Luke. ‘Topical Budget: War and Propaganda’, Screenonline

‘The Sultan of Egypt’, The Times, 10 October 1917, 7.




Technical Data

Running Time:
6 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
382 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
War Office Cinema Committee
Jeapes, Harold
Production company
Topical Film Company