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The British seizure of power was more like a bank sending in the bailiffs to secure the assets of a failed business than a military conquest. A small force of British soldiers landed in Ismailia in the fall of 1882, ostensibly to put down an army mutiny. They were to stay in Egypt until the mid-1950s, propping up a series of rulers who were little more than facades maintained to provide local legitimacy to colonial rule.

The major development in Egypt under the British occupation was commercialized tourism. Fueled by images of ancient ruins brought back by the French expedition, Egypt quickly became a required stop on any grand tour. At first, the reserve of the wealthy few, by the end of the 19th century, with British troops on the ground in Cairo to guarantee the safety of Her Majesty's middle classes, Egypt had become open to anybody with time for a vacation and the money for passage on one of the regular liners.

Parallel to the opening of the tourist market ran the development of archaeology. This, too, began as a pastime for those wealthy enough to winter at the aptly named Winter Palace in Luxor and fund a crew of locals to dig about in what became known as the Valley of the Kings. The British attempted to control the process by forming a professional antiquities service that supervised the digging and tried to ensure that the most significant pieces stayed in Egypt, but local dealers and diggers, delighted at this sudden cash market for buried leftovers, went to work, and soon enough, between local supply and foreign demand, a roaring export trade in everything from pottery to mummies had developed. It was to be after World War I before the professionals started to get a grip on the situation and qualified, institutional projects began to be favored over the efforts of the financially gifted amateurs.

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