History of Ottoman Egypt

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History of Egypt series.
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Muhammad Ali and his successors
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Egypt was conquered by the Ottoman Empire in 1517. Egypt was always a difficult province for the Ottoman Sultans to control. It remained dominated by the semi-autonomous Mameluks until it was conquered by the French in 1798. After the French were expelled it was ruled by the Albanian Muhammad Ali of Egypt and his descendants who pulled Egypt even further out of Ottoman control. This lasted until 1882 when the British invaded and Egypt became a de facto colony of Britain.


Early Turkish Period

After the conquest of Egypt the Ottoman sultan Selim I left the country, leaving his viceroy Khair Bey with a guard of 5000 janissaries, but otherwise made few changes in the administration of the country. The country was regraded as a vassal state, not a province, of the empire.

The history of early Ottoman Egypt is a competition for power between the Mamelukes and the representatives of the Ottoman Sultan.

The register by which a great portion of the land was a fief of the Mamelukes was left unchanged, allowing the Mamelukes to quickly return to postions of great influence. The Mameluke emirs were to be retained in office as heads of twelve sanjaks into, which Egypt was divided; and under the next sultan, Suleiman I, two chambers were created, called the Greater Divan and Lesser Divan, in which both the army and the ecclesiastical authorities were represented, to aid the pasha by their deliberations. Six regiments were constituted by the conqueror Selim for the protection of Egypt; to these Suleiman added a seventh, of Circassians.

In 1527 the first survey of Egypt under the Ottomans was made, the official copy of the former registers having perished by fire; this new survey did not come into use until 1605. Egyptian lands were divided into four classes: the sultans domain, fiefs, land for the maintenance of the army, and lands settled on religious foundations.

It was the practice of the Sublime Porte to change the governor of Egypt at very short intervals, after a year or even some months. The third governor, Abmad Pasha, hearing that orders for this execution had come from Constantinople, endeavoured to make himself an independent ruler and had coins struck in his own name. His schemes were frustrated by two of the emirs whom he had imprisoned and who, escaping from their confinement, attacked him in his bath and killed him.

The constant changes in the government seem to have caused the army to get out of control at an early period of the Ottoman occupation, and at the beginning of the 17th century mutinies became common; in 1013 AH (1604) the governor Ibrahim Pasha was murdered by the soldiers, and his head set on the Bab Zuwflla. The reason for these mutinies was the attempt made by successive pashas to put a stop to the extortion called the tulbah, a forced payment exacted by the troops from the inhabitants of the country by the fiction of debts requiring to be discharged, which led to grievous ill-usage.

In 1609 something like civil war broke out between the army and the pasha, who had on his side some loyal regiments and the Bedouins. The soldiers went so far as to choose a sultan, and to divide provisionally the regions of Cairo between. them. They were defeated by the governor Mahommed Pasha, who on February 5, 1610 entered Cairo in triumph, executed the ringleaders, and banished many others to Yemen. The contemporary historian speaks of this event as a second conquest of Egypt for the Ottomans. A great financial reform was now effected by Mahommed Pasha, who readjusted the burdens imposed on the different communities of Egypt in accordance with their means.

With the troubles that beset the metropolis of the Ottoman empire, the governors appointed thence came to be treated by the Egyptians with continually decreasing respect. In July 1623 there came an order from the Porte dismissing Mustafa Pasha and appointing Ali Pasha governor in his place. The officers met and demanded from the newly-appointed governors deputy the customary gratuity; when this was refused they sent letters to the Porte declaring that they wished to have Mustafa Pasha and not Ali Pasha as governor. Meanwhile Ali Pasha had arrived at Alexandria, and was met by a deputation from Cairo telling him that he was not wanted. He returned a mild answer; and, when a rejoinder came in the same style as the first message, he had the leader of the deputation arrested and imprisoned. Hereupon the garrison of Alexandria attacked the castle and rescued the prisoner; whereupon Ali Pasha was compelled to embark. Shortly after a rescript arrived from Constantinople confirming Mustafa Pasha in the governorship.

Similarly in 1631 the army took upon themselves to depose the governor, in indignation at his execution of Kits Bey, an officer who was to have commanded an Egyptian force required for service in Persia. The pasha was ordered either to hand over the executioners to vengeance or to resign his place; as he refused to do the former he was compelled to do the latter, and presently a rescript came from Constantinople, approving the conduct of the army and appointing one Khalil Pasha as Mustafa's successor. Not only was the governor unsupported by the sultan against the troops, but each new governor regularly inflicted a fine upon his outgoing predecessor, under the name of money due to the treasury; and the outgoing governor would not be allowed to leave Egypt till he had paid it. Besides the extortions to which this practice gave occasion the country suffered greatly in these centuries from famine and pestilence. The latter in the spring of 1619 is said to have carried off 635,000 persons, and in 1643 completely desolated 230 villages.

Later Turkish Period

By the 18th century the importance of the pasha was superseded by that of the Mameluk beys, and two offices, those of Sheik al-Balad and Emir al-~ajj, which were held by these persons, represented the real headship of the community. The process by which this state of affairs came about is somewhat obscure, owing to the want of good chronicles for the Turkish period of Egyptian history. In 1707 the Sheik al-Balad, Qgsim Iywaz, is found at the head of one of two Mameluke factions, the Qasimites and the Fiqarites, between whom the seeds of enmity were sown by the pasha of the time, with the result that a fight took place between the factions outside Cairo, lasting eighty days. At the end of that time Qasim Iywaz was killed and the office which he had held was given to his son Ismail. Ismail held this office for sixteen years, while the pashas were constantly being changed, and succeeded in reconciling the two factions of Mamelukes. In 1724 this person was assassinated through the machinations of the pasha, and Shirkas Bey, of the opposing faction, elevated to the office of Sheik al-Balad in his place. He was soon driven from his post by one of his own faction called Dhui-Fiqar, and fled to Upper Egypt. After a short time he returned at the head of an army, and some engagements ensued, in the last of which Shirkas Bey met his end by drowning; Dhul-Fiqar was himself assassinated in 1730 shortly after this event. His place was filled by Othman Bey, who had served as his general in this war.

In 1743 Othman Bey was forced to fly from Egypt by the intrigues of two adventurers, Ibrahim and Rilwgn Bey, who, when their scheme had succeeded, began a massacre of beys and others thought to be opposed to them; they then proceeded to govern Egypt jointly, holding the two offices mentioned above in alternate years. An attempt by one of the pashas to remove these two by a coup d'etat signally failed, owing to the loyalty of their armed supporters, who released Ibrahim and Rilwan from prison and compelled the pasha to flee to Constantinople. An attempt by a subsequent pasha in accordance with secret orders from Constantinople was so successful that some of the beys were killed. Ibrahim and Rilwan escaped, and compelled the pasha to resign his governorship and return to Constantinople. Ibraihim shortly afterwards was assassinated by someone who had aspired to occupy one of the vacant beyships, which was conferred instead on Ali, who as Ali Bey was destined to play an important part in the history of Egypt. The murder of Ibrahim Bey took place in 1755, and his colleague Rilwan perished in the subsequent disputes.

Ali Bey, who had first distinguished himself by defending a caravan in Arabia against bandits, set himself the task of avenging the death of his former master Ibraihim. He spent eight years in purchasing Mamelukes and winning other adherents, exciting the suspicions of the Sheik al-Balad Khalil Bey, who organized an attack upon him in the streets of Cairo, in consequence of which he fled to Upper Egypt. Here he met one Salib Bey, who had injuries to avenge on Khalil Bey, and the two organized a force with which they returned to Cairo and defeated Khalil, who was forced to flee to Iaifla, where for a time he concealed himself; eventually he was discovered, sent to Alexandria and finally strangled. The date of Ali Bey's victory was 1164 AH (Ar. 1750), and after it he was made Sheik al-Balad. He executed the murderer of his former master Ibrahim; but the resentment which this act aroused among the beys caused him to leave his post and flee to Syria, where he won the friendship of the governor of Acre, Ahir b. Omar, who obtained for him the goodwill of the Porte and reinstatement in his post as Sheik al-Balad.

In 1766, after the death of his supporter the grand vizier Raghib Pasha, he was again compelled to fly from Egypt to Yemen, but in the following year he was told that his party at Cairo was strong enough to permit of his return. Resuming his office he raised eighteen of his friends to the rank of bey, among them Ibrahim and Murad, who were afterwards at the head of affairs, as well as Mahommed Abul-Dhahab, who was closely connected with the rest of Ali Beys career. He appears to have done his utmost to bring Egyptian affairs into order, and by very severe measures repressed the brigandage of the Bedouins of Lower Egypt. He appears to have aspired to found an independent monarchy, and to that end endeavoured to disband all forces except those which were exclusively under his own control. In 1769 a demand came to All Bey for a force of 12,000 men to be employed by the Porte in the Russian war. It was suggested, however, at Constantinople that Ali would employ this force when he collected it for securing his own independence, and a messenger was sent by the Porte to the pasha with orders for his execution. All, being apprised by his agents at the metropolis of the despatch of this messenger, ordered him to be waylaid and killed; the despatches were seized and read by All before an assembly of the beys, who were assured that the order for execution applied to all alike, and he urged them to fight for their lives. His proposals were received with enthusiasm by the beys whom be had created. Egypt was declared independent and the pasha given forty-eight hours to quit the country. ~ahir Pasha of Acre, to whom was sent official information of the step taken by Ali Bey, promised his aid and kept his word by compelling an army sent by the pasha of Damascus against Egypt to retreat.

The Porte was not able at the time to take active measures for the suppression of All Bey, and the latter endeavoured to consolidate his dominions by sending expeditions against marauding tribes, both in north and south Egypt, reforming the finance, and improving the administration of justice. His son-in-law, Abul-Dhahab, was sent to subject the Hawwrah, who had occupied the land between Assuan and Assiut, and a force of 20,000 was sent to conquer Yemen. An officer named Ismail Bey was sent with 8000 to acquire the eastern shore of the Red Sea, and one named Ilasan Bey to occupy Jidda. In six months the greater part of the Arabian peninsula was subject to All Bey, and he appointed as Sheriff of Mecca a cousin of his own, who bestowed on All by an official proclamation the titles Sultan of Egypt and Khan of the Two Seas. He then, in virtue of this authorization, struck coins in his own name (1185 A.H.) and ordered his name to be mentioned in public worship.

His next move turned out fatally. Abul-Dhahab was sent with a force of 30,000 men in the same year (1771) to conquer Syria; and agents were sent to negotiate alliances with Venice and Russia. Abul-Dhahabs progress through Palestine and Syria was triumphant. Reinforced by All Beys ally Ahir, he easily took the chief cities, ending with Damascus; but at this point he appears to have entered into secret negotiations with the Porte, by which he undertook to restore Egypt to Ottoman suzerainty. He then proceeded to evacuate Syria, and marched with all the forces he could collect to Upper Egypt, occupying Assiut in April 1772. Having collected some additional troops from the Bedouins, he marched on Cairo. Ismail Bey was sent by All Bey with a force of 3000 to check his advance; but at Bastin Ismil with his troops joined Abul Dhahab. Ali Bey intended at first to defend himself so long as possible in the citadel at Cairo; but receiving information to the effect that his friend ~hir of Acre was still willing to give him refuge, he left Cairo for Syria (April 8, 1772), one day before the entrance of Abul-Dhahab.

At Acre Ali's fortune seemed to be restored. A Russian vessel anchored outside the port, and, in accordance with the agreement which he had made with the Russian empire, he was supplied with stores and ammunition, and a force of 3000 Albanians. He sent one of his officers, All Bey al-Tantawi, to recover the Syrian towns evacuated by Abul-Dhahab, and now in the possession of the Porte. He himself took Jaffa. and Gaza, the former of which he gave to his friend ~lahir of Acre. On the February 1, 1773 he received information from Cairo that Abul-Dhahab had made himself Sheik al-Balad, and in that capacity was practising unheard-of extortions, which were making Egypt with one voice call for the return of All Bey. He accordingly started for Egypt at the head of an army of 8000 men, and on April 19 met the army of Abul Dhahab at Salihia. Ali's forces were successful at the first engagement; but when the battle was renewed two days later he was deserted by some of his officers, and prevented by illness and wounds from himself taking the conduct of affairs. The result was a complete defeat for his army, after which he declined to leave his tent; he was captured after a brave resistance, and taken to Cairo, where he died seven days later.

After Ali Bey's death Egypt became once more a dependency of the Porte, governed by Abul-Dhahab as Sheik al-Balad with the title pasha. He shortly afterwards received permission from the Porte to invade Syria, with the view of punishing Ali Beys supporter ~ahir, and left as his deputies in Cairo Ismgil Bey and Ibrahim Bey, who, by deserting Ali at the battle of Salihia, had brought about his downfall. After taking many cities in Palestine Abul-Dhahab died, the cause being unknown; and Murad Bey (another of the deserters at Salihia) brought his forces back to Egypt (May 26, 1775).

Ismll Bey now became Sheik al-Balad, but was soon involved in a dispute with Ibrhim and Murad, who after a time succeeded in driving Ismail out of Egypt and establishing a joint rule (as Sheik al-Balad and Amir al-I.Ijj respectively) similar to that which had been tried previously. The two were soon involved in quarrels, which at one time threatened to break out into open war; but this catastrophe was averted, and the joint rule was maintained till 1786, when an expedition was sent by the Porte to restore Ottoman supremacy in Egypt. Murad Bey attempted to resist, but was easily defeated; and he with Ibrahim decided to fly to Upper Egypt and await the trend of events. On August 1 the Turkish commander entered Cairo, and, after some violent measures had been taken for the restoration of order, Ismail Bey was again. made Sheik al-Balad and a new pasha installed as governor. In January 1791 a terrible plague began to rage in Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt, to which Ismail Bey and most of his family fell victims. Owing to the need for competent rulers IbrghIm and Murad Bey were sent for from Upper Egypt and resumed their dual government. These two persons were still in office in 1798 when Bonaparte entered Egypt.

The French Occupation

The ostensible object of the French expedition to Egypt was to reinstate the authority of the Sublime Porte, and suppress the Mamelukes; and in the proclamation printed with the Arabic types brought from the Propaganda press, and issued shortly after the taking of Alexandria, Bonaparte declared that he reverenced the prophet Muhammad and the Qur'an far more than the Mamelukes reverenced either, and argued that all men were equal except so far as they were distinguished by their intellectual and moral excellences, of neither of which the Mamelukes had any great share. In future all posts in Egypt were to be open to all classes of the inhabitants; the conduct of affairs was to be committed to the men of talent, virtue, and learning; and in proof of the statement that the French were sincere Moslems the overthrow of the papal authority in Rome was alleged.

That there might be no doubt of the friendly feeling of the French to the Porte, villages and towns which capitulated to the invaders were required to hoist the flags of both the Porte and the French republic, and in the thanksgiving prescribed to the Egyptians for their deliverance from the Mamelukes, prayer was to be offered for both the sultan and the French army. It does not appear that the proclamation convinced many of the Egyptians of the truth of these professions. After the Battle of Embabeh, at which the forces of both Murad Bey and Ibrahim Bey were dispersed, the populace readily plundered the houses of the beys, and a deputation was sent from al-Azhar to Bonaparte to ascertain his intentions; these proved to be a repetition of the terms of his proclamation, and, though the combination of loyalty to the French with loyalty to the sultan was unintelligible, a good understanding was at first established between the invaders and the Egyptians.

A municipal council was established in Cairo, consisting of persons taken from the ranks of the sheiks, the Mamelukes and the French. Soon after delegates from Alexandria and other important towns were added. This council did little more than register the decrees of the French commander, who continued to exercise dictatorial power.

The destruction of the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile, and the failure of the French forces sent to Upper Egypt (where they reached the first cataract) to obtain possession of the person of Murad Bey, shook the faith of the Egyptians in their invincibility; and in consequence of a series of unwelcome innovations the relations between conquerors and conquered grew daily more strained, till at last, on the occasion of the introduction of a house tax, an insurrection broke out in. Cairo on October 22, 1798, of which the headquarters were in the University of Azhar. On this occasion the French general Dupuy, lieutenant-governor of Cairo, was killed. The prompt measures of Bonaparte, aided by the arrival from Alexandria of General Jean Baptiste Kléber, quickly suppressed this rising; but the stabling of the French cavalry in the mosque of Azhar gave great and permanent offence.

In consequence of this affair, the deliberative council was suppressed, but on December 25 a fresh proclamation was issued, reconstituting the two divans which had been created by the Turks; the special divan was to consist of 14 persons chosen by lot out of 60 government nominees, and was to meet daily. The general divan was to consist of functionaries, and to meet on emergencies.

In consequence of despatches which reached Bonaparte on January 3, 1799, announcing the intention of the Porte to invade the country with the object of recovering it by force, Bonaparte resolved on his Syrian expedition, and appointed governors for Cairo, Alexandria, and Upper Egypt, to govern during his absence.

From that ill-fated expedition he returned at the beginning of June. Advantage had been taken of this opportunity by Murd Bey and Ibraihim Bey to collect their forces and attempt a joint attack on. Cairo, but this Bonaparte arrived in time to defeat, and in the last week of July he inflicted a crushing defeat on the Turkish army that had landed at Aboukir, aided by the British fleet commanded by Sir Sidney Smith.

Shortly after his victory Bonaparte left Egypt, having appointed Kléber to govern in his absence, which he informed the sheiks of Cairo was not to last more than three months. Klber himself regarded the condition of the French invaders as extremely perilous, and wrote to inform the French republic of the facts. A double expedition shortly after Bonapartes departure was sent by the Porte for the recovery of Egypt, one force being despatched by sea to Damietta, while another under Yousuf Pasha took the land route from Damascus by al-Arish. Over the first some success was won, in consequence of which the Turks agreed to a convention (signed January 24, 1800), by virtue of which the French were to quit Egypt. The Turkish troops advanced to Bilbeis, where they were received by the sheiks from, Cairo, and the Mamelukes also returned to that city from their hiding-places.

Before the preparations for the departure of the French were completed, orders came to Sir Sidney Smith from the British government, forbidding the carrying out of the convention unless the French army were treated as prisoners of war; and when these were communicated to Kléber he cancelled the orders previously given to the troops, and proceeded to put the country in a state of defence. His departure with most of the army to attack the Turks at Mataria led to riots in Cairo, in the course of which many Christians were slaughtered; but the national party were unable to get possession of the citadel, and Kléber, having defeated the Turks, was soon able to return to the capital. On April 14 he bombarded Bulak, and proceeded to bombard Cairo itself, which was taken the following night. Order was soon restored, and a fine of twelve million francs imposed on the rioters. Murgd Bey sought an interview with Kléber and succeeded in obtaining from him the government of Upper Egypt. He died shortly afterwards and was succeeded by Osman Bey al-Bardisi.

On June 14 Kléber was assassinated by a fanatic named Suleiman of Aleppo, said to have been incited to the deed by a Janissary refugee at Jerusalem, who had brought letters to the sheiks of the Azhar, who, however, refused to give him any encouragement. Three of these, nevertheless, were executed by the French as accessories before the fact, and the assassin himself was impaled, after torture, in spite of a promise of pardon having been made to him on condition of his naming his associates. The command of the army then devolved on General J.F. (Baron de) Menou (1750-1810), a man who had professed Islam, and who endeavoured to conciliate the Muslim population by various measures, such as excluding all Christians (with the exception of one Frenchman) from the divan, replacing the Copts who were in government service by Muslims, and subjecting French residents to taxes. Whatever popularity might have been gained by these measures was counteracted by his declaration of a French protectorate over Egypt, which was to count as a French colony.

In the first weeks of March 1801 the English, under Sir Ralph Abercromby, effected a landing at Aboukir, and proceeded to invest Alexandria, where they were attacked by Menou; the French were repulsed, but the English commander was mortally wounded in the action. On the 25th fresh reinforcements arrived under Husain, the Kapudan Pasha, or high admiral; and a combined English and Turkish force was sent to take Rosetta. On May 30, General A.D. Belhiard, who had been left in charge at Cairo, was assailed on two sides by the British forces under General John Hely Hutchinson (afterwards 2nd earl of Donoughmore), and the Turkish under Ytisuf Pasha; after negotiations Belhiard agreed to evacuate Cairo and to sail with his 13,734 troops to France. On August 30, Menou at Alexandria was compelled to accept similar conditions, and his force of 10,000 left for Europe in September. This was the termination of the French occupation of Egypt, of which the chief permanent monument was the Description de l'Egypte, compiled by the French savants who accompanied the expedition.

Return to Ottoman control

Soon after the evacuation of Egypt by the French, the country became the scene of more severe troubles, in consequence of the attempts of the Turks to destroy the power of the Mamelukes. In defiance of promises to the British government, orders were transmitted from Constantinople to Husain Pasha, the Turkish high admiral, to ensnare and put to death the principal beys. Invited to an entertainment, they were, according to the Egyptian contemporary historian al-Jabarti, attacked on board the flag-ship; Sir Robert Wilson and M.F. Mengin, however, state that they were fired on, in open boats, in the Bay of Aboukir. They offered an heroic resistance, but were overpowered, and some killed, some made prisoners; among the last was Osman Bey al-Bardisi, who was severely wounded. British General Hutchinson, informed of this treachery, immediately assumed Turks and threatening measures against the Turks, and in consequence the killed, wounded and prisoners were Mamelukes given up to him. At the same time Ysuf Pasha arrested all the beys in Cairo, but was shortly compelled by the British to release them. Such was the beginning of the disastrous struggle between the Mamelukes and the Turks.

Mahommed Khosrev was the first Turkish governor of Egypt after the expulsion of the French. The form of government, however, was not the same as that before the French invasion, for the Mamelukes were not reinstated. The pasha, and through him the sultan, endeavoured on several occasions either to ensnare them or to beguile them into submission; but these efforts failing, Mahommed Khosrev took the field, and a Turkish detachment 7000 strong was despatched against them to Damanhur, whither they had descended from Upper Egypt, and was defeated by a small force under al-Alfi; or, as Mengin says, by 800 men commanded by al-Bardisi, when. al-Alfi had left the field. Their ammunition and guns fell into the hands of the Mamelukes. This lead to a long civil war between the Albanians, Mamelukes, and Turks. See Muhammad Ali's seizure of power for the history of this struggle.

Continued in Egypt under Mehemet Ali and his successorsde:Osmanenherrschaft in Ägypten


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