Muhammad Ali of Egypt

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This article is about the viceroy of Egypt. For other people named Mehemet Ali, see Mehemet Ali (disambiguation) and Muhammad Ali (disambiguation)

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Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali Pasha (Arabic: محمد علي باشا) or Mehmet Ali Paşa (Kavalalı Mehmet Ali Paşa) in Turkish (c. 1769 - August 2, 1849), was a viceroy of Egypt and is often cited as the founder of modern Egypt. Muhammad Ali was born in the town of Kavala (in present day Greece) in an Albanian family. After working for a time in his youth as a tobacco merchant, Muhammad Ali took a commission in the Ottoman army.

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[edit] Rise to power

In 1798, Napoleon invaded the Ottoman province of Egypt and destroyed the army of the Mamluk rulers at the Battle of the Pyramids. The immediate military objective of the expedition was to strike at Britain's communication routes with India. The British destruction of the French fleet in the Battle of the Nile near Alexandria dealt a blow to Napoleon's ambitions. However, the rest of the expeditionary force occupied Egypt, with great difficulty, for three years. The occupation was officially brought to an end in 1801 by a joint British-Ottoman expedition. The ethnic and political divisions within Ottoman ranks prevented them from operating effectively for very long. When the troops had their salaries delayed, some of them mutinied, and many turned to banditry. With the Mamluks out of power and the French occupation over, Egypt was thrown into a power vacuum. Muhammad Ali, a young officer who had been second in command of an Albanian contingent sent by the Ottoman government to evacuate the French, stepped in to fill this vacuum by establishing a local power base of village leaders, clerics, and wealthy merchants in Cairo. With no one else able to hold the office in safety, he was recognized by Istanbul and appointed Ottoman viceroy (wali; Arabic: والي) of Egypt in 1805.

Ali spent the first years of his rule fighting off attempts to unseat him and extended his personal authority over all of Egypt. In one of the most infamous episodes of his reign, Ali definitively broke the power of the Mamluks by massacring their leaders. Having worn down the Mamluks for years with raids and skirmishes, he invited their amirs in 1811 to a feast to celebrate his son Tusun Pasha's appointment to lead the army being sent against the Wahhabi rebellion in Arabia. As the procession of Mamluk princes made its way through a narrow gated alley in the Citadel, Ali's men shut the gates, trapping all the Mamluks inside, and soldiers positioned in the buildings facing the alley opened fire from above. When the shooting ended, soldiers on the ground finished off any Mamluks still living with swords and axes. In the following days, he ordered his men to kill any other Mamluks they could catch, plunder their homes, and rape their women.

[edit] The modern army

Ali recognized that the sort of military force from which he had arisen — expeditionary recruits assigned to units based on shared ethnic or regional identity — was not a reliable force in the long term. Moreover, he knew from personal experience fighting the French in 1799 that there was a superior style of combat in the field. Close-order, well-drilled musketry combined with artillery and judicious cavalry support had proved devastating against less disciplined, more flamboyant forces such as the Mamluks. An additional advantage, Ali knew, was that a modern army in the European guise could provide an alternative to raising entire military castes, such as the Janissaries and the Mamluks themselves. These castes tended to accumulate enough power to challenge the authority of their ostensible lords. Another influence on this decision to modernize was the short-lived attempt of Sultan Selim III at creating a similar force to replace the Janissaries: the disciplined troops, trained by the German officer Von Moltke the elder, then captain, had performed well, but the Janissaries realized the implications of this new force, and responded by deposing Selim. In 1823, Muhammad Ali began to conscript peasants from Upper Egypt and trained them in the Napoleonic fighting style under a French officer, Colonel Sèves (Suleyman Pasha). According to the nizâm-ı cedîd (literally, new order) system introduced by the Ottoman sultan Selim III (1789-1807), these troops were based on a regular draft pattern and organized along contemporary European schemes. These troops showed remarkable loyalty to the viceroy (in comparison with the yeni çeri troops) and performed very well in battle, putting down insurrections in various parts of Egypt.

In 1827, at the request of Sultan Mahmud II, Ali sent his nizami troops under his son's command, Ibrahim Pasha, against the Greeks in the Greek War of Independence. He also raised a navy at a huge cost. This engagement led to a falling-out between Mahmud II and Muhammad Ali. Great Britain, France, and Russia had all taken the side of the Greek rebels and an enormous fleet of their combined naval forces lay anchored in Navarino Bay, awaiting the Ottoman navy. Ali recognized that his naval forces could not hope to defeat the combined European fleet and pleaded with the Sultan to recognize Greek independence, then allowing the Austrian Empire to mediate a negotiated peace. The Sultan refused to consider giving up so much imperial territory and insisted that the opposing fleet was just an empty bluffing tactic. Ali reluctantly followed orders and sent his navy against the European fleet; in the Battle of Navarino on 20 October 1827, almost the whole of the Ottoman navy was destroyed in only a few hours of fighting. This marked the last time that Muhammad Ali undertook a major military engagement on behalf of the Sultan.

In the aftermath of the Greek War of Independence, Muhammad Ali had the chance to review the strengths and weaknesses of his troops in a major engagement. The land troops had performed well, but the campaign revealed that many of the Ottoman officers were inadequate to the job of commanding the new infantry forces in the field. Moreover, the nizam jadid did not yet extend to naval forces; the viceroy had to rely on a far less disciplined navy during the campaign in Greece.

Ali dealt with these issues pragmatically. To remedy the problem of officer training, he founded a staff college and hired French officers to train Ottoman personnel in the newly requisite military science. Convinced of the efficacy of the nizam jadid, he dissolved all his old regiments of Albanians and Mamluks and set about building an entire army of nizami troops. To supply the men for the troops, he instituted conscription among Egyptian peasants.

[edit] Industrialization and modernization

To keep up with the constant need for money that military reform created, Ali established long-staple cotton as a cash crop and reoriented the Egyptian agricultural economy towards cotton production. Since British textile manufacturers were willing to pay good money for such cotton, Ali ordered the majority of Egyptian peasants to cultivate cotton at the exclusion of all other crops. At harvest time, Ali bought the entire crop himself, which he then sold at a mark-up to textile manufacturers. In this way, he turned the whole of Egypt's cotton production into his personal monopoly. He also experimented with textile factories that might process cotton into cloth within Egypt, but these did not prove very successful.

The needs of the military likewise fueled other modernization projects, such as state educational institutions, a teaching hospital, roads and canals, factories to turn out uniforms and munitions, and a shipbuilding foundry at Alexandria, although all the wood for ships had to be imported from abroad. In the same way that he conscripted peasants to serve in the army, he frequently drafted peasants into labor corvées for his factories and industrial projects. The peasantry objected to these conscriptions and many ran away from their villages to avoid being taken, sometimes fleeing as far away as Syria. A number of them maimed themselves so as to be unsuitable for combat: common ways of self-maiming were blinding an eye with rat poison and cutting off a finger of the right hand, which usually worked the firing mechanism of a rifle.

[edit] Rebellion against the Sultan

Ali viewed the territory comprising Sudan as an extension of water, land, and resources, namely gold and slaves. He ordered a campaign to conquer and occupy Sudan in 1820. Ali's troops made headway into Sudan in 1821 and were met with fierce resistance. The supremacy of Egyptian troops and firearms ensured the conquest of Sudan. Ali now had an outpost from which he could expand to the source of the Nile in Ethiopia and Uganda. His administration captured slaves from the Nuba Mountains and west and south Sudan, all incorporated into a foot regiment known as the Jihadiya. Ali's reign in Sudan and that of his descendants is known in Sudan for its brutality and heavy-handedness.

On 20 October 1827, while under the command of Muharram Bey, the Ottoman represenative, the entire Egyptian navy was sunk by the European Allied fleet, under the command of Admiral Edward Codrington (1770-1851). If the Porte was not in the least prepared for this confrontation, Muhammad Ali was even less prepared for the loss of his highly competent, expensively assembled, and maintained navy. In compensation for this loss the wali asked the Porte for the territory of Syria. The Ottomans were indifferent to the request, the sultan himself asking blandly what would if Syria was granted and Muhammad Ali later deposted? Could he not then use Syria and then attack the suddenly unprotected Egypt? <ref> 12 Bahr Barra, Jamad I 1243/1828</ref> But the wali was not longer willing to tolerate Ottoman indifference. To compensate for his, and Egypt's, losses the wheels for the conquest of Syria were set in motion.

Like other rulers of Egypt before him, Ali desired to control Greater Syria, both for its strategic value and for its rich natural resources; nor was this a sudden, vendictive decision on the part of the wali since he had this goal since his early years as Egypt's unoffical ruler. For not ony had Syria abundent natural resources, it also had a thriving international trading community with well developed markets throughout the Levant; in addition, it would be a captive market for the goods now being produced in Egypt. Yet perhaps most of all Syria was desirable because it was a buffer state between Egypt and the sultan.

A new fleet was built, a new army was raised and on 31 October 1831, under Ibrahim Pasha, Muhammad Ali's eldest son, the Egyptian invasion of Syria began. For the sake of appearance on the world stage, and pretext for the invasion was vital. Ultimately, excuse for the expedition was a quarrel with Abdullah Pasha of Acre. The wali alleged that 6,000 fallahin had fled to Acre to escape the draft, corvée, and taxes, and he wanted them back.<ref>Afaf Lutfi al-Sayyid Marsot, Egypt in the reign of Muhammad AliUniversity of Cambridge, 1983</ref>


The Egyptians overran Syria, so weak was the resistance. Acre was captured after a six-month siege, which lasted from 3 November 1831 to 27 May 1832. The Egyptian amry marched north into Anatolia. At the Battle of Konya (21 December 1832), Ibrahim Pasha soundly defeated the Ottoman army led by the sadr azam Grand Vizier Reshid Pasha. There was now no military obstacle between Ibrahim's forces and Istanbul itself.

Despite all appearances, neither the wali nor his son Ibrahim coveted the Ottoman throne was making a play to overthrow the Osmanli Dynasty and seize control of the Ottoman Empire: Muhammad Ali because his goal was to rule an independent Egypt; Ibrahim Pasha because he despised the Porte, and all Ottomans, to the very depths of his being. Instead, their stated goal was the removal of the current Ottoman emperor Mahmud II and replace him with his nephew, the infant Abdul Mejid.

This possibility so alarmed Mahmud II that he accepted Russia's offer of military aid, much to the dismay of the British and French governments. From this position, Russia brokered a negotiated solution in 1833 known as the Treaty of Hünkâr İskelesi. The terms of the peace were: Ali would withdraw his forces from Anatolia, he would receive the territories of Crete (then known as Candia) and the Hijaz as compensation, and Ibrahim Pasha would be appointed wali of Syria.

In 1839, Muhammad Ali, dissatisfied with partial sovereignty over Syria, went to war again against the Sultan's forces. When Mahmud II ordered his forces to advance on the Syrian frontier, Ibrahim attacked and destroyed them at the Battle of Nizib (24 June 1839) near Urfa. Echoing the Battle of Konya, Istanbul was again left vulnerable to Ali's forces. Mahmud II died almost immediately after the battle took place and was succeeded by his sixteen-year-old son, Abdülmecid. At this point, Ali and Ibrahim began to argue about which course to follow; Ibrahim favored conquering Istanbul and demanding the imperial seat while Ali was inclined simply to demand numerous concessions of territory and political autonomy for himself and his family. On 15 July 1840, Great Britain, Austria, Russia and Prussia signed the London Convention, which granted Ali hereditary rule over Egypt and the administration for life over the governatorate of Acre in exchange for the withdrawal of his troops from the Syrian hinterland and the coastal regions of Mount Lebanon. Ali refused these terms and, despite the opposition of France, a multilateral European military intervention took place a few weeks later.

After the British and Austrian navies blockaded the Nile delta coastline, shelled Beirut (11 September 1840), and after Acre had capitulated (3 November 1840), Ali agreed to the terms of the Convention on 27 November 1840, renouncing his claims over Crete and the Hijaz and downsizing his navy and his standing army to 18,000 men, provided that he and his descendants would enjoy hereditary rule over Egypt — an unheard-of status for an Ottoman viceroy.

[edit] Final years

After he secured hereditary rule for his family, Ali ruled until 1848, when he was deposed on account of senility. He was succeeded by Ibrahim Pasha, but Ibrahim himself was very ill and died a few months later. Ali briefly succeeded his own son, until his grandson, Abbas, assumed the office. Ali died in August 1849 and was buried in the imposing mosque he had commissioned, the The Mosque Muhammad Ali, in the Citadel of Cairo.

[edit] Note on Muhammad Ali's ethnicity

During Ali's lifetime, religious affiliation was the most important marker of identity in the Ottoman Empire. A precise ethnic identification of an Ottoman subject is difficult to ascertain, especially in cities with diverse ethnic populations. The historical record suggests that he likely had Albanian origins; he may have also had Macedonian, Turkish, or Kurdish ancestry. However, all speculations on his ethnic designation are difficult to prove beyond doubt. Moreover, Egyptian historical records variably refer to Muhammad Ali as a Turk and an Albanian, depending on the historian's perspective. It is, in fact, difficult to state definitively anything more than that Muhammad Ali was a Muslim subject of the Ottoman Empire.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

[edit] External links

Muhammad 'Ali Dynasty

Born: 1769; Died: 2 August 1849

Preceded by:
uncertain due to war
Governor of Egypt
1805–1848
Succeeded by:
Ibrahim
Preceded by:
Ibrahim
Governor of Egypt
1848–1849
Succeeded by:
Abbas I

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Muhammad Ali of Egypt

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