Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Mehemet Ali (1805-1850)

Prosperous Syria (1833-1839): Who is Ibrahim Mehemet Ali of Egypt?

The modern-day Pharaoh of Egypt, Mehemet Ali (1805-1849), born in Kavala in Macedonia, and an illiterate soldier who ruled over Egypt, Sudan, the Arabic Peninsula, and Syria, declared in 1836 to Ferdinand de Lesseps (the French engineer who opened the Suez Canal): “Syria feeds my army. All that I dispatch to my troops are swords, fire arms and pieces of artillery…”

In 1832, Ibrahim Pasha, son of Mehemet Ali, lead his troops into Syria and defeated the Ottoman army in several battles. Ibrahim was 200 km from Istanbul and the way was clear to dethroning the Ottoman Sultan.  Mehemet Ali refused his son this strategic moment of pushing further in his military campaign: Mehemet Ali could not see himself proclaimed the caliphate of Islam.

Finally, Sultan Mahmoud II, with the support of the western European powers, agreed to relinquish Syria to Mehemet Ali to administer.  Ibrahim became the new administrator of Syria (which included current Palestine, Lebanon, and the southern part of Turkey, and the strategic region of Adana).

Generalissimo Ibrahim transformed Syria drastically: For the first time in its history, Syria enjoyed an efficient and real central government.  The Ottoman Empire in the last 4 centuries, and all the empires that ruled Syria, appointed governors to cities. Before Ibrahim ruled, the Ottoman Empire sold governorship for 100,000 ducats. Ibrahim eliminated governors and unified Syria under a single administration located in Damascus.

Syria became one vast internal market, and all barriers for commerce and trades were broken down. The Syrians were called upon, for the first time in centuries, to serve in the highest administrative civil posts and in the army.

The French traveller Mimaut wrote in 1836: “I travelled in all of Syria without guards or escorts. I had no fear of being ambushed or kidnapped…”  The British colonel Damis wrote in 1838: “Commerce in Syria and with Syrian merchants is brisk and increasing each year.  The British traders are benefiting the most from all other European traders.  Ibrahim Pasha has tamed all the virulent tribes, Bedouins, Kurds, and Turkoman. Trade is flourishing in Beirut, Alexandretta, Damascus, and Aleppo…”

Import/export taxes on products were set at 3%, instead of 30% during the Ottoman administrations. The ports of Saida and Alexandretta were made usable and functional. The port of Beirut witnessed a four fold increase in import duties of about 3,000 bourses.

Ibrahim focused on modern agricultural methods: Olive, mulberry trees for silk worms, vine orchards, and cereals production multiplied many folds.  Swamps were dried up. Canals were digged for irrigation, roads constructed, and the rivers of Tarsus made navigable…

Industry mushroomed: Damascus produced 400,000 pieces of silk cloth mixed with cotton, Hebron sold to all Syria and Egypt its blue-glass lamps and bracelets… Mines of iron, coal, porphyry were in full exploitation.

Pilgrims to Jerusalem, regardless of religious affiliations, didn’t have to pay a dime in order to enter the city. Christians in Syria were no longer obligated to wear distinctive clothes to discriminate them from Moslems, and they could not be forced to serve in the military. Ibrahim introduced libraries: There was not a single library in all Syria. Public schools were established for mainly military needs at first.

The most deadly mistake was a misconception of the Syrian customs of fighting any enforcement of military service and forced labor: No Empire or governor for thousand of years dared to force upon the Syrian military serve.  What exacerbated the discontent was that Ibrahim had to start disarming and collecting fire arms after the first insurrection:  Personal weapons were considered symbol of manhood and the honor of the family.

Mehemet Ali must have known this fact, but “necessity is the driving law”:  This vast empire, run from Cairo, needed a huge army to keeping security along its long borders, especially that the Ottoman Empire and England constantly conspired to destabilize the rule of Mehemet Ali.  The British Empire harassed Mehemet Ali in the Arabic Peninsula and in Yemen by supporting, funding, and arming the Wahhabi extremist Moslem sect in current Saudi Arabia.  The Arabic Peninsula became worse than Spain during Napoleon period, and exhausted the treasury.

Two vast mass insurrection in Syria convinced Mehemet Ali to cede Syria to the Ottoman Empire, in exchange of formal recognition of Egypt as a full independent monarchy to the dynasty of Mehemet Ali.

The first uprising started in Palestine, from Jerusalem and Nablus: Ibrahim had received an order from his father to recruit 120,000 men of war, as quickly as possible.  Apparently, Mehemet Ali had pieces of intelligence that the ottoman Empire was readying an army against his troops and was distributing money and arms in the Turkish provinces close to Syria.  The notables in Palestine begged Ibrahim to demand as much money they could afford, but to spare their sons from the army.  Ibrahim failed to temporize and find a smoother alternative to recruiting but to refuse the petition.

The insurrection in Palestine started in May 1834. Ibrahim managed to enter Jerusalem in June and disarmed the insurgents.  Another insurgent movement was beginning in south Turkey, and Mehemet Ali had to come personally with fresh troops.  The other more serious insurrection started in the Huran region (adjacent to the Golan Heights), mostly of the Druze sect: It was funded and armed by the British Empire.  Mehemet Ali had to assemble an additional army of 50,000 soldiers from Sudan and the Arabic Peninsula in order to vanquish this revolt, headed by Chibli al Eryan and which lasted two years, and cost Mehemet Ali in finance and soldiers more than the entire campaign against the Ottoman army.

This prosperity took a life of its own till the start of WWI, as Turkey joined in the war with Germany.  The population in Syria, particularly in Lebanon, suffered famine and thousands died and thousands more immigrated.  The less than 8 years rule of Ibrahim changed an reformed Syria: He tamed the tribes and feudal lords and instituted civic laws… and had significant impact on this region.  Just imagine if Ibrahim managed to govern Syria for another 10 years of his short life.  And our history books teach the secondary level students that Ibrahim is the villain and a monster…

Note: Although the British Empire was benefiting the most from the administration of Ibrahim to  Syria, and Mehemet Ali did his best to please the British, the long-term strategy was to avoid the creation of another younger and more vigorous Arab Empire in Egypt, and let the Ottoman Empire perish slowly but surely.  Mehemet Ali has worried the European nations by his successive acquisition of land, good management, and good foreign policies.  England didn’t want a secure Arabic Peninsula or a stable Egypt in order to maintain its dominance of the Indian trade.




February 2023

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