Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘The last Pharaoh”

Part 2. Mehemet Ali (1770-1849): The last modern Pharaoh?

Mehemet Ali (Turkish pronunciation) or Mohammad Ali was born around 1770 in the poor port town of Kavala in Macedonia. Macedonia was called Roumelia by the Ottoman Empire, and Kavala faced the close-by island of Thasos.  Mehemet Ali’s father married Zeinab, a daughter of Hussein agha, and he had the job of securing the district routes, in addition of trading in tobacco.

At the age of 19, Mehemet Ali married Amina Hanem, the widowed daughter of the governor of Kavala. His first son Ibrahim was born in the nearby village of Drama, where the family fled from the cholera infesting the small port.  Amina was the favorite wife of Mehemet Ali, although he had 30 kids from his harem.  Only 10 lived to adulthood, 7 boys and 3 girls.

The second son of Mehemet Ali, the most beloved Toussoun, also died at 23 of age after an all-night of pleasure and bingeing… Toussoun had led an army in 1811 into the Arabic peninsula and defeated the extremist religious Wahhabi uprising and entered Mecca. The elder son Ibrahim would resume the war and the conquest and in 1818 eradicate Deryeh, the main city of the Wahhabi who received arms and  finances from England.

Mehemet Ali was totally illiterate till the age of 45, and spoke only Turkish, although he learned to understand local Arabic. Most of his children received the best education of the time and spoke several languages such as Farisi and Greek.

In 1800, Mehemet Ali reluctantly had to join the 300-contingent of Macedonians dispatched to support the British in the attempt of dislodging the remnant of 20,000 French soldiers in Egypt, lead by General Menou. Within less than a year, the French soldiers were evacuated from Egypt and Mehemet Ali advancing twice in military ranks.

The Ottoman Empire and the Mamluke in Egypt wanted to revert to the previous state of affairs, and Mehemet Ali played both powers, one against the other for four years, until he was appointed governor of Cairo in June 1805.

For another 5 years, Mehemet Ali relentlessly confronted the internal forces resisting his supreme rule and even managed to defeat another smaller British expeditionary force. In March 1811, Mehemet Ali massacred over 250 high-ranking Mamelukes in his palace.  The Mamelukes had to flee to Sudan.

When Mehemet Ali’s son Ismail led the troops to conquer Sudan in 1820, the Mamelukes had to retreat even further to actual Darfur.  Ismail was burned alive in his tent in 1822 in Chendy (Sudan) after angering a local tribe.

Mehemet Ali became the sole ruler or Vice-King of Egypt, Sudan, and current Saudi Arabia and Yemen:  He behaved as the biggest capitalist of his time since all the lands were His, and he bought all the agricultural products and resold them at monopolistic prices to the people and at premium prices to England, France, and Turkey…

Mehemet Ali transformed Egypt from scratch:  He created a modern army, a modern navy, public schools, public hospitals, hundred of miles of irrigation canals…most of them using forced labor by the hundred of thousands of Egyptian peasants.

Ibrahim started the Syrian campaign in 1831 and defeated the Ottoman armies in several battles. He could have entered the Capital Istanbul, but Mehemet Ali refused that Ibrahim army move forward.  Consequently, Ibrahim became the governor of Syria (from the southern Anatolia plateau to Gaza) and was a born administrator and Syria experienced its most prosperous period.

In 1839, Ibrahim defeated again the Ottoman army in the battle of Nezib, which lasted only two hours, and Istanbul was again ripe to fall, but for the western European coalition and Russia to refuse Ibrahim his military victory.  Ibrahim could annihilate the small British contingent that landed in Beirut in 1839, but it was a political decision to withdraw to Egypt and to relinquish Syria to the Ottoman Empire in Nov. 1840.

In 1841, Sultan Abdel Hamid II signed the “firman” extending the hereditary right of Mehemet Ali in Egypt.  Mehemet Ali refused the French investment to open the Suez Canal and also refused British investment for a railroad linking Alexandria with the Red Sea: Mehemet Ali foresaw the consequences of these foreign investment in Egypt and said: “Once the Suez canal is opened to navigation then the British will take it and Egypt will become under British mandated power…”

Mehmet Ali managed the British all the time because he knew that only the most powerful maritime Empire of the period could impose its conditions.  For example, it was the Egyptian wheat and cereal sale to England (1810-13) that maintained the British troops in Spain.

Ibrahim died one year before his father in Nov. 1848.  The eldest male in the family.  Abbas I (son of Toussoun) became Vice-King and ruined all the achievement of Mehemet Ali and Ibrahim within a few years of his reign.

The Suez Canal will be opened by the French in the 1860’s and a railroad will crisscross the country

A decade later, the British government purchased the Egyptian share in the Canal.  In Aug. 1882, a British contingent occupied Suez Canal and the last soldier left in June 1956 after Eisenhower ordered the retreat of the British and French troops.

In 1885, the British occupied Sudan and left in 1956.

Note: A review of the French book “The last Pharaoh” by Gilbert Sinoue

The modern Pharaoh: Who is Mehemet Ali Pasha?

Muhammad or Mehemet (in Turkish) Ali spoke only Turkish and was illiterate: He could not read or write in any language until he was in his 50’s.  A few European consuls suspected that Mehemet understood Arabic but faked his ignorance in order to double-check on the accuracy of the translation

Mehemet Ali lived in an environment of Turkish culture and believed that “White colored” people (including the Turks) were far more intelligent, more brave, more educated, and more developed than the Egyptians.

To Mehemet Ali, forcing military service on the Egyptian peasants was a necessity that drives this racist law: The Albanian and Turkish mercenaries rebelled several times and Mehemet had to constitute a national army, a new order army or Nizam Jadid.

His son Ibrahim had at several occasions pressed Mehemet to consider training the Egyptian to carrying arms in his army, but Ibrahim had to wait long time before necessity knocks on the door: Mehemet had extended his territory to all Sudan and the Arabic Peninsula, and he needed a large modern army, trained by the French!

Till the end of his life, Mehemet valued Turkish soldiers and officers as more capable administrators and soldiers than the Egyptians, although the Egyptian soldiers and officers are the ones who won the battles against the Turkish Ottoman army in more than 4 critical battles in Syria.

Mehemet Ali would warn his son Ibrahim: “Never place the Egyptian soldiers in front lines: They will prefer to be prisoners than fight. Never place the Egyptian soldiers in the rear lines: They will flea and retreat. Always make sure that Egyptian regiments are placed in sandwich between Turkish officers…”

Mehemet Ali managed to train a national army or Nizam Jadid.  At first, the forced soldiers from Sudan did not survive the harsh life of camp confinement, and Mehemed decided to try enlisting by force the Egyptian peasants. The Egyptians tried their best to avoid joining the army: They mutilated a thumb, fingers, hands, an eye…in order not to be considered fit for the army.

By the by, after the first initiation to military life and the donning of military outfit, the Egyptian soldier began to boast that he is a soldier in “Mehemet army

Ibrahim Pasha was different from his father Mehemet Ali.

British Prime Minister Palmerston was very worried that Ibrahim might succeed his father because he was a brilliant administrator,  a modern man, a military general who won all his battles against far more numerous armies, and he considered the Egyptians as Arabs and his people…

Ibrahim was raised in an environment that spoke Arabic, in addition to Turkish.  And he led armies constituted of mostly Arabic speaking soldiers and Egyptian peasants…Ibrahim is heard of saying: “I will lead my army as far as there are people speaking Arabic…”

Ibrahim led armies in current Saudi Arabia and quelled the Wahhabi sect tribes, who were funded and armed by the British.  He entered Sudan and conquered it. He won four critical battles against the Ottoman armies and could easily enter Istanbul twice and become the new Sultan.

The European called Ibrahin “Son of Napoleon“.  He ruled Syria and his administrative period of less than 8 years was the most prosperous and most modern time for the Syrian people, extending from Adana in Turkey, current Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Jordan.

Note 1

Note 2: Article taken from the book “The last Pharaoh” by Gilbert Sinoue




February 2023

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