This series has three easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Mehemet Ali.
From 1250 to 1517 the Mamelukes, a. military organization created from a body of slaves sold to the Sultan of Egypt, ruled in that country. Under the line of sultans springing from them the land suffered from almost constant strife, intrigue, murder, and rapine. These sultans were overthrown in 1517 by the Ottoman Sultan Selim, who made a complete conquest of Egypt, but the Mamelukes remained as a famous cavalry corps in the Egyptian army until, in 1811, they were treacherously destroyed by Mehemet Ali, as related below.
At the Battle of the Pyramids, July 21, 1798, the Mamelukes, under Murad Bey, were defeated by Napoleon. For several years the French occupied Egypt; and upon their expulsion by the English, Mehemet Ali rose to power as Turkish commander and (1805) viceroy of the country. The English having withdrawn from Egypt, he prepared to establish his authority. This he did after a ruthless suppression of the Mameluke beys, who made a struggle for their provincial govemorships.
By a show of clemency and conciliation toward the Mamelukes, Mehemet Ali secured an appearance of tranquillity in Egypt. This policy, however, was only a preparation for ” the act of consummate treachery which ﬁnally uprooted the Mameluke power.’
This selection is from History of the Egyptian Revolution by Andrew A. Paton published in 1870. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Andrew A. Paton was (1811-1874) was a British diplomat, orientalist, and author of travel books and novels.
Being free from the English, Mehemet Ali began to develop his plans for taking ﬁrm root in Egypt. He saw that, by extracting large revenues, he could maintain his inﬂuence by rich presents to Constantinople. His military position in Egypt was improved, and the increasing and advancing power of the Wahhabees (Mahometan reformers) rendered him more than ever necessary to the Porte. With the interior of the country tranquil and freed from civil war, an interval of prosperity, however brief, might have been expected. Such, however, was not the case. An act of spoliation—unaccompanied, to be sure, by bloodshed— but of a grasp more comprehensive and ruinous than anything that had been done by the predecessors of Mehemet Ali, was shortly consummated.
It was in the years 1808—1810 that Mehemet Ali effected a revolutionary transfer of landed property in Egypt. Not content with greatly increasing the taxes on the soil, he ordered an inspection to be made of all title-deeds; and, on one pretext or another, his agents objected to their validity, contesting the legitimacy of the successions, imposing additions to the land-tax, and in a great multitude of instances retaining the title-deeds, which were burned. A few inﬂuential sheiks were spared; but, wherever the Government chose, the land, for want of titles, gradually lapsed to the miri; so that in a few years the Pacha became landlord of nearly the whole of the soil of Egypt, some insigniﬁcant annuities being granted in compensation. Mehemet Ali’s elevation to power was founded on public opinion; but his ﬁrst acts, after the consolidation of his rule, were the most ﬂagrant deﬁance of public opinion and of the sacred rights of private property in the modern annals of Egypt. The Mamelukes, the French, and the intervening pachas had overwhelmed the people with exactions; but no attempt had been made to tear up by the very roots the paciﬁc and legal possession of property.
The commotion which these proceedings caused was violent in the extreme, and society was agitated to its inmost depths. Even the women and the children crowded the mosques, and made the azhar resound with their wailings. Classes and individuals, utter strangers to politics and political discussion, stood aghast at an event which rendered reasoning superﬂuous and precipitated all the rights of property into a common abyss. The sheiks met in assembly, and used every resource, both of representation and petition to the Pacha and the Porte; but Mehemet Ali was ﬁrm in his purpose. The vehement representations of the sheiks against the additional land-taxes, and even the per severing refusals of Said Omar Mekrum, the nackeeb of the sheriffs, to go near the divan of the Pacha were declared by him to savor of a stiff-necked and rebellious spirit which must be repressed. And, throughout this curious struggle, the ﬁrm defense of the indefeasible rights of property was conveniently characterized by a lawless governor as an aggression and an invasion of the supreme authority. Said Omar Mekrum was exiled to Damietta. The military governors of provinces arbitrarily collected contributions without the intervention of the Coptic clerks; and thenceforth began that direct grinding of the peasantry which, before the death of Mehemet Ali, greatly reduced them in number and impoverished them almost to the minimum of possible human existence.
At this period (1809) events in Arabia were preparing a triumph for Mehemet Ali and an extension of his political power. This vast country, the cradle of Islamism, was now overrun by the Wahhabee reformers, who, from small beginnings, had mastered both Mecca and Medina, and, although without the science of European warfare, made up for their deﬁciencies by an enthusiastic and undaunted bravery in action, as well as by great powers of endurance in the arduous campaigns of that torrid region. Their peculiar doctrines were based on the self-denial of the early Moslems, which made them avoid both those stimulants which expend the nervous and muscular energies and those lethargic habits which are alternately the effect and the cause of inaction.
The barren shores of the Red Sea being in a great measure devoid of ports and of navigation, and the trade of Suez having sunk into insigniﬁcance, it was not easy to transport an army from Egypt to Arabia. By a series of most painful efforts, wood, cordage, and other materials for shipbuilding were carried from the ports of Turkey to Egypt, and across the desert, on the backs of camels to Suez. Numbers of men and of those useful beasts of burden perished in the attempt; but at length, after incredible efforts, eighteen vessels were launched in the space of less than a year, and ﬁtted up for the conveyance of troops and provisions. A baptism of blood accompanied their launch; for the better solemnization of the departure from Cairo of the troops destined for the Arabian expedition this time was chosen for the ﬁnal massacre of the Mamelukes. The inﬁrmities of Ibrahim Bey had shown the Mamelukes that they could no longer hope for any revival of their supremacy; the remaining head men were therefore disposed toward a passive and luxurious existence, giving no further umbrage to the Porte or to Mehemet Ali, and contenting themselves with as large a share as they could grasp of the produce of Egypt. Mehemet Ali, on his side, was not displeased to patch up an accommodation with these turbulent barons of Eastern feudalism so as to have more elbow room to carry out his designs of a virtual sovereignty under the mask of zeal for the service of the Porte, and at the same time to have them more securely in his power when the convenient moment came for getting entirely rid of them.
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