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Egypt Through the Ages

Mameluke Resurgence



As time went on, an inflationary trend that historians have noted in 16th-century Europe had repercussions in Egypt as well. Rising prices led to rivalry among the ocaks over the country's wealth. This weakened their control, and the Mamelukes stepped into the breach. By the mid-17th century the Mameluke emirs, or beys, had established their supremacy. Land taxes were farmed out among them, and the urban guilds, which were closely allied with the roman ocaks, were heavily taxed as a means of diminishing Ottoman influence and of increasing revenue. The Ottomans acquiesced in the system so long as the tribute was regularly paid.

The period from the 16th to the mid-18th century was an age of commercial prosperity when Egypt, at the crossroads of several commercial routes, was the center of a flourishing intermediary trade in coffee, textiles, and spices.

The Ottoman governor quickly became a puppet, first in the hands of the regiments, which held the military power, and then in the hands of the Mamelukes, who came to control the ocaks. The leading Mameluke bey, called the Shaikh al-Balad (“chief of the city”), thus became recognized as the real ruler of the land. The beys imposed higher taxes to finance their military expeditions in Syria and Arabia. Although defeated in Syria by the Ottomans, who once more sought to reinforce their authority, the Mamelukes dominated Egypt until 1798. The last 30 years of the 18th century were marked by plagues and famine that reduced the population to a bare 4 million.


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