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EGYPT

Egypt Through the Ages

The Time of Muhammed Ali

   

 

The French occupation of Egypt in 1798, led by Napoleon Bonaparte, was a brief interlude, for the French never acquired full dominion or control. The grain-producing regions of Upper Egypt remained in Mameluke hands. Napoleon's invasion was too short-lived to have any lasting impact, but it marked the beginning of a renewed European interest in Egypt. In 1801 an Anglo-Ottoman force expelled the French. For the next few years, struggles between Mamelukes and Ottomans for mastery ruined the country until Muhammad Ali, an Ottoman general of Albanian origin, seized power with the cooperation of the local population. In 1805 the Ottoman sultan declared him the governor of Egypt.

Muhammad Ali, a man of genius, slowly and methodically destroyed or bought off all his opponents until he became the only source of power in the country. To gain control of all the trade routes into Egypt, he embarked on wars of expansion. He first conquered Al Hij?z (the Hejaz, now in Saudi Arabia) in 1819 and Sudan from 1820 to 1822; by 1824 he was ready to help the Ottoman sultan put down an insurrection in Greece. The European powers, however, intervened to halt Egyptian advances in Greece, and Muhammad Ali was forced to withdraw his army.

At home, Muhammad Ali encouraged the production of cotton to supply the textile mills of Europe, and he used the profits to finance industrial projects. He established a monopoly over all commodities and imposed trade barriers to nurture industry. He sent Egyptians abroad for technical education and hired experts from Europe to train his army and build his manufacturing industries (which, however, were never as successful as he hoped they would be).

In 1831 Muhammad Ali invaded Syria, thereby coming into conflict with his Turkish overlord. The Egyptians defeated the Ottoman armies, and by 1833 they were threatening the Turkish capital, Constantinople. Once again, Russia, Britain, and France intervened, this time to protect the sultan. Muhammad Ali's forces withdrew, but he was left in control of Syria and Crete.

Egyptian expansion and control over trade routes conflicted with Britain's growing interest in the Middle East as a market for its burgeoning industrial production. The threat to the integrity of the Ottoman Empire also disturbed Britain and roused fears of Russian encroachment in the Mediterranean. For these reasons the British opposed Egypt, and when Muhammad Ali again rebelled against the sultan in 1839, they stepped in for the third time to make him back down. He was offered hereditary possession of Egypt, but had to give up his other conquests and remain an Ottoman vassal.

 

 

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