French Occupation of Egypt (1798) – Modern History of Egypt

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French Occupation of Egypt (1798) – Modern History of Egypt

The French Occupation. On the pretext of securing the authority of the Ottoman Sultan in Egypt, and incidentally protecting the interests of the European merchants, Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt was in reality another campaign designed to control the land route and ultimately the sea route to India, thwarting the British advances in the Indian Ocean. Thus in July 1798 Napoleon’ s fleet landed near Alexandria. His first act was to issue a proclamation, stressing the equality of all men, to the effect that he had come to rid the Egyptian people of the tyranny of the mamluks. He also stated that he revered the prophet Muhammad and the Qur’an and the French were sincere Muslims. He advanced towards Cairo and was met at Imbabah by a retaliatory force led by the Bays Murad and Ibrahim, who were defeated but escaped to the South. Napoleon’ s retreat was cut off by the British under Nelson who sunk his fleet, commanded by Brueys, at Abu Qir. This act, and Napoleon’s failure to capture Murad Bay, shattered the image of French invincibility and there were several insurrections centred on al-Azhar Mosque which the French bombarded.

The Egyptians were not particularly impressed by the proclamations of the French, who, despite protestations to the contrary, were considered kafir (non-believers). The various scientific devices demonstrated by the French also failed to win the admiration of the Egyptians a hot-air balloon sent up over the Azbakiyyah Lake was considered by them to be some kind of kite. Napoleon made an attempt at the conquest of Syria but plague and other ailments decimated his troops and the expedition failed. However he did defeat an Ottoman force assisted by the British who attempted an invasion from Abu Qir in July 1799. Shortly after, Napoleon left Egypt leaving General Kleber as governor. After another two-pronged Ottoman attack the French agreed to leave Egypt in January 1800 but British interference forced the French to entrench. Kleber was assassinated by a Syrian and the governorship was bestowed on Gen. Baron de Menou, who although he had accepted Islam, declared Egypt a French colony. The British under Sir Ralph Abercromby invaded from Abu Qir in 1801 and occupied Alexandria. Although the French were repulsed Abercromby was killed. Further Ottoman forces were landed, Damietta taken and Cairo attacked. The French were forced to capitulate and in September 1801 they left for Europe.

Napoleon had brought with him from France some of the most eminent professors, which body formed the Institut d’Egypte. An exhaustive survey of Egypt was undertaken by them covering all fields of the sciences and arts. Their findings were compiled into a great work of twenty volumes published in 1809-28 and entitled Description de l’Egypte. Although the technology and scientific expertise that the French displayed had no immediate effects the long-term results were very significant. In a period of three years the Egyptians were confronted with the full impact of Western technology.

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