Ottoman Period (1516-1805) – Islamic History of Egypt


Ottoman Period (1516-1805) – Islamic History of Egypt

Ottoman Period (1516—1805). The Ottoman Turks were one of the many Central Asian tribes of Turcomans, Mongols and Turks who had moved westward during the course of the previous millennium. They had gradually established themselves by conquest and good fortune as one of the most powerful states in W. Asia. Constantinople fell to them in 1453 and; by the end of the 15C they were challenging Persia for control of Mesopotamia. Egypt, as described, was taken by the Ottomans in 1516, her provinces of Syria and Arabia also being absorbed into the empire.

Thus, once more, Egypt became a dependency of an immense empire, ruled from the N. and playing little part in its triumphs and glories. Burdened with a great tax and governed by generally uninterested foreigners more concerned with furthering their careers in Istanbul, it declined as a cultural centre, yet throughout the period retained its importance as a religious fountainhead. It was administered from Istanbul by a series of governors distinguished by the title Pasha, who were trained in the capital as part of the imperial household, their powers severely limited and their terms of office short, thus having little opportunity to found independent dynasties, though this did not stop one or two of them trying.

The importation of slaves from many areas, though mainly from the Caucasus, and their assimilation into the military corps continued unabated during the following centuries and – as under the mamluks – it was this system which eventually dictated the administration. There were seven active military uchaqs (corps), two of foot, three mounted and two which combined infantry and mounted forces. The organisation of each was similar, commanded by an Agha (Lord) assisted by the Katkhuda (Lieutenant) in whom generally the power resided. Other officers included the Udahbasha (Chamberlain), Shurbagi (Steward), Katib (Secretary) and Yuldash (Private Soldier). The most powerful corps, though not the most prestigious, were the Janissaries, called in Egypt Mustahfizan (Guardians), or Inksharyyah, the infantry corps responsible for the security of the walls and Citadel of Cairo. They occupied the upper Citadel and acquired control over most of the high revenue agencies, the granary, mint, and awqaf, and provided the principal officers of these. Their agha was given precedence above those of all the other corps. Another infantry corps, the ‘Azaban (Bachelors), had similar duties but at an inferior level. Their particular responsibility was the protection of the approaches to Cairo, the agricultural areas of Egypt and patrolling the mouths of the Nile. In the late 17C they became extremely powerful and generally had the support of the other corps in opposition to the Mustahfizan. They occupied the lower levels of the Citadel.

The five others were called the lesser corps. The three mounted corps; the Gonulliyan (Volunteers) later called the Camulyan (Cameleers), Tufankciyan (Riflemen) and the Cerkase (Cirassians), were mainly concerned with providing protection for the provincial governors, delivering official messages and collecting taxes. The two corps which combined infantry and cavalry troops were chiefly for the service of the Pasha and the diwan. Most prestigious of all the corps was the Mutafarriqah, founded specifically to counterbalance the influence of the two infantry corps. Its income exceeded that of the Mustahfizan, with control of several high revenue agencies. By the mid—17C, however, the Mustahfizan and ‘Azaban were powerful enough to appropriate most of their agencies and they were, in effect, controlled by the Mustahfizan. The Shawishan, created from mamluks who declared their loyalty to the Ottomans, were similar to the latter corps but in an inferior position. By the mid 17C they had also declined to a mere appendage to the Mustahfizän. From the ranks of all these corps were chosen the amirs, the highest ranking of whom were called Bays and who, with the Pasha and the Qada ‘Askar, the judicial officer sent from Istanbul, comprised the diwan (council) of administration.

Slaves were collected outside Egypt and brought to the slave markets of Cairo and Assyut, where they were purchased by the bays and amirs and maintained in their households. They were educated and given military instruction and after some years formally freed to obtain posts in one of the corps. In addition to these slaves were the free man who joined the household for a small salary and who were also trained to the same end as the slaves. A system of transfer and promotion ensured that the most able candidates reached the highest posts and entry into the amirate.

Although the troops had great’influence and by the end of the 16C were capable of deposing a pasha who displeased them, in general the Ottomans were capable of maintaining control of the government and ensuring that the revenues were paid to Istanbul. In the early 17C however, the power of the bays was such that a conflict with the pasha was inevitable. Gradually they appropriated many of the financial agencies which provided the taxes and by the mid- 17C the pasha was a mere official figurehead. For twenty-five years (1 63 1—56) Radwan Bay, the leader of the bays, was the real power, although he co-operated with the governor. Each bay maintained a large household of retainers who, although they may have been employed in one of the corps or with other merchants, remained loyal to their first master.

Two great factions, of obscure origin, the Dhu ‘l-Faqariyyah and the Qasimiyyah, divided the bays. These were allied to similar factions among the artisans and Arab tribes. Radwan Bay was the leader of the Faqariyyah and under his protection they became very powerful until, in 1660, the pasha, at the urging of the Qasimiyyah, had all the leading Faqari bays executed or exiled and then in 1662 turned on the Qasimiyyah and murdered their leader, Ahmad Bay al—Bushnak. By manipulating their mutual rivalry, the pashas for the next thirty years were able to control the bays.

In 1692 Kujuk Muhammad, an Udah Basha of the Mustahfizan supported by the Faqariyyah, rebelled against the senior officers and had them expelled from the corps and, although he was killed two years later by the officers, the old rivalries were rekindled. The Mustahfizan became overbearing and resented by the other corps and there were several skirmishes between them. Afranj Ahmad, another Udah Basha of the Mustahfizan, and again supported by the Faqariyyah, in 1711 attacked the other corps led by the ‘Azaban supported by the Qasimiyyah. The Mustahfizan were defeated and the Pasha Ibrahim who had been their puppet was deposed and replaced by Khalil Pasha. From this time absolute power resided with the Bays. Isma’il Bay was the leader of the Qasimiyyah who were all powerful until his death in 1744 when they splintered into several factions. The vacuum thus created was filled by the Qazdughliyyah, a client faction of the Faqariyyah who, until this time, had possessed little power. Ibrahim Bay Katkhuda, the leader of this faction, assumed the title Shaykh al-Balad (Elder of the Town), a post that guaranteed the holder almost royal status. This post and that of the Amir al—Hajj (Commander of the Pilgrimage) were usually held by the two most powerful Bays alternately.

After Ibrahim’s death in 1754 his subordinate, Radwân Bay al-Galfi, succeeded but his death was followed by a short period of conflict. In 1760 another of Ibrahim’s bays, ‘Alí Bay al-Kabir—also called Bulut Kapan (Cloud-catcher)—assumed the post of Shaykh al—Balad. ‘Ali reached this position with the help of ‘Abd al-Rahmän, Katkhuda of the Mustahfizan, who was probably the most influential man in Egypt, although his own interests lay more in aesthetics than the pursuit of power. Nevertheless in 1765 he was exiled by ‘Ali Bay to the Hijaz as a potential source of reaction. ‘Alí Bay revealed himself as the great avenger of his master and so unpopular did he become that he had to flee to Palestine. However, with the support of one of his amirs, Muhammad Bay Abu ‘l-Dhahab, he disposed of the opposition. He was recognised by the sultan as autonomous ruler, but was soon appro- priating the tax sent too Istanbul. An attempt was made to invade Syria but he was betrayed by Muhammad Bay, who negotiated with the sultan and, in 1772, ousted ‘Ali from Egypt. Muhammad Bay ruled as Shaykh al-Balad for three years but died on a campaign in 1775.

Three protagonists emerged, Isma’il Bay, another former bay of Ibrahim Katkhuda, Ibrahim Bay and Murâd Bay, two of Muhammad Bay’s household. The two latter emerged supreme and alternated the posts of Shaykh al-Balad and Amir al-Hâjj between them. In 1786 the Ottoman admiral, Hasan Pasha, occupied the Delta and installed Isma’il Bay as Shaykh al-Balad, which post he held until his death in 1791. Immediately Murad and Ibrahim returned from Upper Egypt and resumed their dual rule and were still in power when Bonaparte invaded in 1798.

With the death of Ibn Iyas in 1 524 the great chronicle of Egypt was discontinued. In comparison to former times the history of the 16—17 is little known and must be gleaned from official documents or letters. In the 18C however an Egyptian of Somali descent, ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Hasan al-Jabarti (1753—1825), who obviously had access to some of the Mamluk journals, decided to contrive his own beginning with the year 1688. He continued this great work until a few years before his death and thus encompassed another crucial episode in the history of Egypt, the French Occupation.


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