The Muhammad Alids (1805)- Modern History of Egypt


The Muhammad Alids (1805)- Modern History of Egypt

As soon as the French evacuated Egypt the Ottoman commanders Admiral Husayn and Yüsuf Pasha continued the purge of the Bays. The British brought Muhammad Bay al-Alfi to Britain to discuss the restoration of power. As the Treasury in Egypt was empty the troops were not paid and the Albanian regiment, under their commander Muhammad ‘Ali, revolted against the Ottomans. Muhammad Khusraw Pasha was deposed and his successor Tahir Pasha assassinated The Albanians became the rallying point for elements discontented with the Ottomans, such as the leaders Ibrahim Bay and ‘Uthman Bay al-Bardisi. The bays utterly defeated the Ottoman troops and installed themselves in the Citadel but the return of Muhammad Bay al-Alfi from England in 1804 provided another leader, splitting the bays for a brief peiod into two camps with ‘Uthman siding with Muhammad. The killing one of ‘Uthman’s relatives started a civil war and the Albanians restored control. The latter supported the Ottoman Khurshid Pasha and the two native factions reunited against them and retreated to Upper Egypt.

In May 1805 the population of Cairo urged on by the ‘ulamá insisted on he deposition of Khurshid and the investment of Muhammad ‘Ali as pasha: after hesitating Muhammad ‘Ali agreed and he was confirmed in he post by the sultan in August. The bays had been ravaging the Delta and Muhammad Ali invited them to Cairo to discuss their grievances. As they passed the Bab Zuwaylah his troops fired on them, many were killed while others who sought refuge in the Mosque of Barquq in the Gamaliyyah were massacred; thus he rid himself of a great deal of the opposition. Muhammad Bay and Uthman Bay died within six months of each other in 1807 and reduced the opposition further. Although the British made an attempt at invasion in the same year they were blockaded. For the next few years Muhammad cAli had to acceed to all the demands of the bays. In March 1811, on the eve of the departure of his son Tusfm to fight the Wahhabis in Arabia, Muhammad Ali held a celebration in the Citadel to which 470 mamluks and their retainers were invited. Lead by Shahin Bay they descended through the Citadel to reenter the city. As they approached the main gates the troops opened fire, killing every one. Ibrahim Bay and many of the others not at the celebration escaped to the Sudan. They were never again to be a threat to the rulers of Egypt.

Muhammad Ali acknowledged the Ottoman sultan as ruler, but was himself in complete control of Egypt. He confiscated the private land of Egypt and incorporated it as his own personal property, he created monopolies of the major products of the country and opened new factories. He planned and built on an immense scale, probably his greatest single workbeing the construction of the Mahmudiyyah Canal between Alexandria and the Nile, during which 20,000 workmen died. A great impetus was given to the economy by the importation of long-staple cotton from the Sudan in 1822 and its subsequent spectacular naturalisation in Egypt under the Frenchman Jumel.

Successful campaigns were fought against the Wahhabis in Arabia and between 1820—241 Muhammad Ali reduced the N Sudan and had it incorporated into his personal estate. Public order was restored and he engaged upon a reform of education and medical practice. His navy and army were second to none in Europe and he assisted the sultan in the Greek Wars. The Pashalik was confirmed as the personal property of Muhammad Ali’s family, but he gained the enmity of the sultan who, with the aid of various European powers, greatly reduced his forces and confiscated his Syrian possessions. The barrage at Qanatir over the two branches of the Nile was started in 1847, but in September of the same year his mind gave way and he was set aside for Ibrahim who survived his father by only two months.

Abbas I, son of Tusun (1 848), followed as Pasha, but he was a recluse. He reversed many of the policies of his grandfather, cancelling the system of commercial monopolies. He was murdered by his servants in 1854 and succeeded by Sa’id, another son of Mull. Alí. He was greatly under the influence of the French and granted to de Lesseps the charter to build the Suez Canal in 1856. But the British were not to be ignored; they were given the concessions for the formation of a telegraph company and the Bank of Egypt. However by borrowing from European bankers Said incurred the National Debt. He died in 1863 to be succeeded by Isma’il. a son of Ibrahim. At first he showed a great deal of promise and received from Istanbul virtual recognition of his sovereignty and the title of Khedive (Pers.: Sovereign). Many great schemes for the modernisation of Egypt were undertaken, covering the administrative system, education, communications and transport. However these plans invariably involved further European interference and heavy taxation of the population. In 1869 the Suez Canal was opened, showing great promise, but by 1875 there was no way that Isma’il could raise further funds for his European creditors and he sold a controlling portion of Canal shares to the British. Further involvement led to French and British supervision of the fiscal system and control of transport, ports and the Pasha’s holdings of land. A government was set up under Nubar Pasha but collapsed. The . controlling powers appealed to the sultan and Isma’il was deposed in 1879 after appointing Tawfiq successor.

The final episode of the great Egyptian chronicle was completed by Ali Pasha Mubarak (1824—93), for many years Minister of Public Works. His great 18-volume work deals with the most important monuments and people in Egypt.

Several factors had halted the flow of slaves from the Caucasus in the early 19C. The first was the prescription placed on the export of slaves from the area by Ottoman authorities; the European governments disapproved of the principle in general, and Russian territory was expanding into the originating area. Thus by the late 19C the Egyptian army was composed largely of Egyptians, with very close ties to the urban and rural population. An officer called Ahmad Urabi rose from the ranks and established himself as the head of a faction demanding independence from European and Turkish governors. Although created a Pasha and made a member of the cabinet, it was not enough for the population who rioted. The British and French fleets bombarded Alexandria in July 1882 and the former decided to carry the conflict onto Egyptian soil. Urabi was defeated at Tell al-Kabir and exiled to Ceylon, The prime aim of the British was to re-establish the authority of the Khedive and government, stabilise the economy and then to withdraw, but events were to make this impossible. In 1883 Sir Evelyn Baring—later Lord Cromer was appointed Consul-general in Egypt. His tenure in office was to have a great effect on the attitude of the Egyptians towards the British.

The first impediment to withdrawal was the emergence in the Sudan, part of the Khedival dominion, of a leader, Muhammad Ahmad, who with much popular support, announced himself to be the Mahdi, an apocalyptic Muslim leader, heralding an Islamic renaissance, his ultimate aim the uniting of all Muslim lands. He agitated for the expulsion of foreigners, but his ultimate aim was the unification of all the Islamic lands. Besides being an immediate danger in the Sudan his universal mission also endangered Egypt. The Anglo-Egyptian campaign against him ended with the death of General Gordon at Khartoum in 1885 and the annihilation of the British force.

British officials replaced Egyptians in many government positions in Cairo and throughout the country in an attempt to restore the economy, an action resented by the populace. It also necessitated the manipulation of leading government figures by the British, resulting in many reforms in all official departments. Tawfiq died in 1892.

Abbàs II, the son of Tawfiq, succeeded. A young idealist with little political experience, he wished to ease British control of the administration. He began by dismissing Mustafa Fahmi, the prime minister, and covertly negotiated with the nationalist factions, under the leadership of Mustafa Kamil. encouraging an anti-British attitude in the press. However, he underestimated the subtlety of the British who averted friction by forcing through provincial reforms. In 1895, Fahmi was reinstated and for many years the administration worked without serious problem. This relative calm allowed the British between 1896—98 to concentrate their efforts on recovering Sudan from the Mahdiyyah, an action which brought them into direct confrontation with the French, under Maj. J . Marchand, who were attempting to occupy the S. Sudan, thus giving them direct access to the Red Sea. The two forces met at Fashoda and after a tense period the superior Anglo-Egyptian contingent under Gen. Kitchener persuaded the French to retreat and abandon their claim. Henceforth, the Sudan was administered jointly by the British and Egyptians with a governor appointed by the Khedive upon the recommendation of the British. Sir Reginald Wingate who succeeded Kitchener as Sirdar was appointed governor-general.

So stable was the situation in Egypt that in 1901 Urabi was allowed to return from Ceylon. In 1903 the British and French, for once in concord, came to an agreement as to their relative areas of influence. France was to confine herself to Morocco, Britain to Egypt as the protecting power. In effect, this meant that Egypt was in full control of its own financial resources. However, the Europeans in Egypt still enjoyed privileges in regard to the land and law, a situation that annoyed the nationalist elements and much criticism was voiced in the press. The injustices of the former Ottoman administration were forgotten and the Turkish sultan was sued by the Egyptians to support their claim. This attitude was inflamed by one of the rare errors of judgment by the British in their support for a gross injustice perpetrated during what has become known as the Danishway Incident.


In June 1906 some British officers were shooting pigeons in the fields near Danishway in the W. Delta, despite having been officially warned not to do so. The villagers asked them to go away but were ignored by the officers. An affray broke out, during which several villagers were injured. One of the officers was sent for help but died of heat-stroke, and a farmer who had gone to assist was beaten to death by the soldiers. At the subsequent trial (at which British judges predominated) four villagers were sentenced to death and the others to life imprisonment or flogging. The sentences were approved by Cromer and carried out within sight of the village. Although the imprisoned men were released within two years, the damage had been done: the incident affected adversely even those Egyptians who had supported the British. It became, and remains, a rallying-point for the Egyptian people.

In 1906 after a political argument with the Turks, the N.E. borders of Sinai were delineated and the peninsula officially agreed to be within Egypt’s jurisdiction. Cromer resigned in 1907 to be replaced by Sir Eldon Gorst as agent-general. The much revered Mustafa Kamil died in 1908, a great blow to the nationalist movement, which, however, continued unabated. The prime minister Fahmi resigned in the same year to be replaced by Butrus Pasha, but the latter was assassinated in 1910 and was followed by Muhammad Sa’id. Gorst, who resigned in 1911, was succeeded by Lord Kitchener and, although the Italian invasion of Tripolitania complicated the situation, reorganisation of the administration continued, culminating in the recognition of the legislative assembly in 1913. Abbas did not approve of these developments and Muh. Sa’id was removed by intrigue and was replaced by Husayn Rushdi.

When war was declared between Britain and Germany, Kitchener was made Secretary of State for War and Abbas, who was visiting Istanbul, had nailed his colours so firmly to the mast of the enemy that he never returned. Egypt declared for the Allies and when Turkey entered the war on the German side, Egypt was proclaimed a British protectorate and the suzerainity of Turkey terminated. Abbas was deposed and his uncle, Husayn Kamil, was elevated with the title of Sultan. Sir Henry McMahon was made High Commissioner to be followed in 1916 by Sir Reginald Wingate. Husayn died in 1917 and Fu’ad, the sixth son of Isma’il, accepted the sultanate.

Opportunities for Egyptians in the administration were increasingly hindered by the number of Britons filling posts and naturally resentment grew. In 1919 after the Great War the promises of self-determination were insistently recalled. Zaglul Pasha requested permission to visit London to discuss independence and this was considered so fundamental that the Wafd (delegation) principle became a national focal point. The British were greatly disturbed by this and Zaghlul Pasha was arrested and deported to Malta. Anti- British disturbances were widespread throughout Egypt, geographically and socially, and Zaghlfil was released. A special commission under Lord Milner was convened to investigate the problem and it made its report in 1920. The delegation lead by Zaghlul came to London to discuss the implications and, it was hoped, to reach a settlement, but nothing was decided. Negotiations continued but sporadic outbursts of rioting made the administration of Adly Pasha unstable since he did not have Zaghlul’s support. In 1921 Britain declared Egypt an independent sovereign state, though they kept control of defence, communications, the Sudan and protection of foreign residents. Sarwat Pasha was chosen as prime minister and Sultan Fu’ad assumed the title of King. But the continuance of violence against the foreign community prevented the lifting of martial law.

Parliamentary government was established in 1923 under Yahya Pasha, Zaghlul, although shot by an opponent, visited Britain to discuss the incorporation of the Sudan in the Egyptian state, with the Labour government under Ramsay MacDonald. Again, nothing was agreed. When the Sirdar of the Sudan, Sir Lee Stack, was assassinated in Cairo Lord Allenby was appointed. Britain demanded full recompence, an apology, and withdrawal of Egyptians from the Sudan. It was also an excuse for Britain to tighten control of the Egyptian administration. Zaghlul , appalled by this, resigned and his successor was Ahmad Ziwar. Allenby also resigned the high commission in 1925 and was replaced by Lord Lloyd.

At the next election in May 1926, the Wafdists won an over- whelming victory, Ziwar resigned and a coalition parliament was formed with ‘Adly as prime minister. King Fu’ad visited England in 1927 when a treaty of alliance was concluded. In the same year Zaghlul died aged 74; he was buried with great ceremony and public grief. The Wafd party rejected the treaty, forcing Sarwat to resign and the new leader of the Wafd, Mustafs Nahas, was elected premier. He was, however, compromised by two Egyptian newspapers and was dismissed by the king who suspended the constitution, dissolved parliament and resolved to rule by royal decree.

Lord Lorraine was made High Commissioner in 1929 and discuss- ions about the restriction of British involvement were instigated. Although the Wafd won the elections, the friction between the king and Nahas resurfaced and the latter was dismissed—thus the power of the king greatly increased. A period of instability followed during which three governments were formed. In 1935 a huge meeting in Cairo supporting the Wafdists demonstrated that they still had backing from the masses. ln response to their demand the 1923 constitution was restored with Ali Mahir presiding over a caretaker government which lasted until 1936 when Nahas was returned in a Wafdist landslide. Fu’ad died in 1936 to be succeeded by his seventeen-year-old son Faruq. A twenty year withdrawal was negotiated with the British, the high commission was closed and ambassadors were exchanged. A little later, in 1937, Egypt joined the League of Nations and agreement was reached on the gradual abolition of the mixed courts. A rift soon became apparent between Faruq and Nahes, the king showing as scant regard for the prime minister as his father had for Zaghlul. The king appointed Ali Mahir as his political adviser, dismissed Nahas and appointed Muhammad Mahmud as prime minister. The next two years were a period of instability due to the opposition of the Wafdists and in 1939 Mahmud resigned to be replaced by Ali Mahir who formed a strong government with the support of the Sa’ad, a splinter group of the Wafd.

With the outbreak of World War II the aggressive attitude of Italy caused the fall of Ali Mahir’s government and the next led by Husayn Sirri pursued a neutral attitude, with public sympathy for the Allies, though with much private sympathy for the Axis. This Egyptian neutrality suited the British since at that time they were concerned with directing the war in Europe.

In 1942 an irreconcilable rift developed between the government and King Faruq. As the Wafd now had the support of the majority of the population, after some persuasion the king appointed Nahes as prime minister of a Wafd cabinet. British losses in Libya in the summer allowed the Germans under Rommel to force an opening and they reached within 65 km of Alexandria. In August Gen. Montgomery was appointed commander of the 8th Army and the great push forward began, culminating in the Battle of al-Alamayn on 23 October. This signalled the decline of the Axis powers in N Africa and within seven months they had been expelled from the area.

Growing Zionist claims in Palestine and the crisis in Lebanon initiated in Oct. 1944 an Arab conference in Alexandria, during which the foundations of the Arab League were laid. Nahas was dismissed in the same month to be replaced by Ahmad Mahir, the brother of Ali. At the subsequent elections the first socialist candidates stood in Egypt. A declaration of war with Germany was announced by Ahmad in February 1945, immediately after which he was assassinated. Niqrashi Pasha was appointed prime minister. The Wafd demanded the evacuation of the British troops and the uniting of Egypt with the Sudan, the latter in opposition to British plans for the self-government of the Sudan. Popular resentment against the British increased and with the support of the Muslim Brotherhood the students rioted in Feb. 1946. Ibrahim Sidky was again made prime minister and in a fine balancing act suppressed the riots but kept up pressure on the British to leave. Despite this strikes were organised and fighting occurred with British troops. In May Attlee declared the British intention to withdraw troops from Egypt within a certain period but the status of the Sudan still remained a great obstacle. Niqrashi was reappointed prime minister in December and Jan. 1947 saw the evacuation of troops from Alexandria and the Canal area. The Arab League supported Egypt’s claim for union with the Sudan and brought it before the United Nations but without result. The British went ahead with plans for the Sudan and by July 1948 an interim measure of self-govemment was granted.

In the meantime the situation in Palestine had deteriorated. Britain resigned the mandate in May 1948 and Egypt along with other Arab League countries declared their intent to intervene militarily. They did so and by 20 May had captured Beersheba and attacked Tel Aviv

from the air. A truce was organised by the UN but fighting broke out again and, because of isolation, Egypt lost the ground she had gained. In Egypt itself the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood increased and on 28 December it was dissolved. Niqrashi was assassinated by one of their supporters within a month, and the leader himself, Hasan al-Banna, was killed on 13 February 1949. Ibrahim Abd al-Hadi was made prime minister. The major powers recognised the state of Israel which immediately attacked the Egyptian frontier. With the intervention of Ralph Bunche of the USA, on 19 January 1949 an armistice was signed, under which Egypt was to retain Gaza and Israel Beersheba.

Egypt negotiated a greater share of the profits from the Suez Canal and also more employment for Egyptians in the zone, while the British concession was to run until 1968, after which it would not be renewed. At the same time the privilege courts of the foreigners in Egypt were abolished. In 1950 the Wafd party won the first elections held for ten years, and Nahas was again prime minister. It was inevitable that the old quarrels with King Faruq would be renewed. Internal problems prevented improvement of the relationship with Britain and, still in pursuit of unification with the Sudan, the government promulgated the idea of Faruq as king of Egypt and the Sudan. Britain, supported by the western powers, rejected this, which led to further clashes with the reinforced British forces in the Canal Zone. The situation deteriorated rapidly and in January 1952 Nahas was dismissed and the army sent out onto the streets. Although Ali Mahir managed to lead a government for six months, and was followed by Ali Ibrahim al-Hilali, the end of the old regime was in sight.

On 23 July a group of officers staged a coup d’état, led by General Mohammed Naguib. Faruq was made to abdicate and a regency council set up for his young son Fua’d, while Naguib became prime minister ruling with a Revolutionary Command Council. Faruq left for exile in Italy on 24 July. The constitution was repealed on 10 December and on 16 January 1953 all political parties were suspended. Naguib assumed supreme control on 10 February and finally on 18 June the royal family was ousted completely and Egypt declared a republic.


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