T. Cliff

The Problem of the Middle East

Part I
Historical Background

<p. 10>

Chapter II
Napoleon’s conquest of Egypt (1798) and
the Reign of Mohamed Ali (1805–1859)

I. Napoleon’s Conquest of Egypt

The first great shaking of the feudal structure of the Arab East came from outside the region itself. It was Napoleon’s campaign of conquest which put an end to the power of Mameluke rule in Egypt and thus was a decisive point in the history of the East.

The French managed to conquer Egypt easily. The masses had no love at all for the Mamelukes; and among the Mamelukes themselves distrust, disunity and lack of discipline prevailed, many not coming to the aid of their fellows during Napoleon’s advance. Ten years before already, the French traveller Volney, had written about the Mameluke army; ‘Their army is a rabble, its advance a mob, its ideal of war brigandage.’

Napoleon after his conquest did not introduce any changes into the economic and social order prevailing in Egypt. The Multazims (the feudal lord-tax farmers) kept what they had, and the fellah remained in subjugation. Insofar as he did touch the Multazims, he did so only to increase the income of the state treasury. Thus he made the Multazims register their lands and pay a tax of 2 per cent of the value of their property. If they did not have satisfactory documentary proofs of the ownership, the land passed over to the government.

Napoleon did not rely upon the masses or rouse them against their feudal tax overlords, but sought the support of these overlords themselves. Accordingly oppressive feudal law remained untouched, and the hypocrisy in which his declarations about his devotion to Moslem religious traditions are steeped is shown to be a clever ruse to this end. He used to visit a mosque and behave as though he were going to become a Moslem. More than this, he even proclaimed that when he returned to France he would make Islam the state religion. Quite cynically he would say: ‘In Cairo I was a Mohammedan, in Paris I was a Catholic’.

However, Napoleon did not come to Egypt in order to become a Mohammedan. He wanted to turn Egypt into a wealthy colony of France, for which purpose a large income was needed. He was forced not only to retain the taxes which had been collected by the Mamelukes, but even to add to them. Hardly a week passed but new taxes were imposed or old ones increased. Taxes were imposed on the transfer, bequest or sale of any type of property, and fees were made payable on practically every form and document necessary for the conduct of economic life – even on good conduct certificates which were demanded from every Egyptian. In addition to the spoliation carried out by the state treasury the masses were further robbed by the French soldiers who behaved like overlords with them.

The results of all this came in a series of popular revolts throughout the length and breadth of Egypt. These, together with the military actions of the Turkish army and British navy, particularly the latter, put an end to the French military expedition.

It must not be considered that Napoleon’s expedition had no influence on the later development of Egypt (and to a lesser extent and indirectly on the Levant as a whole). The old economic and political order received a death blow; the rule of the Mamelukes was shaken to its foundations, and the way was cleared for the influence of the West on Egypt.

II. Egypt at the Crossroads

The blows of the French army and the invasion of cheap goods from the West forced Egypt to take hasty action for self-protection. By combining different contradictory factors – backwardness and progress, conservatism and revolution – the feudal state attempted to protect its independence, to bridge the gulf left with the severing of the continuity of development of the East by Napoleon’s conquest. The crossing of different chains of factors is know in history, the tasks of one class being taken over by a younger more revolutionary class: thus the belated bourgeois-democratic tasks in <p. 11> the colonies today pass over to the young proletariat to be carried through by it. But the crossing of different chains of factors can also impose on a more backward class the tasks which it was the mission of another to carry through. The almost non-existent Egyptian bourgeoisie could not push back the blows of European capitalism, and this the feudal class then attempted to do. The commercial aggression of the Western Powers, accompanied by a military, diplomatic and financial attack, affected the interests and prospects of the feudal class, and the feudal sovereign state. In order to stand up to this unequal struggle with the capitalist Powers of Europe, the feudal class sought a foothold with weapons taken from the arsenal of the bourgeoisie. But the feudal class was forced to adapt these weapons to the material, political and cultural base bequeathed it by the old society. This giant effort of raising the economic, social and political level of Egypt, and not only of Egypt but also of Palestine, Syria and the whole of the Arab East, to modernity, of assimilating the achievements of Western Europe by grafting it on to the material, political and cultural base given it by Arab feudalism, was made by Mohamed Ali. The vast scope of his plans, and the tremendous energy and initiative he put into them, are amazing. The compete failure of all his efforts is clear testimony to the supremacy of the mechanised industry developed with the industrial revolution in Western Europe.

III. Mohamed Ali Smashes the Mamelukes and
Introduces Great Changes in Land Property Relations

The departure of the French from Egypt left the country in utter confusion. The Turkish Sultan, who was the nominal lord of the country, was too weak to be its real lord; the remnants of the Mamelukes made an effort, unsuccessfully, to get back their former authority; the British army was encamped near Alexandria, and throughout the length and breadth of the land foreign mercenary soldiers, mainly Albanians, conscripted by the Sultan for his fight against France, were encamped. In 1805, from out all these disorders, a young Albanian officer, Mohamed Ali, rose to be the Governor-General of Egypt, who was in theory under the authority of the Sultan, but in practice independent.

On coming to power he was first confronted with the necessity to introduce basic reforms into the army. The effectiveness of the firearms used by the French army against the Mamelukes showed up the degeneration and old-fashionedness of their cavalry army. While in Europe the military-judicial break-up of feudalism was the outcome of the rise of the third estate, in Egypt it was carried through by Mohamed Ali without reliance on the third estate, but through part of the feudal stratum which under pressure of the West was forced to adapt itself to more modern necessities, and with some measure of support from the upper layer of the peasantry, which was the embryo of the village bourgeoisie. In 1811 the Mameluke troops in Upper Egypt were disarmed, and in 1813 all feudal judicial rights in Egypt were abolished. With his conquest of Palestine, Syria and Lebanon, Mohamed Ali began abolishing the feudal armies in theses counties too. In 1832–34 the feudal troops were disarmed. The population too was disarmed by force, not even the aristocracy being exempted. At the same time conscription was introduced. In 1838 he made energetic strides in abolishing the feudal judicial rights in these countries. If the struggle against the more developed states of Western Europe necessitated the abolition of the feudal army and feudal law which drained the strength of his kingdom, Mohamed Ali was prepared to take this step. He managed to oust the British army from Egypt, later on to destroy the opposition of the Turks and annihilate the Mameluke army, and finally to get rid of the Albanians who had brought him to power, and replace the Mameluke troops and mercenaries with an army conscripted from amongst the fellaheen and consisting of 200,000 men at its maximum. He managed with this army to conquer Mecca and Medina and the Sudan, to beat the Greek army and conquer Morea, beat the Turkish army and conquer Palestine and Syria and even to cross the border of Anatolia. And had it not been for a coalition of European Powers which put an end to his conquests, he would have been able to conquer Turkey and establish a kingdom of vast extent.

In order to realise how relatively large was Mohamed Ali’s army we must remember that these 200,000 fellah-soldiers were conscripted from a total population of 2.5–4 million, while Napoleon’s army of 1–1.2 millions was gathered from a total French population of 25–30 millions.

<p. 12> The pressure of the west forced Mohamed Ali not only to revolutionary changes in military organisation, but to even more radical changes in economic organisation.

First of all Mohamed Ali introduced a radical change into land property relations. While in Europe the development of the forces of production brought with it an enrichment of a part of the village, and the strengthening of the antagonism between it and feudal property relations, leading finally to the pushing aside of these relations before capitalist-individualist property, Mohamed Ali followed an exactly opposite path, although for the fulfilment of the same purpose – the development of the forces of production. He attempted to get rid of the many tax farmers – the feudal lords – (of course, without destroying them, but by making them officials dependent on the state) – by putting in their place the state as the one great landowner, which as such would goad the fellaheen to the increase of production. Accordingly in 1808 he asked all the tax farmers what their annual income from tax farming was. Fearing that his intention was to increase the taxes they had to pay, they estimated their earnings as low as possible. This was exactly what Mohamed Ali wanted. He abolished tax farming and gave the Multazims a life pension based upon the accounts they had given him of their profits. The collection of taxes was now handed over to government officials. The state income was very much increased by this measure, for firstly the tax farmers had put into their own pockets a not inconsiderable amount of the taxes collected from the people, and secondly the pensions of the Multazims ended with their death.

Mohamed Ali did not dare to carry out all his plans at once. At first he still left to the Multazims their own private domains. But after the compete smashing of the Mamelukes in 1811 he expropriated the private domains of those in Upper Egypt too. Even the compensation in the form of a life pension he did not give to all the Multazims: those in Upper Egypt received nothing, the pretext being that they had revolted against him. Thus Mohamed Ali became practically the only landowner in Egypt, all that the peasants received being the right to register in their names the plots of land they held. This did not amount to complete ownership but only to the right of usufruct, i.e. ownership of the fruits of the land but not of the land itself. Actually, however, in the course of time after Mohamed Ali’s fall, it became more and more difficult to differentiate between usufruct and actual ownership of the land.

Wishing to ensure the support of the village sheikhs, the thin upper village stratus on whom he placed his reliance, Mohamed Ali gave each of them 4.5 feddans free of taxes. In his attempts to spur on agriculture he took a further step favourable to the village rich: he distributed waste lands to the rich peasants to be their own private lands, free of taxes, on condition only that they would put them under cultivation.

The fact that the opposition of the Multazims to the great changes introduced by Mohamed Ali was not fiercer was due firstly to the fact that this class had no other way out in its struggle with the West for the defence of its sovereignty, and was therefore compelled to consent to these reforms (which were made more palatable for it by not being connected with the rise of other classes inimical to it) and secondly that he opened up before it the way to government posts, many Multazims being absorbed as government officials.

IV. Mohamed Ali Develops Irrigation and Changes
the Organisation of Agricultural Production and Distribution

The changes in land property relations were accompanied by changes in irrigation, the organisation of agricultural production, and the organisation of the sale of agricultural products.

The changes Mohamed Ali introduced into irrigation were really revolutionary. When he rose to power the irrigation system was in a state of total neglect. The absence of a strong central government to pay attention to this had resulted in great negligence for centuries. And insofar as there existed any system of irrigation it was not different to that prevailing in the time of the Pharaohs. At that time the whole country had been covered with a network of basins surrounded by large banks of earth, from which canals were led. Throughout most of the land it had been customary to cultivate <p. 13> during only one-third of the year, in winter, which meant only one crop, as in summer the land was too dry to work. Only beside the Nile or beside these canals had the land been worked in spring and summer too. But after the Arab Golden Age irrigation was neglected and the network which had existed during the time of the Pharaohs broke down: the banks burst, and the canals silted up. Mohamed Ali was satisfied, during the first years of his rule to renew this old system of irrigation. Canals were opened from anew, banks erected, and breaches repaired. From 1816 he adopted the programme of turning the whole of the Nile Delta from basin to perennial irrigation by digging many deep canals, sufficient to hold water for the summer season in the Delta area. The depth of the canals was sometimes as much as six or even more metres, and the labour put into their digging was tremendous. Not only this. Seeing that the water level in these canals was lower than the level of the land, the fellah had had to use primitive pumps to draw up the water, which demanded tremendous labour. To overcome this difficulty, Mohamed Ali decided to adopt a new method, thus beginning the third stage of his irrigation project – the raising of the level of water in the canals. From 1825 barrages or regulators began to be built in the Delta canals to hold back the water and strengthen its flow. This also involved immense amounts of labour. Besides the labour involved in the building of the barrages they had to be cleaned of the silt which collected in them during winter and which sometimes rose to a height of some metres. Thus after 1825 355,000 fellaheen were employed for four months every year in the cleaning of the canal and in other irrigation works. In order to save this tremendous amount of labour, Mohamed Ali decided to build a huge barrage exactly where the Nile forked, and to supply each part of the Delta with the necessary amount of water by means of huge canals. Only the first steps in this project were taken by Mohamed Ali during the last years of his life, for with the destruction of the commercial, industrial and agricultural monopoly which he had erected the work was brought to an end.

Another undertaking which was not primarily intended for agricultural purposes, but which aided irrigation, was the digging of the Mahmudia Canal, which was designed to connect Alexandria with the Nile, supply the town with drinking water and be used as an important means of transport. The fellaheen used, and still use this canal to irrigate their fields. 300,000 workers were engaged on the construction of this canal.

The changes which Mohamed Ali introduced into the system of irrigation and generally into agricultural organisation led to a great increase in the cultivated area, and in the harvests, especially of summer crops, and among these, especially cotton. Thus while in 1813 the cultivated area was 3,054,710 feddans, and in 1824 it was estimated at nearly the same, in 1835 it was 3,500,000, in 1840 3,856,226 and in 1852 4,160,169. The cotton crop rose at an even greater rate. In 1821 the export of cotton was 944 cantars, in 1822 35,108, in 1823 159,426 and in 1824 228,078. Cotton thus became the central export commodity. According to an authority, in 1821 the main exports were (in order of quantity): wheat, beans, maize, rice, indigo, silk; cotton was not mentioned at all. In 1836, however, cotton composed 86 per cent of the total export, while wheat composed a mere 6 per cent. Mohamed Ali also increased to a very great extent the sugar-cane crop and he even built a factory for extracting and refining the sugar. The indigo production which was of importance for dyeing before aniline was discovered, was also very much increased, and so was the rice crop. Mohamed Ali made attempts too, which failed, to grow mulberry trees on a great scale to feed the silkworm. He increased the area of flax, lettuce, sesame and other crops which give vegetable oil.

Mohamed Ali needed immense resources for the establishment of his army, the conduct of his wars, the erection of an industry, fleet, etc. He therefore turned to agriculture and attempted to extract from it as much as he could. He appointed government officials to see that profitable summer crops should be grown wherever suitable, lending seeds and necessary sums of money to the agriculturalists for this purpose. Every peasant had to return to the government a part of the harvest equal to the loan given him and the agricultural tax he had to pay. The government fixed the prices of these products according to its own lights. Thus it concentrated in it hands much of the agricultural yield at very low prices. While it paid a peasant 30 piasters for an ardeb of wheat and 20 piasters for an ardeb of beans or maize, it sold the wheat for 50 piasters, the beans for 30, and the maize for 32 piasters an ardeb. The cotton which bought for 100 piasters a cantar it sold for 200, and when in 1835 the price of a cantar reached 600 <p. 14> piasters in the market, the government was only paying the peasant 200. The harvest which it collected it used for government needs – army supplies, raw materials for industry – and the surplus it sold abroad. Mohamed Ali took a further step forward in making certain products – cotton, rice, sugar, linen, indigo, flax, linseed, sesame oil and other vegetable oils, beeswax, honey, aligari and opium – government monopolies. He made it obligatory for all these products, not only the part intended to cover the loans and taxes, to be sold to the government at fixed rates.

For the development of agriculture he imported different plants gathered from all ends of the world, and laid out large botanical gardens near Cairo where experiments were undertaken to see if hey could be adapted to Egyptian conditions. To improve the breed of livestock in Egypt he brought expensive cattle, sheep and goats from abroad, and employed physicians to fight the epidemics which broke out among them. He also began large-scale deforestation.

All measures for the development and control of agriculture Mohamed Ali enforced with the greatest severity. In one decree in 1824 he wrote: ‘Let the mudirs, nadirs (high state officials) etc., take care of agriculture or they will be buried in a common trench!’ And he himself, according to one of the foreign consuls in Egypt, was ‘more like a farmer visiting his estate than a ruler touring his kingdom.’

V. Development of Industry, Shipbuilding and Transport

Mohamed Ali also made great strides in industry. In 1816 he turned all industry into a government monopoly. The methods of production did not changes, and the artisans continued to work in their small and backward workshops, but they had to buy their raw materials from the government and sell their products to it at fixed prices. The government stamped all goods handed to it before being sold: if any goods were found in the hands of merchants without a stamp, they were confiscated. The government bought raw materials cheaply from the peasants and sold them dearly to the artisans, and in turn bought finished goods cheaply from them and sold them dearly to merchants and consumer. Through these means the state managed to get huge profits which enabled it quickly to develop all branches of the economy. Of course, and essential condition for the development of such a quick accumulation was the existence of the coercive power of the state which oppressed the masses of the people.

After the destruction of the navy he had bought so expensively in 1820–27 by the combined navies of the European Powers at the Battle of Navarino (1827) Mohamed Ali decided to build a dockyard of his own in Egypt. He built an entire arsenal with foundry, workshops, rope factory etc., which was capable of building complete warships except for finer nautical instruments, brass nails and cannons. These dockyards built a great fleet within a very short space of time. Work in the dockyards began in June 1829. After a year and a half, the first ship, a warship carrying a hundred guns, was completed, and during the next ten years, ten large warships were constructed. The development of commerce also demanded the increase of merchant boats to sail up the Nile and the canals; and thousands of boats were indeed built during Mohamed Ali’s time.

The foundries constructed produced not only the light arms needed by the army and navy, but also machines, tools, spinning and weaving machines and even steam engines. Mohamed Ali erected ginning factories equipped with the most modern English machines, and also introduced the best machines from overseas for cotton pressing. The cotton and woollen industries developed very rapidly. The cotton factories after 1828 used about a quarter of Egypt’s yield in their manufacture. He built modern factories for the extraction and refining of sugar, a paper factory, a government publishing house, a gunpowder factory and a glass factory; and he also considerably extended the existing indigo industry, rice husking, milling and other native industries. Between 1830 and 1840 more than 30,000 workers were permanently employed in the factories and 5,000 in the arsenal.

Mohamed Ali also prepared a number of other plans, some of which were carried out in part. For instance he built hotels in Alexandria, Cairo and Suez, an innovation for the East. He also developed transport both by <p. 15> the construction of the Mahmudia Canal and the building of bridges over the Nile and over the canals. He founded a steamship company for shipping between Egypt and Constantinople. Now, with the Mahmudia Canal and steamship travel on the Nile, the journey from London to Bombay, which had taken four months with sailing shops round the Cape, now took, via the new land route, only forty days. He even planned in 1835 to build a railway between Cairo and Suez and Cairo and Alexandria. Had this actually materialised, it would have been the first railway outside Europe and one of the first in the world (the first passenger railway in England having been built only in 1825). In 1836 five ships loaded with rails came from England, but a few years later, with the smashing of the economic monopoly which Mohamed Ali had erected, this plan for the railway, too, vanished into thin air.

The great tempo of development in industry, transport and commerce during Mohamed Ali’s rule is shown clearly by the astonishing development of Alexandria. In 1800 the town could not boast 5,000 inhabitants; in 1848 it had 143,000.

VI. Mohamed Ali’s Failure

In spite of all his achievements and all his great plans, Mohamed Ali in the end failed miserably. An understanding of the reasons of his failure will throw light on his place in the history of the Arab East and also on the position of the Arab East during his lifetime.

The important social role which the individual plays in certain historical epochs is not the result of blind accident but the result of the historical socio-economic relations in which he finds himself. The fact that Mohamed Ali concentrated in his hands such great power compared with Egyptian society as a whole was the result of the interlacing of two chains of factors: on the one hand the capitalist West compelled Egypt, under the threat of subjugation, to step out of feudal bounds, and on the other in Egypt itself there were practically no nuclei of the capitalist class capable of taking this mission upon itself. Precisely because of the impotence of the Egyptian feudal class and the negligibility of the capitalist class, the history of Egypt was concentrated in one personality – Mohamed Ali. This fact in no wise contradicts the materialist conception of history, but only its vulgar falsification. The individual with his special characteristics can sometimes exert a very great influence. But this happens in particular social circumstances. Mohamed Ali initiated, planned and executed enterprises of vast scope which soared far beyond the obsolete conceptions of the feudal class. The decline and decay of this class together with the great pressure of the West raised Mohamed Ali far above his own class. But even though men make history, and there are situations in which the individual exerts great influence, so much so that the quantitative change brought about by him turns into a qualitative change, in the final analysis the cause of the social relations is rooted in the powers of production. And this cannot be changed by the individual alone. The greatness of Mohamed Ali is rooted in the backwardness of the society from which he rose and the productive powers on which he leaned compared with the spurring, competitive and menacing power of the developed society and economy of the West. But these were also the causes of his weakness and defeat.

An aspect of Egypt’s backwardness was the lack of labour power which was a heritage which burdened him and made the accomplishment of his plans very difficult. And to make matters worse epidemics and disease played havoc with the already small population. (Epidemics broke out in 1813, 1824, and 1835. The epidemic of 1835 killed off about 800,000 people i.e. about a quarter of the population.) If we consider the great scale of his plans we will realise what a hindrance this heritage was for him.

Another cause of Mohamed Ali’s failure was his lack of capital. In European states the period of primitive accumulation was connected with the unbounded plunder of overseas countries. This source of capital was not open to Mohamed Ali, while on the other hand he was forced to realise this primitive accumulation at a faster rate, as the pressure of foreign Powers threatened Egypt with subjugation if she did not fortify herself very quickly, both economically and militarily. Mohamed Ali could not rely on private capital and initiative and was forced to create a gigantic bureaucratic apparatus <p. 16> which lacked the stimulus of private profile and was therefore riddled with illiteracy, corruption and neglect. Mohamed Ali himself was well aware of this when he said to Browring, a special envoy of Palmerston to the East:

‘Do not judge me by the standards of your knowledge. Compare me with the ignorance that is around me … You have a number of intelligent persons ... I can find very few to understand me and do my bidding, I am often deceived and I know that I am deceived. I have been almost alone for the greater part of my life.’ (H. Dodwell, The Founder of Modern Egypt, Cambridge 1931, p. 195)

He tried by compulsion to raise the cultural level of his officials. He made it obligatory for all the rich to educate their sons, and even to send them to Paris. But ‘the wealthier people of Alexandria disliked sending their sons to Paris to be educated and substitute the sons of porters and other mean persons for their children whom Mohamed Ali demanded of them:

“If these fellows,” he said on hearing of their conduct “ will neither understand the advantage of education nor of commerce, they are only fit to carry loads on their backs like porters or donkeys”. Accordingly an order was made that all classes were to work in person on removing the mounds of rubbish which surrounded the city. Shopkeepers, merchants, scribes and theologians were to be seen on the appointed days with baskets of earth on their backs, and wholly unaccustomed sweat running down their faces.’ (ibid., p. 194)

But by means of this compulsion the ruling groups could not be drawn out of the illiteracy and lethargy in which they had been immersed for generations; and while Mohamed Ali did send his own son, Sa’id, to work from the age of thirteen as a midshipman on a ship and appoint a special French teacher to coach him in shipping, the vast majority of the ruling class was not ready for such sacrifices.

The modern system of justice which Mohamed Ali wanted to force on the country in order to create favourable conditions of security for economic development, was also affected by the corruption of those officials from the feudal class. After abolishing the judicial rights of the feudal lords he declared that the masses of people could complain to the mudirs or even to the Pasha himself if they were mistreated. He also set up two new law courts in Cairo and Alexandria which were entirely free of Moslem law, and comprised merchants in place of theologians. The law courts were intended to pass judgement in commercial disputes, especially between Moslems and Christians. It is interesting to note that the majority in the courts were not Moslems. In Alexandria, out of nine members of the law courts only four were Egyptians, and the rest consisted of two Levantine Christians, a Greek, a Frenchman and a Jew. The courts were not different from other official institutions in being corrupt to the core.

While Mohamed Ali leant on a broken reed as far as the ruling class was concerned, the enthusiasm of the masses for his plans was not at all eager either. If the conditions of primitive accumulation in England were connected with mass starvation, Mohamed Ali’s structure was certainly bound to be accompanied by much greater suffering of the masses, even if the general conditions of the peasantry were superior to what they had been formerly. Hungry and barefooted masses, illiterate and ill, policed by corrupt, apathetic officials, obviously could not raise the productivity of labour to any visible extent. A clear picture of the condition of factory workers is given in the book The Economic Development of Egypt by Rashid Al-Barawy and Mohamed Hamza Alish (Cairo 1944, Arabic):

‘The price of the workers’ food in Al-Harnafesh factory was deducted from their wages and the rest was paid either in money or cloths. The payment of the officials’ salaries and the workers’ wages was sometimes late. They were given cheques, but being in need of money they used to sell them to their creditors and merchants who deducted 15, 20 or 25 per cent. The workers often expressed their hatred for work in different acts of vengeance, such as smashing the machinery. Thus they intentionally burnt the factory in Assiut where 600 workers worked. In addition they often absented themselves from work and the harsh punishment they received at the hands of the managers was not effective.’

The development of the forces of production in agriculture is a basic condition both for making a growing portion of the agricultural population superfluous and their transference to industry possible, and also for the supplying of agricultural raw materials and foodstuffs to the towns. But needing to accelerate the process of industrial development, Mohamed Ali <p. 17> was forced to base his industrial and military superstructure on a too narrow agricultural foundation. The irrigation enterprises raised productivity, making possible an increase in the arable area, and especially in the area of crops which brought in large incomes – i.e. summer crops. But for a long time before they could become a source of income they were a factor of great expense which mainly agriculture had to bear. The contradiction between the scale of irrigation, industrial and military undertakings, and the narrow agricultural base which had to carry them is prominently exposed both in the flight of masses of peasants from the villages, a regular occurrence which took place on a large scale, and in the lack of foodstuffs which appeared from time to time. Mohamed Ali was therefore forced occasionally to hold back the whole overseas wheat export, and even to import wheat.

Besides all these factors which Mohamed Ali had to contend with, another important one must be taken into account: the lack of a suitable motive power for the machinery. In most of the factories established in Egypt, the motive power was animals – oxen, donkeys or camels. There were also some steam engines, but coal was dear, and mechanics capable of looking after modern machinery few and far between. Animals as motive power have great disadvantages: their power is limited, the movements uneven and jerky and liable to cause many breakages in the machinery.

Besides all this, the very factor which mainly stimulates Mohamed Ali to undertake all these economic projects – war – was in itself a factor which impaired the possibility of their accomplishment, as it squeezed the land dry. The period of Mohamed Ali’s rule was one of almost continuous wars: 1811–15 and 1816–18 – wars in Arabia; 1818, 1820 – wars with Sudan and Abyssinia; 1824–26 – war with Greece; 1831–33 – the conquest of Syria and Turkey; 1839–40 – war against Turkey and a coalition of European Powers.

What Egypt did accomplish under these difficulties is amazing. Eventually, however, the blow which entirely shattered the construction which Mohamed Ali had set up was struck. In 1838 a commercial agreement was signed between England and the Sultan, according to which English merchants could enter every region of Ottoman rule, and buy from the inhabitants whatever they produced. For four years Mohamed Ali managed to prevent the implementation of this agreement as far as Egypt was concerned, but after the military defeat he suffered at the hands of Britain in 1840 he was forced to submit. In 1842 the agreement was carried out with full force in Egypt. Through this an end was put to the state monopoly, and with it the basis of existence of industry and shipping, which was the sine qua non of Egyptian independence.

And so the results of Mohamed Ali’s rule were very different to what he strove for. He spurred on the change of the multilateral agricultural economy to a unilateral one of cotton production. With his monopoly and manufacture he destroyed the guilds and strengthened the commercial character of the economy and the dependence of the population on the supply of industrial products. By his assurance of safety and justice within the country and by his development of transport he strengthened the ties binding Egypt and Europe.

Mohamed Ali’s plans were directed towards the fortification of Egypt’s independence; his failure hastened her subjugation to the European Powers.

Last updated on 22.5.2011