Modern History of the Arab Countries. Vladimir Borisovich Lutsky 1969



After the expulsion of the French from Egypt, three armies remained in the country: the British, the Turks and the Mamelukes. The occupation forces were .made up of over 20,000 British and sepoys, 40,000 Turks and 4,000 Mamelukes. According to the chronicler Jabarti, they “looted the merchants’ shops, made the artisans pay a fourfold tax and raped the women. Upon entering a village, they imposed an indemnity on the people, arrested the sheikhs, and words cannot be found to describe their behaviour to the women.” On the roads they robbed and murdered lonely wayfarers and looted caravans. They seized barges loaded with goods on the Nile and threw the sailors and merchants overboard. “They killed a mule driver and sold his mules at the bazaar.” Villages were de-populated and agriculture was abandoned. This fanned the flames of discontent against the occupying forces.

At the same time discord was growing in the camp of the enemy. Turkey strove to retain her hold on Egypt. England wanted Egypt for herself and in her struggle against the Turks was backed by the Mamelukes. The British general in command ordered the Egyptian Pasha, a Turkish Government appointee, to give the Mamelukes back their estates and government posts. But the Turkish Pasha had instructions from Sultan Selim III to ‘exterminate the Mamelukes. The Sultan was determined to strengthen his rule over the country.

The Turks managed to lure the Mamelukes into a trap, destroy some of them and take the others prisoner.

The British then induced the Pasha to free all 2,500 Mamelukes by threatening to bombard Cairo. They were handed over to the British command, which met them with military honours and formed them into new feudal detachments. Inthe war of words that followed, the British commander ordered the Turkish fleet to withdraw from all Egyptian ports and threatened to put the Turkish admiral in irons and ship him to London if he did not comply.

However, the British domination soon came to an end. According to the Treaty of Amiens, concluded on March 27, 1802, between England and France, the British were obliged to leave Egypt. They tried to prolong the evacuation, but their main forces were withdrawn by the beginning of 1802 and the last units left Alexandria in March 1803.

The British, however, did not relinquish their aggressive plans. They took the pro-English Mameluke leader, Mohammed el-Alfy, to London with them to let him loose again on Egyptian soil at a propitious moment. Napoleon had not relinquished his aggressive plans either. In October 1802, he sent Colonel Sebastiani (in 1803 he became a general) to Egypt to prepare the way for a new expedition. Sebastian, an expert on the East, was also a brilliant intelligence agent and diplomat. He established contact with the Mameluke leaders Ibrahim bey and Osman Bardisi.


Upon the departure of the British, the Turkish Pasha decided to resume the war against the Mamelukes, and in 1802 he sent his forces into Upper Egypt, where the Mamelukes had established themselves. But the Mamelukes had concluded an alliance with the bedouin sheikhs and thus had a large bedouin army at their disposal. They had also formed several detachments from among the Nubians. The Turks were crushed. The Mamelukes swept along the river in irrepressible waves, plundering and burning villages on their way. In the Battle of Damanhur, the Mamelukes destroyed 5,000 Turks (out of 7,000) with a loss of sixty men. They then joined forces with the British who were still quartered in Alexandria.

After the evacuation of the British forces from Alexandria (in March 1803) the Mamelukes withdrew to Upper Egypt. But the disputes among the Turks over the distribution of war booty brought them back.

Military rebellions continued to break out in Cairo. In the space of one month three pashas succeeded one another. A large detachment of the Turkish army (Albanian mercenaries) defected to the Mamelukes. In May 1803, Cairo was seized by the united Mameluke and Albanian forces. Power passed into the hands of a triumvirate, composed of the Albanian commander Mohammed Ali and two Mameluke beys. Mohammed Ali, who played an important role in the ‘history of Egypt, was still young at the time. He was born in 1769 in the Macedonian city of Kavalla. There are many stories about his childhood. He appears to have been the son of a small landlord, but lost his parents early in life and was brought up in a strange family. When he came of age he started a tobacco business, but at thirty a great change came about in his life. The Porte ordered that Kavalla send a small Albanian detachment of about three hundred men to Egypt and Mohammed Ali was made its second in command. Having distinguished himself in the very first battle, he was put in command of all the Albanian troops who were part of the Turkish expeditionary army in Egypt. The first victories fanned his ambitions and he decided to gain possession of the whole country. For this purpose he entered into an alliance with the Mamelukes, then launched a joint war against the Pasha, which ended in January 1804 with the utter defeat of the Turks.


It seemed as though the Mamelukes had once again established themselves in Egypt. They had regained power and their estates, driven out the Turks and were once again robbing the people.

The British, who by this time had resumed their war against France, decided to take advantage of the Mamelukes’ victory. Their agent, the Mameluke bey, Mohammed el-Alfy, was hastily embarked on a British frigate and sent to Alexandria (February 1804).

But Sebastiani’s work had not been in vain. The Mameluke clique, led by Osman Bardisi, rebelled against the British agent. Mohammed el-Alfy’s detachment was destroyed and el-Alfy fled to the desert.

The jubilant victors returned to the capital, but here they found themselves confronted by a popular uprising.

The working population of Cairo had decided to take advantage of the rift in the Mameluke camp and overthrow the hated Mameluke feudal lords. The uprising was led by the clergy, particularly El-Azhar sheikhs. On the appointed day, the people refused to pay taxes and began killing the tax gatherers. Fierce street fighting ensued. The court of the Mameluke bey, Osman Bardisi, was besieged and destroyed (March 12, 1804) and Bardisi fled from Cairo.

The people’s wrath was also directed against the Albanians, who were the Mamelukes’ accomplices. Mohammed Ali, however, was a shrewd politician. Recognising the power of the growing popular movement, he went over to its side and promised a gathering of sheikhs at El-Azhar to abolish taxes. Declaring himself the defender of the Egyptian people’s rights, he led his Albanian troops against the Mameluke feudal lords. This clever manoeuvre, dictated by a sober awareness of the balance of forces, secured for Mohammed Ali power over Egypt. The gathering of sheikhs elected him qa’im ma’qam, in other words, the Egyptian Pasha’s deputy. The Turkish governor of Alexandria, Khorshid, was elected pasha.

The banished Mamelukes. laid siege to the city. Cairo withstood the four-month siege and forced the Mamelukes to retreat to Upper Egypt.

Mohammed Ali’s popularity grew. The people regarded the talented colonel as their leader but the Porte eyed his elevation with fear and annoyance. The Sultan ordered Mohammed Ali to return home. This caused discontent in Cairo. As a sign of protest the city shops and stalls were closed, popular processions began and the Porte was compelled to annul its decree.

Throughout the winter of 1804-05, Mohammed Ali and his troops pursued the Mamelukes through Upper Egypt. In the meantime, Khorshid Pasha with his janissaries revived all the horrors of the Mameluke regime. Khorshid imposed heavy indemnities on the city-dwellers and took hostages. He collected taxes from the war-ravaged villages a year in advance. But the people of Egypt, who had driven out the French and the Mamelukes, had no intention of being humiliated by the janissaries. In May 1805, the citizens of Cairo once more rose in rebellion. They drove out the janissaries and dethroned Khorshid, and a meeting of sheikhs declared Mohammed Ali ruler of Egypt.

Sultan Selim III was forced to recognise Mohammed Ali as the Egyptian Pasha. He was too occupied with other events to do otherwise. In 1804, on the Balkan Peninsula, in Serbia, a big national liberation uprising had flared up. The situation in Bulgaria and Greece was also uneasy and the old Ottoman army was suffering one defeat after another. Realising that the Turkish medieval army had lost its punch, this reforming Sultan made determined efforts to reorganise it in new regiments, Nizam El-Gadid (regiments of the new order). His own people protested against the introduction of taxes for the up-keep of the regular units and the reforms were also opposed by the janissaries, Ulema and Dervishes. A new movement, directed against the reforms, the new army and taxes, arose under the slogan “Religion and Old Laws.”

In March 1805, Selim IlI issued a decree on recruitment into the regulars. The decision evoked janissary mutinies in many provinces. The punitive expedition sent by Selim III was defeated and Selim was compelled to annul the decree.

Naturally, in such circumstances he could not actively intervene in Egypt’s affairs. The Sultan made one more unsuccessful attempt to remove Mohammed Ali from Egypt but, on meeting the resistance of the citizens of Cairo, beat a hasty retreat. In 1807, Selim III was overthrown by the rebellious janissaries and killed.


In August 1805, the war between England and France was resumed and soon spread to the East. Both Powers accordingly stepped up their intrigues in Egypt. In 1806, the Mameluke bey and British protégé Mohammed el-Alfy turned up in Egypt. He was opposed by Osman Bardisi, who was pro-French. Mohammed Ali used the struggle between the Mamelukes to his own ends. Supported by Osman Bardisi and the citizens of Cairo, he defeated el-Alfy, who in 1806 died of mysterious causes. Apparently he had been poisoned. The same fate soon befell Osman Bardisi. Mohammed Ali had rid the Egyptians of the Mameluke leaders, but the war against the Mamelukes went on. Mohammed Ali relentlessly pursued them to Upper Egypt.

Ottoman Empire was drawn into the war between England and France on the latter’s side. In 1806, the French Ambassador to Istanbul, General Sebastiani, provoked a conflict between the Porte and Russia, who was England’s ally. In January 1807, when the main forces of the Turkish army were deployed on the Danube against the Russians, England demanded that the Porte banish Sebastiani at once and surrender its fleet, the Dardanelles and their batteries to the English. Moldavia and Walachia were to go to the Russians. The Turkish ‘Government rejected this ultimatum. The English fleet then entered the Sea of Marmara and threatened to bombard Istanbul.

The approach of the squadron caused a patriotic upsurge in the capital. While the English fleet waited for a fair wind in order to enter the Bosporus, the Turks fortified the capital and the shores of the Dardanelles under the direction of Sebastiani and French engineers, whereupon the British admiral decided that any attempt to storm Istanbul would be hopeless and withdrew his fleet to the Mediterranean.

The British now decided to launch an attack against Egypt. On March 17,1807, they landed a 5,000-strong force at Alexandria. Mohammed Ali led the Egyptians against the invaders. At the end of March, the 2,000-strong British force which had penetrated Rosetta was crushed by the Egyptians in the streets of the city. The British general sent another detachment to Rosetta twice the size of the first, but it was also defeated. In the Battle of Rosetta, the fellaheen and bedouins fought side by side with professional soldiers. While the English tried to gain possession of Rosetta, the citizens of Cairo proceeded to fortify the city.

The British never did advance on Cairo. After their second defeat near Rosetta and the unsuccessful attempt to instigate a new revolt of the Mamelukes, they withdrew to Alexandria. When Mohammed Ali advanced on Alexandria, the commander of the British forces asked Mohammed Ali to sign peace. In September 1807, the remaining British troops were shipped home and Mohammed Ali entered Alexandria. His popularity had grown immensely and he was hailed as the heroic defender of Egypt.


Mohammed Ali came to power in the struggle against the Mameluke feudal lords. He continued the fight against the Mamelukes for four years from 1804 to 1807. During the British expedition of 1807, he agreed to a truce with the Mamelukes in order to repulse the British. The truce was not a stable one. Having recognised Mohammed Ali as their suzerain, the Mamelukes maintained their control over Upper Egypt, which became the nucleus of continuous plots and mutinies.

After his victory over the British, Mohammed Ali devoted himself to land reforms which dealt a blow at the holdings of the multazims and the Mamelukes. In 1808, he confiscated the estates of the multazims, who were trying to avoid paying taxes, and in 1809 deprived them of half the faiz. In 1812, he took away all the land owned by the Mamelukes. In 1814, he completely abolished the iltizam system. Now the fellaheen paid taxes not to the multazims, but directly to the state. The personal dependence of the fellaheen on the multazims was also abolished. All that remained in the multazims’ hands were the usia lands. Alloted lands (atar) were made state property. True, by way of compensation, Mohammed Ali ordered that the multazims be paid a faiz at the treasury’s expense in the form of an annual pension. But the economic basis of their power was undermined.

Mohammed Ali, however, did not abolish the feudal mode of production. The liquidation of the iltizams and the sharing out of the common land, begun in 1813, undoubtedly altered the conditions of the fellaheen. But the fellah was still exploited by the feudal lords, although he now worked for the feudal state as a whole, not for an individual lord.

Moreover, it was not long before most of the land which had passed under the control of the state was once again in private hands. In the thirties (the first grant is usually dated from December 1, 1829), Mohammed Ali distributed large tracts of land to his kin and members of his suite, to higher dignitaries and officers of the Albanian, Kurdish, Circassian and Turkish detachments. Within a short time, he had given away hundreds of thousands of feddans of land together with the peasants who worked them. Subsequently, after 1854, their owners had to pay the ushr tax or tithe), from which they came to be known as ushria (by the tithe payers). Thus, having deprived the ancient feudal nobility of its estates and power and having liquidated the multazim class, Mohammed Ali created in its place a new feudal nobility which became the mainstay of the new dynasty.

Between 1809 and 1815, Mohammed Ali appropriated the waqf land (rizq) to the state, and the government took upon itself the up-keep of the mosques and clergy. This measure jdid not please the clergy and several sheikhs threatened to “overthrow him whom we have elevated.” But Mohammed Ali drove these sheikhs out of Cairo and brutally suppressed their opposition.

The confiscation of the iltizams, the curtailment of the faiz and other measures caused discontent among the Mamelukes, who both in 1809 and 1810 instigated unsuccessful revolts against Mohammed All. Some of the Mamelukes fled to the Sudan and some recognised the authority of Mohammed Ali and remained in Egypt. Many of them settled in Cairo. But they could not forget their former estates and power and prepared new revolts aimed at restoring Mameluke feudalism.

Mohammed Ali decided to put. an end to the Mameluke menace once and for all. In 1811, he was commissioned by the Porte to send his troops to Arabia to destroy the newly established Wahhabi government. On the day of his departure, on March 1, 1811, Mohammed Ali organised a military parade in Cairo, in which five hundred Mamelukes also took part. The troops gathered in the citadel, where they started their march through the city. When most of the troops had left the fortress, the Albanians closed the citadel gates, surrounded the Mamelukes and massacred them. Searches were made in the Mameluke homes. In Cairo, in the provinces and in Upper Egypt, everywhere Mohammed Ali’s soldiers and the people hunted down the Mamelukes. Almost all the Mamelukes were seized and executed. Only a handful escaped by fleeing to the Sudan.


Mohammed Ali’s agrarian reforms paved the way for military reforms and were put into practice during the fight against the Mamelukes who fiercely opposed his reforming activities. The sad fate of the Turkish reformers, Selim III and Mustafa Pasha Bairaktar, who had been killed in 1808 by reactionaries, served as a warning to Mohammed Ali. A shrewd politician, he realised that. in order to create a strong regular army, he had to get rid of internal reaction. Hence the reprisals against the Mamelukes (the Egyptian janissaries). Mohammed Ali thus succeeded in avoiding Selim III’s mistakes. The result was a new and modern Egyptian army.

Mohammed All set about the task of creating a regular army the moment he came to power. Due to the lack of men and weapons, progress was at first slow. The nucleus of the new army was formed by Albanians. Egyptians were not recruited, because Turkish-Mameluke traditions were still strong among them. After the Arabian campaign (1811-19), however, and especially after the campaign against the Morea (1824-28), during which the African soldiers, who comprised the greater part of the Egyptian army, perished from the cold, Mohammed Ali finally decided to conscript the native Egyptians (fellaheen). This army was destined to gain brilliant victories for Mohammed Ali in Syria.

At first, the troops were trained by foreign military experts. After the campaign against Arabia, Mohammed Ali set up a large training camp at Aswan, where thousands of young Egyptians and Sudanese were trained by French and Italian instructors. These were mainly officers of the empire, who had left their homeland after the return of the Bourbons. An outstanding role was played by the talented French officer Seve, nicknamed Suleiman Pasha. Mohammed Ali also set up military schools for Egyptian commanders: an infantry school in Damietta, a cavalry school in Giza and an artillery school in Tura (near Cairo). The Academy of the General Staff was opened in 1826. French military regulations were translated into Arabic. The Egyptian army was patterned on Napoleon’s army. Its armament included artillery. “This outstanding artillery may be compared to that of the European armies,” wrote one of Napoleon’s marshals. “You look at it and marvel at the power of the government that has been able to turn the fellaheen into such first-rate soldiers.” Weapons were purchased in Europe but often they were also manufactured in Egypt.

By the thirties of the 19th century, the regular Egyptian army had grown to considerable proportions. In 1883, it had 36 infantry regiments (3,000 soldiers in each regiment), 14 Guard regiments with an over-all strength of 50,000 men, 15 cavalry regiments with 500 men in each regiment and five artillery regiments comprising 2,000 soldiers – a total of almost 180,000 soldiers. Moreover, irregular units with an over-all strength of approximately 40,000 men also served in the Egyptian army.

Mohammed Ali did not limit himself to the creation of a land force. He studied the reforms of Peter I and would often compare himself with the great Russian reformer. Like Peter I, Mohammed Ali decided to create a national Egyptian fleet.

He not only purchased ships abroad-in Marseilles, Livorno and Trieste. In 1829, after almost the whole Egyptian fleet had been destroyed in the Battle of Navarino, Mohammed Ali built a dockyard at Alexandria (“the Alexandrian Arsenal”). It was completed within a very short time. In January 1831, the first one-hundred-cannon ship was launched. At first most of the workers engaged in the ship-building industry were Europeans, but soon highly skilled native workers were trained. The Arabs quickly mastered the technical professions. Almost all the 8,000 workers at the dockyard were Egyptians. “The Alexandrian dockyard, where all the work is done by the Arabs. and which can easily compete with all the dockyards in the world, clearly shows what can be done with these people. The Europeans would never have obtained such amazing results within such a short period,” wrote a European observer.

Crews to man the ships were also trained. Within a short space of time, 15,000 Egyptian seamen, were ready for service. Commanders received their training at the newly established naval college. “The Arabs are versatile and have excellent abilities. They appear to be born sailors,” wrote the same observer. In addition, Mohammed Ali erected several new fortresses in Egypt and strengthened the old ones.


The reorganisation of the army called for the creation of many workshops and manufactories. Smelting shops, smitheries, metal workshops, sail-canvas manufactories and other subsidiary enterprises were built at the Alexandria shipyard. New factories sprung up in Cairo and Rosetta. An iron foundry with an annual capacity of 2,000 tons of pig iron, three arsenals along French lines, saltpetre works and a gun-powder factory were also built. Cotton, linen, fez and cloth mills as well as rope yards were erected. Sugar factories and creameries appeared. All these enterprises belonged to the state or to members of the royal family.

Under Mohammed All, the development of agriculture was accelerated, especially the growth of export cotton, rice, indigo and other crops. The development of agriculture was furthered by Jumel’s (a Frenchman) introduction of a new cotton plant and by the implementation of an extensive programme for building irrigational projects. Old watering canals were restored and new ones built. In the Delta, the transition from basin to perennial irrigation was begun. Mohammed Ali lay the foundation of the great barrage across the Nile at the beginning of the Delta. As a result, the area of irrigated land increased by approximately 100,000 feddans and the, area under cultivation rose from 2 million feddans in 1821 to 3.1 million feddans in 1883.

All Egypt’s industrial, craft and agricultural production duping Mohammed Ali’s reign was controlled by the government. This control was effected by a system of monopolies, a peculiar type of centralised regulation of the country’s economy. The system of monopolies took shape in the period from 1816 to 1820. The peasant and artisan households were put under the supervision of officials, and the government was given the exclusive right to purchase and sell the goods they produced. Each year, the peasants were told how many feddans to sow and with what crops. The amount of obligatory deliveries and purchase prices were determined. Along with agricultural products, the government monopolised the production and purchase of yarn, cloth, kerchiefs, saltpetre, soap, soda, sugar and other goods.

The agricultural and craft monopolies were supplemented by trade monopolies, the state being the only supplier of Egyptian goods on the home market and the only exporter. The retail dealers in the towns turned into virtual government agents for the sale of state-monopoly goods.


Mohammed Ali’s military reforms and economic reconstruction were realised at the expense of the masses.

The setting up of a series of large and quite advanced industrial establishments brought into being an industrial proletariat.

The conditions of the Egyptian workers were very bad, worse than those of their European brothers. The factory’s internal organisation resembled a Russian feudal manufactory or even a military settlement in the times of Arakcheyev. [Arakcheyev – the brutal favourite of Russian tsars Paul I and Alexander I; a period of reactionary police despotism and gross domination of the military is connected with his activities.- Ed.] The factory workers were organised in platoons, companies and battalions. They had to obey officers and do military drills. They lived in barracks and were forcibly recruited to the factory, where they received only meagre wages. According to the data presented in the 1883 budget, 28 million francs were spent on maintenance of the army, 3.5 million francs for the private expenses of Mohammed Ali and only 2.75 million francs for the up-keep of factories and workers’ wages.

The peasants were no better off than the workers. Although the fellah had rid himself of the hated Mamelukes and the multazims, matters had not improved. As under the Mamelukes, he was bound to the land. He had to do sixty days of corvée a year on the estates of Mohammed Ali and his attendants. The taxes he had used to pay to the multazims were now collected by state tax gatherers at higher rates. Under the Mamelukes he had been exempt from military service. Now he was liable to be conscripted for long periods into the feudal army with its harsh system of corporal punishment. He could not dispose of his products as he liked .and was obliged to sell most of them to state buyers at low prices.

The peasants and artisans died of hunger while the monopolies continued to derive large profits, enabling the government to build up a new army and enriching the merchants who bought the right to buy up monopolised goods and gather taxes.

Many of the fellaheen and artisans were unable to bear the yoke any longer. They rebelled and fled to Syria. The Egyptian Government demanded their return and brutally suppressed the popular uprisings. (In 1822, an uprising took place in Cairo, in 1823, in the province of Minufiya, in 1824, in Upper Egypt and in 1826, in the region of Bilbeis.)


Formally Egypt continued to be regarded as a pashalik of the Ottoman Empire and Mohammed Ali as its governor and pasha, who was subordinate to the Sultan and the Porte.

He preserved the mask of a vassal, but in reality he executed only those of the Porte’s orders which were to his advantage and sabotaged those that were not. Egypt had, in fact, become an independent state with its own government, army, laws and tax system. Mohammed Ali paid an annual tribute to the Sultan, comprising approximately three per cent of all budget expenditure, he received investiture from the Sultan, the latter’s name was mentioned in the khutbahs and with this ended Egypt’s dependence on the Porte. Foreigners called Mohammed Ali the viceroy.

In order to strengthen Egypt’s defence potential, Mohammed Ali carried out an administrative reform. He abolished the old Mameluke administrative system, which had the provincial governors’ (kashifs) arbitrary power, and created a centralised machinery of state. He established a number of ministries on the European pattern with strictly defined functions. The War Ministry was in charge of the army and fleet. The Ministry of Finance gathered taxes. The Trade Ministry was in charge of monopolies; it also had the monopoly of foreign trade. The Ministry of Public Education founded a number of schools and sent students abroad to study European sciences. Finally, the Ministries of Foreign and Home Affairs were formed. Under the ministries a series of councils and committees were established to deal with such questions as naval affairs, farming, public health, etc.

Mohammed Ali divided Egypt into seven new provinces or mudiriyas, at the head of which stood a governor (mudir) who was subordinate to the central government, carried out administrative duties and collected taxes. He was also responsible for managing government workshops and manufactories, and for seeing that the canals, bridges and roads were in a good condition. He ensured the timely sowing and gathering of the crops. The mudiriya was divided into districts (marakazes) with a ma’mur at their head. The local administrative unit was the nahiya with a nazir at its head. Finally, the governor of the village was its sheikh. This harmonious strictly subordinated administrative system ensured the government complete control over all the sections of the state machinery.

Mohammed Ali invited French doctors, engineers, teachers and lawyers to help Europeanise the administrationof the country and, by so doing, formed the basis of a bourgeois intelligentsia among the Egyptians.


The creation of an army and a new machinery of state called for educated people. Mohammed Ali, therefore, sent many young Egyptians to Europe to study military and technical sciences, agronomy, medicine, languages and law. Specialised literature and text-books were translated into Arabic. Upon the completion of their studies, they returned home to take up their posts as officers and officials or directors and engineers at government enterprises. Some of them became ministers.

For the first time in Egypt secular schools appeared. Over 6,000 pupils from eight to twelve years old studied the Arabic language and arithmetic at elementary schools. Pupils from twelve to sixteen also studied the Turkish language, mathematics, history and geography at secondary schools. After graduating, they could go to a special school to take a four-year course. Apart from military schools, other schools were founded: a medical school, a school for veterinaries, polytechnical, engineering and agricultural schools, a school for linguists and a music school. The students received a stipend and did not have to pay for their board.

Military and civilian hospitals were also founded in Egypt. They were no worse than the majority of European hospitals at the time.

In 1822, Mohammed Ali opened Egypt’s first printing-house, which published books in the Arabic, Turkish and Persian languages. Under Mohammed Ali, the first Egyptian, newspaper El-Vakia El-Misria was founded. Mohammed Ali himself learned how to read very late in life, at the age of forty-five. For almost ten years he had ruled Egypt as an illiterate, mastering the fundamentals of warfare, engineering and history by sheer innate intelligence. With his new knowledge he studied the details of administering the army and government enterprises and followed reports in the foreign press.


Like the reforms of Peter I, Mohammed Ali’s reforms were of a progressive nature, although they were a burden to the people, who were mercilessly exploited by the feudal state. Like Peter I, Mohammed Ali did not break the feudal mode of production, but only abolished the most reactionary survivals of the Middle Ages. At the same time he built up a state of landowners and merchants, created a strong army and fleet and state machinery and carried out a series of reforms which turned Egypt into a strong and viable state.

Karl Marx thought highly of Mohammed Ali’s reforms. Marx characterised him as “the only man” to replace a “dressed up ‘turban’ by a real head.” [The Russo-Turkish Difficulty-Ducking and Dodging of the British Cabinet. Nesselrode’s Last Note-The East India Question.” New. York Daily Tribune, July 25, 1853.] He described Egypt at the time as the “only vital element” [War in Burma-The Russian Question-Curious Diplomatic Correspondence,” New York Daily Tribune, July 30, 1853.] in the Ottoman Empire.

There was also much that was reactionary in Mohammed Ali’s reforms. He brutally oppressed not only the Egyptian workers, artisans and the fellaheen but other peoples as well. He suppressed the Greek liberative uprising, subjugated Arabia, Syria, the Sudan, Cilicia and Crete. He dreamed of . creating a vast multinational empire for Egypt’s landowners and merchants. Apart from the Arabs, he ruled the Turks, the Greeks and the Sudanese. Even in the neighbouring Arab countries his troops behaved like conquerors in conquered lands.

This merciless feudal yoke, continuous aggressive wars, the opposition of the vanquished peoples and the Powers, especially Britain, undermined Mohammed Ali’s might and in the end led to his downfall.