Modern History of the Arab Countries. Vladimir Borisovich Lutsky 1969

The Conquest of the East Sudan by Mohammed Ali. The Expedition to Morea

The Conquest of the Sudan.

Mohammed Ali’s second big campaign was the conquest of the East Sudan. From time immemorial there had been a steady flow of slaves, gold, gum, ostrich feathers, ivory and valuable kinds of wood to Egypt from the Sudan. Mohammed Ali wanted to lay his hands on the trade, for he saw in the Sudan a means of replenishing his treasury, exhausted by the long Arabian war, and a considerable sum of money was needed to build an army and fleet. Mohammed Ali also wanted to crush the remnants of the Egyptian Mamelukes, who had fled from Egypt to the Sudan.

Unlike the war in Arabia, the war in the Sudan offered no great difficulties. The Sudan was closer to Egypt than Arabia, and conveniently linked with Egypt by the Nile. Moreover, the people were not united by common religious or political views. The country was divided into several small Moslem states and a host of tribal territories, where the primitive communal system still prevailed. The largest state was Sennar, which was ruled by the Funj dynasty. In the 18th century, it stretched from the Third Cataract of the Nile in the north to Fazughli in the south, from the Red Sea in the east to Kordofan in the west. However, by the beginning of the 19th century, the kingdom had virtually disintegrated. Separate states arose on the Atbara, on the Red Sea coast and in Dongola. The Mamelukes, whom Mohammed Ali had banished from Egypt, exercised great influence in Dongola. The one time vassalage of the Funj, the state of Fazughli (on the Blue Nile) occupied a special position. The strongest state of the East Sudan at the time was the Darfur sultanate. In the 19th century, it established relations with the Turkish Sultan, whom it regarded as its spiritual suzerain.

All these militates and sultanates were very primitive state formations, embracing several different tribes. These were the Arab- Berber tribes in the north and the Arab-Negroid tribes in the centre. The Nilote tribes lived in the south. The settled population was small in number. There were no cities. The Arabs settled in the South Sudan and engaged in caravan trade and the captivity of slaves.

The Egyptians had no difficulty in capturing the East Sudan. The Sudanese did not even have firearms, and fought with spears, pikes and leather shields, while the Egyptians were well armed and had excellent artillery.

In October 1820, the 5,000-strong Egyptian army led by Mohammed Ali’s son, Ismail Pasha, set out on a campaign against the Sudan. It encountered almost no resistance and pushed on further up the Nile. The tribes of North Nubia and Dongola submitted to the conquerors. In the spring of 1821, the Egyptians reached Cape Khartoum at the confluence of the White and the Blue Nile, where they set up camp. Then they moved on farther and on June 12, 1821, they captured the Funj capital, Sennar, without firing a single shot.

Here the army split up. Some of the troops, led by Ismail, went upstream along the Blue Nile. Having seized Fazughli, they almost reached 10° N and in February 1822, turned back north. The other group, led by Mohammed Ali’s son-in-law, Mohammed Bey, the defterdar, conquered central Kordofan at the end of 1821.

Thus, by the beginning of 1822, the whole of the East Sudan, excluding Darfur and the outlying regions, had been seized by the Egyptians. But uprisings began to burst out in the rear. Ismail was forced to go to Sennar, having heard of fresh uprisings against Egyptian authority in the rear. He killed thousands of people and quickly suppressed the uprising. But soon he himself was caught in a trap. In October 1822, one of the local leaders, mek (king) Nair Nimr, invited Ismail and his chief officers to a feast in his house, around which he had piled heaps of straw. While the Egyptians were feasting, the mek set fire to the straw and Ismail and his companions were burnt to death.

Hearing of Ismail’s death, the defterdar, together with his troops, set out for Sennar and cruelly avenged Ismail’s death by exterminating over 30,000 in the region where Ismail Pasha had been assassinated. That was almost the whole population. Nair Nimr, however, managed to escape.

Later the Egyptians dealt just as cruelly with the numerous uprisings which broke out all over the Sudan. At the same time, they were gradually rounding off their domains. They advanced southwards along the White Nile and reached Fashoda in 1828. In the west the Egyptians reached the borders of Darfur. The Red Sea ports of Suakin and Massawa came under their control. In 1838, Mohammed Ali arrived in the Sudan. He fitted out special expeditions to search for gold along the White and the Blue Nile. In 1840, the regions of Kassala and Taka were added to the Egyptian domains.

In 1823, Khartoum had become the centre of the Egyptian domains in the Sudan and had quickly grown into a large market town. By 1834, it had a population of 15,000 and was the residence of the Egyptian deputy. In 1841, the country was split up into seven provinces: Fazughli, Sennar, Khartoum, Taka, Berber, Dongola and Kordofan. The deputies and the provincial pashas were all Turks from among Mohammed Ali’s circle, and the Sudanese people regarded the invaders as Turks and the Sudan’s annexation to Egypt as a Turkish conquest.

The Egyptian authorities plundered the Sudan and laid the population under heavy tribute. Each year they would drive up to 8,000 head of cattle to Egypt, as well as ivory, ostrich feathers and other exotic goods, not to mention slaves. The slave trade, which remained a state monopoly until 1850, acquired considerable proportions. Tens of thousands of slaves were exported from the Sudan. Mohammed Ali had achieved his end. He now controlled the trade in slaves and in tropical raw materials. He was now master of almost the whole Nile, and only one fact disappointed him. The Sudan was not as rich in gold as the Egyptians had expected.

The Greek Uprising.

The campaigns against Arabia and the Sudan opened a whole series of wars in the struggle for control of the East Mediterranean countries.

Mohammed Ali kept up a stubborn struggle to realise his plan for the creation of an independent Arab power. Each year brought nearer the decisive trial of strength. In the meanwhile, Mohammed Ali strove to gain possession of Syria and the Morea. In 1821, he began sending money and gifts to the Porte dignitaries to induce them to grant him control of these countries. Although the Porte did not trust him, Mohammed Ali, afraid of losing his chance, persistently renewed his solicitations.

In 1821, a large national liberation uprising flared up in Greece, assuming the form of a national revolution against foreign oppression. The revolution was led by the national bourgeoisie, which was unable to bear the Sultan’s tyranny any longer. The Greek merchants had become rich on the growing sea trade. Their ships plied back and forth along the Mediterranean Sea, where they controlled almost all trade, especially the growing wheat exports from Russia. In Odessa, Taganrog, Marseilles, Livorno, Istanbul, Alexandria and all the Mediterranean and Black Sea ports there were Greek vessels, Greek commercial offices and Greek merchants and sailors.

However, the Greek merchants and navigators, who dreamt of supremacy in world trade, had no rights in their own country. Any of the Sultan’s satraps could kill a merchant and seize his riches. Hence the Greek bourgeoisie’s struggle against Ottoman feudalism, for national independence and the creation of a bourgeois state of their own.

In their liberation struggle, the bourgeoisie had the support of the peasants, who hated their oppressors, the Moslem feudal lords, and longed for national independence, which would give them back their lands. The Greek uprising was characteristically an agrarian war, a fierce struggle of the peasants against the feudal oppressors. In the Morea at the time there were 20,000 Moslem landowners, chiefly of Greek origin, almost all of whom were exterminated.

To prepare for the uprising, in 1815, the Greek Nationalists formed a conspirative organisation Philiki Etaireia (Alliance of Friends), similar to the carbonari organisations. It had branches in several European and Turkish towns. Its centre was in Odessa. The head of the organisation was Alexander Ypsilanti, son of the former Walachian hospodar Constantine, who had fled to Russia, and a major-general in the Russian service. He was also Alexander I’s aide-de-camp. The Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Count Capo d’Istria, a Greek by origin, was also connected with the national liberation movement. Alexander I, the founder of the Holy Alliance, which was designed to combat all revolutionary tendencies, at first supported the Greek nationalists, but later disavowed Ypsilanti’s claim to his support.

“The Serbian insurrection of 1809, the Greek rising in 1821, were more or less directly urged on by Russian gold and Russian influence,” Engels wrote. [Frederick Engels, The Turkish Question, New York Daily Tribune, April 19, 1853.]

On March 6, 1821, Alexander Ypsilanti led a small Greek detachment across the Pruth into the Danube dependencies of the Turkish Sultan. The detachment had been formed on Russian territory and bore the high-sounding title of “army of deliverance.” Ypsilanti intended to instigate the local population to revolt against the Sultan, but was unable to gain a following among the Moldavian and Walachian peasants, whose hatred for the Greek hospodars was very strong. The help promised by the tsar was also not forthcoming.

Deprived of support, Ypsilanti was crushed by the Turks. In June 1821, he fled to Hungary where Metternich locked him up in a fortress.

Ypsilanti’s daring campaign acted as a sign for an uprising of the Greek people. In March 1821, the peasants of the Morea revolted under the leadership of General Kolokotronis. His guerrilla detachments routed the Turkish janissaries. In October 1821, in the Battle of Tripolitsa (Tripolis), the guerrillas dealt the janissaries a decisive blow, when a 3,000-strong peasant levy routed a 5,000-strong janissary corps. By the end of 1821, all of the Morea was rid of the Turks. On January 1, 1822, in an ancient Greek amphitheatre located in the sacred forest of Epidaurus, a Constituent Assembly proclaimed the constitutional independence of Greece and elected a Provisional Government headed by Mavrocordato.

The guerrillas received energetic assistance from the Greek sailors. Greece’s entire merchant marine turned into a militant armada of the revolution and the Archipelago became a naval base for the guerrilla war. Five hundred Greek ships and twenty thousand sailors, led by Kanaris, continuously attacked Turkish vessels and blockaded Turkish ports.

Mahmud II’S Appeal for Help to Mohammed Ali.

For three years the Greek people successfully repulsed the attacks of the Turkish punitive detachments, waging a persistent struggle on three fronts: in eastern Greece, western Greece and the Morea, the stronghold of the Greek revolution. The Porte, realising that it had not enough troops to fight against the insurgents on all fronts and to retain its hold on the islands, turned to Mohammed Ali for help.

In 1822, the Porte gave him control of Cyprus and Candia (Crete). On January 16, 1824, on the advice of Metternich, the sworn enemy of the Greek revolution, Mahmud II gave Mohammed Ali the Morea pashalik, which actually no longer belonged to the Porte, and commissioned him to suppress the Greek uprising.

This was what Mohammed Ali had been waiting for. He readily accepted the Sultan’s offer. Whatever his official declarations might have been, Mohammed Ali had his own interests in mind, and these had nothing in common with those of the Porte. Mohammed Ali was no mere executor of the Sultan’s will. Only a year previously, in 1823, he had flatly refused to send his troops against the Persians since such a war promised no advantage to Egypt. In the Morea, as in Arabia, Mohammed had his own political aims, despite his role of an obedient vassal.

What were Mohammed Ali’s reasons for starting the Morean war? First of all, he wanted to show the world Egypt’s military might and its superiority over the Porte. He had to prove that Egypt was fit to become a Great Power, capable of influencing the course of history. Moreover, he simply wanted to annex the Morea and the Archipelago to his domains and place the Morea’s resources and Greek navigation at the service of his emergent empire. Finally, he dreamt of complete domination over the Eastern Mediterranean and of turning it into an “Egyptian lake.”

The Morean War.

Mohammed Ali equipped a large army and fleet to fight the Greeks. The expedition was led by the conqueror of Arabia, Mohammed Ali’s eldest son, Ibrahim Pasha.

In July 1824, Ibrahim’s 16,000-strong army left Egypt on one hundred troop-carriers under the guard of sixty three warships. He was prevented from landing at the Morea, however, by the Greek sailors, and he and his troops were compelled to spend the winter on the Island of Candia (Crete). Here he put down an uprising, organised the administration of the island and turned it into a basis for further operations.

The situation in the Morea itself now took a favourable turn for Ibrahim. In 1824, civil war had broken out among the Greek insurgents. The followers of Kolokotronis were defeated and in January 1825 Kolokotronis was arrested, in February of the same year the Egyptians effected a landing in the south-western part of the Morea and seized Modon, Coron and Navarino.

The Egyptian landing immediately turned the tide of the war. On June 23, 1825, Ibrahim seized the capital of the Morea, Tripolitsa (Tripolis). The Greeks, led once again by Kolokotronis, resorted to guerrilla warfare. Ibrahim’s reaction was to begin a systematic devastation of the country. The Egyptians burnt villages, destroyed gardens, trampled down the crops; thousands of Greek captives were sent as slaves to Egypt. By the end of 1825, the whole of the Morea had been conquered and turned into a desert like Nejd.

In 1825–26, Ibrahim received reinforcements from Egypt and, supported by the Turks, began the battle for central Greece. The chief centre of Greek opposition was the Missolonghi Fortress, where help flowed in from the Archipelago and the Philhellene committees. For a long time it had been unsuccessfully besieged by the Turks. In February 1826, having left his deputy, Colonel Sève, in the Morea, Ibrahim led a 10,000-strong force against Missolonghi. The weakened defenders of the fortress were unable to offer serious resistance and on April 22, 1826, the Egyptians and the Turks burst into the half-ruined fortress.

On June 5, 1827, Acropolis capitulated and Ibrahim’s troops seized Athens, the “symbol of Greek freedom.” It looked as if the Greek revolution had been suppressed. All that was left of the once powerful insurgent army were a few guerrilla detachments scattered here and there in the mountains and deprived of a united command and political leadership. But at this point the European powers brought about a change in the development of the Greek uprising.

The Intervention of the Powers.

The fall of Athens accelerated the intervention of the Powers. As far back as March 25, 1823, British Foreign Secretary Canning had recognised Greece as a belligerent: This meant that England would in the future acknowledge Greece’s independence. In 1825, there was also a change in Russian policy. With the accession of Nicholas I to the throne, the Russian Government showed an inclination to give the Greeks more support. England, unwilling to permit the unilateral intervention of the Russians, hastened to come to an agreement with them over joint action in Greece.

On April 4, 1826, in St. Petersburg, Nesselrode and Wellington signed an Anglo-Russian Protocol on joint intervention in the affairs of Greece. Both Powers pressed the Sultan to grant Greece autonomy, including the right to trade, religious freedom and administrative independence. Formally, Greece was to remain in the Ottoman Empire, but both Powers, in fact, intended to establish their protectorate over it.

The agreement, however, remained ink on paper. In Greece at the time the odds were in Egypt’s favour and Sultan Mahmud II stubbornly rejected the solicitations of England and Russia. The European Powers were still unprepared for a war and could not back up their demands with an armed intervention.

In March 1827, on the insistence of Kolokotronis, a new Greek National Assembly elected as president Count Capo d’Istria, formerly Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs. This greatly strengthened Russian influence. In order to avoid the further consolidation of Russia’s positions and unilateral actions, England once more raised the question of the joint action of both Powers. On July 6, 1827, one month after the seizure of Athens, a convention was signed in London expanding the Treaty of St. Petersburg signed in 1826. France joined the Anglo-Russian bloc, and the three Powers decided to press for the “civic secession of Greece from Turkey.”

The text of the convention stipulated that the Porte was to agree to the convention in a month’s time, otherwise it would be forced to do so.

Navarino. The Evacuation of the Egyptians from the Morea.

The Porte again rejected the demands of the Powers. Accordingly, on October 20, 1827, a combined fleet under the command of Admirals Codrington, De Rigny and L.P. Heiden entered the Bay of Navarino, where the main forces of the Turkish and Egyptian fleets lay at anchor. The allies had 26 ships. Ibrahim had 94. Counting on his numerical superiority and the support of the shore batteries, Ibrahim was the first to start the fight, which ended in the complete destruction of the Egyptian and Turkish fleets. With only one ship and fifteen small auxiliary vessels left, he found himself in a position similar to that of Napoleon in Egypt after the Battle of Aboukir. He was cut off from his main base. Moreover, the armed intervention of the Powers imparted new strength to the Greek uprising.

Navarino was a prelude to the Russo-Turkish war, which began in the spring of 1828 and ended one year and six months later in the victory of Russia. According to the Treaty of Adrianople, signed on September 14, 1829, Greece received her autonomy and, soon after, her independence.

Mohammed Ali wisely refrained from taking part in the Russo-Turkish war. Nevertheless, on the insistence of the Powers he was forced to evacuate the Morea, where Ibrahim’s army was in great difficulties. On August 9, 1828, at Alexandria, Mohammed Ali signed a convention on the evacuation of Egyptian forces from the Morea and the return of Greek prisoners and slaves. In September 1828, units of the French expeditionary corps landed at Morea and the evacuation of the Egyptians began. Thus ended this fruitless war in which Egypt suffered heavy losses (nearly 30,000 men) and was deprived of her fleet.


Last updated: 28 July 2020