Thesis: Muhammad Ali in Egypt

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[. . .] But they took away, for five centuries, the possibility of an independent Arab-dom, and Arab nationalists bore them considerable ill-will for it[footnoteRef:13]. The only 'Arab' state conquered by the Turks which was not in irremediable decay, was the Mamluk state of Egypt and Syria[footnoteRef:14]. The Mamluks themselves were a dynasty of Turkish slaves; and in any case they afterwards succeeded, as did all the North African provinces, in enjoying internal autonomy under Ottoman suzerainty. The claim that the caliphate had been transmitted to the Ottoman sultans was made only late in the history of the Empire. It was as Turkish rulers that they held their power, and only secondarily (if at all) as vice-regents of the Prophet. They preserved and even sharpened the distinction between the secular and the spiritual administration[footnoteRef:15]. The Shaikh-al-Islam as the head of the religious organization of the Empire was on a par with the Grand Vizier. As head of the religious judiciary he had considerable independence, and was sometimes able successfully to oppose the Sultan[footnoteRef:16]. The Ottomans, indeed, had a great deal more respect for the religious law than the Mamluks. [13: Barnett, M.N. (1992). Confronting the Costs of War: Military Power, State, and Society in Egypt and Israel. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press p 56-98. Retrieved June 7, 2011, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=102840603] [14: Beattie, K.J. (1994). Egypt during the Nasser Years: Ideology, Politics, and Civil Society. Boulder, CO: Westview Press p 101-190. Retrieved June 7, 2011, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=86005149] [15: Black, J. (2004). Rethinking Military History. New York: Routledge p 345. Retrieved June 7, 2011, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=108014528] [16: Bush, R. (1999). Economic Crisis and the Politics of Reform in Egypt. Boulder, CO: Westview Press p 350. Retrieved June 7, 2011, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=82383383]

The Ottoman Empire cannot be considered a true successor state to the early Arab Empires. Its Islamic territories were much smaller. At its utmost extent it did not include Morocco, and it exercised only an indirect suzerainty over the other 'Barbary' states of North Africa[footnoteRef:17]. In Arabia it ruled the Hejaz and the Yemen, but always with an unsteady hand, and really doing little more than keep open the pilgrim road to Mecca. [17: Black, J. (2004). Rethinking Military History. New York: Routledge p 362. Retrieved June 7, 2011, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=108014528]

What distinguish the Ottoman Empire even more sharply, are its racial character and its administration. The language of the Empire was Turkish. The Ottomans preserved themselves remarkably clearly from the Arabs in culture, even if they freely intermarried, and at some periods it was reckoned unworthy to speak Arabic -- even if the speaker were born an Arab phone[footnoteRef:18]. [18: David, R. (2000). The Experience of Ancient Egypt. London: Routledge p 98. Retrieved June 7, 2011, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=103322542]

The autonomous life of the Arab peoples went on to a surprising extent under the Ottomans, largely because of the complete insulation of the Turkish official classes from the merchant and middle classes who were the main sections of the Arabic educated population. There was no attempt at colonization: the Ottomans remained as it was extraneous to their own Empire. There was no renaissance of Arab literature and thought, but there was not the entire stagnation which is sometimes supposed. Orthodox Islamic culture, however, failed to recover from its medieval decline[footnoteRef:19]. The learning of the great universities and schools, which had been the glory of Islam as late as the thirteenth century, had silted up: orthodox Islamic philosophy and theology became no more than the stultified repetition of medieval texts. The impetus had gone out of orthodox religion, and it now spent itself in the multitude of dervish sects or brotherhoods. And as the impulse of the Sufi brotherhoods became spread out over tens of thousands of associations of simple and illiterate people, their doctrines became vulgarized into a loose and superstitious popular bigotry[footnoteRef:20]. [19: David, R., & David, A.E. (1992). A Biographical Dictionary of Ancient Egypt. London: Seaby p138. Retrieved June 7, 2011, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=103503376] [20: Dilorenzo, T.J. (2000, June). Trade and the Rise of Freedom. Ideas on Liberty, 50, 23+ p 148 Retrieved June 7, 2011, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5037542618]

The Ottoman Empire and its supremacy

The period of systematic intervention by the western powers in the Near East begins with Napoleon's expedition to Egypt in 1798. By occupying Egypt, Napoleon clearly showed the British that their Indian Empire could be threatened by a hostile power which could close the Suez portage. Egypt had entered into the strategy of British imperial communications[footnoteRef:21]. [21: Doran, M. (1999). Pan-Arabism before Nasser: Egyptian Power Politics and the Palestine Question. New York: Oxford University Press p 687. Retrieved June 7, 2011, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=65770940]

A second 'vital interest' which grew out of the weakness of the Ottoman Empire was the question of Russia's drive to control the Straits of the Bosporus and Dardanelles and to open the Mediterranean to her Black Sea fleet. With this question was linked that of Russian imperialism in the Balkans and Russian 'protection' of the Christians of the Near East. This was what nineteenth-century statesmen understood by 'the Eastern Question'. But it was linked with the survival of the Turkish Empire as a political unit: thus both the Egyptian question and the question of the Straits were eventually one -- as Palmerstone's diplomacy was to demonstrate[footnoteRef:22]. [22: Erlich, H. (2002). The Cross and the River: Ethiopia, Egypt, and the Nile. Boulder, CO: L. Rienner p 456. Retrieved June 7, 2011, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=105512601]

The powers vitally interested in the Eastern Question were Great Britain, Russia, Austria and France. Of these, Great Britain had the most to lose and Russia the most to gain. British interest was to avoid a 'settlement' of the Eastern Question and to prop up the Ottoman Empire so far as she could do so without betraying the subject Balkan Christians. She wished to keep Egypt out of hostile hands and the straits out of Russian hands, and to widen the regime of protection for European traders (the 'capitulations') so as to keep the eastern markets open to British trade. Russia was interested above all in the Balkans, but the combination of her interests there with her ambitions over the straits tended to end in a policy of dominating the whole Turkish Empire. France had trade interests in the Levant, and her connexion with the Maronite Christian minority in the Lebanon together with the interest in Egypt which Napoleon had aroused, combined to give her the desire to win something from Ottoman weakness[footnoteRef:23]. None of the powers, in fact, desired the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Each was too fearful of the advantages its neighbors might gain, to want to risk a general melee in the Near East. But each power attached conditions to the survival of the Ottoman Empire, which the others were unwilling to accept. [23: Freeman, C. (1999). Egypt, Greece, and Rome: Civilizations of the Ancient Mediterranean. Oxford: p 560 Oxford University Press. Retrieved June 7, 2011, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=35516993]

The career of Muhammad Ali in Egypt was in some senses a test case for the policies of the powers. Muhammad Ali was an Albanian mercenary who seized power in Egypt in 1805 during the disorders after the French withdrawal, massacred the last of the Mamluk aristocracy, and founded a new state, which although it continued to recognize the suzerainty of the sultan, was effectively autonomous[footnoteRef:24]. Muhammad Ali was not an Arab, but he set Egypt free from the Ottoman as she had not been since 1517, and he was the first Islamic ruler to have the desire and the means more than superficially to westernize the state. [24: Gardiner, A. (1964). Egypt of the Pharaohs An Introduction. London: Oxford University Press p68. Retrieved June 7, 2011, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=95611383]

The attitude of the powers to Muhammad Ali was one of increasing suspicion. Quite early in the game he offered England friendship and privileges if she would consent to his seizure of Syria and Iraq, thus creating a friendly 'Fertile Crescent' power across the route to India. Far from inspiring confidence, it was probably this suggestion which finally turned Palmerston against Muhammad Ali[footnoteRef:25]. The idea that he might overturn Ottoman power and seize the caliphate was in any case distasteful to a power as deeply committed as was Great Britain to the stability of the Ottoman Empire. But this was decisive that the threat to British influence in the Persian Gulf, and the further threat of a great oriental power which might link up with Russia through Northern Iraq and Kurdistan[footnoteRef:26]. British communication with the east did not merely depend on Egypt, but on the whole zone of the Tigris-Euphrates Valley, Persian Gulf and Red Sea. It is significant that at this period, when British fears of Egyptian expansion were acute,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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