(AFRICA, EMPIRES and SLAVERY – continued)

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Egypt and Muhammad Ali, to 1840

The brief French invasion of Egypt led by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798 ended with an expulsion of the French in 1801 by Ottoman and British forces.

Anarchy prevailed in Egypt to 1805, with the Ottomans and Mameluks competing for power there – the Ottomans using Albanian troops. In Egypt, the commander of the Albanian regiment, Muhammad Ali (Kavalali Mehmed Ali Pasha), emerged as dominant. In 1805, Sultan Selim III (r 1789-1807) recognized Ali as his viceroy in Egypt. The title implied subordination to the sultan, but this was a polite fiction: Ottoman power in Egypt was finished. Muhammad Ali began a dynasty that was to last to 1952.

In 1807, with some assistance from the French, Muhammad Ali drove the British out of Egypt. In 1811, Muhammad Ali moved against those independent landed warlords in Egypt called Mameluks, and he systematically exterminated them. Selim III, meanwhile, had been strangled, and Selim's successors summoned Muhammad Ali Pasha to war against the Wahhabi (Wahabi) – a political and religious force across the Red Sea in Arabia. The Wahhabi ruled in all of Arabia except Yemen, and by 1818 Muhammad Ali drove them from Arabia's most significant region, the Hejaz.

Muhammad Ali had built a modern and professional military modeled on European standards. He was interested in modernization and developed a modern civil service, schools and public works. He sent young people from Egypt's elite to study abroad. He tried to advance Egypt's economy, to replace subsistence cultivation with the production of crops for the market. He employed European hydraulic engineers to build irrigation works with steam-driven pumps for pumping water in the drier summer months. Under Muhammad Ali, one million acres would be added to Egypt's farmland. Cotton growing would increase – the cotton sold mainly to Britain, whose purchases of cotton from Egypt would rise from 50 million pounds in 1800 to 300 million in 1830. The growing of summer rice and corn, along with winter wheat and barley, and sugar, tobacco and indigo also increased.

His projects were paid for by revenues from taxing Egypt's illiterate peasants – ninety percent of Egypt's population – whom he forced to labor on his projects and conscripted into his army. He despised the peasants, whom he viewed as barbarians, and their isolated revolts against him he crushed with brutality.

In search of slaves for his army to offset losses of men in Arabia, and in search of gold, Muhammad Ali in 1820 sent his army, led by his son, Ismail, southward into the Sudan. Ismail fought the Shakiyya people, a people with horses and a warrior tradition but still with weaponry from the Middle Ages. The Shakiyya were slaughtered, their ears sent to Egypt's capital, Cairo, by the basketful in exchange for bounty payments. Moving farther up the Nile, Ismail, in June 1821, conquered the trading center at Shendi – where slaves had been a major item of commerce. (Soon Muhammad Ali was to send a force of 16,000 soldiers, 100 transports, and 63 escort vessels to Greece under the command of another son, Ibrahim).

After Shendi, Ismail conquered farther south in the area of Kordofan. But he found only worn out gold mines. The gold and booty that Muhammad had been hoping for would not be forthcoming. Slaves were shipped to Cairo, but only half survived the journey.

Ismail established himself at Shendi and pursued tax collection. Many people scattered, putting distance between themselves and Egypt's tax agents. Others revolted against Ismail, and, in October 1822, Ismail was assassinated. His father, Muhammad Ali, retaliated, his army burning, slaughtering and enslaving, leaving villages gutted and depopulated. By 1825, Egyptians were trying to lure people back from the hills, promising them they would not be taxed – for three years, at any rate. People returned to their fields. To maintain their good will and prevent abuses by soldiers, Muhammad Ali put tight controls on his occupation forces. And those who had been local rulers he made subordinate rulers – as conquerors had been doing for ages.

The area that was to be called the Egyptian Sudan returned to peace – better for revenues through taxation, which began three years after the refugees returned. From Egypt, people were sent to the Sudan to improve irrigation, advance agriculture and improve pest control. New crops were successfully planted: indigo, sugar cane and fruit trees. The city of Khartoum was built as a seat for Egypt's governors. And the taking of slaves continued, with annual raids into the hills of Kordofan and against the Dinka and Shilluk.


Copyright © 1998-2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.