Muhammad Ali, 1805-48
After the French left Egypt, an Ottoman army remained in the
country. The Ottoman government was determined to prevent a
revival of Mamluk power and autonomy and to bring Egypt under the
control of the central government. The Ottomans appointed Khusraw
Pasha as viceroy. Hostilities occasionally broke out between his
forces and those of the Mamluks who had established themselves in
By 1803 it was apparent that a third party had emerged in the
struggle for power in Egypt. This was the Albanian contingent of
Ottoman forces that had come in 1801 to fight against the French.
Muhammad Ali, who had arrived in Egypt as a junior commander in
the Albanian forces, had by 1803 risen to commander. In just two
short years, he would become the Ottoman viceroy in Egypt.
Muhammad Ali, who has been called the "father of modern
Egypt," was able to attain control of Egypt because of his own
leadership abilities and political shrewdness but also because
the country seemed to be slipping into anarchy. The urban
notables and the ulama believed that Muhammad Ali was the only
leader capable of bringing order and security to the country. The
Ottoman government, however, aware of the threat Muhammad Ali
represented to the central authority, attempted to get rid of him
by making him governor of the Hijaz. Eventually, the Ottomans
capitulated to Egyptian pressure, and in June 1805, they
appointed Muhammad Ali governor of Egypt.
Between 1805 and 1811, Muhammad Ali consolidated his position
in Egypt by defeating the Mamluks and bringing Upper Egypt under
his control. Finally, in March 1811, Muhammad Ali had sixty-four
Mamluks, including twenty-four beys, assassinated in the citadel.
From then on, Muhammad Ali was the sole ruler of Egypt. Muhammad
Ali represented the successful continuation of policies begun by
the Mamluk Ali Bey al Kabir. Like Ali Bey, Muhammad Ali had great
ambitions. He, too, wanted to detach Egypt from the Ottoman
Empire, and he realized that to do so Egypt had to be strong
economically and militarily.
Muhammad Ali's development strategy was based on agriculture.
He expanded the area under cultivation and planted crops
specifically for export, such as long-staple cotton, rice,
indigo, and sugarcane. The surplus income from agricultural
production was used for public works, such as irrigation, canals,
dams, and barrages, and to finance industrial development and the
military. The development plans hinged on the state's gaining a
monopoly over the country's agricultural resources. In practical
terms, this meant the peasants were told what crops to plant, in
what quantity, and over what area. The government bought directly
from the peasants and sold directly to the buyer, cutting out the
intermediaries or merchants.
Muhammad Ali was also committed to the industrial development
of Egypt. The government set up modern factories for weaving
cotton, jute, silk, and wool. Workers were drafted into factories
to weave on government looms. Factories for sugar, indigo, glass,
and tanning were set up with the assistance of foreign advisers
and imported machinery. Industries employed about 4 percent of
the population, or between 180,000 and 200,000 persons fifteen
years of age and over. The textile industry was protected by
embargoes imposed by the government to prohibit the import of the
cheap British textiles that had flooded the Egyptian market.
Commercial activities were geared toward the establishment of
foreign trade monopolies and an attempt to acquire a favorable
balance of trade.
The historian Marsot has argued that Britain became
determined to check Muhammad Ali because a strong Egypt
represented a threat to Britain's economic and strategic
interests. Economically, British interests would be served as
long as Egypt continued to produce raw cotton for the textile
mills of Lancashire and to import finished goods from Britain.
Thus, the British and also the French were particularly angered
by the Egyptian monopolies even though Britain and France engaged
in such trade practices as high tariffs and embargoes to protect
their own economies. Strategically, Britain wanted to maintain
access to the overland route through Egypt to India, a vital link
in the line of imperial communications. Britain was worried not
only about the establishment of a united, militarily strong state
straddling the eastern Mediterranean but also about Muhammad
Ali's close ties to France.
It was at this time that Lord Palmerston, the British
minister of foreign affairs, established the British policy,
which lasted until the outbreak of World War I, of preserving the
integrity of the Ottoman Empire. Britain preferred a weakened but
intact Ottoman Empire that would grant it the strategic and
commercial advantages it needed to maintain its influence in the
region. Thus, Muhammad Ali's invasion of Syria in 1831 and his
attempt to break away from the Ottoman Empire jeopardized British
policy and its military and commercial interests in the Middle
East and India. The Egyptian invasion of Syria was provoked
ostensibly by the sultan's refusal to give Syria and Morea
(Peloponnesus) to Muhammad Ali in return for his assistance in
opposing the Greek war for independence in the late 1820s. This
resulted in Turkey and Egypt being forced out of the eastern
Mediterranean by the destruction of their combined naval strength
at Navarino on the southern coast of Greece.
When Egyptian forces invaded and occupied Syria and came
within sight of Istanbul, the great powers (Britain, France,
Austria, Russia, and Prussia) allied themselves with the Ottoman
government to drive the Egyptian forces out of Syria. A British
fleet bombarded Beirut in September 1840, and an Anglo-Turkish
force landed, causing uprisings against the Egyptian forces. Acre
fell in November, and a British naval force anchored off
Alexandria. The Egyptian army was forced to retreat to Egypt, and
Muhammad Ali was obliged to accede to British demands. According
to the Treaty of 1841, Muhammad Ali was stripped of all the
conquered territory except Sudan but was granted the hereditary
governorship of Egypt for life, with succession going to the
eldest male in the family. Muhammad Ali was also compelled to
agree to the Anglo-Ottoman Convention of 1838, which established
"free trade" in Egypt. This meant that Muhammad Ali was forced to
abandon his monopolies and establish new tariffs that were
favorable to imports. Thus, Egypt was unable to control the flood
of cheap manufactured imports that decimated local industries.
Muhammad Ali continued to rule Egypt after his defeat in
Syria. He became increasingly senile toward the end of his rule
and his eldest son, Ibrahim, petitioned the Ottoman government to
be appointed governor because of his father's inability to rule.
Ibrahim was gravely ill of tuberculosis, however, and ruled for
only six months, from July to November 1848. Muhammad Ali died in
Data as of December 1990