Mehmet Ali

Mehmet Ali
   Also known as Muhammad Ali, Mehmet Ali was Ottoman pasha, or governor, of Egypt. Originally from Albania, Mehmet Ali, a driven and ambitious man, made himself into the most powerful subject of the Ottoman Sultans in the early nineteenth century and on several occasions threatened to replace his nominal overlords with his own imperial pretensions. In the wake of Napoleon Bonaparte ’s Egyptian campaigns, the province was restored to nominal Ottoman control. The chaotic situation in Egypt and the many difficulties faced by Ottoman authorities in Constantinople, however, provided an ideal opportunity for Mehmet Ali’s own designs. By 1811, he had displaced the Ottoman governor and brutally suppressed the Mamlukes, former slave soldiers and the traditional power brokers of Egypt for hundreds of years. His modernization programs, although creating considerable tension in Egypt itself, focused on strengthening the Egyptian economy and building a modern army on European lines, often trained by French officers looking for work in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars. His success was considerable enough to cause concern in Constantinople. Sultan Mahmud II, Mehmet Ali’s nominal suzerain, ordered the Egyptian army to Arabia to suppress the Wahhabi movement, which threatened Ottoman control of the Hijaz. Success against the Wahhabis emboldened Mehmet Ali, who soon dispatched one son at the head of an army of conquest into the Sudan, another to aid his suzerain in the suppression of the Greek revolt, all the while toying with plans for the conquest of North Africa. When he reaped what he deemed insufficient reward for his assistance against the Greeks, Mehmet Ali turned against Mahmud and sent his son Ibrahim at the head of an Egyptian army to invade the neighboring Ottoman province of Syria. This led to a major crisis in the Near East in 1832–1833 in which it seemed that the Ottoman Empire was on the verge of collapse, perhaps to be replaced by an Egyptian Empire in its stead.
   Only the unlikely intervention of Russia on the side of the Ottomans checked Mehmet Ali’s ambitions. Six years later Mahmud II again tried to deal with his overly ambitious vassal by reconquering Syria, only to suffer major reverses yet again. This time the Ottomans had to rely on British assistance to drive Ibrahim out of Syria. In the end, Mehmet Ali never succeeded in establishing a fully independent Egyptian state, but from 1841 on, he secured hereditary title as Ottoman governor of Egypt. His family was to rule Egypt, although as Ottoman subjects until World War I, until the end of the monarchy in 1952.
   See also <>; <>.
    Dodwell,Henry. The Founder of Modern Egypt: A Study of Muhammed Ali. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1931;
    Fahmi, Khaled. All the Pasha ’ s Men: Mehmed Ali, His Army, and the Making of Modern Egypt. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997;
    Karsh, Efraim, and Inari Karsh. Empires of the Sand: The Struggle for Mastery in the Middle East 1789–1923. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999;
    al-Sayyid Marsot, Afaf Lutfi. Egypt in the Reign of Muhammad Ali. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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