Egypt, new dimensions, new frontiers

Introduction - Facts for the travellers - Where to go, what to see? - History: Pharaonic history -
Coptic history
- Islamic history - Modern history - Holy Family - Useful Arabic

Modern History

French occupation (1798-1802)

Modern Cairo

The Mamelukes were not strong enough to fight both the French and the Turks at the same time.
When Murad Bey finally believed that Napoleon had arrived and started his advance on Cairo, he sent out ten thousand Mamelukes and thirty thousand irregulars, who were mostly Albanians, Negroes, Bedouins and Egyptians, to fight Napoleons forty thousand veteran troops. In a suburb of Cairo called Imbaba, the French and the Mamelukes fought it out. The battle was very bloody on both sides. The veteran French soldiers maneuvered all over the place and eventually got the Mamelukes in a crossfire. At the end of it, the Mamelukes were beaten and they left the city. The killings and pillagings began even before the French ever arrived in Cairo. Several of the sheikhs of Cairo met at Azhar and wrote a letter to Napoleon to negotiate the surrender of the city. The people felt betrayed and deserted and became very angry. They broke into the palaces of Murad and Ibrahim and set them afire. Finally Napoleon rode into the city and and took possession of it.

Napoleon sought the cooperation of the native Egyptian leaders. He tried to convince them that he was a friend to the muslims and that he invaded Egypt to free the people from the oppression of the Mamluks, not to destroy Islam. As well as creating governmental changes, Napoleon and the French founded the Institut Francais, a seat of learning to work for the advancement of science, economics, arts, literature, and other disciplines. French scientists and engineers also worked on improving roads, building factories, and constructing arsenals. Napoleon also introduced the Arabic printing press to Egypt. The Ottoman government worked against Napoleon, and the British, under Lord Nelson, destroyed the French ships, cutting off the French in Egypt. With his grand vision in tatters, and facing a declaration of war from the ottoman sultan, Napoleon returned secretely to France. General Kléber, whom he left in charge, has a victory over the Ottomans, but was then assassinated. When his successor, General Menou, took charge, declared his conversion to Islam and proclaimed Egypt as a French protectorate, the British invaded from Abukir and occupied Alexandria. Combined Ottoman-British forces then took Damietta and Cairo, and the French were forced to surrender. Under the capitulation agreement, the archeological treasures gathered by Napoleon's savants were surrendered to Britain, which is why the Rosetta Stone ended up in the British Museum rather than the Louvre. As the French were forced to leave Egypt, the Ottomans were in charge again.

Treasures shipped off to Louvres & British Museum

Mohamed Ali & his heirs (1805-1892)

Mohammed Ali made himself pasha of Egypt with some help from his Albanian troops in 1806, five years after the British had left Cairo to the Turks. The Porte reluctantly acknowledged him the ruler of an independent state within the Ottoman Empire. He would rule Egypt for forty-three years, in which most of the years Egypt would be his private estate and Cairo would be his private city.

In 1804 and 1805, Ali began to attack the Mamelukes. In one of the Mameluke's attempts at a defense, they forced their way into the city to fight him there. Ali's Albanians captured or killed most of the Mamelukes, which was the first serious blow to the Mameluke's. The captured Mamelukes were tortured and killed. During this clash the city was pillaged so badly that the people revolted against the Turkish governor and elected Mohammed Ali as pasha. He was considered to be the only enemy of both the Turks and the Mamelukes.

The British were still watching the happenings in Egypt. They attacked Egypt in 1807 with the intentions of overthrowing the Turks and reinstating the Mamelukes in authority. However, the five thousand Albanian troops defeated the British and had the captured British soldiers sold into slavery. By 1808 Mohamed Ali was powerful enough to confiscate all of the land in Egypt, even the lands which were part of an Egyptian organization of religious endowment. He destroyed all of the title deeds to the land except his own. He set up a system of omdehs, who were local government representatives, and mudirs, who were provincial governors. This system remained in effect until 1952. As long as enough Mamelukes remained alive to claim their ancient rights to the land and to resist him, the land still didn't completely belong to Ali. He invited five hundred of the leading Mameluke lords to attend a ceremony that was supposedly for his son, Tusun and trapped them in the citadel where Albanian soldiers killed them all. Mohammed Ali was in absolute power after their annihilation. He immediately began to spread his new kingdom with his sons Tusun, who was his favorite, and Ibrahim as his best generals. Istanbul invited them to war with the Wahhabis of Arabia and was able to get personal control of the Red Sea coast. This meant that he control the Red Sea on both sides. He occupied Sudan and began to modernize Egypt. There were armories, factories, shipyards and canal systems were built by foreign experts that he imported to help. Some Egyptians were even sent abroad to study, especially in France. Ali created monopolies in the trading and manufacturing areas which he shared with the European consuls. Ali introduced cotton to Egypt in 1822, then put Jumel, a frenchmen uho convinced him to grow a plot near the Heliopolis obelisk, in charge of his cotton plantations. Mohammed Ali began to sell the entire crops for a year at a fixed price. Money began to flow into Egypt. Another thing that would give Egypt its biggest lift was the direct route from India across Egypt to England. This was the first stage in the step to the Suez Canal. The Canal would not be started until 1859 and after Mohammed Ali's death. It was finally opened in 1869 and thereafter tied Egypt to Europe.

Mohammed Ali restored public order and engaged upon a reform of education and medical practice. His navy and army were second to none in Europe and managed to create a large Egyptian empire. He was so successful that an attempt to restore the authority of the Ottoman Sultan over Egypt failed. This led to the European intervention, for the British, Russian and Austrian empires hastened to support the "sick man" - meaning the Ottoman Empire - and imposed a new settlement which asserted Ottoman authority, reduced his forces and confiscated his possessions. The only consolation which Mohammed Ali got was that the office of viceroy would be hereditary in his line, developing upon the eldest male.

Mohammed Ali died in August of 1849 and was succeeded by the eldest of his line Abbas I, a grandson. After ruling only for five years, however, Abbas I was murdered in 1854. More popular was the third viceroy, Said Pasha. He granted the charter to build the Suez Canal in 1856 to de Lesseps the French, however, the British were not to be ignored and they were given the concessions for the formation of a telegraph company and the Bank of Egypt. Said incurred the National Debt by borrowing from the European bankers. He died in 1863 and was succeeded by Ismail, a son of Mohammed Ali's brother.

Ismail Pacha

By the time the canal was opened, Ismail, Mohammed Ali's grandson was ruling Egypt. The European influence did good and bad for Cairo. Ismail intentionally divided Cairo into east and west areas because he wanted to built a Paris on the Nile. He then built two new boulevards in the old city and cut the city into quarters. Ismail's new quarter was set on a French plan and was the organization of modern Cairo. This area is called Ismailiya.

Gas was brought to Cairo by Ismail in 1870, which was eventually replaced in 1898 with electricity. This made Cairo one of the earliest cities in the world to use electricity. Building was very heavy during a period of about ten years. Many homes were built as well as buildings. The money came from heavy taxation of everyone and everything and large loans from Europe. Citing Egypt's foreign debts, France and Britain imposed a receivers commission, which forced Ismail to reduce his army and surrender both public and private property, including all of Egypt's shares in the Suez Canal. Ismail was in such debt that in 1875, he had to sell his shares of the Suez Canal to the British for four million pounds. In 1879 the British and French told Ismail to abdicate and named his eldest son Tawfik his successor. The people wouldn't even help Ismail because of the heavy taxes that he had levied on them. The people hated him. He finally gave in and left the country for Europe and died in exile in 1895.

Tawfiq Pacha

Ismail's son, Tawfik, inherited what was left of Egypt. The taxes that were placed on the people were even more harsh than before. A revolt was started by a man called Orabi. He was the son of a peasant and became colonel of Tawfik's army. Orabi started speaking out for the peasants. The revolt began in 1881 with mutiny in the army itself. The rest of the country joined in immediately. Four thousand men marched to the square outside Abdin Palace and told the khedive to come out. Tawfik walked down the staircase with his British comptroller, Auckland Colvin, on one side and General Charles P Stone on the other. Orabi told him they wanted liberty, an assembly of notables, a constitution and all Egyptians to be equal under the law. Later Arabi was called to the palace and was made minister for war. The British and French were aware what was happening and sent a fleet of ships to Alexandria.

On July 11, 1882, the British bombarded Alexandria. Russian and American warships were in the harbor as well. Orabi had lined up along the Suez Canal hoping to stop the British. However, the British did go up the canal and landed at Ismailiya. On September 14, the British cavalry reached Abbasiya in Cairo. Orabi went out to Abbasiya and handed his sword over to the British. France and Britain restored Tawfiq as a puppet ruler under British control.

British Occupation

Ismail's son Tawfik wasn't able to withstand either European pressure or the nationalist fervor that arose to resist it. Using an internal political crisis and the protection of foreign interests as their excuse, the British finally intervened outright. Although their presence in Egypt was supposed to be temporary, their occupation of the country lasted more than 70 years. Tawfik Pasha reformed the Egyptian economy and relinquished financial control to the British who began to run the government of the country. Egyptian nationalists, horrified at Tawfik's submission to the British, forced him to appoint their leader Ahmed Orabi as Minister of War, but the European reaction was swift and violent. Alexandria was shelled and Ismailiya occupied. Orabi's army was defeated at Tel El-Kabir and the British reinstalled Tawfik as a puppet. Orabi was driven into exile and Mustafa Kamel became the leader of the nationalist movement. British influence over Egypt continued to increase. The country became an economic colony, totally dependent upon the import of British manufactured goods and the export of its raw cotton. Tawfik's eldest son Abbas II came to the throne in 1892. A young idealist with little political experience, he wished to ease British control of the administration. British's occupation with recovery of the Sudan from the Mahdiyyah, and their confrontation with the French as a result, left Egypt in relative calm. Abbas II's 20 years reign is remembered as one of Cairo's golden ages because of a new building program. At the outbreak of war in 1914, the British declared Egypt a protectorate and deposed of Abbas Helmi, replacing him with his uncle Hussein Kamil, who was govern the title of Sultan. Egypt was thus informed that its 400-year-old role as an Ottoman province had come to an end. When Hussein Kamil died in 1917, the British chose Fuad, Ismail's sixth son to succeed him. Opposition to British rule crystallized among the elite during the war and was encouraged by Sultan Fuad. A delegation was formed to speak on behalf of the people, but the British refused to give permission to its leader Saad Zaghlul to go to discuss independence. As a result, a mass uprising occurred which is referred to as the 1919 revolution. In 1921, Egypt was declared an independent sovereign state, though the control of the defense, communication, the Sudan and protection of foreign residents remained under British control. In 1923, a constitution was promulgated. King Fuad died in 1936, and was followed by his son Faruq. Soon after his accession a new treaty was negotiated that abolished British military presence except in time of war to the Suez Canal zone. With the outbreak of World War II, the British reoccupied the country, as the terms of 1936 treaty entitled. In July of 1942, the British were pushed back almost to Alexandria. Rommel stopped at Alamein because his troops were exhausted and almost out of supplies. The British rushed to Cairo. Soldiers were sent to various places to train while other got ready to retreat from the city. The British officers went to the banks to try to get their money while at the British headquarters, vital papers were burned. This scare changed Cairo to a point where it would never be the same again. Montgomery took over the Eighth Army in the desert and moved them to Alamein. He won this battle in October or November of 1942. After this battle, Egypt lost most of the fantasy and glamour that had been year during the years of occupation. Now the city settled down to the first order of business, national liberation.

Growing Zionist claims in Palestine and the crisis in Lebanon initiated in 1944 an Arab conference in Alexandria, during which the foundations of the Arab league were laid. At the same time, popular resentment against the British increased. In February 1946, the students organized riots and fighting occurred with the British troops. In May the British declared their intention to withdraw troops from Egypt, and by July 1948 an interim measure of self-government was granted. Clashes continued, however, between the Egyptians and the British forces in the Canal Zone. The same year the Arab world suffered a shattering blow when a joint Arab invasion of the newly declared state of Israel was ignominiously defeated by the smaller Israeli army. Ashamed and appalled by the decadence and gross incompetence of their leaders, a group of idealistic young Egyptian officers were to emerge as leaders of a revolution which would alter the course of modern Arab history.

1805: Mohamed Ali Mosque in Cairo; Ras El-Tin Palace and Mahmudiya canal in Alaxandria.

Belzoni, Mariette and others pioneer digs at pharaonic sitesin the Nile Valley and Delta.

1854-63: Suez Canal begun.

1863-79: Completion of Suez canal; central Cairo boulevards constructed.

Howard Carter discovers Tutankhamun's tomb at Thebes (1922), at the tail end of a period of intendsive excavations throughout Egypt

1952-53: Construction of Midan Tahrir in Cairo

The Egyptian Republic

When parliamentary elections we re held in 1952 the Wafd Party won the majority of seats and Nahas Pasha as prime minister repealed the 1936 treaty which gave Britain the right to control the Suez Canal. King Farouk dismissed the prime minister, igniting anti-British riots which were put down by the army. This event compelled, a secret group of army officers which became known as the Free Officers, to seize power and force Egypt's ruler to abdicate in favor of his son, Ahmed Fuad. Eleven month later the young king was likewise dispossessed. Egypt was declared a republic and was ruled by General Mohammed Naguib. In July 1954 negotiations with the British resulted in an agreement to withdraw all foreign troops within 20 months, although the bases in the Canal Zone were to be kept operational. On 22 June Nasser was elected president and one of the immediate actions was the redistribution of land among the farmers. Land reform was put into effect, breaking up the large feudal estates into smaller parcels of land and redistributing land to the fellaheen who for millennia had been an underclass of serfs. Prior to the revolution, Egypt had been an elitist society with few if any state-sponsored benefits to the large majority of the population. The new government established extensive free educational programs for both boys and girls and developed the country's medical infrastructure. In 1956, to compensate for the abrogation of promises from the British and the Americans to help build the new High Dam at Aswan, the Suez Canal company was nationalized. The Canal was a symbol of European power to Europeans as well as to Egyptians. The French and British therefore responded three months later by supporting Israel, which had already conducted raids within Egyptian territory several times. This tripartite aggression gave them control of Sinai and the Canal Zone. The UN ordered an immediate cease-fire and under pressure from the USA the aggressors agreed to withdraw. In 1957 all commercial agencies, banks and companies were fully Egyptainsed in management and capital. On June 5th 1967, another Israeli attack resulted in the loss of Sinai Peninsula. Israel continued its aerial attacks until 1970 when a truce was agreed upon. Nasser expressed vehement opposition to Israel and outspoken criticism of the West. His relations with the West, however, were complex. He knew that he could never develop Egypt without large infusions of foreign aid and he knew that the West was the most reliable source of this aid. Yet he came to discover that the more anti-Western his stance appeared to be, the more foreign aid he was offered by western countries to buy his moderation. When at one point in his regime he became more conciliatory to the west, his foreign aid dropped dramatically. As a founding-leader of the Non-aligned movement Nasser could have it both ways. Along with India's Nehru and Indonesia's Sukarno, Gamal Abdel Nasser became a major international power-broker in the politics of the developing world. His death in 1970 of a heart attack sent shock waves throughout the Arab world. In a stunning display of emotion, millions of Egyptians followed his funeral procession through the streets of Cairo. Anwar Al-Sadat, one of the group of officers and Nasser's vice-president ruled the country after Nasser's death. After much planning Israeli-occupied Sinai was invaded by the Egyptian army on 6 October 1973. The Egyptian attack against the Israeli forces was unprecedented success and revolutionized the tactics of warfare. Shortly after restrictions on foreign investment and exchange control were lifted and an Open Door Policy was launched. Following victory in Sinai Sadat took the courageous step of negotiating peace talks on the withdrawal of Israel from the rest of the occupied Sinai and the establishment of a Palestinian state. Sadat was succeeded by the President Hosni Mubarak. He started quickly to rebuilt both his country's infrastructure and its relations with the rest of the world. Mubarak accelerated the process of privatization and developed Egypt's tourist infrastructure which enhanced its lucrative tourist industry. More impressively, he managed to resume diplomatic and trade relations with moderate Arab countries while maintaining the treaty with Israel. By the end of the 1980s Egypt was once again playing a leading role in Arab politics. Egypt's vital role in support of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in the Gulf War combined with death of socialist-communist influence in the Arab world returned the country to the center of Middle Eastern politics.

1956: Major industrialization programme, and construction of schools, hospitals and public housing. 1967: Massive damage to Canal Cities during Six Day War.

1970: High Dam at Aswan completed.

1977-78: Mohandiseen district of Cairo built, along with hundreds of new hotels, shops, etc.

1981: First line of Cairo metro completed.

1990-96: Cairo Earthquake, many buildings damaged but the second metro line is pushed to completion.

Modern Art

Opera House

Egypt with its political, intellectual and ancient history is considered the cultural capital of the Arab world. Egypt has a variety of modern cultural institutions such as Cairo Opera House, the National Puppet Theater, the Pocket Theater, the National Symphony, the Egyptian Museum of Modern Art apart from the rest of the country's many museums.

The new seven-storey Opera House at the Gezira Exhibition Grounds was inaugurated in October 1988, and it is an architectural masterpiece of Islamic design. The opera house was designed by a team of Japanese and Egyptian architects. It is equipped with the most sophisticated audio-visual systems and combines other cultural installations such as the Nile Hall for the Arts, the Modern Art Museum and the Planetarium. The Opera House itself consists of The Main Theater, a closed hall containing 1200 seats, is used for opera, ballet and classic music performances. The Second Theater is also a closed hall containing 500 seats and is used for various purposes including film festivals and conferences. The Third Theater is an open one containing 1000 seats. There are other halls, some of which are used for training and rehearsals, in addition to the Museum and the Library containing references pertaining to them most significant artistic works.

Cairo Museum, Tahrir square

The Egyptian Museum of Modern Art displays more than 10,000 paintings and sculptures that represent the development of Egyptian art movement from the pioneers of the early 20th century to the contemporary art trends.

The Arab television and cinema is dominated by the Egyptian film industry as is the Arabic music and literature. The influence of the Egyptian cinema on the Arab world is compared to that of the American cinema on the rest of the world.

Directors such as Youssef Chahine have gained international respect and recognition and many of Egypt's literary figures, including Nobel Prize World Investment News Ltdr Naguib Mahfouz, have written for the cinema. Egypt's strong cinematic tradition dates back to the 1930s, with the golden age being in 1940s and 1950s.

The same period was the golden age for the Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum, who was famous all over the Arab world. She became a spokeswoman for various causes. She managed to get governmental support of Arabic music and musicians, endowed a charitable foundation, and after the Egyptian defeat in the 1967 war, she began a series of domestic and international concerts for Egypt. She travelled throughout Egypt and the Arab world, collected contributions and donated the proceeds of her concerts to the government of Egypt. Umm Kulthum was entertained by heads of state and in interviews she repeated her views concerning the importance of support for indigenous Arab culture.

Since 1992, an oriental music festival has been taking place in the Opera House. The festival allows the discussion of a number of relevant issues such as the future of oriental music, the multiple-voice approach in oriental melodies, and the effect of electronic musical instruments on oriental ones. The gathering serves to link the Arab countries through their various arts and lays great emphasis on the Arab identity.

Egypt also produced some of the greatest 20th century Arab writers like Taha Hussein and Tawfiq El-Hakim. Taha Hussein was blind and poor but he managed to overcome many obstacles and be accepted in a newly established secular university in 1908. He was the first Egyptian, and the only member of a mission sent by the government to succeed in obtaining his BA from Montpellier University and then his Ph.D. from the Sorbonne. He was granted honorary doctorates from the universities of Oxford, Madrid and Rome. Through his own will and craving for knowledge, he grew to be the leader of the Arab cultural renaissance.

As for the best known and most studied Arab novelist in the Anglophone world, it is Naguib Mahfouz who is given the title, with dozens of novels to his name, collections of short stories, studies of his work, the increasing number of doctoral theses, and an enormous number of articles in literary and academic.

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© World INvestment NEws, 2000.
This is the electronic edition of the special country report on Egypt published in Forbes Global Magazine.
August 7th 2000 Issue.
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