Egypt: Historical Background



Figure 1.--This photograph shows Egyptian donkey boys on the banks of the Nile, near Thebes during 1912. Images like this could have been taken centuries earlier. Almost all boys at the time worked rather than attending school.

Egypt and the Nile are of course an important foundation of Western civilization. We have done some work on Ancient Egypt. Mesopotamian civilization seems to predate Egyptian civilization. but the two developed in contact. The earliest known written date comes from an Egyptian calendar--4241 BC. Ancient Eguptian is divided into 30 dynasties, organized into the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms (3400-332 BC). Menes united Upper and Lower Egypt establishing a united kingdom or the first time creating the first centralized Egyoptian state (3400 BC). He established the capital at Memphis. The decline of the Old Kingdom (25th century BC) resulted in an Egyptan dark age. The Middle Kingdom began with the XIth Dynasty which restored the unity of Egypt. The new capital was Thebes. The Middle Kingdom reached its peak of power about 2000 BC. The mysterious Hyskos conquerred the Middle Kingdom (1788 BC). They are a poorly understood people, perhaps of Semetic origins from the East. Egyptians rose up and expelled the Hyskos, establishing the New Kingdom (1580 BC). Internal divisions allowed the Nubians to seize power (712 BC) and there was abrief period of Assyrian dominance. Egyptiansgain exerted control (663 BC). The Persian Emperor Cambyses conquied Egypt (525 BC). Egyptians again exerted control (405 BC). After smashing Persian armies, Alexader seized control of Egypt with little opposition (312 BC). After Alexanders meteroic career, his generals divided his empire. Ptolemy established an Egyptian kingdom based at Alexanfria. Octavian after the Battle of Actium, annexed Egypt to the Roman Empire. After the rise of Christianity, Egypt became Coptic Christian. At times Byzantium exerted cointrol over Egypt. The Arabs conquered Egypt (639-642 AD). The country was gradually Islamicized. The Fatimite family seized control of Egypt who made Cairo the new captal (10th century). Saladin founded the Ayyubite Dynasty during which the Mamelukes seized control of Egypt (1250). The Ottomans conquuered Egypt (1517), but by the 18th century was only nominal. Napoleon invaded Egypt to sever British links with Indua (1798). The French were expelled by Anglo-Turkish forces (1802). Mohammed Ali rose to power as the Ottoman Pasha (governor) (1805), butvgradually exerted independence from the Ottomans. He founded a dynasty that ruled into the mid-20th century. The construction of the Suez Canal by a British-French group made Egypt of great strategic impotance. The British made Egypt a protectorate. British military forces during World War I fought off an Ottomon offensive (1915) and then launched an offensive into Palestine thatv helped destroy the Ottoman Empuire. After the War, the Wafd Party agitated for independence which the British granted (1923). Faud I was Egypt's first constitutional monarch. An Anglo-Egyptian Treaty addressed the comolete withdrawl of the British (1936). This was delayed by World War II and an Italuan invasion (1940). The Western Desert became an important battlefield of the War with the entry of the German Afrika Korps. The British defeated the Afrika Korps at El Alemaine (Octover 1942). There was considerable support for the Axis among Arab natioinalists. Egypt did not declare war on Germany until late in the War (February 1945) and after the War offered refuge to NAZI war criminals. After Isrrael declared independence, the Egyptian Army invaded and Egyptians were shocked with Israel's ability to resist. Army officers expelled King Farouk I (1952) and G.A. Nasser soon exerted his dominance. Nasser seized control of the Suez Canal. The British, French, and Isreali response is called the Suez Crisis. Egyptians were again shocked with the Isrealis defeated the Egyptian Army in the Siani.

Ancient Egypt

Egypt and the Nile are of course an important foundation of Western civilization. We have done some work on Ancient Egypt. Mesopotamian civilization seems to predate Egyptian civilization. but the two developed in contact. The earliest known written date comes from an Egyptian calendar--4241 BC. Ancient Eguptian is divided into 30 dynasties, organized into the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms (3400-332 BC). Menes united Upper and Lower Egypt establishing a united kingdom or the first time creating the first centralized Egyoptian state (3400 BC). He established the capital at Memphis. The decline of the Old Kingdom (25th century BC) resulted in an Egyptan dark age. The Middle Kingdom began with the XIth Dynasty which restored the unity of Egypt. The new capital was Thebes. The Middle Kingdom reached its peak of power about 2000 BC. The mysterious Hyskos conquerred the Middle Kingdom (1788 BC). They are a poorly understood people, perhaps of Semetic origins from the East. Egyptians rose up and expelled the Hyskos, establishing the New Kingdom (1580 BC). Internal divisions allowed the Nubians to seize power (712 BC) and there was a brief period of Assyrian dominance. Egyptians reexerted control (663 BC). The Persian Emperor Cambyses conquered Egypt (525 BC). Egyptians again exerted control (405 BC). After smashing Persian armies, Alexader seized control of Egypt with little opposition (312 BC).

Hellenistic Period

The period of Persian rule ended when Alexander the Great after defeating the Persians occupied Egypt (332 BC). Alexander died (323 BC). and Ptolemy, one of his generals, was appointed governor of Egypt and Libya. After a series of battles with other contending Greek genrals, Ptolemy decalred himself king of an independent Egypt (305 BC). Alexandria under his rule became the foremost commercail and cultural center of the Western world.

Roman Empire

Under the reign of Ptolemy IV, Egypt became a virtual protecorate of Rome. This continued until Julius Ceasar met Cleopatra. She sought to create a kind of dual monarchy and the birth of their son, Cesarion, created the possibility for such a state. After Ceasar's assasination, Cleopatra fled Rome with Ceasrion. She again attempted to establish independence by supporting Anthony in the developing Roman civil war with Octavian (Augustus). Octavian defeated Cleopatra and Anthony at Actium--one of the great sea battles of history (31 BC). Cleopatra and Anthony fled to Egypt where both committed suicide (30 BC). Octavian had Ceasrion, still a boy, put to death. A live Cesarion as a son of Cesar would have been a threat to Octavian and Rome. With this Egypt became a proivince in the Roman Empire. Octavian, a consumate politican, depicted his rule as to the Egyptians as the successor to the pharaohs. He proceeded to dismantle the Ptolemaic monarchy and established his control. Egypt became his personal estate, an emense source of wealrh. He appointed a prefect to rule Egypt, but limited the terms. This essentially depoliticized the country. Egypt was ruled by Roman officials backed by a Roman garrisons strengthened by locl auxilaries. This continued for a decade until Roman rule was firmly established. Business was conducted along the principles and procedures of Roman law. The local administration was changed to the Roman liturgic system under which the ownership of property brought an obligation for public service. The political system formalized the privileges associated with Helanistic culture and social background. Egypt played an important role in the Roman Empire. It was an province that rivaled Gaul in value. Egypt's primary value was its agricultural richness and was a major supplier grain. Roman Egypt benefit from the stability of Roman rule and enjoyed an era of prosperity. Some trouble was caused by religious conflicts between the Greeks and the Jews, Rome's incorporation of Egypt inspired a fascination for Egyptian art and culture. Obelisks appeared in the fora. A small pyrmid was built in Rome. The cult of Isis, the Egyptian mother goddess, became a major force throughout the Empire. Marcus Aurelius brought oppressive taxation resulting in a revolt (139 AD). The Romans supressed the revolt, but it took several years. This Bucolic War damaged the Egyptia economy and marked the beginning of economic decline of Roman Egypt. Even so, a series of Roman generals in Egypt declared themselves emperor and attempted to use Egypt as a base to seize control of the Empire. After the rise of Christianity, Egypt became Coptic Christian.

Byzantium

The reign of Constantine brought the the founding of Constantinople as a new imperial capital. The Empire was divided in two (4th century AD). Egypt became part of the more prosperous Eastern Empire. This had a range of conswquences. Latin, never thoroughly established among the Greek populaion, gradually disappeared. Greek reasserted itself as the language of government and refined society. After the fall of Rome (5th century), Egypt continued to be a part of the the Eastern or Byzantine Empire until conquered by the Arab general Anru ibn-al-As (640-646 AD). Egypt thus became part f the Islamic Caliphate.

Islamic Conquest (640-42)

Arab armies also brought Islam to Egypt. The Egyptian population like that of the Levant objected to Byzantine rule and the supression of non-orthodix Crustian sects. Arab armies conquered most of Egypt (640). The Arab conquest is considered the most significan event bin Egyptian history since the unification of the Two Lands (Upper and Lower Egyot) by King Menes. The Arab general Amr ibn al Aas was personally given command by Mohammed. He led the Aran army into Egypt. Amr crossed into Egypt (December 639). He led an army of about 4,000 mounted warriors. They were armed with lances, swords, and bows. Amr's immediate objective was the fortress of Babylon (Bab al Yun) opposite the island of Rawdah in the Nile River at the apex of the Delta. It proved to be the key to the Arab conquest of Egypt. Any advance up the Delta to Alexandria was risky until the fortress was first taken. Reinforcements arrived, increasing Amr's forces to between 8,000 and 12,000 men (June 640). The Arab and Byzantine armies met on the plains of Heliopolis (July 640). The Byzantine army was defeated, but not destroyed. Most of the Byzantine force managed to withdraw in good order to the fortress at Babylon. Amr besiged the firtress which fell after 6 months (April 641). Amr then led his army on to Alexandria. The city had defensive fortifications, but the governor decided to surrender rather than confront Amr's army. A treaty was negotiated (November 641). The Byzantines unsucessfully attempted unsuccessfully to retake the city 642). A key factor in the Aran victory was the Christian Copts. The Byzantines had been trying to force the Copts to accept Byzantine orthodoxy. The Arabs offered the Copts the opportunity to retain their Christian theology. Thus during the fighting, the Copts either remained neutral or actually supported the Arabs. The country was gradually Islamicized.

Fatimites

The Fatimite family seized control of Egypt who made Cairo the new captal (10th century).

Ayyubites

Saladin founded the Ayyubite Dynasty.

Mamlukes (1250-1517)

The Mamlukes were of varied origins, but many were Kipchak Turks. The Mongols took many Turkish prioners in their wars in Central Asia. Sone were sold as slaves. he word 'mamluke' means slave. Some were purchased by the Fatimite caliphs in Egypt (10th century) and Ayyubite sultans. Many Mamlukes were non-Muslim boy slaves who brought them up to be Sunni Muslim soldiers. (There are many similarities with Ottoman Janasaries.) Their status was above that of ordinary slaves, who were not allowed to carry weapons. Many had military experience or were boys whose fathers were warriors. They received military training in Egypt and eventually became a caste of palace guards. The rise of the Manluke began with Mamluk general Imad-ud-Din Zangi who conquered Edessa, one of the small Crusader states founded duruing the First Crusade (1144). Zangi was murdered by his own slaves soon after when they broke into his wine. Edessa was targeted during the Second Crusade. Zangi's son Nureddin not only successfully defend Edessa, but also took Damascus from its Muslim rulers. The big prize was Egypt. Overtime freed Mamlukes rose to high rank in Egypt. Gradually the Egyptian sultans lost power to the Mamlukes. During the struggle with French Crusaders, the Egyptian Sultan As-Salih Ayyub died (1250). His young son Turanshah briefly replaced him. The Sultan's favorite wife Shajar Al-Durr managed to take control with Mamluk support, a rare occurance in the Arab world. Pressure soon surfaced for a ale leaser. The Mamluk commander, Emir Eibel / Aybak married Shajarat. This would prove to be the foundation of Mamluke rule, but Emir Eibek was killed in his bath. A power struggle followed and vice-regent Qutuz emerged in cointrol. It was Qutuz thst formally founded the first Mamluk sultanate and the Bahri dynasty. The Manlukes soon faced a military challenge from the east. The Mongols destroyed the Persians and than the Caliphate, sacking Bagdad (1258). A Mongol force, but not the main army, was dispatched to seize Egypt. The Mamluks defeated the Mongols at the Battle of Ain Jalut in Syria (1260). This permitted the Mamluks not only to retain control of Egypt, but much of the Levant, including Lebanon. Ain Jalut was the first defeat of a Mongol force in the west. Sultan Eibek began 250 years of Mamluke rule. They ruled Egypt and an extensive empire, including the Levant and Asia Minor. There were two Mamluke dynasties. The Bahrites (1250-1382) were Turks and Mongols. The Burjites (1382-1517) were Circassins. The expanding Ottoman Empire seized control of Egypt (1517). Sulktan Selim I defeated the Nanlukes. After the conquest, the Mamlukes were not destroyed, but incorporated into the Ottoman emperial system. The Ottomons retained them as soldiers. The Ottomans appointed to high posts. The Mamlukes attacked Napoleon when he invaded Egypt (1798). A Mamluke rebellion against the Turks was put down by Napoleon (1798). Their power was permanetly destroyed by the then Ottoman viceroy Mohammed Ali (1811). He ordered the execution of te remaining Mamluks.

Ottomans

The Ottomans conquuered Egypt (1517), but by the 18th century was only nominal rulers. The Mamelukes reexerted their control and afterwards Mohanned Ali, a native Egyptian ruler.

French Revolution

Napoleon invaded Egypt to sever British links with India (1798). This was a major step in the process of separating Egypt from Ottoman rule.n The British Royal Navy defeat of the French fleet in the Battle of the Nile was one of Nelson's three great victories. victory in the The French were, however, expelled by Anglo-Turkish forces (1802).

Mohammed Ali

Mohammed Ali rose to power as the Ottoman Pasha (governor) (1805), but gradually exerted defacto independence from the Ottomans. He founded a dynasty that ruled into the mid-20th century.

Said Pasha


Ismail Pasha

The Egyptian economy benefited by the Civil War (1861-65) in the United States. America had been the primary source of cotton for the booming textiles mills in Britain, France, and other countries. The Northern naval blockade cut Europe off from Southern cotton. The Europeans found an alternative source in Egypt. Europeans made major investments in Egypt to increase cotton production. The Sultan in Constantinople granted Ismail Pasha the hereditary title of khedive (1867). The Suez Canal was completed 2 years later (1869). Ismail used the excitement of the Canal’s inauguration to showcase the country’s economic progress. A number of projects had been completed. European quarters were constructed in Cairo and Alexandria as well as sumptuous palaces. The Cairo Opera House was a major project. In addition many factories, railways, and telegraph lines were built. Ismail also ordered military expeditions south into Sudan and the African interior. Ismaoil borrowed large sums from foreign bankers for his many projects. The end of the Civil War renewd European access to American cotton. This and falling cotton prices harmed the Egyptian economy and reduced state revenue. Ismail had to intensify tax collection methods. His inability to pay back foreign loans eventially forced Ismail to sell his shares in Suez and eventually to declare bankruptsy. Ismail's inability to make loan payments resulted in the appointment of foreign debt commissioners to monitor Egyptian finances (1876). The British an French demanded that their ministers (ambassadors) be added to the Egyptian cabinet (1878). The British and French finally forced Ismail to abdicate (1879).

Suez

The construction of the Suez Canal by a British-French group made Egypt of great strategic importance to the Europeans. Egypt had been fouhjt over by the British and French in the Napoleonic Wars even before the construction of the Canal. After comstruction, Suez would figure in both world wars and be the prize in the post-War Suez War (1956). A joint stock company (England, France, and Egypt) completed the Camal (1869). This provided a direct route for British shipping to India, their major colony. The Egyptian ruler, Ismail Pasha, owned the Egyptian shares personally. He iwned 44 percent of the shares in the Canal. Due to escalating debt, he was forced to sell. The British Government during the Conservative governmentof Benjamin Disraeli bought Ismail's shaes for £4 million (1875). This gave Britain control the strategic waterway. After having difficulty working with the khedive, the British occupied the country when a nationalist uprising threatened to seoze control (1882).

Formation of an Egyptian Army

There was until the late 19th century no true Egyptian army. Egypt was still nominally a part of the Ottoman Empire. Thus the officer corps was Turkish and Circassian. This began to change during the reigns of Said Pasha and Ismail Pasha, Both rulers allowed Egyptians to enter the officer corps. As the Egyptians began to become an important group, they began organizing secret societies. This was both a response to discrimination by Turkish and Circassian leadership as well as an expression of Egyptian natinalism. The result was predictable. Egyptian Colonel Ahmad Arabi ('Urabi) defied the war minister which ecalated into a full-blown mutuny against the Tawfik Pasha, also referred to as the khedive. Colonel Arabi demanded a elections fpr a legislature and expanded allocations for the army.

Tawfik Pasha

The European powers pressured the Ottoman sultan to designate Ismail’s son Tawfik (Tawfiq) as the new pasha. Tawfik was more willing to cooperate with foreign creditors. This made him, however, unpopular with nationalists who were becoming an increasing force in Egypt. Egyptian nationalist groups began to be organized during the reign of Ismail Pasha. Te exp;anding European influence in Egypt helped fueled the rise of nationalist sentiment. Egyptian nationalism included a strong Islamic element. An important Islamicist figure was Persian-born Jamal al-Din al-Afghani. He spent 8 years preaching and teaching in Egypt spreading his ideas. Egyptian intelectuals wrote plays and opened newspapers promoting both independence as well as constitutional government. The khedive was in fact an absolute monarch. Thus the constitution movement ws a threat to the khedive. The appoint of foreign debt commissioners had fueled criticism of the foreigners as well as the khedive who was seen as cooperting with them. The commissioners essentially reserved government revenue to pay off foreign loans. This mean that less money was available for other gobernment expenditures, including the military and domestoic spending (education and economic). Tawfik when he replaced his father took over in this environment and because he was seen as being even more compliant than his father became vey unpopular. Soon after becoming khedive, a nationalist uprising launched by Egyptian Army Colonel Ahmad Arabi threaten Tawfik (1881).

British Protectorate (1882-1922)

Col. Arabi and the nationalists gained control of Tawfik Pasha's cabinent (early 1882). Nationalist elements in the Army threatened the Turkish and Circassian officers. Tawfik Pasha himsel was in danger. Nationalists led riots in Alexandria and other port cities. This threatened not only Tawfik Pasha, but the Europeans living there. Both Britain and France dispatched warships to blockade Alexandria. The British landed troops and formally made Egypt a protectorate (1882). The growth of The Britisj Empire is a complicated empire. Unlike many empires, the British were in many cases reluctant imperialists. This was represented by the long running differences between Benjamin Disreali and William Ewart Gladstone who dominated British politics in the mid/late-19th century. Disreali the Conservative argued to expand tge Empire. It was he who suggested Victoria become the Emperess of India.) Gladstone wanted to limit it. Gladstone did not forsee a prolonged occupation of Egypt or to formally seize political control. A factor here was the diplomatic consequences (the Sultan in Constantinople and other European powers), but the major factor was Gladstone's reluctance to further expand the Empire. Even Gladstone, however, was unwilling to abandon Egypt to the nationalists without securing Britain's position in Suez. And there seemed no way of doing this with a hostile nationalist regime. Thus a military presence ws deemed necessary. Subsequent colonial officials orojected an extended British presence.

World War I (1914-18)

Egypt after the construction of the Suez Canal became strategically important in the Euroean power balance. It represented a key link in the sea lanes connecting Britain and India--Britain's most important ally. Tewfiq Pasha attempted to modernize the Egyptian economy. He rurned over financial control to the British who began to administer Egyot increasinglyblike a colony. Egyptian nationalists resented Tewfiq's seeming submission to the British. They compelled Tewfiq Pasha to appoint Ahmed Orabi as Minister of War. This was unacceptable to the Allies who shelled Alexandria and seized Ismailiyya. The Allies defeated Orabi's army at Tel El Kabir. The British reinsstated Tewfiq as a suseriant puppet. Orabi was exiled. Mustafa Kamil assumed leadership of the Egyptian nationalist movement. By the outbreak of World War I, Egypt has become essentially a tacit British colony--especially in ecomiic terms. The Ottomans entered the War (November 1914). The Sultan declared a jihad, hoping to raise an Islamic revolt in Egypt. The Ottomans launched an unanticipated attack from Palestine, but were repulsed after heavy losses. The British build up a substantial force in Egypt. They were reiforced by ANZACs. The British launched an offensive into Palestine and with the Arab Army supported by Col. Lawrence on its flank pulverized the Ottomon Army and seized Damascus (1918).

Inter-War Era

Fouad become Khedive, but was consided under British control by most nationalists. Sa'ad Zaghloul and the Wafd Party demanded autonomy which the Brish rejected (1918). The British arrested and deported him to Malta. This caused anti-British riots. After the War, the British ended the protectorate and recognized Egyptian independence (1922), although retaimed control over the government, economy, amd most critically the Suez Canal. Fouad was proclaimed King of Egypt (March 1922). Faud I was Egypt's first constitutional monarch. An Anglo-Egyptian Treaty addressed the comolete withdrawl of the British (1936). British withdrawl was, howver, delayed by NAZI remilitarization and the drift toward war in Europe. It was a dangerous time for Britain tonabandon such a strategic position. The British thus continued to station troops in Egypt and support the royal Government.

World War II (1939-45)

Egyptian forces played no role in the War, but the Suez Canal did. The British had it and the Axis, especially Mussolini wanted it. Mussolini ordered the massive Italian Army in Libya to invade Egypt (September 1940). A small British force defeated the Italians and drove them back into Libya (December 1940). The British drove into Libya and seemed poised to take Bengazzi. Hitler dispatched Rommel and a small German force which came to be known as the Afrika Korps. What followed was a see-saw battle in the Western Desert in which Rommel effectively taught the British the principles of modern mechanized warfare. Superior British forces, the interdiction of the Afrika Korps' supplies, and copious American supplies eventually led to the victory of the 8th Army at El Alemaine (October 1942). The Axis persued a propaganda campaign to win over the Egyptian nationalists. There was considerable support for the Axis among Arab natioinalists. The most imprtant faction was the openly Fascist Young Egypt movement. They decided not to openly attack the British and to await the Germans who never came. Egypt did not declare war on Germany until late in the War (February 1945) and after the War offered refuge to NAZI war criminals, including the Grand Mufti.

Palestine

After Isrrael declared independence, the Egyptian Army invaded and Egyptians were shocked with Israel's ability to resist.

Nasser

Colonel Gamal Abdul Nasser, a major figure in the Young Officer's movement, seized power after the First Isreali-Arab War and overthrew the royal government and expelled King Farouk I (1952). Nasser soon exerted his dominance. Nasser seized control of the Suez Canal. The British, French, and Isreali response is called the Suez Crisis. Egyptians were again shocked with the Isrealis defeated the Egyptian Army in the Siani.






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Created: 4:51 AM 4/22/2007
Last updated: 9:08 AM 1/15/2010