1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Mehemet Ali

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11630271911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 18 — Mehemet AliWalter Alison Phillips

MEHEMET ALI (1769–1849), pasha and afterwards viceroy of Egypt, was born at Kavala, a small seaport on the frontier of Thrace and Macedonia. His father, an Albanian, was an aga, a small yeoman farmer, and he himself lived in his native town for many years as a petty official and trader in tobacco. In 1798 he became second in command of a regiment of bashi-bazouks, or volunteers, recruited in his neighbourhood to serve against Napoleon in Egypt. He took part in the battle of Aboukir (July 25, 1799), was driven into the sea with the routed Turks, and was saved from drowning by the gig of the British admiral, Sir Sidney Smith. In 1801 he returned to Egypt, in command of his regiment, and on the 9th of May distinguished himself by heading a bold cavalry charge at the battle of Rahmanieh. In the troubled years that followed, Mehemet Ali, leader of a compact body of Albanian clansmen, was in the best position to draw advantage from the struggle for power between the Mamelukes and the representatives of the Porte. In 1803 he cast in his lot with the former; in 1804 he turned against them and proclaimed his loyalty to the sultan; in 1805 the sheiks of Cairo, in the hope of putting a stop to the intolerable anarchy, elected him pasha, and a year later an imperial firman confirmed their choice. The disastrous British expedition of 1807 followed; and while at Constantinople the prestige of the sultan was being undermined by the series of revolutions which in 1808 brought Mahmud II. to the throne, that of Mehemet Ali was enhanced by the exhibition at Cairo of British prisoners and an avenue of stakes decorated with the heads of British slain.

The situation revealed to the astute Albanian boundless possibilities for gratifying his ambition. In spite of his chance victories, he was too shrewd an observer not to recognize the superiority of European methods of warfare; and as the first step towards the empire of which he dreamed he determined to create an army and a fleet on the European model. In 1808 the building and organization of the navy was begun with the aid of French officers and engineers. In 1811 the massacre of the Mamelukes left Mehemet Ali without a rival in Egypt, while the foundations of his empire beyond were laid by the war against the Wahhābīs and the conquest of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. The Wahhābī War, indeed, dragged on till 1818, when Ibrahim (q.v.), the pasha’s son, who in 1816 had driven the remnant of the Mamelukes into Nubia, brought it to an end. This done, the pasha turned his attention southward to the vast country watered by the Upper Nile. In 1820 the oasis of Siwa was subdued by his arms; in 1823 he laid the foundations of Khartum.

By this time Mehemet Ali was the possessor of a powerful fleet and of an army of veterans disciplined and drilled by European officers. To obtain these money had been necessary; and to raise money the pasha had instituted those internal “reforms”—the bizarre system of state monopolies and the showy experiments in new native industries which are described in the article Egypt (q.v.). The inherent viciousness of these expedients had, however, not as yet been revealed by their inevitable results, and Mehemet Ali in the eyes of the world was at once the most enlightened and the most powerful of the sultan’s valis. To Mahmud II., whose whole policy was directed to strengthening the authority of the central power, this fact would have sufficed to make him distrust the pasha and desire his overthrow; and it was sorely against his will that, in 1822, the ill-success of his arms against the insurgent Greeks forced him to summon Mehemet Ali to his aid. The immediate price was the pashalik of Crete; in the event of the victory of the Egyptian arms the pashaliks of Syria and Damascus were to fall to Mehemet Ali, that of the Morea to his son Ibrahim. The part played by Mehemet Ali in the Greek War is described elsewhere (see Turkey: History; Greece: History; Greek Independence, War of; Ibrahim). The intervention of the powers, culminating in the shattering of the Egyptian fleet at Navarino (q.v.), robbed him of his reward so far as Greece was concerned; the failure of his arms in face of this intervention gave Sultan Mahmud the excuse he desired for withholding the rest of the stipulated price of his assistance.

This disappointment of his ambition would not perhaps in itself have sufficed to stir Mehemet Ali to revolt against his master; but it was ominous of perils to come, which the astute pasha thought it wise to forestall. The sultan’s policy had been consistently directed to crushing the overgrown power of his vassals; in the spring of 1831 two rebellious pashas, Hussein of Bosnia and Mustafa of Scutari, had succumbed to his arms; and, since he was surrounded and counselled by the personal enemies of the pasha of Egypt, it was likely that, so soon as he should feel himself strong enough, he would deal in like manner with Mehemet Ali. It was to anticipate this peril that Mehemet Ali determined himself to open the struggle: on the 1st of November 1831 a force of 9000 Egyptian infantry and 2000 cavalry crossed the frontier into Syria and met at Jaffa the fleet which brought Ibrahim as commander-in-chief. The combined forces at once laid siege to St Jean d’Acre.

The stubborn resistance of the garrison delayed Ibrahim’s progress; and, meanwhile, wild rumours went abroad as to Mehemet Ali’s intentions. He was master of the holy cities, and the official Moniteur Ottoman denounced his supposed plan of aiming at the caliphate in collusion with the sherif of Mecca. As for the pasha himself, he loudly disclaimed any such disloyal pretensions; his aim was to chastise Abdulla, pasha of Acre, who had harboured refugees from his “reforms”; to overthrow Khusrev, who had encouraged him in his refusal to surrender them; to secure the fulfilment of the sultan’s promise with regard to Syria and Damascus. Mahmud, on the other hand, was torn between hatred of the pasha and hatred of the Christian powers which had forced him to make concessions to the Greeks. Voices urged him to come to terms with Mehemet Ali, secure peace in Islam, and turn a united face of defiance against Europe; and for a while he harboured the idea. He was conscious of his own intense unpopularity, the outcome of his efforts at reform; he knew that in popular opinion Mehemet Ali was the champion of Islam against the infidel caliph, and that the issue of a struggle with him was more than doubtful. He was hampered by the unpaid debt to Russia; by unrest in Bosnia and Albania; above all, by the revolt of the Greek Islands, which had left his navy, deprived of its best sailors, in no condition to dispute the Egyptian command of the sea. In the end, however, his pride prevailed; in April 1833 the Turkish commander-in-chief Hussein Pasha left Constantinople for the front; and in the third week in May the ban of outlawry was launched against Mehemet Ali.

Meanwhile, Ibrahim had occupied Gaza and Jerusalem as well as Jaffa; on the 27th of May, a few days after the publication of the ban, Acre was stormed; on the 15th of June the Egyptians occupied Damascus. Ibrahim pressed on with characteristic rapidity, his rapid advance being favoured by the friendly attitude of the various sections of the Syrian population, whom he had been at pains to conciliate. He defeated the Ottoman advance-guard at Horns on the 9th of July and at Hamah on the 11th, entered Aleppo on the 17th, and on the 29th inflicted a crushing defeat on the main Turkish army under Hussein Pasha at the pass of Beilan. All Syria was lost to the sultan, and the Egyptian advance-guard passed the mountain defiles into Adana in Asia Minor.

Mahmud, in desperation, now turned for help to the powers. Russian aid, though promptly offered, was too double-edged a weapon to be used save at the last extremity. Austrian diplomacy was, for the moment, that of Russia. France had broken her long tradition of friendship for Turkey by the occupation of Algiers. Great Britain, prodigal of protestations of goodwill, alone remained; and to her Mahmud turned with a definite offer of an offensive and defensive alliance. Stratford Canning, who was at Constantinople for the purpose of superintending the negotiations for the delimitation of the frontiers of Greece, wrote home urging the government to accept, and suggesting a settlement of the Egyptian question which foreshadowed that of 1841. Palmerston, however, did not share Canning’s belief in the possible regeneration of Turkey; he held that an isolated intervention of Great Britain would mortally offend not only Russia but France, and that Mehemet Ali, disappointed of his ambitions, would find in France a support that would make him doubly dangerous.[1]

In the autumn Sultan Mahmud, as a last independent effort, despatched against Ibrahim the army which, under Reshid Pasha, had been engaged in pacifying Albania. The result was the crowning victory of the Egyptians at Konia (Dec. 21). The news reached Constantinople at the same time as Count Muraviev arrived on a special mission from the tsar. The Russian offers were at once renewed of a squadron of battleships and of a land force for the protection of the capital. Efforts were made to escape the necessity of accepting the perilous aid. Ottoman agents, backed by letters from the French chargé d’affaires, were sent to Mehemet Ali and to Ibrahim, to point out the imminence of Russian intervention and to offer modified terms. Muraviev himself went to Alexandria, where, backed by the Austrian agent, Count Prokesch-Osten, he announced to the pasha the tsar’s immutable hatred of rebels. Mehemet Ali merely protested the complete loyalty of his intentions; Ibrahim, declaring that as a soldier he had no choice but to obey his father’s orders, advanced to Afium-Karahissar and Kutaiah, whence he wrote to the sultan asking his gracious permission to advance to Brusa. He was at the head of 100,000 men, well organized and flushed with victory; the Ottoman army survived only as demoralized rabble. Panic seized the Seraglio; and at the beginning of February the assistance of Russia was formally demanded. The representatives of France and Great Britain made every effort to secure a reversal of this fatal step; but, while they were threatening and promising, Russia was acting, and on the 10th of February a Russian squadron entered the Bosporus.

In view of this it became necessary for the objecting powers to take a new line. The new French ambassador, Admiral Roussin, had arrived on the 17th; he now, with the full concurrence of Mandeville, the British chargé d’affaires, persuaded the Porte to invite the Russians to withdraw, undertaking that France would secure the acceptance by Mehemet Ali of the sultan’s terms. A period of suspense followed. The Russian squadron was detained by contrary winds, and before it could sail peremptory orders arrived from the tsar for it to remain until Ibrahim should have repassed the Taurus mountains. Meanwhile, Mehemet Ali had scornfully rejected the offers of the Porte; he would be content with nothing but the concession of his full demands—Syria, Icheli, Aleppo, Damascus and Adana. France and Great Britain now urged the sultan to yield, and in March a Turkish agent was sent to Ibrahim to offer the pashaliks of Syria, Aleppo and Damascus. The crisis was precipitated by the arrival on the 5th of April of a second division of the Russian fleet in the Bosporus, and of a Russian force of 6000 men, which landed on the Asiatic shore. The Porte now tried once more to modify its terms; but the Western powers were now intent on getting rid of the Russians at all costs, and as a result of the pressure they brought to bear on both parties the preliminary convention of Kutaiah, conceding all the Egyptian demands, was signed on the 8th of April, and Ibrahim began his withdrawal. The convention stipulated for the bestowal of the pashalik of Adana on Ibrahim; but when on the 16th he received the official list of appointments, he found that Adana had been expressly reserved by the sultan. He at once arrested his march; but the pressure of famine in the capital, caused by the cutting off of supplies from Asia and the presence of the large Russian force, compelled Mahmud to yield, and on the 3rd of May a firman ceded Adana to Ibrahim under the pretext of appointing him muhassil, or collector of the revenue.

When Lord Ponsonby, the new British ambassador, arrived at Constantinople on the 1st of May he found Russia practically in possession. Sultan Mahmud was to the last degree embittered against the powers which, with lively protestations of friendship, had forced him to humiliate himself before his hated vassal. Russia had given him deeds, not words; and to Russia he committed himself. A further contingent of six or seven thousand Russians had arrived on the 22nd of April; Russian engineers were busy with the fortifications along the Straits; Russian agents alone were admitted to the sultan’s presence. “It is manifest,” wrote Lord Ponsonby, “that the Porte stands in the relation of vassal to the Russian government.”[2] The relation was soon to be yet more manifest. Before, on the 9th of July, the Russian fleet, with the Russian troops on board, weighed anchor for the Black Sea, there was signed at the palace of Unkiar Skelassi the famous treaty (July 8, 1833) which, under the guise of an offensive and defensive alliance, practically made Russia the custodian of the gates of the Black Sea. (See Turkey: History.)

Mehemet Ali had triumphed, but he was well aware that he held the fruits of his victory by a precarious tenure. He was still but a vali among the rest, holding his many pashaliks nominally by the sultan’s will and subject to annual reappointment; and he knew that both his power and his life would be forfeit so soon as the sultan should be strong enough to deprive him of them. To achieve this one end had, indeed, become the overmastering passion of Mahmud’s life, to defeat it the object of all Mehemet Ali’s policy. So early as 1834 it seemed as though the struggle would be renewed; for Mehemet Ali had extended to his new pashaliks his system of monopolies and conscription, and the Syrians, finding that they had exchanged Turkish whips for Egyptian scorpions, rose in a passion of revolt. It needed the intervention of Mehemet Ali in person before, in the following year, they were finally subdued. Meanwhile it had needed all the diplomatic armoury of the powers to prevent Mahmud hastening to the assistance of his “oppressed subjects.” The threats of Great Britain and France, the failure of Russia to back him up, induced him to refrain; but sooner or later a renewal of the war was inevitable; for the sultan, with but one end in view, was reorganizing his army, and Mehemet Ali, who in the autumn of 1834 had assumed the style of viceroy and sounded the powers as to their attitude in the event of his declaring his complete independence, refused to continue to pay tribute which he knew would be used against himself.

The crisis came in 1838. In March the Egyptians were severely defeated by the revolted Arabs of the Hauran; and the Porte, though diplomatic pressure kept it quiet, hurried on preparations for war. Mehemet Ali, too, had small reason for postponing the conflict. The work of Moltke, who with other German officers who had been engaged in organizing the Turkish army, threatened to destroy his superiority in the field; the commercial treaty signed by the Ottoman government with Great Britain (Aug. 16), which applied equally to all the territories under his rule, threatened to destroy at a blow the lucrative monopolies which supplied him with the sinews of war. Months of suspense followed; for the powers had threatened to cast their weight into the scale against whichever side should prove the aggressor, and Mehemet Ali was too astute to make the first move. In the end Mahmud’s passion played into his hands. The old sultan thirsted to crush his rebel ous vassal, at any cost; and on the 21st of April 1839 the Ottoman army, stationed at Bir on the Euphrates, crossed the stream and invaded Syria. On the 23rd of June it was attacked and utterly routed by Ibrahim at Nezib. On the 1st of July the old sultan died, unconscious of the fatal news, leaving his throne to Abdul-Mejid, a lad of sixteen. To complete the desperateness of the situation the news reached the capital that Ahmed Pasha, the Ottoman admiral-in-chief, had sailed to Alexandria and surrendered his fleet to Mehemet Ali, on the pretext that the sultan’s advisers were sold to the Russians.

So far as the forces of the Ottoman Empire were concerned, Mehemet Ali was now absolute master of the situation. The grand vizier, in the sultan’s name, wrote beseeching him to avoid the further shedding of Mussulman blood, offering him a free pardon, the highest honours of the state, the hereditary pashalik of Egypt for himself, and Syria for Ibrahim until he should succeed his father in Egypt. Mehemet Ali replied diplomatically; for, though these offers fell far short of his ambitions, a studious moderation was essential in view of the doubtful attitude of the European powers.

On the 27th of July the ambassadors of the five powers presented to the Porte a joint note, in which they declared that an agreement on the Eastern Question had been reached by the five Great Powers, and urged it “to suspend all definite decision made without their concurrence, pending the effect of their interest in its welfare.” The necessity for showing a united front justified the diplomatic inexactitude; but the powers were agreed on little except the need for agreement. Especially was this need realized by the British government, which feared that Russia would seize the occasion for an isolated intervention under the treaty of Unkiar Skelessi. On the 1st of August Palmerston wrote to Ponsonby impressing upon him that the representatives of the powers, in their communications with the Porte, “should act not only simultaneously in point of time, but identically in point of manner”—a principle important in view of later developments. Yet it was a task all but impossible to preserve this appearance of unanimity in view of the divergent views within the concert. France and Great Britain had hitherto acted together through common opposition to the supposed designs of Russia. Austria, too, now that the revolutionary spectres of 1830 had been laid, was reverting to her traditional opposition to Russia in the affairs of the Near East, and Metternich supported Palmerston’s proposal of an international conference at Vienna. Everything depended on the attitude of the emperor Nicholas. This was ultimately determined by his growing distrust of Austria and his perennial hatred of the democratic régime of France. The first caused him to reject the idea of a conference of which the activities would have been primarily directed against Russia; the second led him to drive a wedge into the Anglo-French entente by making direct overtures to Great Britain. Palmerston listened to the tsar’s proposals, conveyed through Baron Brunnow, “with surprise and admiration.” The emperor Nicholas was prepared to accept the views of Great Britain on the Turco-Egyptian question; to allow the Treaty of Unkiar Skelessi to lapse; to act henceforth in the Ottoman Empire only in concert with the other powers, in return for an agreement closing the Dardanelles to the war-ships of all nations and to extend the same principle to the Bosporus. Finally, Brunnow was empowered to arrange a coalition of the great powers with a view to the settlement of the Egyptian question; and in this coalition the tsar was willing, for political reasons, that France should be included, though he stated his personal preference for her exclusion.

To these views Austria and, as a natural consequence, Prussia acceded without difficulty. The attitude of France was a more doubtful quantity. In France Mehemet Ali had become a popular hero; under him French civilization had gained a foothold in Egypt; he was regarded as invincible; and it was hoped that in alliance with him French influence in the Mediterranean would be supreme. Palmerston, on the other hand, believed that the Ottoman empire would never be secure until “the desert had been placed between” the pasha of Egypt and the sultan; and the view that the coalition should be directed against Mehemet Ali was shared by the other powers. In the circumstances France should either have loyally accepted the decision of the majority of the concert, to which she had committed herself by signing the joint note of the 27th of July, or should have frankly stated her intention of taking up a position outside. The fact that she did neither led to a crisis that for a moment threatened to plunge Europe into war.

For nearly a year the diplomatic pourparlers continued without an agreement being reached; France insisted on Mehemet Ali’s receiving the hereditary pashalik of Syria as well as that of Egypt, a proposition to which Palmerston, though sincerely anxious to preserve the Anglo-French entente, refused to agree. The tension of the situation was increased when, on the 10th of February 1840, Thiers came into power. The diplomacy of Guizot, backed now by Austria and Prussia, had succeeded in persuading Palmerston to concede the principle of allowing Mehemet Ali to receive, besides Egypt, the pashalik of Acre as far as the frontiers of Tripoli and Damascus (May 7). Thiers, however, refused to listen to any suggestion for depriving him of any part of Syria; but, instead of breaking off the correspondence and leaving the concert, he continued the negotiations, and before long circumstances came to the knowledge of the British government which seemed to prove that he was only doing so with a view to gaining time in order to secure a separate settlement in accordance with French views.

The opportunity for this arose from a change in the situation at Constantinople, where the dismissal of Khusrev Pasha had, in Mehemet Ali’s view, removed the main obstacle to his reconciliation with the sultan. He proposed to the French consul-general at Alexandria to make advances to the Porte, and suggested sending back the Ottoman fleet as an earnest of his good intentions, a course which, it was hoped, “would lead to a direct and amicable arrangement of the Turco-Egyptian question.” On the 21st of June his envoy, Sami Bey, actually arrived at Constantinople, ostensibly to congratulate the sultan on the birth of a daughter, really to make use of the French influence now supreme at the Porte in order to effect a settlement. In the circumstances the proper course for Thiers to have pursued would have been to have communicated to the powers, to whom he was bound by the moral engagement of the 27th of July 1839, the new conditions arising out of Mehemet Ali’s offer. Instead he wrote to Guizot, on the 30th of June, saying that the situation argued strongly in favour of postponing any decision in London, adding: “I have written to Alexandria and Constantinople to counsel moderation on both sides; but I have been careful to forbid the agents to enter on their own account, and as a French undertaking, on a negotiation of which the avowed aim is a direct arrangement. If such an enterprise is imputed to us, you will be in a position to deny it.”

The discovery of what seemed an underhand intrigue on the part of France produced upon the powers exactly the effect that Thiers had foreseen and deprecated. They regarded it as an attempt to ruin the work of the concert and to secure for France a “complete individual triumph” at Alexandria and Constantinople; and their countermove was to sign at London on the 15th of July, without the concurrence of France, a convention with the Porte for the settlement of the affairs of the Levant. By this instrument it was agreed that the terms to be offered to Mehemet Ali having been concerted with the Porte, the signatory powers would unite their forces in order to compel the pasha to accept the settlement. As to the terms to be offered, it was arranged that, in the event of Mehemet Ali yielding within ten days, he should receive the hereditary pashalik of Egypt and the administration for life of southern Syria, with the title of Pasha of Acre and the possession of the fortress of St Jean d’Acre. At the end of ten days, should he remain obdurate, the offer of Syria and Acre would be withdrawn; and if at the end of another ten days he was still defiant, the sultan would hold himself at liberty to withdraw the whole offer and to take such measures as his own interests and the counsels of his allies might suggest to him.

The news of this “mortal affront” to the honour of France caused immense excitement in Paris. The whole press was clamorous for war; Thiers declared that the alliance with Great Britain was shattered, and pressed on warlike preparations; even Louis Philippe was carried away by the fever. The immediate effect was that Mehemet Ali, confident of French assistance, maintained a defiant attitude. The situation, however, was rapidly changed by the unexpected results of the armed intervention of the Allies. The appearance of the combined British, Austrian and Russian fleets, under Sir Charles Napier, off Beirut (Aug. 11) was the signal for a general rising of the Syrians against Ibrahim’s tyranny. On the 11th of September, Suleiman Pasha not having obeyed the summons to evacuate the town, the bombardment was begun, and Ottoman troops were landed to co-operate with the rebels. On the 3rd of October Beirut fell; and Ibrahim, cut off from his communications by sea, and surrounded by a hostile population, began a hurried retreat southward. On the 3rd of November Acre surrendered to the allied fleet. Mehemet Ali’s power in Syria had collapsed like a pricked bubble; and with it had gone for ever the myth of his humane and enlightened rule. The sole question now was whether he should be allowed to retain Egypt itself.

On the 15th of September the sultan, who had broken off all negotiations with Mehemet Ali on receipt of the news of the Syrian revolt, acting on the advice of Lord Ponsonby, declared the pasha deposed, on the ground that the term allowed by the Convention of London had expired, and nominated his successor. Mehemet Ali received the news with his accustomed sang-froid, observing to the consuls of the four powers, who had come to notify their own removal, that “such denunciations were nothing new to him; that this was the fourth, and that he hoped to get over it as well as he had done the other three, with the help of God and the Prophet.” In the end his confidence proved to be justified. The news of the events in Syria and especially of the deprivation of Mehemet Ali had produced in France what appeared to be an exceedingly dangerous temper; the French government declared that it regarded the maintenance of Mehemet Ali in Egypt as essential to the European balance of power; and Louis Philippe sought to make it clear to the British government, through the king of the Belgians, that, whatever might be his own desire to maintain peace, in certain events to do so would be to risk his throne. Palmerston, indeed, who did not believe that under the Bourgeois Monarchy France would translate her brave words into action, was in favour of settling the Turco-Egyptian question once for all by depriving Mehemet Ali of Egypt as well. The influences against him, however, were too powerful. Metternich protested against a course which would result, in his opinion, either in a war or a revolution in France; King Leopold enlarged on the wickedness and absurdity of risking a European war for the sake of putting an end to the power of an old man who could have but few years to live; Queen Victoria urged her ministers to come to terms with France and relieve the embarrassments of the “dear King”; and Lord Melbourne, with the majority of the cabinet, was in favour of compromise. When therefore, on the 8th of October, Guizot, in an interview with Palmerston, presented what was practically an ultimatum on the part of France, “it was determined that this intimation should be met in a friendly spirit, and that Lord Palmerston should see the Ministers of the other powers and agree with them to acquaint the French that they with England would use their good offices to induce the Porte not to insist on the deprivation of Mehemet Ali so far as Egypt is concerned.” In accordance with this Palmerston instructed Ponsonby to press upon the sultan, in the event of Mehemet Ali’s speedy submission, not only to withdraw the sentence of deprivation but to confer upon him the hereditary pashalik of Egypt.

For a while it seemed that even this would not avert a European war. Thiers still maintained his warlike tone, and the king’s speech prepared by him for the opening of the Chambers on the 28th of October was in effect a declaration of defiance to Europe. Louis Philippe himself, however, was not prepared to use this language; whereupon Thiers resigned, and a new cabinet was formed under Marshal Soult, with Guizot as foreign secretary. The equivocal tone of the new speech from the Throne raised a storm of protest in the Chambers and the country. It was, however, soon clear that Palmerston’s diagnosis of the temper of the French bourgeois was correct; the clamour for war subsided; on the 4th of December the address on the Egyptian Question proposed by the government was carried, and peace was assured. Nine days earlier Sir Charles Napier had appeared with a British squadron off Alexandria and, partly by persuasion, partly by threats, had induced Mehemet Ali to submit to the sultan and to send back the Ottoman fleet, in return for a guarantee of the hereditary pashalik of Egypt. This arrangement was ratified by Palmerston; and all four powers now combined to press it on the reluctant Porte, pointing out, in a joint note of the 30th of January 1841, that “they were not conscious of advising a course out of harmony with the sovereignty and legitimate rights of the sultan, or contrary to the duties imposed on the Pasha of Egypt as a subject appointed by His Highness to govern a province of the Ottoman Empire.” This principle was elaborated in the firman, issued on the 13th of February, by which the sultan conferred on Mehemet Ali and his heirs by direct descent the pashalik of Egypt, the greatest care being taken not to bestow any rank and authority greater than that enjoyed by other viziers of the empire. By a second firman of the same date Mehemet Ali was invested with the government of Nubia, Darfur, Khordofan and Sennaar, with their dependencies. On the 10th of June the firman was solemnly promulgated at Alexandria.

Thus ended the phase of the Egyptian Question with which the name of Mehemet Ali is specially bound up. The threatened European conflict had been averted, and presently the wounded susceptibilities of France were healed by the invitation extended to her to take part in the Straits Convention. As for Mehemet Ali himself, he now passes off the stage of history. He was an old man; his mind was soon to give way; and for some time before his death on the 2nd of August 1849 the reins of power were held by his son and successor Ibrahim.

Probably no Oriental ruler, not even excepting Ali of Iannina, has ever stirred up so much interest among his contemporaries as Mehemet Ali. The spectacle of an Eastern despot apparently advancing on the lines of European progress was in itself as astonishing as new. Men thought they were witnessing the dawn of a new era in the East; Mehemet Ali was hailed as the most beneficent and enlightened of princes; and political philosophers like Jeremy Bentham, who sent him elaborate letters of good advice, thought to find in him the means for developing their theories in virgin soil. In fact the pasha was an illiterate barbarian, of the same type as his countryman Ali of Iannina, courageous, cruel, astute, full of wiles, avaricious and boundlessly ambitious. He never learned to read or write, though late in life he mastered colloquial Arabic; yet those Europeans who were brought into contact with him praised alike the dignity and charm of his address, his ready wit, and the astonishing perspicacity which enabled him to read the motives of men and of governments and to deal effectively with each situation as it arose.

The latest account of Mehemet Ali and the European crisis arising out of his revolt is that by W. Alison Phillips in vol. x. ch. xvii. of the Cambridge Modern History (1907). The bibliography attached to this chapter (p. 852) gives a list of all the principal published documents and works, together with some analysis of the unpublished Foreign Office records bearing on the subject. Of the works mentioned C. de Freycinet’s La Question d’Egypte (Paris, 1905) gives the most authoritative account of the diplomatic developments.  (W. A. P.) 

  1. Canning’s original memorandum is in the Foreign Office Records in the volume marked F.O., Turkey: From Sir Stratford Canning (August to December, 1832). It bears elaborate pencil notes in Palmerston’s handwriting, in part already obliterated.
  2. From Lord Ponsonby, F.O., Turkey, May 22, 1833.