Egypt felt to the Ottomans in 1517
after an unsuccessful defense effort led by the Mamluk
sultan, Tuman Bey II who
was later hanged by Ottoman sultan, Selim
The defection of some Mamluks and the collaboration of others decreased
the hostility felt by Ottomans towards them upon invading Egypt.
Moreover, they set about employing Mamluks in the administration.
They even gave them control of several provinces in Egypt, based
on the belief that they are more experienced to manage them.
This policy was miscalculated by the Ottomans as it proved to be
inefficient and drove the country to three centuries of instability.
Ottomans chose a Mamluk traitor, Khair Bey,
as the first governor of Egypt in 1522, but after his death the
governor or the pasha
(Turkish title) was sent from the Ottoman Porte, or the government
The country was stricken in the seventh century by plagues and
famine, which was compounded by factional feuds among the Mamluks.
A window from the Ottoman era
Photo by Raymon Kondos ©
The Ottoman governor's post was often limited to 3 years, something
that tempted them to plunder as much as they can before leaving
the governorship. This privilege justified the selling of the governorship
post for the highest bidder in some periods.
Mamluks were collecting huge taxes, giving their dues to the Ottomans
and take the rest to their own interests, which was actually the
bigger portion of the levied amount.
The real victim amid all this was the ordinary Egyptians who were
completely exploited and trapped between the Ottoman pasha and the
Mamluk beys (bey is an Ottoman rank which means lord)
The instability among the Mamluks resulted in the formation of different
factions. The same thing happened to the Ottoman garrison. Continued
alliances and conflicts led to the Great Insurrection in 1711, in
which various factions fought for supremacy.
After the incident, things began to get out of Ottomans' control
when several Mamluk beys assumed the position of Sheikh El-Balad (the
master of the country) which granted them power vis-à-vis the
In 1757, Ali Bey the Elder became Sheikh El-Balad. Ali Bey expelled
the Ottoman governor to replace him as the de facto ruler of Egypt
in 1768. Dreaming of reestablishing a Mamluk empire, Ali Bey began
expanding his territories in the Arabian Peninsula (in present-day
Saudi Arabia), and suppressing uprisings in upper Egypt.
Ali Bey's commander, who was on a campaign in Syria, betrayed him
after being tempted from the Ottoman Sublime Porte.
In 1772, Ali Bey was displaced by Abul Dahab and died the next year
while attempting to regain his position.
Portrait of Murad Bey
image 2004 ©
3 years later Abul Dahab died and a Mamluk duumvir
of Murad Bey and Ibrahim Bey held authority. They were displaced before
getting back their power in 1790.
Once again a plague hit the country and the population revolted
against the rulers demanding the easiness of the unbearable taxes.
Ottomans attempted to restore control from Murad Bey and Ibrahim Bey
but at no avail. Nevertheless, they both failed to defend Egypt against
the French invasion led by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798. A fierce battle
took place between the two sides near Imbaba in Cairo.
The Mamluks were defeated, while those who survived from the battle
defected the country including both Murad Bey and Ibrahim Bey who
carried their treasures and hastily left Egypt.
(1798 - 1801 AD)
The eighth century saw an Anglo-French race over trade. The race
developed to be a strife over strongholds in the world. The French,
who realized the strategic importance of Egypt, decided to invade
In July 1798, a French fleet headed by Napoleon
Bonaparte landed in Abu
Kir Bay in Alexandria.
The French troops then marched inland and met the Mamluks in a battle
near Cairo. Both the Mamluks and the population showed some resistance
but couldn't really do any progress facing sophisticated French
weapons that they never saw.
Eventually Cairo fell to the French troops in July. Meanwhile, the
British fleet was chasing the French fleet to Abu Kir. In August
of the same year, British Admiral Nelson sank the French fleet.
In Cairo, Napoleon set about running the country, sending for sheikhs
of the city and informing them of his arrangements.
He also began taking over the strategic buildings like the citadel
and start to impose taxes.
Napoleon's interference in the internal affairs of Egyptians stimulated
them to revolt. Their rebellion was brutally suppressed by Napoleon's
forces. French troops set up cannons in the citadel
and began firing at Cairo. Furthermore, French cavalries entered
mosque and killed a number of people inside. The move was grave
since the mosque is one of the most sacred places for Moslems and
foreigners were not welcomed inside.
On the other hand, Napoleon encouraged scientific researches. He
opened centers like Institut d'Egypte and the French Academy to
make an exhaustive record on Egypt. Scholars who accompanied the
expedition started the massive work that covered different themes
of Egypt and was later published as volumes of Description de l'Egypte.
Napoleon wanted to expand his conquest, so he marched to Gaza in
1799 and the east but stopped at Acre.
The Ottoman army, helped by the British, defeated the French forces
that was also stricken and decimated by a plague.
The Ottomans also attempted to attack Egypt at Abu Kir but were
turned back by the French troops.
Napoleon finally left back to France and turned over the command
in Egypt to General Kléber. General Kléber realized
he could not withstand Ottomans and the British troops.
In 1800, he began negotiating with the British and he finally signed
on an agreement to evacuate the country.
Kléber had no choice but to agree on such a deal. He was
trapped as supplies received from France were cut and he had no
idea how to leave the country. The resentment of the population
worsened his position.
The same year, Kléber was assassinated by Seliman Al-Halabi
(the Aleppan), a Syrian who was later executed. He was succeeded
by General Jacque Menou.
In March 1801, an Anglo-Ottoman combined
forces landed in Egypt to force the evacuation of the French troops,
which finally capitulated and accepted the terms of their enemies.
By October, all French troops evacuated and only the Ottoman troops
were left with nominal control over Egypt.