An Edited Biographical Sketch
of Mohammed Ali,
Pasha of Egypt, Syria, and Arabia
Written at the
City of Washington, March 1835.
Author: William Brown Hodgson, Esq. of Savannah, Georgia
Mohammed Ali Pasha, was born in the year of the Hijrah, 1182, corresponding in the Christian era, to the year, 1769. It is not unworthy of remark, that this year also, gave birth to Napoleon Bonaparte. Alike distinguished for military genius, the characters of these chieftains, are equally marked by insatiable ambition, and unreposing activity.
Early education, the advantage of science, and a more prominent field of enterprise, have given to the history of one, an eclat and brilliancy of success which are denied to the other. Yet, he who would learn to read and write, at the age of forty-five, as did Mohammed Ali, and from the humble calling of Tobacco vender, rise to the throne of an extensive empire, can be no ordinary man, and may bear some comparison with the hero of France.
With a disciplined army of 50,000 men, a navy of nine line-of-battle ships, and a revenue of twenty millions of dollars, he may be supposed to have the means of consolidating his power, of establishing his dynasty, and of maintaining his de facto independence. He desires to raise Egypt to the level of European civilization surpassing that of the augustan age of El-Mamoun and Haroun el-Rashid. The patronage which he gives to the arts and sciences; his encouragement of Europeans of talent; his printing-presses; poly-technic, elementary, and medical schools; his factories and infernal improvements, are evidence of enlightened views in civil administration.
The Pasha is commonly called Mehmet Ali, although his name is written Mohammed Ali. Supreme veneration for the name of his Prophet, forbids a Mussulman to desecrate the name of Mohammed, by colloquial use; and therefore this distinction is made im pronouncing of the name. He is also called Hajji Mohammed, or pilgrim, having performed his pilgrimage to Mecca, which is one of the five great duties, of the acolytes of Islam. Among the numerous ampullated titles, given to him by his courtiers, that of Khedive, or divine, is remarkable. Of the Roman Emperors, Augustus was the first whom clambering adulation apotheosized, and associated with divinity.
Mohammed Ali Pasha, was born at Kavallë, a small maritime town of Rumelia, in European Turkey. This district is renowned in the east, for its aromatic tobacco, which rivals that of Latakieh, among the dreamy smokers of the oriental chibouque. Kavallë is distant, ninety miles to the east of Salonica, the ancient Thessalonica, where there is now established, a Consul of the United States.
Ibrahim Agha, the father of Mohammed Ali, was the chief of police in the town of Kavallë. At the death of his father, Mohammed Ali, being quite young, the Çorbaci, or governor of Kavallë, took him into his service.
An opportunity early presented itself, whilst Mohammed was attached to the family of the Çorbaci, by which he acquired a character for prudence, ingenuity, and bravery. A certain village, within the jurisdiction of Kavallë, had refused to pay its usual contributions. The Çorbaci was undecided as to the most efficient measures to be adopted on the occasion, and Mohammed Ali promptly offered his services; they were accepted, and a body of armed men was appointed to accompany him. He proceeded to the village, and at the hour of prayer, when announced by the muezzin from the minaret, he repaired to the mosque to perform his devotions. After having recited his prayers, he sent to request four of the principal Muslims of the village, to wait on him, under the pretext of important business. These persons not suspecting any design upon them, repaired to the mosque. Mohammed Ali immediately commanded his followers to seize and bind these chief villagers, who were conducted to Kavallë, amidst the threats and pursuit of the inhabitants.
This dashing act of bravery and finesse, resulted in the payment of the contributions by the refractory villagers; and the Çorbaci was so well pleased with it, that he promoted the youthful Mohammed to the rank of Buluk Bai, or captain of a company. He also gave him in marriage one of his relations, a widow, by whom he had three sons, Ibrahim, Tosun, and Isma`il. This marriage of a widow has given rise to the report, that Ibrahim Pasha, the conqueror of Akka and Syria, is the step-son of Mohammed Ali.
Of these three elder sons, Tosun and Isma`il, died some years ago. The former conducted a successful expedition against the Wahabi cult of Arabia.
A most faithful and eloquent history of this formidable sect of Islam, is to be found in the popular novel of Anastasius, by the late Thomas Hope. Isma`il Pasha was commander-in-chief of the expedition against Sanar and Kordofan, where he was assassinated by one of the subjugated chiefs. A blow inflicted on this chief by the Pasha, was avenged by his assassination. It was this expedition to Sanar, which Mr. George Bethune English, of Boston, accompanied, in a military capacity, and an account of which he subsequently published.
Ibrahim Pasha, the remaining son, is now in Syria, with a numerous army, reposing upon the laurels acquired in his late battles with the Grand Vizier, and the Sultan's disciplined troops.
Mohammed Ali, after his marriage, joined to his military profession, the trade of a merchant, and became an extensive dealer in Tobacco, the richest product of Rumelia. In this trade, he acquired his first notions of commercial monopoly, to which he has since more strictly adhered than comports with sound principals of political economy, or the well being of his Egyptian subjects.
He was soon called to enter upon a wider, and more important field of enterprise. Napoleon had invaded Egypt, and the battle of the pyramids defeated the Mameluks, opened the gates of Cairo, and secured possession of the country. In 1800, the Sublime Porte, in alliance with Great Britain, and aided by her forces, made preparations to recover Egypt; and among the contingents of troops required by the Porte, was one of three hundred men from the district of Kavallë. They were raised by the Çorbaci, and placed under the command of Ali Aga, his son, and Mohammed Ali was appointed to the double office of Ali's mentor, and his second in command. Ali Aga soon became dissatisfied with the fatigue of camp, and returned home, leaving his company under the orders of Mohammed Ali. He thus acquired the rank of Binbashi, in the army of the Grand Vizier.
After the victories of Abu Kir, and the camp of Caesar, gained by the British troops, the Grand Vizier commenced offensive operations. Mohammed Ali, in frequent engagements with the French divisions, signalized himself by great personal bravery and by military tact, if not by strategetic science.
The Mameluk Beys
The limits of this sketch, require us to pass over the numerous incidents of the Pasha's eventful career, during which he was alternately applauded and reproved by this superiors, until the important period of his election, as Governor of Egypt, by a deputation of Shaykhs, on the 14th of March, 1805. The country was at that period, a prey to intestine war, caused by those petty tyrants the Mameluk Beys. He skillfully evaded or resisted their attacks and machinations, and succeeded in obtaining, two months after the election, his confirmation as Pasha of Egypt, by the Sublime Porte. ...
French influence gained the ascendancy in the Ottoman councils in 1807, and Great Britain declared war against Sultan Selim, and invaded Egypt. Mohammed Ali's troops met the British forces at Rosetta, and defeated them. They were subsequently compelled to evacuate Alexandria, which had capitulated to General Frazer. It was at this period that the British squadron, commanded by Admiral Sir John Duckworth, passed the tremendous batteries of the Dardanelles, and anchored off the city of Constantinople. The passage of the Dardanelles by an armed force, had never before, and has never since been attempted. It was then, that the navy of England could ask, quoe regio in terris, nostri non plena laboris? We may forget, that some years before this signal event, our own Captain Bainbridge, passed the Dardanelles, in his frigate the Washington, and displayed for the first time, the star spangled banner in the Golden Horn.
The Sublime Porte was sensible of the important services rendered by Mohammed Ali, in the then war with England, and received frequent expressions of his Sultan's satisfaction, in rich and sumptuous presents. He continued to preserve his Government against internal foes and foreign machinations. The Mameluk Beys remained in arms against him, and carried on a desultory warfare. The Mameluk Elfi Bey, was supported by British influence.
On the 1st of March, 1811, Mohammed Ali succeeded in destroying the greater part of these refractory Beys, by a sanguinary and treacherous act, which has no parallel in any annals but those of eastern empires. It would be so judged by the rule of abstract morals; yet, political necessity would sanction it in the east. The Pasha had not then studied Machiavelli, which he has in part, since read. He had succeeded in conciliating those Beys, to a certain degree, and had disarmed their fears and suspicions. About this period, the expedition against the Wahabis, the enemies of Islam, was preparing to leave Cairo. The departure of this expedition, was made the occasion of calling together the civil and military authorities, under ceremonies becoming the occasion. The Mameluk Beys were also invited to join the ceremonies and the procession which was to signalize the event. They obeyed the invitation, and were received with every demonstration of friendship, and with distinction suitable to their rank. Here then, the Pacha had artfully succeeded in assembling, at the citadel of Cairo, the chief Mameluks, to the number of four hundred, those early and formidable enemies, both to his personal aggrandizement and to the tranquillity of Egypt.
The citadel of Cairo, within which, is the Pacha's palace, and the dilapidated, but once gorgeous serai of Selahiddin (Saladin), rests on a projected shoulder of Mount Muqattam. From its frowning ramparts are seen, to the west, and beyond the Nile, the towering pyramids of Gizah, and the lesser ones of Sakhara and Dashur; the allegoric sphinx lies couchant before you, as in centuries gone by, and the renowned Memphis is faintly distinquished by the few remains of her ancient glory, now concealed by clustering groves of the graceful palm. Immediately below the ramparts, reposes Cairo, the mother of the world, as she is called in the figurative language of Arabia, with her populous avenues, her tongues of Babel, sumptuous palaces, and more splendid mosques, and minarets. The silver stream of the "blessed" Nile, flows by the walls of Cairo, bringing fertility to the earth, and joy to its people.
From this citadel the military procession, lead by Tosun Pasha, who had been appointed to command the expedition against the Wahabis, moved, and in descending to the city, passed through a narrow passage or defile. On either side, was the solid rock surmounted by high walls. When the Mameluk Beys had entered this defile, the gates at both ends were suddenly closed, and soldiers previously stationed for that object, commenced firing upon these unsuspecting victims of treacherous design. One Bey alone, escaped from the horrible ambuscade. ...
Destruction of the Wahabis
The successful expedition of the Pasha, against the Wahabis, of Arabia, the formidable enemies of the Muslim faith, established his reputation as a warrior, his claims to the consideration of the Sublime Porte, and of the whole Moslem world, and secured his uninterrupted possession of Egypt. The war was concluded in 1813, by the capture of Dariyah, the Wahabi capital, and of their Chief Abdullah ibn Sa`ud. The conduct of the war, which had been committed to Tosun Pasha, Mohammed Ali's eldest son. By him the war was brought to a close, and Abdullah ibn Sa`ud was sent to the Sultan, under the charge of Isma`il Pasha, together with the few remaining objects of value, which was recovered from among those, which Sa`ud's father had plundered from the sacred shrines of Mecca and Medina. Of these, the most remarkable was a copy of the Koran, so small as to have rivaled the Iliad of Homer, which Alexander carried about his person. There were also pearls and precious stones of unknown value, which pious veneration had bestowed as votive offerings, at the tomb of the Prophet. Abdullah ibn Sa`ud was presented in chains at the feet of his sovereign, and Mohammed Ali, had interceded in his favor, for imperial clemency. Sultan/Khalif Mahmud was relentless towards the chief of an heretical sect, which had for so many years defied his authority, desecrated the holy places of the Prophet, and interrupted the annual pilgrimages of the Moslem world, to the venerable Ka`aba, the waters of Zamzam, and the sacred sepulcher at Medina. Sa`ud was publicly decapitated at Constantinople, in the open square, which may now be seen by the traveler, between the Porte of Sublimity and the Mosque of Aya Sofia.
The Wahabis, as a religious sect, have the same reference to the Mohammedan religion, which, Socinianism has to Christianity. The founder, Abdul Wahab, was born in the early part of the last century, and after having studied divinity at Medina, and in the Medressehs, or theologic schools of Bagdad, Basra and Isfahan, he began to preach the novel doctrine, that the Prophet Mohammed was but a mere man, and that to invoke him with other saints, was idolatry, and was not authorized by the Koran. He adhered religiously to the text of the sacred book, but rejected all traditions, Hadith and commentaries of the Imams or doctors. He contended that Mussulmans must be brought back to the original spirit of the Qur`an, to the exclusive worship of God, in his undivided unity. In this spirit, he forbade the pilgrimage to Mecca, the invocation of the Prophet, the use of luxuries, tobacco, silk, and jewels. ...he propagated his doctrines with the sword, and the armies of his successors marched upon Mecca and Medina, destroying those venerable shrines, and robbed them of the unnumbered votive offerings, with which they had been enriched, by piety and devotion.
Such were the doctrines of this warlike sect, which had for a long while contemned the spiritual, and defied the temporal authority of the Sultan.
Relieved from this formidable enemy, Mohammed Ali was now at liberty to subjugate the southern provinces of Nubia, Sanar, and Kordofan. These countries had for a long time, been in a state of anarchy and rebellion to the Government of Egypt. He accordingly, in 1820, sent an expedition of four thousand men, to those countries, under the command of his second son, Isma`il Pasha, which resulted in the entire conquest of extensive provinces, with which Egypt has always had an important commerce. It was this expedition, which our countrymen, English, accompanied. Khalil Aga of New York, was also attached to the army. We have another instance of the adventurous spirit of Americans, in one, who is at this moment, Governor of a District, within the territories of the Indian Prince, Runjeet Sing.
The Greek Revolution
The Greek revolution commenced about this time, and Mohamed Ali prepared to obey his Sultan's firmans, and to furnish aid in troops, ships, and money. Whilst he opposed the movement of the Greeks, and contributed his efforts towards the suppression of their rebellion, it must be said in honor of his humanity, and in praise of his enlightened policy, that he did not imitate the massacre of these unfortunate subjects, who were residing at Constantinople. No Greek subject in Egypt was molested, and those who fled to that country, were protected.
The friends of Greece, in Europe, did not so much fear the hostilities of the Sultan, as of the Pasha, in its struggle for independence. It is believed that this sentiment induced some of the greater cabinets, to hold out to the Pasha the possibility of his independence, to withdraw him from combined operations with the Porte. Whether he distrusted Christian diplomacy, or was content to enjoy his de facto independence, he, continued to furnish the principal means of operation against the Morea. The policy of European cabinents was for once imperfectly understood, and pertinacity caused the loss of the Egyptian squadron at Navarino, and the retirement of Ibrahim Pasha's legions from the peninsular. ...
In the city of Kutahya of Asia Minor, in the spring of 1833, the commissioners, envoys of England, France, and Russia, concluded an armistice and convention, for the evacuation of Anatolia. By this convention, with the consent of the Porte, Mohammed Ali received his confirmation to the whole of Syria, comprising the four pachalicks of Aleppo, Tripoli, Damascus, and Saida, together with the province of Adana, which is of primary importance to Egypt, on account of its timber. The news of peace was received at Alexandria, with demonstrations of public joy, and were attended with every species of festivity. The Pasha was compared to the "Alexander of two horns."
The negotiations that took place, and diplomatic notes that passed between Mohammed Ali and Admiral the Baron de Roussin, embassador of France at the Porte, exhibit the true character of the former. He replied, in answer to the requisition of the Baron to withdraw his troops from Anatolia, "is not this pronouncing against me, a sentence of political death? But I feel Confident, that France and England will not deny me my rights. Their honor is opposed to this step. But if I am Unhappily deceived in this expectation, I will submit myself, under such circumstances, to the will of God; and preferring an honorable death to ignominy, joyfully devote myself to the cause of my nation, happy to consecrate to it, the last breath of my life. Upon this I am determined, and history offers more than one example of a similar immolation."
Mohammed Ali is now in the undisputed possession of Syria, Egypt, the Hijaz of Arabia, Nubia, Sanar, Kordofan, and the important Island of Crete. That he will transmit his power and empire, unimpaired to his successor in the dynasty, his past history justifies the belief. When he was invited to take supreme command in Egypt, thirty years ago, he said, "I have now conquered this country with the sword, and by the sword will I preserve it."
Mohammed Ali is in person of middling, or rather low stature. He is now in his sixty-seventh year, and possesses a constitution sound and vigorous. His features are not those of the Osmanli, of Constantinople, where one frequently find the beau ideal of manly beauty. The Tatar face, with its high check-bones, small eyes, and general flatness, which are peculiarly his, have been lost among the Ottomans, of the capital, by their marriages with the Greeks of Ionia, or the more languishing beauties of Circassia and Georgia. His dark grey eyes, beam brightly with genius and intelligence, and his manners would be marked with more dignity, had they more repose. It would be difficult not to feel the presence of a superior man, when one is addressing Mohammed Ali. His dress, unlike that of Sultan Mahmud, is not of the Nizam, or reform. He still wears the turban, which the Sultan has abandoned, and this use of a most graceful head-dress will be approved by all persons of good taste. This remark applies only to the east. His dress is of plain olive colored cloth, without embellishment or decoration. At his side is always suspended a curved scimitar.
The Pasha is an early riser, and of abstemious habits. At the break of day he performs his orisons, and at sunrise, he repairs to his divan, for the transaction of business. After sunset he dines, and retires to his harem, where he either reads himself, or reclines on an ottoman, whilst one of his favorite Sultanas, the daughter of a Mufti, and an accomplished woman, reads to him, by his instruction. He has lately been engaged in reading Montesquieu's espirit des loix, every successive sheet of which, as prepared in manuscript by the translator, is taken by him to his harem, and becomes the occupation or relaxation of his evenings. Macchiavelli he read some years ago, and the code Napoleon is now the object of his deepest study and reflection.
This short sketch of the eventful life of Mohammed Ali, is not intended to exhibit the wonderful improvements which he introduced into Egypt, nor the more wonderful personal superintendence, which he exercises over every department of the arts, and every branch of industry. It is hoped, that the impetus which he has given to civilization will not be checked, and that if his de jure independence should, in any manner, contribute to this desirable object, the conflicting interests of European and the Turkish cabinents, may be conciliated, and be directed to concur in such an acknowledgment.
Washington, March 10th, 1835.
Printer: Peter Force, Georgetown