The Britanica article about Egypt contains the precedes the following discussion of the three successive rebel pashas of Egypt, who broke away from Turkish rule, by an a history of the Mamlukes, slave soldiers who had rules Turkey for centuries. — George P. Landow


Decorated initial M

bout the year 1746, Ibrahim, one of the kiayas or commanders of the janizaries, rendered himself in reality master of Egypt, having managed matters so well, that of the twenty-four Beys or Sangiacs [of the Ottoman Empire], eight were members of his own household. His influence too was augmented by always leaving vacancies in order to draw the emoluments himself, whilst the officers and soldiers of his corps were attached to his interest; and his power was completed by gaining over to his interest Rodohan, the most powerful of all the chiefs. Thus the pasha be came altogether unable to oppose him, and the orders of the sultan were much less respected than those of Ibrahim.

On his death in 1757, his family, that is, his enfranchised slaves, continued to rule in a despotic manner. But having quarrelled amongst themselves, Rodohan and several other chiefs fell in the contests which ensued, and the utmost anarchy and confusion prevailed. In 1766, while matters still continued in this state, Ali Bey, who had been a principal actor in the disturbances, gained a decided superiority over his rivals, and, under the successive titles of Emir-el-Hadgee, and Sheikh-el Belled, he rendered himself absolute master of Egypt.

Ali Bey [Sheikh el-Belled]

Decorated initialt

he birth of Ali Bey, like that of the Mamlukes in general, is extremely uncertain. It is commonly believed that he was born among the Abazans, a people of Mount Caugasus, who, next to the Circassians, are most valued by the Turks as slaves; and that having been brought to a public sale at Cairo, he was purchased by two Jews, brothers, named Isaac and Yussuf, who presented him to Ibrahim Kiaya. At this time he is supposed to have been about thirteen or fourteen years old; and he was employed by his patron in offices similar to those of the pages belonging to European princes. The usual education of Mamlukes was also given him. He was taught to manage a horse adroitly; to fire a carbine or pistol with a sure aim; and to throw the djereed, a kind of dart or javelin used in the diversions of the country. He was also instructed in the exercise of the sabre, and taught a little reading and writing. In all feats of activity he discovered such fire and impetuosity, that he obtained the surname of Djendali or Madman; and as he grew up he discovered an ambition proportioned to the activity displayed in his youth, but which served to moderate and restrain the ardour of his disposition.

About the age of eighteen or twenty he received his freedom, and his kind patron also promoted him to the rank of kiachef or governor of a district, and at last elected him one of the twenty-four Beys, at once the tyrants and oppressors of the unhappy Fellahs. The death of Ibrahim in 1757 afforded him an opportunity of satisfying his ambition; and he now engaged in every scheme connected with the promotion or disgrace of the chiefs, and had a principal share in the ruin of Rodohan Kiaya, as already mentioned. The post of Rodohan was quickly filled by another competitor for his dangerous office, who, however, did not long enjoy his elevation; and in 1762 Ali Bey, who was then styled Sheikh el-Belled, having caused Abderrahman, the real possessor of the office, to be exiled, managed to get himself elected in his stead. But he soon shared the fate of the rest, and was condemned to retire to Gaza. This place, however, being then under the dominion of a Turkish pasha, proved by no means either agreeable to or safe for Ali, who accordingly betook himself to another asylum, where he remained concealed until 1766, when his friends at Cairo procured his recal. On this he appeared suddenly in that city, killed four of the Beys who were inimical to his designs, banished the rest, and assumed the whole power. Still, however, his ambition was not satisfied. Indulging the loftiest aspirations of ambition, he determined to throw off his dependence on the Porte, and to declare himself sultan of Egypt. With this view he expelled the pasha, refused to pay the accustomed tribute, and, in the year 1768, proceeded to coin money in his own name.

The Porte being at that time on the eve of a war with Russia, had not leisure to attend to the proceedings of Ali; so that the rebel chief had leisure and opportunity for forwarding his enterprise. His first expedition was directed against an Arabian prince named Hammam, under pretence that the latter had concealed a treasure entrusted to him by Ibrahim Kiaya, and that he had afforded protection to rebels. The command of the expedition he entrusted to his favourite Mohammed Bey, by whom the unfortunate prince was destroyed, and his territories despoiled. Ali next set about executing a plan which had been proposed to him by a young Venetian merchant, for rendering Djidda, the port of Mecca, an emporium for all the commerce of India; and he even imagined that he would succeed in causing the Europeans to abandon the passage to the East Indies by the Cape of Good Hope. With this view he fitted out some vessels at Suez; and having manned them with Mamlukes, commanded Hassan Bey to sail with the squadron for Djidda, and attack it, whilst a body of cavalry under Mohammed Bey advanced against the town.

Both these operations were executed to his wish, and Ali became quite intoxicated with his success. Nothing but ideas of conquest now occupied his mind; and without considering the disproportion between his own force and that of the Grand Signior, he never once doubted that he would be able to maintain himself against all the power of the Porte. And circumstances, it must be owned, were at this time favourable to his designs. Sheikh Daher was in rebellion against the Porte in Syria, and the pasha of Damascus had so exasperated the people by his extortions that they were ready for revolt. Having therefore made the necessary preparations, Ali, in 1770, dispatched about five hundred Mamlukes to take possession of Gaza, and thus to secure an entrance into Palestine. When Osman, pasha of Damascus, heard of the invasion, he prepared for war with the utmost diligence; whilst the troops of Ali Bey were, it is said, ready to fly at the first attack. But they were relieved from their embarrassment by Sheikh Daher, who hastened to their assistance; and Osman, dreading to encounter both, fled without offering the least resistance, thus leaving the enemy masters of Palestine.

About the end of February 1771 the army of Ali Bey was put in motion. Its numbers have been variously represented, but it is probable that, including camp followers, a very numerous class in the East, it exceeded forty thousand men. This force, or rather armed multitude, commanded by Mohammed Bey, the friend of Ali, took the road to Acre, leaving wherever they passed frightful traces of their rapacity and want of discipline. At Acre a junction was formed with the troops of Sheikh Daher, consisting of fifteen hundred Safadins; Sheikh Daher's subjects being so called from Safad, a village of Galilee, originally under his jurisdiction. These were on horseback, and accompanied by twelve hundred Motualis cavalry under the command of Sheikh Nasif, and about a thousand Moggrebin infantry. Thus they proceeded towards Damascus, whilst Osman prepared to oppose them by another army equally numerous and ill regulated. The military operations in Syria in the year 1771 have been described by Volney. The combined army of Ali Bey and Sheikh Daher marched to Damascus.

The pashas waited for them; they approached, and, on the 6th of June, a decisive action took place. The Mamlukes and Safadins rushed on the Turks with such fury, that, terrified at their onset, the latter immediately took to flight, and the pashas were not the last in endeavouring to make their escape. The allies became masters of the country, and took possession of the city without opposition, there being neither walls nor soldiers to defend it. The castle alone resisted. Its ruined fortifications had not a single cannon, much less gunners; but it was surrounded by a muddy ditch, and behind the ruins were posted a few musketeers, who alone were sufficient to check this army of cavalry. As the besieged, however, were already conquered by their fears, they capitulated on the third day; and the place was to be surrendered next morning, when at daybreak an extraordinary revolution took place.

Mohammed Bey

Decorated initial t

his was the defection of Mohammed Bey himself, whom Osman had gained over in a conference during the night. At the moment, therefore, when the signal of surrender was expected, this treacherous commander sound ed a retreat, and turned towards Egypt with all his cavalry, flying with as great precipitation as if he had been pursued by a victorious army. Mohammed continued his march with such celerity that the report of his arrival in Egypt reached Cairo only six hours before himself. Thus Ali Bey found all his expectations of conquest disappointed, and a traitor whom he durst not punish at the head of his forces. A sudden reverse of fortune now took place. Several vessels laden with corn for Sheikh Daher were taken by a Russian privateer; and Mohammed Bey, whom he designed to put to death, not only made his escape, but was so well attended that he could not be attacked.

As his followers continued to increase daily in number, Mohammed soon became sufficiently strong to march towards Cairo; and in April 1772, having defeated the troops of Ali in a rencounter, he entered the city sword in hand, whilst the latter had scarcely time to make his escape with eight hundred Mamlukes. Ali proceeded to Syria, which he reached with difficulty, and immediately joined Sheikh Daher with the troops which accompanied him in his flight. The Turks under Osman were at that time besieging Sidon, but they raised the siege on the approach of the allied army, consisting of about seven thousand cavalry. Though the Turkish army was at least three times this number, the allies did not hesitate to attack them; and having gained a complete victory, their affairs now began to wear a more favourable aspect. In the beginning of 1773, Jaffa, a place which had revolted, capitulated, and Ali Bey began to think of returning to Cairo

For this purpose Sheikh Daher promised to furnish him with fresh succours; and the Russians, with whom he had now contracted an alliance, made him a similar promise. But Ali ruined every thing by his own folly and impatience. Deceived by an astrologer, who pretended that the auspicious moment indicated by the stars had just arrived, and also misled by false information insidiously conveyed to him by the agents of Mahommed, who caused letters to be written to him urging his immediate return to Cairo, he set out with his Mamlukes and about fifteen hundred Safadins sent him by Daher, without waiting for further aid; but he had no sooner entered the desert which separates Gaza from Egypt, than he was attacked by a body of a thousand chosen Mamlukes who were waiting his arrival. They were commanded by a young Bey named Murad, who being enamoured of the wife of Ali Bey, had obtained a promise of the lady from Mohammed, in case he should bring him her husband's head. As soon as Murad perceived the dust which an nounced the approach of Ali Bey's army, he rushed upon the advancing force, defeated it, and took Ali Bey himself prisoner, after wounding him in the forehead with a sabre. Being conducted to the presence of Mohammed Bey, Ali was treated by the latter with every appearance of respect, and a magnificent tent was ordered to be erected for him; but in three days thereafter he was found dead, of his wounds, as was given out, though some af firm, perhaps with good reason, that he was poisoned.

After the death of Ali, Mohammed Bey became undisputed master of Egypt; but to the people this change of despots proved to be one from bad to worse. At first he pretended to defend the rights of the sultan; he remitted the usual tribute to Constantinople, and he took the customary oath of unlimited obedience; after which he solicited permission to make war against Sheikh Daher, the ally of Ali Bey. This request, although springing out of personal animosity, was nevertheless granted, and Moha med made diligent preparations for war. Having procured a considerable train of artillery, he provided foreign gunners, whom he placed under the orders of an Englishman named Robinson; and, having completed the necessary preparations, he, in the month of February 1776, appeared in Syria with an army equal in number to that which he had formerly commanded when in the service of Ali Bey. Daher's forces, unable to cope with so formidable a body, abandoned Gaza, which Mohammed immediately took possession of, and then marched towards Jaffa, the ancient Joppa, situated on a part of the coast the general level of which is very little above that of the sea. The city is built on an eminence in the form of a cone, and about a hundred and thirty feet in height. The houses distributed on the declivity rise above one another like the steps of an amphitheatre; and on the summit is a small citadel, which commands the town; whilst the bottom of the hill is surrounded by a wall without a rampart, of twelve or four active and vigilant enemy, Hassan was induced, in the course of the following year, to accede to a treaty, by put an end to all hope of disputing with her the empire of the ocean, or again establishing a footing in India by which the Beys were left in full possession of the country from Barbieh to the confines of Nubia, upon condition of their relinquishing all claims to the territory below the place just mentioned.

By this arrangement, he freed Lower Egypt from the exactions of the Mamlukes, and secured to the inhabitants of that part of the country the benefit of something like a settled government. He also applied himself to lighten their burdens, to redress their grievances, and to fortify Cairo so as to enable it to hold out against any sudden inroad of the disaffected Beys; and his whole conduct indeed was alike distinguished for wisdom and moderation. But, in 1790, the plague appeared in its most virulent type; and after committing frightful ravages amongst the lower classes, who in all countries, and particularly in Egypt, are the first victims of a pestilence, it put an end to the life of Hassan Pasha. By this event the authority which had kept the Mamlukes in check was annihilated; and, after a short interval, during which an attempt was made to confirm the authority of the Porte, Murad and Ibrahim returned from exile, and once more assumed the sovereign power, in defiance of all the menaces of the divan. But the domestic contentions by which Egypt had so long been distracted were now to be succeeded by foreign invasion [Napoleon invades Egypt].

Related material


“Egypt.” The Encylopædia Britanica or Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and General Literature. Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black: 1842. VIII, 458-560. Hathi Trust Digital Library online version of a copy in the University of Chicago Library. Web. 13 August 2020.

Last modified 15 June 2016