Muhammad ?Ali, Dynasty of

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Founded by an adventurous Turkish cotton merchant who created an autonomous Egyptian state within the Ottoman Empire, the Muhammad ˓Ali dynasty lasted into the mid-twentieth century, when it was abolished by revolutionary Free Officers led by Jamal ˓Abd al-Nasser.

The dynasty is named after Muhammad ˓Ali (r. 1805–1849), a commander of the Ottoman force dispatched to oust Napoleon Bonaparte's army in 1801. Playing local politics shrewdly, he secured appointment as governor of Egypt in 1805. He served his sultan as loyal vassal, sending troops to re-conquer the Hijaz and to repress the Greek rebellion. At the same time, he consolidated authority over Egypt, destroying the bases of Mamluk military and economic power and seizing control of a vast amount of state land. By the 1820s he embarked on economic, military, and educational reforms, many of which presaged similar impulses in Istanbul. In 1831 Egypt invaded Syria; only European intervention prevented a drive into Anatolia. A treaty in 1840 cut back his military might and proscribed his protectionist economic policies. He did, however, retain dynastic rights to Egypt.

˓Abbas (r.1848–1854) undid most of the dynast's reforms, halting conscriptions of peasants for works projects and military service. Sa˓id (r. 1854–1863) sought to emulate Muhammad ˓Ali, reinstituting Western-modeled educational reform and embarking upon infrastructure development, most notably granting the Suez Canal concession. Isma˓il (r. 1863–1879), the first "khedive" (a special Ottoman designation for governor), inherited an enormous public debt, but continued Sa˓id's reformist thrust. The debt crisis of the late 1860s led Isma˓il to sell Egypt's Suez shares, institute a consultative assembly, and accept imposition of "dual control"—French and British officials to monitor Egypt's finances. His resistance to European authority, fueled by a rising nationalist movement, led to his deposition by the sultan. Tawfiq (r. 1879–1892) confronted the nationalist ˓Urabi revolt that culminated, in 1882, in British occupation. His successors, ˓Abbas Hilmi (r. 1892–1914) and Husayn Kamil (r. 1914–1917), ruled primarily at British behest, the latter, after Britain declared a protectorate in 1914, as sultan.

Following the 1919 nationalist revolution, Britain granted Egypt conditional independence under a constitutional monarchy. King Fuad (Fu˒ad) (r. 1917–1936) retained enormous constitutional power over the newly endowed parliament, but still needed to answer to British superiors. Caught between the vise of British authority and the king's unassailable right to dissolve parliament, the "liberal experiment" quickly soured. Farouk (Faruq) (r. 1936–1952) acceded to the throne with great fanfare, a charismatic, seemingly pious, socially conscious youth who, many hoped, might stabilize the discredited order. But he quickly disappointed, becoming ultimately a caricature: the obese gambler and sordid playboy, a modern Nero. His second wife, a commoner, bore him a son, Ahmad Fu ad, who inherited the throne under a regency when Farouk abdicated and left Egypt at the insistence of the military in July 1952. However, in June 1953 the Nasser regime abolished the monarchy, proclaiming a republic. Farouk, ever the butt of popular satire, died abroad in 1965; the officers allowed him to be buried in Egypt, although not alongside his predecessors.

See also˓Abd al-Nasser, Jamal ; Modernization, Political: Authoritarianism and Democratization ; Nationalism: Arab ; Reform: Arab Middle East and North Africa ; Revolution: Modern .


Berque, Jacques. Egypt: Imperialism and Revolution. Translated by Jean Stewart. New York: Praeger, 1972.

Sayyid-Marsot, Afaf Lutfi al-. Egypt in the Reign of MuhammadAli. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

Joel Gordon