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Muhammad Ali°


MUHAMMAD ALI ° (1769–1849), ruler of *Egypt from 1805 to 1849. First coming to Egypt in 1799 with the Ottoman sultan's armies, Muhammad Ali quickly rose to power there and conquered the Sudan, *Palestine, and *Syria. He successfully subdued the *Mamluks, massacring them in 1811. By exploiting the weakness of the Ottomans and the disunity of the Great Powers, he consolidated his position by military campaigns outside Egypt and important reforms within the country. He also appointed French officers who had retired from their duties at the close of the Napoleonic Wars. Nevertheless he was unable to maintain his hold over Palestine and Syria, owing to the opposition of Britain and other European countries – with the exception of France – and finally came into conflict with the sultan in 1840. His only important achievement in his foreign policy was the commitment of the sultan to leave the governorship of Egypt in the hands of his family. His internal reforms were also largely motivated by personal interests, but they partially helped in developing and rebuilding Egypt. Despite his severity and his cruel punishments, the lot of his subjects improved. The public administration and the collection of taxes became more efficient, but the reforms essentially took place in the fields of irrigation, agriculture, industry, commerce, justice, health, and education. The relative security within Egypt encouraged commerce; the members of the religious minorities, such as Christians and Jews, also played an active role. Nevertheless, as a result of his personal retention of various monopolies during most of his rule, Muhammad Ali increased his income, but slowed down the development of commerce. His experiments in reforming the system of justice ran foul of a lengthy tradition of corruption among many qadis (religious judges); in order to circumvent them, he established two new courts of justice, in *Cairo and *Alexandria, to which he appointed Muslim and Christian merchants as judges (in Alexandria, there was also a Jewish judge); they were to deal with affairs of business and commerce, especially between members of different religions. Muhammad Ali's generation did not complete the modernization of Egypt and some of his reforms were neglected after his death; the seeds for the Arabization of the country had however been sown. In any event, the Jews of Egypt exchanged the arbitrariness of the many rulers of the land – namely the Mamluks – for the arbitrariness of a single ruler. Though they were still oppressed, the authority of the law protected their persons and their property. When taxes were levied, they were treated in the same way as the other non-Muslims in Egypt, i.e., without discrimination. Personal and material security resulted in an increase in the Jewish population in Egypt (Jews immigrated there from *Italy and *Greece), and by the close of Muhammad Ali's rule there were over 7,000 Jews, including about 1,200 Karaites. Most of the Jews lived in towns and were essentially occupied in commerce, crafts, and public services. Under the influence of Sir Moses *Montefiore, Muhammad Ali did not allow the *Damascus blood libel (1840) to spread to other places. The years of Muhammad Ali's rule of Palestine (1832–40) were a time of relief for the Jewish inhabitants of Ereẓ Israel and especially *Jerusalem, which had been troubled by the Fellaheen revolts.


S. Ghorbal, The Beginnings of the Egyptian Question and the Rise of Mehemet Ali (1928); M. Sabry, L'empire égyptien sous Mohamed-Ali et la question d' Orient (1811–1849) (1930); H. Dodwell, The Founder of Modern Egypt (1931); M. Zeliger, Mediniyyut Eiropit ba-Mizraḥ ha-Karov (1941); H.A.B. Rivlin, The Agricultural Policy of Muammad ʿAli in Egypt (1961); J.M. Landau, Jewsin Nineteenth-century Egypt (1969), index. add. bibliography: J.M. Landau (ed.), Toledot Yehudei Miẓrayim be-Tekufah ha-Otmanit (1988), index.

[Jacob M. Landau]

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