Mehmed Ali Pasa and Sultan Mahmud II
The Genesis of a Conflict over Syria
The conflict between Mehmed Ali Pasa of Egypt and Sultan Mahmud II has recently been the subject of discussion among several historians. The question is what justifies another paper on this theme? I believe that there is place for further discussion, because a fresh look at the subject will require its reinterpretation from a different angle. In other words, while some historians attribute the policies of Mehmed Ali and his objectives to his wish to expand and to annex new territories or to achieve 'independence', this paper will try to understand his conflict with the sultan against the background of developments that took place in the Ottoman empire during the reign of Sultan Mahmud II (1808-39). It will try to show that Mehmed Ali was a loyal servant of the Ottoman state and that his "revolt" was an act of self-defence and directed primarily against the sultan, his advisers and his policies, rather than against the state. It will try to show, moreover, that his ultimate objective was to guarantee security of tenure for himself and hereditary rights in the government of Egypt for his descendants after him and nothing else.
Sultan Mahmud II: centralization and despotic rule
Sultan Mahmud was raised to the sultanate in 1808 by Mustafa Bayrakdar (also called Alemdar), the ayan of the city of Ruscuk (Ruse) in north-west Bulgaria, who occupied Istanbul in July 1808 with the aim of restoring the deposed sultan, Selim III, to the throne. But the incumbent sultan, Mustafa IV, ordered the execution of Selim and of his own brother Mahmud. While Selim met his death, Mahmud was saved. As the new sultan, he appointed Bayrakdar to the grand vezirate. This was the first time that a provincial magnate used force to bring about a change in the sultanate and had himself appointed as grand vezir, and it would not be repeated.
The eighteenth century witnessed the rise of local dignitaries in the provinces of the Ottoman Empire, known as ayan and derebeys who carved up for themselves districts in which they enjoyed a virtual autonomy. They raised their own militias while ultimately preserving loyalty to the sultan. In October 1808, Grand Vezir Bayrakdar convened an assembly in Istanbul attended by a number of these dignitaries to discuss the relation between them and the state and among themselves. The decisions of the meeting provided them with guarantees of their possessions and respect for their established rights. Implicitly however, it meant the recognition by the state of a decentralized system of government. Each one of the dignitaries who attended the meeting arrived in Istanbul accompanied by several thousand of his own troops. Though these troops encamped outside the city walls, this was actually a demonstration of power on their part and a challenge both to the Janissaries and to the established Ottoman socio-political order in Istanbul.
It is not the place here to discuss this unique event, but the whole episode indicates that the power in the land was shirting from the hands of the sultanate and the upper classes in Istanbul to the hands of the provincial magnates. Increasingly, the sultan began to realize that he would be unable to rule in an effective manner as long as the ayan and derebeys were safely seated in their domains.
In light of this, the conflicting forces in Istanbul, the Janissaries on the one hand and the upper classes of the higher ulema and bureaucrats on the other, seem to have suspended the perennial hostility between themselves, closed their ranks, and stood united behind the palace. As of 1812 a drive began for the "removal and destruction" (izale ve istisallan) of the ayan and derebeys and the restoration of a centralized system of government. For over two decades this policy was applied relentlessly. The suppression of the local rulers by forces loyal to the sultan "was often ruthless and indiscriminate" or, to quote Ahmed Cevdet Pasa, "to crush the notables and noteworthy men of a province...was similar to leaving a garden bare of [its] flowers." Indeed, the authority of the sultan was finally restored, but at the expense of much suffering and bloodshed and often of the prosperity of many regions. Of these local rulers, the suppression of Tepedelenii Ali Pasa (known also as Ali Pasa of Ioannina) in north-western Greece was the most difficult. It took the sultans army almost two years to force his surrender (1820-22), In the end he was put to death despite his old age. Indeed it is difficult to understand the conflict between Mehmed Ali Pasa and Sultan Mahmud II without comprehending deeply enough the repercussions of the destruction of the ayan and derebeys and the impact it left on the paşa, as we shall see.
The destruction of the ayan and derebeys was followed by the destruction of the Janissaries. Formerly, there seem to have existed, though perhaps occasionally, a degree of understanding between these two socio-political forces especially in their objection to the nizam-i cedid, as the event of Edirne of 1806 had shown. But by the mid 1820s the Janissaries stood alone and Sultan Mahmud II and the upper classes in Istanbul succeeded in eliminating them. But, following these events the sultan's hands were freed and he turned despotic and tried to undermine the power of the upper classes in the city but was forced to compromise on this issue, as we shall see below.
Mehmed Ali and the Sublime Porte
Perhaps the most important result of the French occupation of Egypt between 1798 and 1801 was the crushing of the power of the Mamluks and ultimately the restoration of Egypt to the direct control of the Porte. But the governors appointed by the Porte following the evacuation of the French were unable to establish a stable government in the country. Finally, an officer named Mehmed Ali, who then commanded the Albanian contingent, managed to restore law and order in Cairo, and Egyptian ulema and notables applied to the sultan to appoint him as a governor general of the province.
Mehmed Ali descended from a family, most probably of Turkish origin, that had emigrated from south-east Anatolia and settled in Kavala in southern Macedonia some time earlier. His father, Ibrahim Aga, was a derbend agasi (i.e. a police chief or a warden of a mountain pass). On his mother's side he was related to Hiiseyin Aga, the ayan of Kavala. He worked for a while in the service of Hiiseyin Aga, but in 1801 he left to serve as second in command of the contingent recruited from southern Macedonia as part of the Ottoman force sent to seize control of Egypt from the French.
It is not the place here to describe his ascent to the position of governor general of Egypt or to review his achievements there. Our main concern is the relation between him and his suzerain, Sultan Mahmud II. From the time of his appointment in Egypt in 1805 and for over two decades Mehmed Ali showed complete loyalty and behaved in full subordination to the sultan. He paid the annual tribute in time; upon the orders of the sultan he waged war against the Wahhabis in Arabia which lasted for seven years (1811-18), and which ended in the occupation of their country and the destruction of their capital, Dariyya, by his forces. Upon the orders of the sultan again, Mehmed Ali sent his forces to the Morea (1824) to assist in suppressing the Greek revolt there. But despite these costly campaigns in the service of the state, which no other Ottoman governor was capable of undertaking, Mehmed Ali was treated as an ordinary vali (governor general). According to the custom of those days, the nomination of Ottoman valis was subject to yearly renewal. Every year after the feast of Ramadan, on the 5th of Sewal, the list of nominations of the valis for the ensuing year (tevcihat) was declared. Those whose names appeared on the list had already paid in advance to the treasury the annual tax of the provinces to which they were assigned. Mehmed Ali like the other valis, was subjected as well to this system and his appointment was renewed every year, until this practice was terminated in 1838. It is obvious that such a system did not provide him with security of tenure and indeed he constantly felt vulnerable and unsafe due to the policy of centralization which Sultan Mahmud was enforcing, and to the hostility that existed between him and Hiisrev Pasa, one of the closest advisors of the sultan and a most powerful statesman at the Porte. This hostility went back to 1801-3 when Hiisrev was governor general of Egypt and Mehmed Ali was an officer who was involved in forcing him out of his position and out of the country.
Thus, due to such feelings of vulnerability, he wrote to his official agent in Istanbul, the kapu kehya, on the eve of his campaign to Arabia, to check at the Porte the possibility of granting Egypt the status of an eyalet-i mwntaze (a privileged province) similar to that of Algiers, which meant virtually granting him autonomous status. If this was not possible he demanded to be appointed as governor general of the province of Sidon (in addition to Egypt), which he regarded strategically as a defence line for Egypt. Only in this way, he deemed, could he safeguard his position in Egypt while the bulk of his army was in Arabia. But, as expected, the sultan rejected these demands. On the contrary, attempts seem to have been made to remove him from Egypt or to get rid of him altogether.
Formation of the Turco-Egyptian elite
In face of such threats and aware of the policy of centralization of the sultan, Mehmed Ali drew strength from several sources. One of these sources was the Turkish speaking immigrants into Egypt. Indeed, following the power vacuum resulting from the elimination of the Mamluks, these immigrants were much needed by Mehmed Ali and became the basis of his administration.
The first to arrive were his relatives and friends from his native Kavala and nearby Drama in Macedonia. In the course of the following decade or so he purchased several hundred Mamluks who formed a military contingent loyal to him. In addition, once his rule in Egypt became stable, many Turks and Turkish speaking Ottomans, "in hundreds and sometimes in thousands," from Anatolia and other provinces headed to Egypt seeking employment or refuge. They were attracted either by the wealth of this province and the high salaries offered by Mehmed Ali or the desire to escape the suppressive policies of the sultan. It is difficult to ascertain which of these two reasons motivated them more. Certainly, the wealth of the country was an alluring factor. But there is evidence that some of them belonged to the second category, as we learn from a letter of Rauf Pasa, the then grand vezir written to Mehmed Ali asking him to send back Mehmed Bey, the son of Avnali Hasan Pasa, who had escaped to Egypt and joined the army oflbrahim, and adding "lest it would be said that those who were being suppressed by the state find refuge with you." Thus, a new ruling class numbering thousands was formed under Mehmed Ali from among which came the higher civil bureaucracy and the officers' corps of his army. Apart from his household and relatives, these were the main beneficiaries of the regime and naturally had a strong interest in its survival. In other words, in his conflict with the sultan, Mehmed Ali could depend on a strong core of Turco-Egyptian elite, many of whom were resentful of the sultan's policies or worried about their position and wealth gained under Mehmed Ali.
Establishment of the Egyptian army
But his primary source of strength was the new army. As said before, Mehmed Ali initially commanded a small contingent recruited from southern Macedonia. Shortly afterwards he became the commander of the Albanian contingent. But this armed force that had served him in Arabia was mercenary and irregular. At a certain stage he decided to establish a standing army. Consequently, he employed French officers and entrusted them with the training of his own Mamluks and Turks from among the new elite in Egypt. After training they served as officers in the new army. Indeed, all the officers of the new Egyptian army came from among the ranks of these immigrants to which, later on, Circassians were added as well. As for soldiers, Mehmed Ali tried to conscript Sudanese from the newly conquered Sudan, but this experiment failed. Finally, upon the advice of Drovetti, the French consul general, Mehmed Ali opted to conscript the Egyptian fellahs, a measure undertaken about one year after the destruction of Tepedelenli Ali Pasa. His destruction, as well as that of other ayan, "had aroused the fear and worries of Mehmed Ali and strengthened his resolve for istiklal'', wrote a Turkish historian of the conflict. Indeed, with the sultan's vigorous drive for centralization, nothing could have stopped him from treating the paşa of Egypt similarly. Thus, the establishment of an Egyptian regular army and a navy, absolutely loyal to him which had a vested interest in defending the regime, was the best means for Mehmed Ali and for the new Turco-Egyptian elite in Egypt to ensure their security and the survival of the regime. It was this approach of establishing his rule upon local foundations instituted and sustained by him that made Mehmed Ali different from the other ayan and difficult to crush.
The beginnings of the open conflict with the sultan
By the late 1820s Mehmed Ali felt strong enough to defy the sultan. During these years the tension between him and Sultan Mahmud steadily increased. Firstly, when the sultan, after the destruction of the Janissaries in 1826, came to establish his new army, the Asakir-i Mansure-yi Muhamediyye, he was willing to entrust its instruction and training to Muslim officers only. Thus, he asked Mehmed Ali to provide him with officers from the Egyptian army to help in training the new army of the state. But the paşa declined to comply, using various pretexts.
Secondly, after the Battle of Navarino off the shores of the Morea in the autumn of 1827, in which a joint fleet of England, Russia and France destroyed the Ottoman and Egyptian fleets, Mehmed Ali decided to withdraw his troops from the Morea without waiting for the approval of the sultan as he should have done. Thirdly, in 1828 Mehmed Ali declined to comply with the sultan's demand to send 12,000 Egyptian troops to assist in the war which Russia was waging against the Ottoman Empire and which ended with a humiliating defeat for the Ottoman army. Instead he offered to donate money for the war effort.
These excuses, especially the last one, put Mehmed Ali in the category of disobedience to the sultan and, as Mahmud did with other ayan, he could have forced his dismissal. But Mehmed Ali was more powerful than the other ayan, so Mahmud apparently bided his time and started planning for a confrontation with the paşa.
Rustum, in his A Calendar of State Papers, gives the translation into Arabic of a document issued by the Sublime Porte concerning the reorganization of the timars in the Asiatic provinces. Ahmed Lutfi also provides a summary of this document under the title "Nizam-i Abnayi Sipahiyyan". Although it is undated, Ahmed Lutfi places it in the year 1243/1828. It gives instructions to conduct a survey of the timars in central and eastern Anatolia and in the provinces of Aleppo, Damascus and Baghdad and to redistribute them, and then to combine the zeamets in the provinces of Maras, the sancak of Ayntab, and of Aleppo and Damascus and put them under one command.
It is not clear how far those instructions were carried out, but there is certain evidence that such reorganization took place in the sanjak of Nablus in central Palestine about 1828. According to a local historian, Ihsan al-Nimr, a governor of this sancak, Mustafa Aga Tbpcubasi "from the inhabitants of Istanbul" began in 1827 to register the timars and reorganize the alay [cavalry regiment] with local help. Then, added al-Nimr, "in 1243 an officer arrived from Istanbul to reorganize it anew and appointed a miralay [colonel] by the name of Abu-Bakr Bey from Istanbul" to command it. Being aware of the methods of Sultan Mahmud in his struggle against the ayan and derebeys in which he directed the governor general of a province to deploy the local forces in addition to his own contingents, against his neighbour, it is possible that the sultan was preparing the grounds for a future assault on Egypt.
In this context it is perhaps not irrelevant to add that, in the summer of 1831, a force was dispatched to Scutari (Ishkodra) in Albania, which attacked and suppressed Busath Mustafa, the ayan of that district and an ally of Mehmed Ali. Secondly, at the same time, Laz Ali Riza Pasa, the governor general of Aleppo, was ordered to launch an attack on Baghdad and bring down Daud Pasa, the semi-autonomous Mamluk ruler who had ruled the Province since 1817, and to suppress the Mamluk household that had controlled the province of Baghdad since 1749. The city fell into the hands of Ali Riza, and Daud Pasa was deported to Bursa. Soon afterwards, the Mamluks who had remained in Baghdad were massacred by Ali Riza. In this way the Iraqi provinces were brought under the direct rule of the Sublime Porte.
Thirdly, at the same time, that is in the summer of 1831, the sultan dispatched Benderii Selim Pasa as governor general of Damascus. Selim Pasa was of military background and grand vezir between 1824 and 1828, under whose direction and command the destruction of the Janissaries had taken place in 1826. The appointing of such a capable functionary who apparently was a confident of the sultan, to Damascus must in itself have aroused the apprehension of Mehmed Ali. More than that, "It was related" stated Mustafa Nuri that "he [i.e. Selim Pasa] was charged with a secret mission to stir up an incident in Egypt that would give a pretext for inflicting punishment upon Mehmed Ali." He added that the matter became known to the latter through his informants in Istanbul. Referring to this appointment, Asad Rustum, the historian of the Egyptian campaign to Syria, stated that the ex-Janissary agas in Damascus were afraid that Selim Pasa was sent to suppress them as he had with the Janissary corps in Istanbul five years earlier. Even Abdullah Pasa the governor general of Acre, he added, was also afraid of Selim Pasa and instigated the agas against him. However, Selim Pasa entered Damascus in advance of the bulk of the troops assigned to his command. Incautiously, he imposed an unpopular tax on the merchants, which provided a pretext for the revolt against him which was led by agas who controlled the popular quarters of the city. He was besieged in the citadel until he surrendered. The notables of the city tried to protect him but the insurgents killed him along with several of his aides. A number of Ottoman historians suspected that Mehmed Ali was behind this event. Following that, according to Ahmet Rasim, it was decided "to form a large army to punish the paşa."
Mahmud II and the upper classes in Istanbul
But to wage a war against the paşa of Egypt, the sultan needed not only a large army bur also a united internal front behind him, especially the full backing of the upper classes in Istanbul, as had been the case with the destruction of the other ayan or of the Janissaries a few years earlier. Apparently, the sultan expected such backing from them. Mehmed Ali was a stranger to the establishment in Istanbul. Like many ayan, he had built his own power base independently of the sultan, and had lately disobeyed him on several occasions. But at this stage the internal front was not united. Many ulema and bureaucrats were apparently reluctant to give the sultan their full support in this matter, especially in the first phase of the conflict (i.e. until 1833), not because they sympathized with the paşa of Egypt but for other reasons.
Following the elimination of the Janissaries, they had gained much political power because no socio-political force existed at that stage in Istanbul to counterbalance their power. Consequently, Mahmud was unhappy with this situation. Rulers feel more in control when they balance the socio-political forces in the state against each other. On the other hand, once freed from the Janissary shackles, he assumed a more despotic posture. But by the time of our discussion, many members of those classes were motivated by high Islamic ideals disseminated by the Naqshbandi-Mujaddidi and Naqshbandi-Khalidi orders in which they found a renewed moral strength. As such they called for the supremacy of the shari'a in the state and that high and low should abide by its rules. But the sultan was apparently not ready to be bound in state matters by any constraints. Consequently his next step was to try to intimidate and weaken the upper classes. He first dismissed the emissaries of Sheykh Khalid from Istanbul, and followed this step up by the exile of their most devoted adherents from among the elite in the city. Indeed, in the course of the few years that followed the destruction of the Janissaries very many were banished from Istanbul and sent into exile including many ulema. Moreover, he deprived many leading men, ulema. and bureaucrats, of their independent economic base, namely the evkaf, which provided them with considerable income. Indeed "the major evkaf of all the chief dignitaries of the state had been taken away from them ... on Mahmud II’s orders." Such measures contradicted age-old traditions and norms and was partly aimed at undermining the power of these classes.
In addition, the sultan gave permission for "the reparation and restoration" of 29 Greek and 35 Armenian churches and a number of synagogues in Istanbul and other Ottoman lands because "they fell into ruins" which means that their restoration fitted into shari'a norms. Supposing that was the case, the fact that the permission was issued by the sultan and not by the kadi in the place, as the normal practice required, was a sign that the sultan bypassed the legal system for unclear reasons and perhaps it was a sign of distrust of the ulema on his part. Moreover, since the early 1830s we find Sultan Mahmud presenting the şeyhulislam and many other state dignitaries with his portrait ornamented with diamonds in complete disregard of Islamic principles. In addition, according to the traveller Horatio Southgate, in 1836 the sultan had his portrait solemnly displayed in various barracks and government offices, noting that "This innovation of the Sultan had given serious offence to the more rigid Musulmans."
All these acts caused much resentment in Istanbul and provided fertile grounds for the propaganda of Mehmed Ali against the sultan and his policies. By pecuniary means, wrote Mustafa Nuri, a well-informed and reliable historian, Mehmed Ali succeeded in engaging numerous informants from among the palace staff (enderun-i humayun) and from among state functionaries who kept him informed of what was going on in the palace and at the Porte. But money alone is not a sufficient incentive, and the dissatisfaction with Mahmud's policies and despotic rule should be taken into consideration in the first place. This dissatisfaction seems to have divided the upper classes in Istanbul, segments of which may have shared with Mehmed Ali their distrust of the sultan and fear of his intentions. Moreover, the fact that Sultan Mahmud was not popular in Anatolia opened the way for the paşa to gain many adherents there, as we shall refer to later.
The objectives of the campaign into Syria and Anatolia
In 1831 Mehmed Ali turned 62 years old. After 26 years in Egypt and despite the numerous services he had rendered to the sultan, he was still treated by him as an ordinary vali whose nomination was renewed annually and could be terminated at the sultan's wish. And there were no signs that the sultan would budge from this attitude towards him. On the contrary, as we have seen above, Mahmud was preparing the grounds to move against him sooner or later, as he did with the other ayan and in accordance with his policy of centralization, This deep feeling of insecurity lay behind Mehmed Ali's invasion of Syria and Anatolia in 1831-33. In the given circumstances, the best means to achieve security of tenure was by obtaining it by force. For him it was a matter of life and death, as Asad Rustum, who studied the campaign, stated in his conclusion: "In his struggle with Sultan Mahmud-II, Mehmed Ali fought for his wealth, for his position and prestige and very probably for his life." Moreover, we may assume that the fate of the Turco-Egyptian elite depended on the fate of Mehmed Ali. The status and prosperity they had gained in Egypt and indeed their future depended on the paşa's success in obtaining security of tenure in the government of Egypt and hereditary rights for his descendants. Because of this they stood firmly by him in this struggle, as long as Sultan Mahmud was on the throne and his policies were implemented.
In October 1831 Mehmed Ali's army commanded by his son, Ibrahim, marched into Syria. It is not our purpose in this paper to describe this campaign or the government of Ibrahim in Syria, but our concern is primarily the conflict with the sultan. Had the aim of Mehmed Ali been just to annex Syria, his army had completed its occupation by the autumn of 1832. But Ibrahim did not halt his advance. On the contrary, he moved on without delay and crossed the Beylan pass, entered Anatolia, occupied Adana and moved on to Konya in the middle of a harsh winter (late November, 1832). This drive into Anatolia suggests additional objectives for the war.
Historians of nineteenth-century Egypt study Mehmed Ali from an Egyptian perspective and overlook the sultan's policy of centralization and its repercussions for the paşa's fate. They project Mehmed Ali as a state builder who, after establishing modern institutions, and making Egypt into a strong regional power, sought to guarantee its future. Thus, they tend to look at his campaign into Syria from this perspective, i.e. that Syria was necessary for the security and prosperity of Egypt. "Muhammad Ali sought independence" wrote Marsot, herself an historian of Egyptian origin. "Egypt's resources [she continued] ...were sufficient... to finance an army and a navy, to invest capital in agriculture and industry, in brief to turn it into a state." The Syrian provinces were needed because they served as "a buffer between him and the sultan," and especially because of the economic benefits that Egypt could derive from possessing them. In other words she suggests that the future of Egypt was at the top of the agenda of Mehmed All. On the other hand, the central theme of Asad Rustum is Mehmed Ali, not Egypt. He agrees with Marsot on the necessity of Syria for the paşa. It was needed for its wealth in raw materials and because it was essential "for the safety of Egypt," as he quotes a saying attributed to Mehmed Ali. However, even if the claim of a buffer zone looks plausible and more statesmanlike than the economic one, it should still be emphasized that Mehmed Ali did not make war on the sultan in order to annex Syria, because if possessing Syria was the objective behind the campaign, why then did his forces not stop at the Taurus Mountains which form a natural barrier between Syria and Anatolia? The fact that his forces penetrated into Anatolia with the intention of reaching Istanbul suggests that Mehmed Ali had had, up to that stage, undeclared objectives.
Before going further, however, it is perhaps necessary to verify Mehmed Ali's "intention of declaring independence," as he informed the European consuls in 1838. When Ibrahim, following Russian intervention, received instructions from his father to halt his march towards Istanbul (early February, 1833), he wrote back to him saying that in the coming negotiations he should ask for "istiklal", a term usually understood by modern historians as full independence. To my mind there is a misunderstanding of this term in the context of the first half of the nineteenth century. Indeed, in the connotation of the twentieth century, "istiklal" could be understood as absolute independence and sovereignty, but what did it mean in the Ottoman political discourse in the nineteenth century? It should be emphasized, however, that Mehmed Ali raised the question of "independence" for himself and his descendants in Egypt, which did not necessarily mean secession from the Ottoman Empire. Indeed, it is doubtful whether he intended to sever his ties with Istanbul altogether.
To my mind the meaning of “istiklal" in Ottoman/Arab terminology of the nineteenth century was "self rule" within the Ottoman framework. For instance, one of the demands of the "nationalist" placards in Beirut in 1880 was "istiklal” in common with our Lebanese brethren.As is known, the mutasarraflik of Mount Lebanon enjoyed a certain degree of autonomy only. The Arabic-English Lexicon of Wehr gives "autonomous" as one of the meanings of "mustaqill". But when it came to secession from the empire, the term "istiklal kamil" (complete independence) was used. Similarly, when Arab nationalists in the first half of the twentieth century demanded independence from the mandatory states, they used the term "istiklal tamm", i.e. independence defined by the adjective "complete". In other words, the term "istiklal" in the Ottoman political discourse in the nineteenth century should be understood as "self rule" which implies also hereditary rights. That was what Mehmed Ali actually demanded, and in the end that was what he was granted.
Indeed, Mehmed Ali was first of all a Muslim and a Turk who believed in the absolute necessity of the continued existence of the Ottoman Empire for the defense of the Muslim lands. The idea of seceding from it, I venture to say, was repugnant to him. Besides, he had to take into consideration the Turco-Egyptian elite. They were newcomers to Egypt and had their roots in Anatolia and Rumeli and strong family ties there and loyalty to the Ottoman state. The fact that many of them suffered as a result of the policy of centralization does not mean that they were ready to abandon the Ottoman Empire altogether. More than that, Mehmed Ali was aware that a completely independent Egypt would fall an easy prey to the European powers. In this context J.G. Wilkinson, the noted British Egyptologist who lived in Egypt between the years 1821 and 1833 and who kept visiting afterwards, had the following to say about this matter: "Mehmed Ali is aware that the moment he declares his independence, he lays Egypt open to the attacks of any European nation ... His wish is to render his possessions hereditary but still subject to the Porte." Thus, it is my contention that the idea of secession from the Ottoman Empire contradicted his world view and his political prudence, and it was not his objective. Indeed, one would agree with the judgment of Kutluoglu that "it is by no means certain that Mehmed Ali Pasa believed the obtainment of formal independence to be either desirable or practical." It was "rather an attempt to leave to his descendants a secure inheritance." Similarly, one would agree with Fahmy in his conclusion: "Rather than seeing Mehmet Ali as striving to achieve independence on behalf of the Egyptian nation ... this book has argued that Mehmed Ali was seeking the establishment of a secure personal rule for himself and his household in Egypt." And I would add, security for the Turco-Egyptian elite as well.
The unrevealed objective: the "sultanate renewal"
In other words, the war launched by Mehmed Ali was not against the Ottoman state but against the sultan and his advisors whose policies were in his eyes disastrous for the Ottoman Empire and put him and all that he had achieved in Egypt in constant danger of being eliminated, as he told Consul General Campbell in May 1838. In this sense two quotations made by Rustum verify this judgment. He attributed the first to Wahid Efendi, a confidential scribe at Ibrahim's headquarters in Konya, who admitted to Mehmed Resid Pasa, the grand vezir who fell captive into Egyptian hands in the battle of Konya, that the Egyptians were fighting in self-defence. Ibrahim Pasa, on the other hand, reassured the grand vezir that "his sole aim and that of his father's was to put an end to the sultan's folly, injustice, and disregard of the interest of the nation," (meaning perhaps the Muslim community). These two quotations summarize the objectives of the campaign. The first was, as mentioned, to secure the position of Mehmed Ali in Egypt. The second, however, was not solely a personal objective but pertains to the Ottoman empire as a whole and indicates that the campaign had had another objective which was not revealed publicly except after the battle of Konya (December, 1832).
When Ibrahim moved into Anatolia, Ottoman historians of the period observed that he did not encounter hostility from the local population. On the contrary, according to a report of the mutasarif of Kayseri, "all cities and towns from Konya to Kayseri had rendered their submission to Ibrahim Pasa." Those historians attributed this to the propaganda of Mehmed Ali. They remarked that he had worked for many years to gain the sympathy and adherence of ulema and notables from Istanbul and the Anatolian provinces. When they went on the pilgrimage to Mecca, they were well treated by the Egyptian authorities in the holy cities and then were invited on their way back to pass through Cairo where they were graciously received by the paşa, and "were bestowed with gifts and travel expenses (harcirah)." Mehmed Ali, added Mustafa Nuri, used to raise the question of the condition of the state with them and to claim that all that he wanted was "to serve religion and state", or to rescue the state "from deceit and from Russian domination." In this way, they continued, he succeeded in bringing to his side "many high officials (erkan-i devlet), ulema and eşraf of the memleket” (meaning Anatolia). Mustafa Nuri added "also from Istanbul and other places." In addition to these efforts, what turned public opinion in his favour was the victory of Ibrahim Pasa.
Already, on the first of December 1832, 20 days before the battle of Konya, Mehmed Ali wrote to Ibrahim, "to obtain the required fatwas from the muftis of Damascus and Aleppo … in regard to the deposition of the sultan and the raising of his elder son, Abdiilmecid, in his place, and to have those fatwas proclaimed in Anatolia and Istanbul." But after that battle at which the last army that the sultan could muster and which was led by the grand vezir himself was defeated, Mehmed Ali seems to have felt more emboldened than ever and instructed Ibrahim to work on that objective without delay. Thus we find Ibrahim Pasa sending letters to certain valis in Anatolia inviting them to a meeting in Istanbul to discuss, among other things "the reform of the condition of the state (islah-i mizac-i devlet)." The above-mentioned efforts of Mehmed Ali to gain adherents in Anatolia had borne fruit by then and many ulema and ferifs "fell for [the idea of] sultanate renewal [tecdid-i saltanat]."
A few days after the battle of Konya, Mehmed Ali wrote to "one of the notables" informing him of its results and referring to "the readiness of the population of Anatolia... to agree with the Egyptian idea of deposing Sultan Mahmud II."
On the 26th of December, five days after that battle, Ibrahim wrote to his father informing him that he was collecting the fetvas needed to prepare public opinion for the deposition of the sultan, and that the grand vezir expressed his readiness to accompany him on his march to Istanbul to achieve that aim. On that same day, Mehmed Resid wrote to Mehmed Ali and suggested convening a general meeting of the ulema of Rumeli, Albania, Bosnia, and Anatolia to examine the acts of the sultan "and if these acts were found to violate the shari'a they (i.e. those assembled) would [declare] the deposition of the sultan and the raising of his son in his place" and added that there should be extreme caution in such moves for the safety of the young prince, Abdulmecid who was nine years old and his younger brother, Abdulaziz, lest Mahmud in a fit of rage inflict harm on them. In response Mehmed Ali wrote to Ibrahim warning him about the grand vezir who was known to be crafty and a very shrewd person and suggested to him that he send him to Cairo to discuss the matter with him, that is with Mehmed Ali. However, despite his distrust of the grand vezir, Mehmed Ali sent him a gift and a 150,000 kuruş for his expenses, and begged him to accept them.
However, at the same time as this correspondence, Ibrahim continued his advance towards the northwest of Anatolia. On the 5th of January 1833, Mehmed Ali wrote to him expressing his approval of his plan to proceed by way of Eskisehir towards Uskudar or Bursa, and added "the circumstances were opportune to proclaim the fetvas concerning the deposition of the sultan...and that the purpose of this movement is...to save the Muslims from oppression and achieve their wellbeing and repose."
All this correspondence shows that Mehmed Ali was serious about this project. The question is, to what end was the change in the sultanate intended?
Nowhere did Mehmed Ali reveal his ultimate purpose. As mentioned before, Ibrahim told the grand vezir that their aim was "to put an end to the sultan's folly, injustice, and disregard of the interests of the nation," without specifying his intentions, which leaves us in the dark. However, it is highly probable that Mehmed Ali was totally against the policy of centralization imposed by the sultan. If so, was he planning to bring a reversal of this policy in favour of decentralization? It is difficult to give a satisfactory answer. In the sources available to us there is no reference whatsoever to such an alternative policy. But the question should remain open.
The failure of the aim of "sultanate renewal"
But on the 17th of January, 12 days after the letter in which Mehmed Ali approved the itinerary of lbrahim's advance, he wrote again to Ibrahim telling him that he had been told by the French consul at Alexandria that a Russian general, Muravieff, would soon be arriving in Egypt, presumably with the intention of mediating, or so he supposed. Consequently, he ordered Ibrahim to halt his advance until his talks with the Russian general. Parallel to the mission of Muravieff to Mehmed Ali, a Russian colonel reached Ibrahim's camp to warn him against marching on any further. About the same time Halil Rifat Pap, the Tophane muşiri [Marshal of the Artillery], arrived at Cairo bringing the sultan's pardon to Mehmed Ali. It must have been a shattering moment for him to write to his son to halt his advance at whatever point he had reached and not to proceed any further. Ibrahim's camp was then in Kutahya, about a week's march from Istanbul.
Having remained without an organized force to defend Istanbul and to secure him on the throne, Sultan Mahmud had no alternative but to ask for Russian help and as is known a Russian fleet dropped anchor in the Bosphorus. With this, the whole idea of deposing Sultan Mahmud fell. If Ibrahim had hoped to repeat the precedence of Mustafa Bayrakdar in 1808, his dream was also shattered.
However, this was not the only measure that the sultan had undertaken to secure his position in Istanbul. I have remarked above that the upper classes in Istanbul were not united behind him in this conflict, and many resented his arbitrary and despotic acts and his violation, in their view, ofshari'a precepts. Mehmed Ali's threat forced him to undertake several measures to modify his acts and to appease the upper classes. Firstly, Mahmud attempted to reconcile with the Sunni-Orthodox trend. Thus, he bestowed higher ranks on scores of ulema and bureaucrats. Above all, he appointed Mekki-zade Mustafa Asim Efendi to the post of şeyhulislam. Mustafa Asim was a descendant of an upper class family in Istanbul. His father, Mekki Efendi, and his father-in-law Samani-zade Omer Hulusi Efendi, had both served in the same capacity during the reign of Selim III, as had his father-in-law in the early years of Mahmud II's reign. Both of them belonged to the Naqshbandi-Mujaddidi order, and Mustafa Asim himself was a strong believer in Sheykh Khalid and a leading Naqshbandi-Khalidi adherent in Istanbul. His appointment could guarantee the support of the higher ulema to the sultan.
About the same time, Mahmud dismissed Ahmed Hulusi Pasa from the post of kaymakam (who substituted for the grand vezir during his absence from Istanbul). Like Hiisrev, Ahmed Hulusi was an arch-enemy of Mehmed Ali and a very close and influential adviser to the sultan.
Moreover, he appointed ulema, one of whom was a known Khalidi follower, to tutor his two sons Abdiilmecid and Abdulaziz, which very probably affected their socio-religious outlook when they became sultans. In addition to these measures he allowed the return of many exiles, a measure that had already begun at the start of the conflict, and performed other acts with the intention of safeguarding the internal front behind him in this conflict and prevent dissidence.
However, parallel to his policy of reconciling the upper and conservative classes, Mahmud took intensive measures in reforming the apparatus of government in the fields of civil administration, education and the military. Indeed, the conflict with Mehmed Ali served as a catalyst for modernization at the level of the central government.
Moreover, it is believed that there is a direct connection between the campaign of Mehmed Ali and the promulgation of the Gulhane Rescript after the death of Sultan Mahmud. In my view the Rescript was not due to the Ottoman statesmen's desire to placate the European powers in order to gain their backing in the conflict against the paşa. In fact, there was not much need for that. The European powers, controlled at that period by aristocratic and conservative governments, were against change and for preserving legitimacy. But the Giilhane Rescript was necessary to pacify the Muslim and Turkish subjects of the sultan who had been angered by the policies of Mahmud and alienated by his despotic government, especially by the brutal methods used in the suppression of the ayan and derebeys, in addition to his violation of shari'a precepts. As is known, the Rescript pledged the supremacy of the shari'a and laws in the state and the end of arbitrary and despotic government. Above all it promised security of life, honour and property for all the subjects. Copies of the Rescript were dispatched to all the provinces including Egypt and Syria, translated where necessary, and publicly read. It was received with much satisfaction and widely hailed. In Syria, in the words of Ahmed Cevdet Pasa, "it turned public opinion in favour of the sultanate and against the Egyptians. The people of Aleppo and Damascus changed all of a sudden against them."
Not only did the Syrians change their attitude towards the sultan, but more important still, so too did many of the officer corps of Mehmed Ali's army, the great majority of whom were of Turkish origin. As is known, eleven days after the death of Mahmud and the rise of Sultan Abdulmecid, an emissary was dispatched to Cairo conveying to Mehmed Ali the new sultan's "pardon and forgiveness" and his promise to grant him the hereditary government of Egypt, an offer which was confirmed by the Protocol of London in July 1840. This conciliatory offer, coupled with the pledges of the Giilhane Rescript, were enough to make many officers of the Egyptian army reconsider their attitude towards Istanbul. They were fighting Sultan Mahmud and his policies not the Ottoman state. The new sultan pledged to rule in justice and equity. Above all he promised to grant Mehmed Ali hereditary government in Egypt, which implicitly meant security for their status and prosperity in Egypt. Consequently there was no longer any need to be hostile towards the Porte.
When the Porte started to send secret agents to talk to those officers they found many of them, including some of lbrahim's top aides, apparently ready to receive them and talk to them. When these contacts became known to Ibrahim, he regarded them as committing treason and his reaction was violent. As I have shown elsewhere, in November 1840 he put five colonels to death "because they have committed treason," the nature of which remains unknown. Moreover, according to Mustafa Nuri, a colonel named Sadik Bey defected to the sultan's side along with the staff of his regiment. Even Serif Pasa, a son-in-law of Mehmed Ali and for eight years the governor general of Syria, secretly received an emissary of the Porte. And when the matter became known to Ibrahim he arrested him and took him under escort to Cairo.
Following these new circumstances, the Egyptian army lost its will to fight and when the British, Austrian and Ottoman forces tried to land in Beirut and Acre in October 1840 they met with little resistance. Following that Mehmed Ali recognized that it was time to settle. The Sublime Porte had already offered him the post of hereditary ruler of Egypt under the suzerainty of the sultan. But he had, it seems, no faith in the promises of the Porte. It was only after this offer was actually guaranteed by the European powers in the Protocol of London of 15th July 1840 that he was ready to accept it. He then gave orders to Ibrahim to evacuate Syria. Arabia was also evacuated at the same time. After the ferman of inheritance of 10th June 1841, Mehmed Ali, by then over 70 years old, finally achieved what he had worked for since he became the governor general of Egypt.
Mehmed Ali waged war against his suzerain, Sultan Mahmud II, not for the sake of expansion or for achieving full independence and separating Egypt from the Ottoman Empire. He was certainly a wiser statesman than such claims suggest. It is my contention that he opened hostilities first of all in self-defense. In fact he was the last of the ayan and Sultan Mahmud, as we have seen, was preparing to get rid of him as he did with the others of this class in Anatolia and Rumeli. Secondly, Mehmed Ali waged war to secure hereditary rule in Egypt, to guarantee the future of his family and the survival of his achievements and reforms in the country. In these two objectives he was backed by the Turco-Egyptian elite who obviously had a basic interest in the survival of the socio-political order he had created in Egypt.
Mehmed Ali was planning, it seems, to reach Istanbul and bring down the sultan and raise his heir, Abdiilmecid, in his place. We have seen that he built up considerable support for this cause in Anatolia. Deposing a sultan had taken place many times before and Sultan Mahmud II had many enemies in Istanbul and Anatolia who would have greeted such a move with applause. As for him he would have felt safer if there were a change in the sultanate. Whether he had other objectives in mind such as the establishment of the Ottoman Empire on a decentralized system is a matter for further research. Indeed, except France, the European powers stood by Sultan Mahmud and his policy of centralization. Apparently, this attitude of the powers coupled with a change of heart among leading members of the elite in Istanbul in favour of the sultan, ensured the latter's survival. The fact that Sultan Mahmud remained in control in Istanbul helped to sustain his policy of centralization and gave him the opportunity to back it up with further measures.
Indeed, we cannot fail to see that the challenges that Mehmed Ali posed for Istanbul forced the intensification of the measures of modernization at the level of the central organs of the state. These measures initiated by Sultan Mahmud and continued by his successors, opened the way in the coming decades for thousands of young men, predominantly of Turkish origin, to enter the service of the state in the ranks of the bureaucracy or the military.
The result of this development was the consolidation of the centralized system of government run by the bureaucracy and sustained by a relatively strong army which characterized the Ottoman Empire in the last few generations of its existence. Finally, though Mehmed Ali failed in his second objective he succeeded in the first. He obtained recognition of the Porte and of the Powers for his autonomous status and hereditary rule in Egypt for which he had worked since becoming governor general of this province.
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