The Unburied City – Muhammad Ali Pasha & the Making of Modern Alexandria (Part Three)

One could be forgiven if they thought the old Alexandria has vanished forever into the pages of history. The large communities of Greeks, Italians, British, French, Armenians, Lebanese and Syrians that made the city a cultural melting pot for much of the 19th and 20th centuries are all gone. The numbers of them lost to history are startling. 150,000 Greeks lived in the city during the first half of the 20th century, only about a thousand still reside there today. A city that was once home to tens of thousands of Jews, at last count has only ten. Compared to the totals of a century ago, only a handful of foreigners now call Alexandria home. They fled the city in the decades after World War II and took their cosmopolitan culture with them. Economically, the city has yet to recover the stature it once enjoyed.

Today, Alexandria is a thoroughly Egyptian city. While the Egyptians have always been there, historically they also had lots of company. That is no longer true. In the same way that post-World War II Europe became a series of ethnically homogenous nation-states, the same thing happened in Egypt. The presence of foreigners (who often referred to themselves as Levantines) was washed away by the rising tide of nationalism. Trying to find them in the city today is at best an exercise in scarcity and at worst, a futile pursuit. The people are almost all gone, but not forgotten. Their existence lives on in biographies, works of history, memoirs and manuscripts that detail their lives. These sources are available for those who seek them out.

Rising above – Muhammed Ali’s Equestrian Statue in the Place des Consuls 1882

Pathways to the Past – Old Alexandria
There is another source redolent of old Alexandria, one that cannot be found in libraries or scholarly works, but is a living, physical presence in the city today. This is the built landscape that Levantines imposed upon the city. Parts of which still exist. Both rulers and ruled contributed to this cityscape. They unwittingly left traces of their presence scattered down avenues and boulevards, by the seaside and deep within the inner city. A scaffolding of historical proportions that the current inhabitants live within. This landscape is alive and well for those who know where and what to look for. It is both part of the contemporary city and a city unto itself. It includes the famed palace of Ras el-Tin where Muhammad Ali Pasha (Mehmet Ali) held court and the Trianon Café where the lush and literary bided their time together. At its core, Alexandria still honors this rich past offering pride of place to the man who did more than any single individual to modernize the city. In Al-Manshiya Square, which was known as the Place Des Consuls during the 19th century, the towering equestrian statue of Muhammad Ali Pasha still stands today. This is as it should be since it was Muhammad Ali who was responsible for the square’s construction and the resurrection of Alexandria.

By 1830, Muhammad Ali Pasha’s overhaul of Alexandria had been a stunning success. Trade was booming and the population had risen exponentially since he had taken the helm of Ottoman Pasha (governor) in Egypt three and a half decades earlier. Alexandria, like Egypt, had been restored to an economic powerhouse. It was one of the greatest successes of Muhammad Ali’s reign. Remarkably, he was still looking for ways to improve the city. Others might say he was looking for ways to Europeanize it. The longer Muhammad Ali’s reign went on, the greater his affinity for all things European. For instance, Ras el-Tin palace had first been constructed in what was known as “Rumi style”. Made mainly of wood and plaster it evoked traditional craftsmanship from his native Macedonia. This was later transformed into more of a Baroque structure due to revisions by an Italian architect hired by Muhammed Ali to make stylistic changes which Europeanized the palace.

Grand opening – Place des Consuls in Alexandria 1862 (Credit: Antonio Beato)

Place des Consuls – A Rational Undertaking
The Place des Consuls was another project that came to define Alexandria during the reign of Muhammad Ali. It started out as a large open space not far from the seaside. European residents came here to stroll about and enjoy the fresh breezes wafting through the area. Open spaces were thought to be beneficial for one’s health. Much of Alexandria in the early 19th century was an Ottoman style conurbation with serpentine streets and alleyways. Teeming with life, but also disease and unsanitary conditions. Open spaces also allowed residents to enjoy a degree of personal space lacking in other parts of the city. In the 1830’s, Muhammad Ali had the space developed and rationalized by an Italian, Francesco Mancini. Some believe that the square’s current name, Al-Manshiya, is a derivation of Mancini. His creation became the first modern city square anywhere in the Middle East.

Lining it on both sides were stone buildings housing a wide range of commercial entities for Alexandrians. Soon foreign consuls began to move into the area. The led to the square being named the Place des Consuls for which it would be known for over a century. For cosmopolitan Alexandria it was a major hub of political and economic activity. A counterpoint to areas of the city that were much more exotic, oriental, Ottoman or Egyptian. If ever there was a place that represented Muhammad Ali’s success in modernizing the city, then it was the Place Des Consuls. In honor of his visionary efforts that transformed Alexandria from backwater to booming port, camel laden streets to cosmopolitan boulevards, a towering equestrian statue of Muhammad Ali was installed in 1873 at the center of the square. This was just twenty-four years after his death. Everyone realized then, as they still do today, that Muhammad Ali had created a modern city out of what had been sparsely inhabited, urban squalor.

Still standing – Muhammad Ali Equestrian Statue in Alexandria

Rising Above – A Living Legacy
Just as the Place des Consuls was a first for the region, so too was Muhammad Ali’s equestrian statue. It was the first statue unveiled in public anywhere in the Middle East. Despite all the political changes that have occurred in Alexandria and Egypt since that time, Muhammad Ali statue’s still rises above the square today. The square’s name may have changed and the idea of a foreigner restoring Alexandria to greatness can seem like an antiquated absurdity, but the truth is that without Muhammad Ali, Egypt’s second largest city might well have ceased to exist. For that his legacy in Alexandria is secure.

Mesmerized on the Mediterranean – Muhammad Ali Pasha & the Resurrection of Alexandria (Part Two)

In 1922, what many believe to be the greatest travel guide ever written, Alexandria, A History and a Guide by E.M. Forster was written. Ever since that time, the book has been praised for its vivid portrait of cosmopolitan Alexandria at the pinnacle of its fame as a Levantine city. Forster first arrived in Alexandria during World War I as a conscientious objector from Great Britain. He worked for the International Red Cross in the city. Forster spent several years intensely studying Alexandria’s history and people. Among his acquaintances was the acclaimed Greek poet Constantine Cavafy. Forster also had time to do plenty of people watching which led to some fascinating insights about the locals. One of the most famous of these is Forster’s observation that, “The Alexandrians have never been truly Egyptian.”

Forster’s quote was largely true throughout most of the 19th and 20th centuries because of the multiplicity of ethnic groups that called Alexandria home. These included the British, French, Italians, Greeks, Armenians, Jews and Egyptians. Many of them were involved in some form or fashion in seaborne trade or with other commercial interests. The many micro-cultures were more concerned with Alexandria and the wider world, rather than the rest of Egypt. Even the Egyptians in the city turned their backs on Cairo and kept their gaze firmly affixed on the Mediterranean. The city’s inhabitants were Alexandrians first, Levantines second, and Egyptians third. They valued trade, culture, and the life of the Alexandria above all else. The city they so loved happened to be in Egypt, but their focus was on Alexandria and the wider Mediterranean world. Those who lived during this Golden Age of Alexandria had one man to thank for their beloved city, Muhammad Ali Pasha (Mehmet Ali).

Splendid sight – Ras El Tin Palace

Home Improvements – Making A Modern City
Muhammad Ali Pasha was both the maker of modern Alexandria and seduced by his creation. He fell deeply in love with the city. Alexandria combined an intoxicating blend of exoticism with mesmerizing views of the Mediterranean. When Muhammad Ali first came to power as the Ottoman Pasha of Egypt in 1805, Alexandria was a wretched outpost that had long since lost its raison d’etre. Trade was tepid, visitors were few, and it was a mere shadow of its famed ancient self. That quickly changed due to key reforms that Muhammad Ali made to agriculture that boosted Egypt’s economy. He put a stop to tax farming that had been used by its former Mamluk rulers to fleece the peasantry and in the process impoverished the country. Irrigation projects led to greater cultivation of the land, the bounty of which was purchased by the state at fixed prices. Muhammad Ali then sold the harvest – most prominently wheat and cotton – to Europeans. The revenues were used to build up the military and modernize the country.

Alexandria was a major beneficiary of these developments. The port went from a backwater to bustling in a decade. Because Alexandria was so important to the economy of Egypt, Muhammad Ali began to spend most of his time there. While Cairo was the political capital of Egypt, Alexandria became the commercial one. Muhammad Ali pushed for dramatic improvements to the city that made it more livable. This included one of his greatest public works, the Mahmoudiyah Canal. It connected the city with the western arm of the Nile River and is still in use today.  Building the canal took the efforts of an estimated 100,000 men. Though the pay was good, many of the workers did not live to see the canal completed as disease was rife in the fetid marshland surrounding the city. Once completed, the canal opened Alexandria’s hinterland for cultivation and provided the city with a supply of freshwater. The population expanded at a meteoric rate.

Alexandria: A History and a Guide – E.M. Forster

Open To The World – Egypt’s Commercial Capital
Muhammad Ali welcomed European experts who could help modernize the country. While the Ottoman Empire drifted further into corruption, inertia, and backwardness, Muhammad Ali made Egypt more powerful than any other province in the empire. He operated with a high degree of autonomy. Only obeying the sultan when it suited his interest and ignoring him when it did not. The sultan had little choice but to allow this because Muhammad Ali’s military exploits and those of his son Ibrahim were needed to quell resistance in other areas of the empire such as the Sudan and Syria. The economy that Muhammad Ali had done so much to reform, and which had led to Alexandria’s resurrection funded these military operations and in turn reinforced his power.

Alexandria became Egypt’s commercial capital and the place most important to Muhammad Ali’s modernization efforts. Between 1811 – 1817 he had an ornate palace known as Ras El Tin constructed as his residence. As the years passed, he spent increasing amounts of his time there. The palace’s architecture and orientation were symbolic of Muhammad Ali’s openness and ambition. Still today, the palace is one of the most famous places in Alexandria. Unfortunately, the public is not allowed inside for tours. The situation was completely the opposite when Muhammad Ali was resident in the palace. Visitors to Alexandria were allowed inside where they could enjoy the atmosphere. They had access to many of the rooms. This left foreign visitors with the impression that Muhammad Ali was eager for them to visit. They were not incorrect. Travel accounts from those visiting Alexandria during the first half of the 19th century often mentioned going to the palace. Muhammad Ali was a welcoming host, known to be gregarious and outgoing. He was marketing himself and the resurrection of Egypt to a wider world. Those who met Muhammad Ali went back to their homelands where they told of their experiences. Alexandria had become a great city once again.

Vision realized – Alexandria’s port around the turn of the 20th century

A Singular Force – Pride of Place
Alexandria’s growth, wealth, and fame would not have been possible without Muhammad Ali. He was the singular force that moved Alexandria into the modern age. Without him, the city would have kept its backwater status while waiting for someone to realize its potential. Muhammad Ali’s role in its development cannot be overstated. Alexandrians realized that then, as they do now. While Alexander the Great will forever be the city’s founder and namesake, it is Muhammad Ali who enjoys pride of place in the heart of Alexandria. Nowhere is this truer than where his equestrian statue stands today.

Click here for: The Unburied City – Muhammad Ali Pasha & the Making of Modern Alexandria (Part Three)

The Second Coming – Muhammad Ali Pasha & the Resurrection of Alexandria (Part One)

Alexandria, like the world, was not founded once and for all time. Instead, the famed Egyptian city has gone through many iterations. That is not a surprise. Any city that has existed for over 2,300 years is bound to have undergone major transformations. Alexandria’s history is a striking example of how human history is not one long litany of progress filled with development and innovation. Instead, the history of Alexandria is a universal reflection of history. There are golden ages that last for centuries and there are periods of decline that just as long. History is not so much cyclical, as it is a rollercoaster ride twisting and turning along unexpected avenues.

Alexandria’s history provides proof of this. During ancient times the city enjoyed several golden ages only to later endure centuries of decline. Improbably it rose once again in modern times to be reestablished as one of Egypt’s greatest cities. The history of Alexandria can be understood as the product of not one, but two beginnings. The initial one in ancient times and the modern one at the beginning of the 19th century. This is quite unique since it also means that Alexandria has two founders. One famous and the other obscure. The latter of the two was the maker of modern Alexandria, a metropolis by the Mediterranean that became one of the great cities of the Levant.

Visions of greatness – Muhammad Ali Pasha (Mehmet Ali)

Ancient History – A City By The Sea
Alexandria’s story begins with none other than Alexander the Great. He is the man who selected the location for Alexandria, from whom the city takes its name, and subsequently became one of the largest in the ancient world. Alexandria proved just as great as its namesake. The city was home to one of the seven wonders of the world, the Pharos of Alexandria (Lighthouse of Alexandria) which stood 100 meters (330 feet tall). Smaller in architectural stature than the lighthouse, but just as intellectually massive was the Great Library of Alexandria. Built during the middle of the 3rd century during the reign of Ptolemy II, the library is believed to have housed anywhere between 40,000 to 400,000 scrolls. It was one of the most significant intellectual institutions in human history. The lighthouse and the library are indicative of Alexandria’s importance in ancient times. Unfortunately, the city declined precipitously throughout the Middle Ages and into the early modern period.

Alexandria’s location as a nexus of trade suffered badly due to the European discovery of America and the blazing of new sea routes to India by going around the Cape of Good Hope at the tip of Southern Africa.  By the beginning of the 19th century, accounts from travelers stated that Alexandria was a wretched place, impoverished and largely abandoned with nothing of economic or cultural interest to detain anyone unlucky enough to spend time in what little remained of the once great city. The fact that Alexandria did not vanish from the earth and become just another ancient ruin whose best days were several thousand years behind it was due to the efforts of one man. Neither an Alexandrian nor an Egyptian, Muhammad Ali Pasha (Mehmet Ali) was everything provincial Alexandria was not at the beginning of the 19th century. His worldliness became a defining trait of Alexandria that paved the path to its future prosperity.

In ruins – Alexandria in the late 17th century (Credit: Cornelius de Bruyn)

Visions of Greatness – A Major Restoration
Muhammad Ali was a citizen of the Ottoman Empire. An ethnic Albanian born in the Macedonian part of Greece; he would be responsible for what might be called Alexandria’s second coming. While not as famous as its first, this second coming is no less incredible. Only a man of vision with a talent for organization could have conceived of Alexandria’s resurrection. Gazing upon a dusty and derelict cityscape that was lightly inhabited, Muhammad Ali saw what Alexandria could become. Unlike Alexander the Great, whose reputation preceded him before he arrived in Egypt, Muhammad Ali was at a very different stage in his career when he set foot there for the first time in 1801. He had volunteered as part of an Ottoman military contingent of 5,000 Albanians sent to bolster the empire’s faltering rule over Egypt in the wake of a disastrous French occupation.

Like Alexander, whose political skills were just as extraordinary as his marital ones, Muhammad Ali’s time in Egypt would be a stunning success, A land that had lost its former luster needed a visionary with the necessary drive to save it from further degradation. Muhammad Ali was just that man. Alexandria was critical to his efforts. He transformed it from an Ottoman backwater that was becoming a plaything of foreign powers into a thriving city that attracted the best and brightest of Europe, both from Muhammad Ali’s homeland in the Balkans and other more powerful European empires and nations. A city over a thousand years past its prime became vital once again.

Living on the edge – Alexandria in the late 18th century (Credit: Luigi Mayer)

With All Due Respect – Saving Alexandria
A simple statistic will suffice as evidence of the successful transformation of Alexandria under the reign of Muhammad Ali. When he first took the helm as Pasha of Egypt in 1805, Alexandria’s population is estimated to have been just 6,000. By the time of his death in 1849, the population had grown sixteen- fold to approximately 100,000. This growth was due to many different reforms that made Alexandria a military and economic hub. Before that could happen, Muhammad Ali used his military skills to defeat and expel the Fraser Expedition (Alexandria Expedition of 1807) sent to curb Ottoman rule in Egypt and alliances with France. 8,000 British soldiers were sent to capture Alexandria.

They first occupied the city only to be defeated after moving further inland. A retreat to Alexandria did them little good. Muhammad Ali’s forces trapped the British in the city, putting them under siege. At this point the British had enough and sailed away. Muhammad Ali had freed Alexandria from the threat of foreign rule. At the same time, his defeat of the British had made him highly respected both internally and externally. He now had the leeway to properly develop Alexandria into a major city, one that would play an outsized role in both the Mediterranean and world affairs during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Click here for: Mesmerized on the Mediterranean – Muhammad Ali Pasha & the Resurrection of Alexandria (Part Two)

Conquest & Creation –Alexander & Alexandria: The Greek Influence in Egypt (Part Three)

Greece and Egypt would seem to be strange bedfellows. They are on two entirely different continents, one noted for prosperity, the other for poverty. Geographically, Greece is known more for its islands than the mainland. Egypt is known for the Nile, rather than the desert wasteland that covers most of the country.  One is a long-standing member of the European Union, the other experienced a revolution just a decade ago. While both are known for ancient history, Pharaonic Egypt and Classical Greece were constructed on contrasting political systems. One hierarchical, the other horizontal. Despite these differences, there have been times when these two places and their peoples have been connected to historic effect. Greece as a fringe territory in southeastern Europe has often looked further east. Several of its native sons have written their name into history through their exploits in Egypt. This influence is remarkable and remarkably overlooked.  

Rising from the shore – Alexandria (Credit: Argenberg)

Riding The Waves – Tides of Civilization
Southeastern Europe and North Africa were never that far apart. Before modern times, water was often easier to cross than land. The Mediterranean Sea offered one of the widest avenues available for the transport of peoples, ideas, and goods. Waterborne transport led to cross-cultural contacts. The Mediterranean was one of the world’s great highways, spreading civilization onto distant shores. One needs to look no further than the ancient Roman ruins on the coast of present-day Algeria as evidence of how civilization spread from one side of the Mediterranean to the other. Roman and Hellenistic influences in North Africa will come as a surprise to most Westerners.

Historical biases against the east, whether that be Eastern Europe, the near east or the middle east still stubbornly persist in the western world today. For instance, it is not sufficiently known that the richest part of the Roman Empire was its eastern half, particularly Egypt. One of the most glaring anti-eastern biases concerns the fall of Rome. It is still widely believed today that the Roman Empire came to an end in 476 AD. This, even though the empire’s eastern half continued for 977 more years. It lasted until the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. One of the most obvious and overlooked examples of anti-eastern bias is explicitly stated in the phrase, “History of Western Civilization” for which entire textbooks, popular histories, and countless university courses are named. These inherent and long-lasting biases have little time for tales of cultural interaction that took place along the shores of the Mediterranean.

Alexander’s vision – Plan of ancient Alexandria (Credit: Philg88)

Life Everlasting – A Wide Canvas
After Alexander died, he received the ultimate posthumous honor in Alexandria as his body laid there on display in a gold sarcophagus. Alexander and Alexandria offer the greatest evidence to support the great man theory of history. It was Alexander’s decision to found Alexandria that set all its succeeding history in motion. While Alexander died before his vision of the city would be fully realized, his achievement has outlasted him by 2,300 years. For all his greatness, Alexander could not escape mortality. He went from cradle to grave rather quickly, living a relatively short 33 years. Alexandria is very different in this regard. The city is still a cradle of civilization that despite a great deal of degeneration over the past seventy-five years managed to have staying power.

Alexandria has suffered numerous conflicts, conquests, sacks, and sieges at a steady rate throughout its history. Nonetheless, it is one of history’s great survivors. People come and go, but Alexander’s city lives on. The city has historically offered a wide canvas from which others hailing from Greece could fulfill their dreams. Modern Egypt, as it exists today, would be a very different place if not for its founder who came straight out of the Balkans by way of Greece. Muhammad Ali Pasha, an energetic ethnic Albanian who grew up in Greece and gravitated to Egypt as part of an Ottoman military contingent, is one of the most influential historical figures in Egyptian history. During the first half of the 19th century, he set about modernizing Egypt with vigor and vision. Greece, at the time an Ottoman outpost and Balkan backwater, was closer than one might imagine to Egypt and the near East. This was because both Greece and Egypt were part of the Ottoman Empire.

Staking his claim – Alexander the Great founding Alexandria (Credit: Placido Costanzi)

Empire Building – The Grecian Way
While it is now common to speak of empires as disasters for the regions and countries which they conquered, empires also allowed for the transference of capital, ideas, and talent. In the case of Egypt, without the Ottoman Empire, Muhammad Ali would never have set foot on its shores. For all the excesses of empires they also lent a veneer of stability to places where it had otherwise been lacking. Muhammad Ali’s reign and subsequent creation of a dynasty provided Egypt with enough stability that others sought it out. These emigres brought much needed skills and created communities with their own unique cultures.

This was the case with the Greeks. They started coming to Egypt in large numbers during Muhammad Ali’s reign. The dynasty he established allowed them to stay. Their skills were highly valued, as they were well educated and economically driven. Micro-cultures developed among these emigres who lived in two worlds, the Egyptian one and their own. The Greek community in Egypt developed distinctive cultural traits. They also produced individuals of distinction, the most famous of which was Constantine Cavafy, perhaps the greatest of Greek poets.

Autonomy & Dynasty – Muhammad Ali Pasha: Maker of Modern Egypt (Part Four)

By the late 1830’s, Mehmet Ali (Muhammad Ali Pasha) was at the peak of his power. For an ethnic Albanian, hailing from a provincial Ottoman city on the coast of Greece, who had first set foot in Egypt with 300 men and very little military experience, Ali had succeeded beyond all expectations except his own. He had achieved the impossible by taking Egypt from a dismal backwater of the Ottoman Empire to a reformed and rejuvenated, quasi-autonomous state. This made him more powerful than the Sultan in Istanbul. With his son Ibrahim leading Egyptian forces in Syria to a crushing victory over the Ottoman Army at the Battle of Nezib in June 1839, the Ottoman throne was now within Mehmet Ali’s grasp. Ibrahim wanted to march on Istanbul and take the Ottoman capital. Mehmet hesitated. He was more interested in seeing what concessions he could get from Sultan Mahmud II (1808 -1839), including territory and complete autonomy for Egypt. Forcing the Ottoman Sultan to agree on his terms would be the crowning achievements of Ali’s three-and-a-half-decade long struggle to build Egypt into a regional power whose wishes could not be ignored.

Standing tall in Cairo – Mosque of Mehmet Ali (Credit: ezzat hisham)

Dreams Deferred – A Negotiated Settlement
Mehmet was on the verge of breaking Egypt completely free of external influences, but he also knew that the Great Powers of Europe – particularly Britain – wanted to stop him from growing more powerful than the Ottoman Sultan. Following the Battle of Nezib it looked like Mehmet Ali might get everything he wanted. The entire Ottoman fleet defected to his side and Sultan Mahmud II (1808 – 1839) died. The Ottoman Empire could either collapse or become a plaything of Mehmet Ali. From the perspective of Britain, if either of these occurred than the entire European security architecture that had existed in the post-Napoleonic era would be threatened. It was in there interests along with several Continental powers to prop up the Ottoman Empire. Mehmet Ali was forced into negotiations. This was what he had wanted, but with the Ottoman Sultan. Instead, he would have to deal with the Great Powers who would defer many of his dreams forever.

The truth was that Mehmet Ali had become too powerful for his own good. If he had been the Ottoman Sultan, then the Great Powers would have dealt with him as an equal. Instead, they felt the need to put him in his place. Ali was a danger to their interests, especially British ones, as well as the balance of power. His military could not be allowed to control Syria because it could render British plans to develop alternate access routes to India null and void. While Ali was more than the Ottoman sultan had been able to handle, he could not stand up to Britain, Austria, Prussia and Russia, all of whom were backing the Ottomans. When the British and Austrian navies blockaded the Nile Delta in 1840, Ali was forced into an agreement he had little choice but to accept. He would pull Ibrahim and the army out of Syria. The army would also undergo severe cutbacks. A force that had numbered up to 130,000 would be reduced to 20,000. This was enough to allow Ali to keep his grip on power in Egypt, but nothing more than that.,

Sign of the times – Flag of Mehmet Ali

Dynastic Cycle – The Long Goodbye
Despite those setbacks, he was able to win several major concessions. The Ottoman Sultan was forced to recognize Ali and his heirs as the leaders of Egypt. The province would now be an autonomous part of the Ottoman Empire, enjoying virtual independence. Unfortunately for Ali, this independence had its limits. He was entangled by the British in an Ottoman-Anglo trade agreement that opened Egypt up to cheaper British imports and powerful industrial entities. There was no way Egypt could compete with British trade and industry. This would have ramifications for government revenue. Ali’s power was weakened by his agreement with the Great Powers, but his greatest achievement was still intact, Egypt now enjoyed virtual independence. His heirs would rule over it until the mid-20th century.

By the late 1840’s, Egypt was sinking into debt and Ali into senility. There were disagreements with Ibrahim and wild fits of temper, signs of a once great leader losing his mental acuity. Ali’s cognitive decline worsened to the point that Ibrahim traveled to Istanbul and received the Sultan’s blessing to take over as ruler of Egypt. Tragically, a guilt-ridden Ibrahim succumbed to despair and failing health. He soon died of tuberculosis. Meanwhile, Ali’s health continued to worsen and his grandson Abbas I became Viceroy of Egypt. In 1849, Ali died in Alexandria. Abbas, who had little use for Ali, did not even declare a period of mourning in Egypt. The man who had brought Egypt into the modern age was an afterthought. This slight did nothing to reduce Ali’s remarkable historical stature which grew with each passing decade. While Ali built up Egypt to consolidate his grip on power and out of self-interest, those actions modernized the country.

Elder stateman – Mehmet Ali in the 1840s

Lasting Monuments – Mehmet Ali & Modernity
It is hard to believe just how far Egypt came under Mehmet Ali’s leadership. Prior to Ali assuming power in 1805, Egypt was at its lowest historical point in thousands of years. The country suffered from a wide range of ills. By the time Ali died, Egypt was autonomous, administered by educated bureaucrats and contained a professional army led by a highly trained officer corps. Ali was responsible for bringing order and prosperity to Egypt. The dynasty he created would live on into the mid-20th century. It helped pave the way for independence in 1952 when the last leader of Ali’s dynasty was overthrown. Even with the rise of nationalism, Ali still held his place as the founder of modern Egypt.

Anyone who might wonder about Ali’s importance to Egyptian history should look no further than the skyline in its greatest city, Cairo. The Mosque of Muhammad Ali can be seen from most vantage points in the city. Its twin minarets rising above domes and piercing the sky. The mosque is located at the summit of Cairo’s famed Citadel, much of which was rebuilt by Ali. His mosque and the Citadel are lasting monuments that remind Egyptians of his greatness. Modern Egypt would not be the same without Mehmet Ali. As a matter of fact, it might not exist at all.