Muhammad Ali, pasha of Egypt

Muhammad Ali, 1769?–1849, pasha of Egypt after 1805. He was a common soldier who rose to leadership by his military skill and political acumen. In 1799 he commanded a Turkish army in an unsuccessful attempt to drive Napoleon from Egypt. As pasha he was virtually independent of his nominal overlord, the Ottoman sultan. He modernized his armed forces and administration, created schools, and began many public works, particularly irrigation projects. The cost of these reforms bore heavily on the peasants and brought them few benefits. In 1811 he exterminated the leaders of the Mamluks, who had ruled Egypt almost uninterruptedly since 1250. With his son, Ibrahim Pasha, Muhammad Ali conducted successful campaigns in Arabia against the Wahhabis. In 1820 he sent armies to conquer Sudan. He scored great successes fighting for the Ottoman sultan in Greece until the British, French, and Russians combined to defeat his fleet at Navarino in 1827. The sultan, Mahmud II, to win his intervention in the Greek revolt, had promised to make him governor of Syria. When the sultan refused to hand over the province, Muhammad Ali invaded Syria with great success. In 1839 he attacked his overlord in Asia Minor, but was forced to desist when he lost the support of France and was threatened by united European opposition. In a compromise arrangement the Ottoman sultan made the governorship of Egypt hereditary in Muhammad Ali's line. He retired from office in 1848. Muhammad Ali is credited for his many domestic reforms, which hastened the foundations for an independent Egypt.

See H. H. Dodwell, The Founder of Modern Egypt (1931, repr. 1977); A. Marsot, Egypt in the Reign of Muhammad Ali (1984).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Egyptian History: Biographies