Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Movement To Democratize Egypt: A People's History--Part 6: 1890 to 1917 Period

(The following article was originally posted on The Rag Blog on August 13, 2013)
As long ago as 1890, some leftist activists and intellectuals who lived in UK imperialist and Ottoman Empire-dominated Egypt were attempting to create a democratic political system in Egypt that also distributed the national wealth of Egypt to its workers and peasants in a more equitable way. In 1890, for example, “the earliest formal presentation in Egypt of Marxist theory” was published in “the influential” Egyptian journal al-Mua’yyad,” according to Tareq Y. Ismael and Rifa‘at El-Sa’id’s 1990 book The Communist Movement in Egypt : 1920-1988. And, according to the same book, “documents prove that communist cells existed in the Greek immigrant communities of Cairo and Alexandria as early as 1894.”

But as early as 1894, activists living in Egypt who wanted to see Egyptian society politically and economically democratized were apparently being arrested by Egyptian government police. As The Communist Movement in Egypt: 1920-1988, for example, also recalled, “an attempt by a Greek resident to distribute…leaflets was recorded in Egyptian newspapers on March 18, 1894” and “the police arrest record described the literature as `anarchist leaflet’ calling for the workers to celebrate the anniversary of the Paris Commune of 1871.”

Greek immigrant workers who lived in Egypt and worked for the foreign-owned Suez Canal Company also went on strike for higher wages in 1895; and that same year a sponge merchant and labor organizer named Sakilarides Yanakakis (who also funded the communist movement in Egypt’s Greek immigrant community until the 1920s) was able to organize shoe workers (who were mostly workers of Armenian and Greek ethnic background) into Egypt’s first labor union.

After immigrating to Egypt around 1899 and becoming an Egyptian citizen (when around 25,000 people of Jewish religious background then lived in Egypt ), another labor organizer, Joseph Rosenthal, also began organizing workers who lived in Egypt into labor unions during the first quarter of the 20th century. As Rosenthal recalled in an article he later wrote:

“The first union in which I participated in its formation was the Union of the Cigarette Workers. After that I participated in the formation of several unions for the tailors, miners, and printers. These unions mostly belonged to foreign workers because the national workers at that time [in Egypt ] were a minority in all crafts and fields relative to their foreign colleagues.”

Between 1907 and 1917, the number of blue collar workers in Egyptian society then increased from 489,296 to 639,929. But “any efforts at organized labor” in Egypt “for improvement of its conditions were perceived by British intelligence and Egyptian security forces as…subversion and harshly put down by the government,” according to Tareq Y. Ismael and Rifa‘at El-Sa’id’s The Communist Movement in Egypt: 1920-1988.

Egyptian students returning from Europe and Egyptian intellectuals who attempted to popularize socialist or Marxist ideas among people who lived in Egypt were also subject to police repression in Egypt prior to 1917. After Egyptian intellectual Mustafa Hassanain al-Mansuri wrote and published his book, Tarikh al-Mathahib al-Istirakiyab (“The history of socialist ideologies”) in 1915, for example, “al-Mansuri was treated as a conspirator,” his book was confiscated, his house was searched, and “he was temporarily arrested,” according to The Communist Movement in Egypt: 1920-1988. In the final chapter (titled “Egypt and Socialism”) of his book, al-Mansuri had proposed the enactment of democratic reforms within Egyptian society such as the following: 1. the enactment of laws which guaranteed free elections; 2. the dissolving of the Egyptian legislature every 3 years; 3. a legislative representative for every 100,000 Egyptians; 4. a law which prohibited polygamy in Egypt; 5. the emancipation of Egyptian women after education was spread among them; 6. acceptance by the Egyptian government of Egyptian women as government clerical workers; 7. pensions for Egyptian senior citizens; 8. free education for people who lived in Egypt; and 9. social democratic economic reforms.

During the last three-quarters of the 19th century, much of the Egyptian state-owned land that Muhammad Ali had expropriated from the Mamluks and waqf  religious orders had eventually been granted by Muhammad Ali and his successors to “a new Turkish-speaking aristocracy that owned vast estates,” according to Jason Thompson’s A History of Egypt. And by the beginning of World War I around 44 percent of the land in Egypt was then owned by just 12,400 people whose average landholding was 50 feddans; and around 12 percent of these large Egyptian landowners were foreign landowners. In contrast, 11,190,000 people in rural Egypt —representing 91 percent of the rural landowning population-then owned less than 5 feddans of land.  So a social democratic agrarian economic reform was especially needed in rural Egypt by 1915.

(end of part 6)

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Movement To Democratize Egypt: A People's History of Egypt--Part 5: 1879-1890 Period

(The following article was originally posted on The Rag Blog on August 6, 2014)

As Selma Botman noted in Egypt from Independence to Revolution, 1919-1952, by 1876 “in essence France and Britain began to control Egypt ’s economy,” although Egypt continued to be officially part of Turkey ’s Ottoman Empire . So, not surprisingly, in September 1881, an Egyptian “military officer and Egyptian patriot, Ahmed Urabi, led an anti-government, anti-foreign revolt, directing his protest against both the Turkish pashas, who controlled most civil, military, and social posts…and the Europeans,” according to the same book. And a combined UK and French naval force of gunboats then arrived near Alexandria , Egypt on May 19, 1882 and anchored offshore.

In response, “”inflamed popular resentment…exploded in Alexandria on June 11 [1882] in anti-European riots that killed over 2,000 Egyptians and 50 Europeans,” according to Jason Thompson’s History of Egypt The French government’s naval force then sailed away from Alexandria . But the UK gunboats remained anchored offshore and shelled Alexandria and its residents on July 11, 1882; and, in August 1882, UK troops invaded the Suez Canal Zone and began the UK government’s military occupation of Egypt .

The following month, Ahmed Urabi’s troops were defeated on Sept. 13, 1882 by the UK troops, Urabi was exiled to Ceylon/Sri Lanka by the UK government, and the son of Khedive Ismail, Khedive Tewfik, (whom the UK government had pressured the Turkish sultan to name in 1879 as Egypt’s local ruler) was allowed to officially govern Egypt until 1892 as a UK puppet, until he was succeeded as the formal Egyptian ruler by Abbas Hilmy II. But, in actuality, according to The Rough Guide To Egypt, “from 1883 to 1907, Egypt was controlled by the British Consul General, Sir Evelyn Baring, later Lord Cromer, who coined the term `Veiled Protectorate’ to describe the relationship between the two countries.”

A History of Egypt described in the following way how UK imperialism and Lord Cromer operated their “Veiled Protectorate” in Egypt after it was occupied militarily by UK troops in 1882:

“Cromer’s official position in Egypt was…British consul general, yet he wielded power that many kings and sultans might have envied. His authority rested on no formal basis. Legally, Egypt was still a province in the Ottoman Empire …The khedive still governed nominally through his ministers, who exercised control over their ministries. In fact, the khedive could be controlled; he knew he owed his throne to the British; and alongside each of the government ministers was a British `adviser’ whose advice carried the force of command. Cromer referred to the arrangement as the `dummy-Minister-plus-English-adviser’ system of government…Ministers soon learned that they would lose their posts if they paid no heed to their advisers. The long-serving prime minister during Cromer’s rule, Mustafa Fahmi, was noted for his subservience to the British. Cromer’s position was further strengthened by the presence of a British military garrison nearly 10,000 strong, while the Royal Navy could appear at Alexandria or Suez at any time, and the police forces in the cities were under European command…

“The British record in education was atrocious in Egypt…He imposed tuition fees…The British never spent more than 3 percent of the budget on education. They ignored demands for a national university, fearing it would become a center of nationalism…"

As Egypt from Independence to Revolution, 1919-1952 observed, UK imperialism “occupied Egypt for both financial and strategic reasons, gaining a decisive voice in all areas of Egyptian life” and the UK imperialist “occupation” of Egypt “lasted until 1956 in various forms.”

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Movement To Democratize Egypt: A People's History of Egypt--Part 4: 1849-1879

(The following article was originally posted on The Rag Blog website on July 29, 2013)

In 1841 the sultan of Turkey ’s Ottoman Empire had “bestowed the hereditary rule of Egypt on Muhammad Ali and his family,” according to Jason Thompson’s History of Egypt. So a grandson of Muhammad Ali, Pasha Abbas Hilmy I, succeeded Muhammad Ali as Egypt ’s ruler between 1848 and July 1854—at which time Abbas Hilmy I was murdered by two of his slaves. But during his six years as pasha,  Abbas Hilmy I “closed the country’s factories and secular schools and opened Egypt to free trade, thus retarding industrialization” of the Egyptian economy, according to The Rough Guide to Egypt.

Following the murder of Abbas Hilmy I, a son of Muhammad Ali--Pasha Muhammad Said--ruled Egypt between 1854 and 1863; and after coming to power, Muhammad Said gave a concession to build the Suez Canal that connects the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea to a childhood friend: a French consul and engineer named Ferdinand de Lesseps. In exchange for granting the concession to Lesseps and agreeing to provide the Egyptian workers whose labor was required to dig the Suez Canal, Muhammad Said was awarded “personal ownership of 15 percent of the shares of the Suez Canal Company, with another 15 percent going to Egypt” and “through purchase of additional shares, Said’s stake in the company eventually rose to 44 percent,” according to A History of Egypt.  But many of the Egyptian peasants who were conscripted to dig the Suez Canal between 1859 and its completion in 1869 lost their lives while the canal was being built. As the same book recalled:

“…Some 20,000 peasants were conscripted every month, herded to the canal zone, and put to work. That meant that every month, 20,000 conscript laborers were on their way to the canal zone, 20,000 were actually at work there, and another 20,000 were returning to their homes, so that during the course of a year, more than 500,000 laborers were involved with the canal in one way or another, and this process continued for 10 years. Working conditions were often horrific; sometimes men had to dig with their bare hands, paid only a pitiful allowance, with barely enough food to sustain them. Dredging machines (paid for by Egypt ) were not used extensively until the final phase of work on the canal.”

Estimates of how many Egyptian workers died during construction of the Suez Canal vary. According to A History of Egypt :

“The number of lives lost from neglect, overwork, malnutrition, or accident has been estimated at the same number as the basic quota of workers: 20,000. Such a large continuing drain on Egyptian manpower at a time when the total population of the country was perhaps 5 million created general economic difficulties…Antislavery societies…strongly objected to what could be considered slave labor…”

But according to The Palestine Book Project’s 1977 book, Our Roots Are Still Alive: The Story of the Palestinian People, “over 125,000 Egyptians…died building the canal for the British Empire ,” including those Egyptian workers who died of cholera during the 10 years of construction.

After Muhammad Said’s death in 1863, another son of Muhammad Ali named Ismail—whose status was changed from “pasha” to “khedive” by the Turkish sultan in 1866 after Ismail agreed to pay more money in tribute to the Istanbul government-- became Egypt ’s ruler until 1879.

By 1865, “the value of Egyptian cotton exports had risen to a level more than ten times higher” than in 1860, after Europe ’s supply of cotton from the South was cut off by the U.S. Civil war, according to A History of Egypt. But when the value of Egyptian cotton exports decreased by 50 percent in the late 1860s, Khedive Ismail’s government borrowed heavily from mostly UK and French banks and investors to finance Khedive Ismail’s lavish palace lifestyle, his road, bridge and railroad construction projects, the expansion of his Egyptian army from 25,000 to 120,000 troops and his attempts to establish more Egyptian control over parts of Sudanese territory to the south of Egypt. As a result, as the same book observed:

By the mid-1870s, Ismail was desperate. One-third of Egypt ’s revenue was going to service the debt. In 1875 he sold his shares in the Suez Canal Company to Britain ...but that exhausted his assets, and his credit had reached its limit. The following year, Egypt stopped making payments on its loans. The country was bankrupt…Ismail had to agree to the formation of a European commission to manage the debt…Two Controllers, one British and one French, oversaw collection of revenues to make debt payments…They instituted an austerity program of cuts and expenditures that caused widespread hardships…


“[Egyptian] Army officers whose pay had been severely cut rioted, probably at the instigation of Ismail…He dismissed the Dual Control…But these initiatives merely convinced France and Britain that Ismail had to go…On June 25, 1879…two telegrams arrived from Istanbul…Ismail learned that he had been deposed and replaced by his 27-year-old son. It had been a fairly simple matter for Britain and France to pressure the sultan to act in the interests of those countries’ bondholders…”

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Movement to Democratize Egypt: A People's History of Egypt--Part 3: 1805-1849 Period


(The following article was originally posted on The Rag Blog website on July 21, 2013)

Nearly two years after Muhammad Ali began ruling the Ottoman Turkish Empire’s Egyptian province, UK troops landed in Alexandria in March, 1807 and attempted to establish a permanent military base in Egypt at that time. But “when the British sought to extend their control…the result was fiasco” and “many British soldiers were killed” by Muhammad Ali’s troops; and the remaining UK troops in Egypt were compelled to withdraw from Egypt after September 1807, according to Jason Thompson’s A History of Egypt.
Then, according to the same book, in 1811 Muhammad Ali ended the remaining influence of the neo-Mamluk military elite in Egyptian society in the following way:

“…Muhammad Ali held a celebration in the Citadel [royal palace] on Mar. 1, 1811…He invited all the principal people of Cairo , including nearly 500 Mamluk amirs. Afterward, as the Mamluks were leaving through the Citadel’s descending Interior Road…they found the exit locked…Sharpshooters [of Muhammad Ali’s loyal troops] appeared on the walls and shot them dead. Another thousand were hunted down and killed in Cairo over the next few days…”

Egyptian Pasha Muhammad Ali next confiscated “the vast estates” of the slain Mamluks and the 20 percent of all Egyptian agricultural land that was owned by the religious endowments, or waqfs, and revised the Egyptian tax structure, so that “almost all of Egypt’s land came under state ownership” and he “could decree what to plant, then purchase the produce at a low price set by the state and export it for cash,” according to A History of Egypt. Instead of just subsistence crops being grown on Egyptian agricultural land, more cash crops that earned foreign exchange--like the cotton that became Egypt’s major export crop in the years after it was introduced in Egypt in 1821--were now grown on the state-owned land; and Muhammad Ali used the foreign exchange income to attempt to modernize Egypt’s economy by “building…factories and canals,” according to The Rough Guide To Egypt

Muhammad Ali’s public works program of constructing 32 canals, 10 dikes and 41 dams and barrages with conscripted Egyptian workers brought large amounts of new agricultural land into cultivation.  In addition, as a result of his public works program of building factories in Egypt that produced textile, sugar, munitions, ships and other manufactured goods, “Egypt became the leading industrial nation in the eastern Mediterranean” by the late 1830s, according to A History of Egypt.

By also conscripting Egyptian peasants into his military force, Muhammad Ali increased its size to 250,000 men, used his military force to occupy Sudan in the 1820 and “Egypt became the major military power in the eastern Mediterranean, making Muhammad Ali much stronger than his nominal master, the sultan in Istanbul,” according to the same book. But after “the pasha became impatient with recognizing the sultan as his master” and “decided to move for independence” for Egypt in 1838, “a British force anchored at Alexandria” in 1839 and compelled him to reduce the size of his Egyptian military and no longer seek Egyptian independence from the Ottoman Empire of Turkey (which the UK government then supported), according to A History of Egypt.

Large numbers of Egyptians who were also drafted to work on Muhammad Ali’s various public works projects, however, apparently lost their lives while working on the canal construction projects. As A History of Egypt, for example, recalled:

“One of the canals, the Mahmudiya, ran for 72 kilometers between Alexandria and the western branch of the Nile . It was constructed between 1817 and 1820 with…labor of as many as 300,000 conscripted workers (of whom between 12,000 and 100,000 are said to have died, according to widely varying accounts)…”

And the same book also indicated how large numbers of Egyptians suffered under Muhammad Ali’s undemocratic rule and his “modernization” policies:

“Muhammad Ali’s accomplishments came at a heavy price to the Egyptian people. The degree of control that the pasha exerted in Egypt was probably unprecedented since ancient times…Every productive strip of land, every palm tree, every donkey, everything that could represent value was assessed and taxed at the maximum it could bear….The people complained incessantly, but they obeyed, for the pasha’s authority was absolute. A simple horizontal motion of his hand meant execution…”

Although an “outbreak of bubonic plague in 1834-35 carried away as much as a third of Cairo’s population” during the years that Muhammad Ali undemocratically ruled people in Egypt, according to A History of Egypt, some improvement in Egypt’s health care system was apparently achieved by the end of this pasha’s rule in 1848 (when he became insane) and his subsequent death in August 1849.

(end of part 3)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Black Youth "Not Seasonally Adjusted" Unemployment Rate Increases To 38.7 Percent In June 2014

The official “not seasonally adjusted” jobless rate for Black youths between 16 and 19 years-of-age in the United States jumped from 30.7 to 38.7 percent between May and June 2014; while the number of unemployed Black youths between 16 and 19 years-of-age increased by 78,000 (from 214,000 to 292,000) during the same period, according to the recently released “not seasonally adjusted” Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

The official “not seasonally adjusted” jobless rate for Latino youth between 16 and 19 years-of-age also jumped from 18.2 to 28.3 percent between May and June 2014; while the number of unemployed Latino youths between 16 and 19 years-of-age increased from by 164,000 (from 191,000 to 355,000) during the same period.

The official “not seasonally adjusted” jobless rate for white youths between 16 and 19 years-of-age increased from 17.5 to 21.4 percent between May and June 2014; while the number of unemployed white youths between 16 and 19 years-of-age increased by 380,000 (from 763,000 to 1,143,000) during the same period, according to the “not seasonally adjusted” data. In addition, between May and June 2014, the official “not seasonally adjusted” unemployment rate for all youths between 16 and 19 years-of-age increased from 19.3 to 23.9 percent; while the total number of all unemployed youths between 16 and 19 years-of-age increased by 538,000 (from 1,072,000 to 1,610,000) during the same period, according to the “not seasonally adjusted” data.

The official “not seasonally adjusted” unemployment rate for all Black workers (youth, male and female) was still 11.1 percent in June 2014; while the total number of unemployed Black workers in the United States increased by 8,000 (from 2,099,000 to 2,107,000) during the same period, according to the “not seasonally adjusted” data.

The official “not seasonally adjusted” jobless rate for Black male workers over 20 years-of-age in the United States was still 10.6 percent in June 2014; while the official “not seasonally adjusted’ unemployment rate for Black female workers over 20 years-of-age was still 9.3 percent during that same month. In addition, between May and June 2014, the total number of Black female workers over 20 years-of age increased by 8,000 (from 885,000 to 893,000) according to the “not seasonally adjusted” data.

The official “not seasonally adjusted” jobless rate for all Latino workers (male, female and youth) in the United States increased from 7.2 to 7.8 percent between May and June 2014; while the total number of unemployed Latino workers in the United States increased by 165,000 (from 1,823,000 to 1,988,000) during the same period, according to the “not seasonally adjusted” data.

The official “not seasonally adjusted” unemployment rate for Latina female workers over 20 years-of-age was still 7.2 percent in June 2014; while the official “not seasonally adjusted” jobless rate for Latino male workers over 20 years-of-age increased from 6.2 to 6.4 percent during that same period. In addition, the number of unemployed Latino male workers over 20 years-of-age increased by 33,000 (from 865,000 to 898,000) between May and June 2014, according to the “not seasonally adjusted” data.

In June 2014, the official “not seasonally adjusted” jobless rate for all Asian-American workers was still 5.1 percent; while the “not seasonally adjusted” number of Asian-American workers who were still in the U.S. labor force decreased by 9,000 (from 8,753,000 to 8,746,000) during the same month. In addition, between May and June 2014, the number of Asian-American workers not in the U.S. labor force increased by 45,000 (from 5,016,000 to 5,061,000), according to the “not seasonally adjusted” data.

The official “not seasonally adjusted” unemployment rate for white male workers over 20 years-of-age was still 4.7 percent in June 2014; while the “not seasonally adjusted” jobless rate for white female workers over 20 years-of-age increased from 4.7 to 4.9 percent between May and June 2014. In addition, the number of unemployed white female workers over 20 years-of-age increased by 115,000 (from 2,556,000 to 2,671,000) between May and June 2014, according to the “not seasonally adjusted” data; while the total “not seasonally adjusted” number of unemployed white workers (male, female and youth) increased by 444,000 (from 6,414,000 to 6,858,000) during the same period.

The official “not seasonally adjusted” unemployment rate for all female workers over 20 years-of-age increased from 5.4 to 5.5 percent between May and June 2014; while the official “not seasonally adjusted” unemployment rate for all male workers over 20 years-of-age was also still 5.5 percent in June 2014. In addition, the total number of all unemployed female workers over 20 years-of-age increased by 34,000 (from 3,809,000 to 3,843,000) between May and June 2014, according to the “not seasonally adjusted” data; while the total “not seasonally adjusted” number of all unemployed male workers over 16 years-of-age increased by 206,000 (from 5,104,000 to 5,310,000) during the same period.

Between May and June 2014, the official “not seasonally adjusted” unemployment rate for all U.S. workers (male, female and youth) increased from 6.1 to 6.3 percent; while the total number of unemployed workers in the United States increased from 9,443,000 to 9,893,000 during the same period, according to the “not seasonally adjusted” data.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ July 3, 2014 press release:

“Among the major worker groups, the unemployment…rate increased for teenagers (21.0 percent. The rates for adult men (5.7 percent), whites (5.3 percent), and Hispanics (7.8 percent) showed little change. The jobless rate for Asians was 5.1 percent (not seasonally adjusted), little changed from a year earlier…

“The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons (sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers) increased by 275,000 in June to 7.5 million…These individuals were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job…

“In June, 2.0 million persons were marginally attached to the labor force…These individuals were not in the labor force, wanted and were available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey.

“Among the marginally attached, there were 676,000 discouraged workers in June…Discouraged workers are persons not currently looking for work because they believe no jobs are available for them…


“…Employment changed little over the month in…mining and logging, construction, information, and government.”                   

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Movement to Democratize Egypt: A People's History of Egypt--Part 2: 641 to 1805 Period

(The following article was originally posted on The Rag Blog website on July 11, 2013)

Egypt became part of the Islamic Arab Empire in 641 when Arab armies replaced Egypt ’s Byzantine Empire rulers “thanks in part to aid from the indigenous” Egyptian “population of Coptic Christians,” according to Egypt from Independence to Revolution, 1919-1952 by Selma Botman. But the indigenous Coptic Christians in Egypt eventually became a religious minority, as Egypt was Arabized and Islamized. And by 834 Egypt was an autonomous state of the Baghdad-based Islamic Arab Empire, which generally permitted it to be ruled by a locally-based elite of Turkish ethnic background.

In 969, however, the religious leaders of a Tunisia-based Shiite Islamic sect, the Fatimids, moved their troops into Egypt from western North Africa, started construction of the new city of Cairo and began ruling Egypt until 1171. 

Between 1171 and 1250, Sunni Islamic religious leaders next ruled Egypt . And then, between 1250 and 1517, the Mamluks—a military dynasty of former soldier-slaves of mostly ethnic Turkish or Caucasian origin—were the rulers of the autonomous state of Egypt.  And it was during the period when the Mamluks controlled Egypt that the bubonic plague spread from Europe to Egypt in 1347; and, by 1349, the bubonic plague had caused the death of 33 percent of the people who had lived in Egypt in 1347 and damaged the economic base of the Mamluk regime. 

Then, in the 15th century, “another serious blow to the Mamluk economy came…when the Portuguese found the ocean route around Africa, providing Europe with a direct connection to India, the Far East, and the east coast of Africa, disrupting the Mamluks’ lucrative Red Sea trade and diminishing the importance of Egypt as a commercial connection between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea,” according to Jason Thompson’s A History of Egypt. But after the better organized, more disciplined, more numerous and better-armed troops of Turkey’s Ottoman Dynasty rulers defeated the Mamluk forces in the August 1516 Battle of Marj Dabiq in Syria and marched into Egypt in 1517, Egypt became a subject Arab province of Turkey’s Ottoman Empire for most of the next 400 years. Yet as The Rough Guide To Egypt observed, “even after the Turkish conquest, the Mamluks remained powerful figures in the administration of what was now a province of the Ottoman Empire ” and “the Mamluk army continued to grow with the import of Caucasian slaves.” According, for example, to A History of Egypt:

“…One can speak of a neo-Mamluk system that prevailed within Ottoman Egypt…The neo-Mamluks…quickly reinserted themselves into Egypt’s overall military establishment and again became the most powerful force in the land...The Ottomans basically kept the commanding heights under their supervision, but left many administrative tasks to…religious endowments, or waqfs…About 20 percent of the land was religiously held by the end of the 18th century. The Mamluks…continued to control much of the rest.”


As a province of the Ottoman Empire, Egypt was exploited as a “breadbasket” and a “land tax” source for the Turkish imperial government’s treasury; and “ Egypt also provided a valuable base for Ottoman operations in the Red Sea ,” according to the same book. But between July, 1798 and September, 1801, Napoleon’s French troops temporarily occupied Egypt until UK troops and Ottoman troops jointly recaptured Egypt for Turkey ’s Ottoman Empire in 1801. A new local ruler, a Turkish military officer named Muhammad Ali, was then appointed as viceroy/governor/pasha of Egypt by the Turkish government in Istanbul in July, 1805; and the royal dynasty in Egypt which he founded governed Egypt --usually as puppet rulers for foreign imperialists--until 1952.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Movement to Democratize Egypt: A People's History of Egypt--Part 1: 525 BC to 641 AD Period

(The following article was originally posted on The Rag Blog website on July 3, 2013)

In 2013 most people in the United States now realize that most of the people who live in Egypt want to see Egyptian society politically and economically democratized. But most people in the United States may not know much about the history-- since Egypt was invaded in 525 BC by the army of the Persian Empire that Cambyses II, the son of Cyrus II “the Great” led--of the over 83 million people who currently live in Egypt,. Yet as The Rough Guide To Egypt observed “the Persian invasion of 525 BC began…rule by foreigners” in Egypt “that essentially lasted until…1952.”

Despite a number of unsuccessful revolts by people in Egypt against their Persian rulers during the next two centuries, “Egypt remained under Persian control until 332 BC, when their entire empire succumbed to Alexander” (“the Great”) of Greece, according to The Rough Guide To Egypt. And according to Jason Thompson’s A History of Egypt, “so detested was the Persian yoke that when Alexander” and his troops “arrived in Egypt, he was welcomed as a savior;” and, initially, there was no resistance by people in Egypt to the rule of Alexander and--following Alexander’s death in 323 BC—to the rule of the Greek Ptolemaic Dynasty of General Ptolemy Soter I and his descendants between 322 and 30 BC.

But according to A History of Egypt, “the population of Ptolemaic Egypt consisted of a comparatively small number of relatively privileged Greeks superimposed onto the great masses of native Egyptians, most of whom lived around subsistence level but whose back-breaking labor supported Ptolemaic society and government;” and, not surprisingly, “Ptolemaic rule…became highly resented over time.” As the same book recalled:

“There were numerous rebellions, especially during the second and third centuries BC. Most may have resulted from economic desperation or lax central control because of dynastic infighting, but some…expressed a longing for the glorious past when Egyptians ruled Egyptians. A distinctly `nationalistic' literature appeared…Government officials extorted everything they could from the peasantry, frequently leaving them insufficient means to sustain themselves. Famine, inflation, banditry, and flight are all too abundantly attested during the later Ptolemaic Period…”

The last representative of the Ptolemaic Dynasty to rule Egypt , Cleopatra VII, was made queen by the Roman General Julius Caesar after his troops killed her brother and rival for the Egyptian throne, Ptolemy XIII, in 47 BC. But, according to A History of Egypt, Cleopatra was “so unpopular that Caesar permanently stationed three legions in Egypt ” and “when he departed in spring 47 BC to new conquests…Cleopatra was pregnant.” Then, after Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, Cleopatra formed a similar political/sexual alliance with Mark Antony. But, after Octavius Caesar’s Roman forces defeated Antony and Cleopatra’s forces in 31 BC at the Battle of Actium (and both Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide), Egypt became a province of the Roman Empire in 30 BC.

As part of the pre-partitioned Roman Empire until 395 AD, Egypt was exploited as the grain-producing “breadbasket” of Rome; and during the 30 BC to 395 AD period of rule by Romans and their Roman legions, “vast amounts of Egyptian land” that had been owned by the state under the Greek Ptolemaic dynastic rule “were now mostly sold to private individuals, some of whom acquired extensive estates,” according to A History of Egypt. As a result, “small landholders, though comprising a large proportion of the population, were increasingly hard-pressed;” and “many became little better than serfs and slaves on the estates of the privileged, who assumed powers that previously had belonged to the state, giving them even greater control over the peasantry,” according to the same book.

In 330 AD, Roman Emperor Constantine founded Constantinople; and when the Roman Empire was partitioned for the last time into East and West in 395 AD, Egypt became a province of the Constantinople-based eastern Byzantium Empire until 641 AD; and during this period “ Egypt’s grain and revenue remained extremely important to Constantinople,” according to A History of Egypt.  But the same book also notes that, “the Byzantine yoke became so odious to Egyptians, both politically and religiously…that they were not averse to the change of rule that came in the seventh century.” 

(end of part 1)