Equal Partners
by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners

By Roland Ezri

"Women are the backbone of all societies. They do a substantial part of the work, and play a major role in raising the future generation yet they are largely powerless. The decisions that count are made by men and foisted upon women."

Writings by Roland Ezri

The Second Exodus – Egypt – X. Historical Context (2 of 3)

2) It was a French engineer who first proposed linking the Mediterranean sea with the Red sea by means of a canal.  Decades later, his dream would become a reality.  The Suez canal, an entirely French project headed by Ferdinand de Lesseps, was opened in 1869.

3) The French introduced Egypt to the concept of equality before the law.

4) The scholars studied the geography, history, and economic possibilities of Egypt; thus, they played a central role in modernizing the country.  For instance, they established schools of medicine, improved irrigation, and set up the first printing press with Arabic type.

5) Brief as it was, the French presence in Egypt was enough to allow Muhammad Ali, a decade later, to make Egypt the principal power in the Orient.  And to this day, Egypt is recognized as the most advanced country in the Arab world; witness the expression:  Masr om el donia (Egypt is the mother of the world).

Muhammad Ali was greatly aided by French advisers in his task of modernizing Egypt.

6) French schools and libraries opened by Napoleon introduced the Egyptians both to modern Western thought and to the French language.  French became the language that tied together foreign people.  Italians, Greeks, Armenians, and so on, conversed together in French.  Many routinely spoke three languages; for example, a Greek person could be fluent in Greek, French, and Arabic.

On a personal level, when my paternal grandfather went to school, his (Italian) dad sent him to a French school.  In turn, my grandfather sent his children to a French school; and my father in turn enrolled Robert and myself to the very same school he attended.

Hopefully, it is now somewhat clearer, as to why so many Egyptians that came to Canada (and other countries) speak French.

Do not conclude that only foreigners send their children to French schools.  Many upper and middle class Egyptians did the same.  If you go to Egypt today, you’re sure to encounter many Egyptians who speak that unique and so beautifully cadenced “Egyptian French.”

Where are we today?  There are more than 2 million Egyptians who speak French fluently.  With the blessing of the government, some 43,000 students are enrolled in French language schools every year.  Egyptians are no doubt in love with French culture.

One last point.  The French example was emulated; English, Italian, German, and other nations, opened their own schools.  The objective, of course, was to spread their own languages and cultures to the Egyptian people.

My cousins in Alexandria went to a British school and were fluent in English, French, and Arabic.  Later, to catch up with them, I started reading English books as early as 13!

Muhammad Ali’s dynasty

After its glorious Pharaonic and Ptolemaic past, and the prominent role it played in the Arab empire, Egypt went into a downward spiral and stagnated.

The exact time it started is difficult to pinpoint, probably during the first half of the 16th century.

At the time, Egypt was ruled by the Mamelukes; their reign while unruly was culturally brilliant.

The Ottoman conquest in 1517 proved to be a turning point. They managed to share the rule and wealth of Egypt with the Mamelukes.  They also presided over the steady decline of this fabled country.

The French expedition lay the foundation for the Muhammad Ali dynasty.  Muhammad Ali proved to be the prince who would wake up the princess from her long sleep.

Muhammad Ali was an Albanian commander in the Ottoman army.  He was sent to Egypt to drive Napoleon’s forces out.  However, when the French withdrew, he seized power and forced the Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II to recognize him as Wali (Governor).

Muhammad Ali increased his power to the point that he threatened the very existence of the Ottoman empire.  With the help of his son, Ibrahim Pasha, he prepared to march on Constantinople.  Only the intervention of the Great Powers saved the Ottoman empire.  Thereafter, he was restricted to Egypt and the Sudan.

Muhammad Ali’s dynasty, also known as the Alawiyya dynasty, ruled Egypt for a century and half.  The dynasty ended with the infant king, Fuad II, he reigned for less than a year.  Thereafter, Muhammad Naguib, Gamal Abdel Nasser, and the Free Officers abolished the monarchy and declared Egypt a republic.  Thus, thousands of years of monarchy, in one form or another, came to an abrupt end.

Ultimately, it was King Farouk who sounded the death knell of the Alawiyya dynasty.  His corruption and incompetence, his  constant interference with Parliament, and the catastrophic 1948 Arab-Israeli war created great popular discontent.  The way was opened for a bloodless coup; it happened in 1952, and it would bring Gamal Abdel Nasser to power.  He governed Egypt from 1952 until his death in 1970.

Muhammad Ali reigned from 1805 to 1849.  In 1848 he had a brief period of incapacity and was replaced by his son, Ibrahim Pasha.  Excluding the short reign of Ibrahim, the Alawiyya dynasty included 10 rulers with varying degree of (official) power.

Muhammad Ali and the following two rulers were considered as Walis (Governors); however, they self-declared themselves as Khedives*, but this was not recognized by Constantinople.  In 1867, the reigning head of state, Ismail Pasha was officially recognized as Khedive by Sultan Abdul-Aziz.  As well, the title was sanctioned for all his successors.  Husayn I was recognized as Sultan in 1914.  Fuad I started as Sultan and became King in 1922.  If we exclude the short reign of the infant King, Fuad II, Farouk I was the only member of the dynasty who was King throughout his reign.

During the long Alawiyya Dynasty, Western values were espoused.  A special aura surrounded individuals of European origin.  The “superiority” of the Western individual over the common Egyptian took root during that period.  And it reached its height under Khedive Ismail.  So let us therefore take a closer look at this extraordinary man.

[* Khedive is a title derived from the Persian word for Lord, it’s equivalent to Viceroy.  A Viceroy in turn is the Governor of a country or province who rules as the representative of the King.]

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