Saturday, 28 February 2009

A Place Called Gaza - Part 6

Previous Installments can be read here :-

In the last instalment, we studied the problems of Egypt and its occupation with the French. In this instalment, we will look at how the political circumstances of that period led to the rise of Muhammad Ali Pasha and the occupation of Gaza by this Egyptian faction.

Muhammad Ali Pasha was an army officer within the Ottoman Empire, and was a member of the battalion that was sent to retake Egypt from the French. When this was successful, and no obvious Ottoman-friendly officer available to hold the seat of governor, he put himself forward to occupy this position which was recognized by the Empire. He managed to hold this position through a Machiavellian approach of forming strong alliances with religious leaders and powerful village chiefs, while ruthlessly crushing those who would think of overthrowing him. This included the extermination of the mamluk power structure through inviting all their chieftains to a banquet to celebrate the appointment of his son as head of an army formed to battle the rebellion of Imam Abdul-Wahab in the Hijaz. When these people arrived at the banquet, Muhammad Alis’ forces massacred them, in what is known as the “Massacre of the Citadel”. After this, he dragged the body of one of them through Cairo to demonstrate what happens to those who seek power over him.

Once he held power, he began to be increasingly important to the Ottomans. They used him in many famous campaigns, such as the war against the Arab Rebellion in 1818, and many of his campaigns were at his own instigation, such as that of the Sudan in 1821.

With power however came greed. He wanted to be assured that his progeny could be sure of inheriting an Empire, and as such begun to act like an Empire. He began to see the Ottomans as a rival power rather than one in which he could work in Harmony. He also believed that he was too powerful to fail in his ambitions, and begun to think of aggressively taking the Levant , an area emcompassing modern day Palestine. Overtures were made, identifying that the natural border was not the Suez Estuary, but instead the Taurus Mountains.

After a war of words erupted between a governor of the Ottomans in Palestine, Abdullah, and Mohammad Ali. Civillians fearing a war fled to Southern Palestine and Gaza from Egypt, to which Abdullah refused to return the individuals. Muhammad Ali then initiated a war, threatening that he would return both the civilians and Abdullah himself to Egypt.

His son, Ibrahim Pasha, set out for Palestine accompanied by many warships and other heavy military. Upon arriving in Gaza, the people did not put up any resistance. This pattern continued all the way to Haifa, and after some battles had managed to open up the road to Istanbul and thereby control it, through their occupation of Anatolia.

Though one could argue that Muhammad Ali’s objectives were aggressive in nature, in some ways they initiated reform that Europe objected to, hence their interference. His major policies were those of economy, where he initiatied heavy industry in Egypt and Palestine such as Cotton industries, which were state monopolies. This drastically affected the market for British Cotton which at that point was obtained from India. With these benefits however were many unsavoury aspects of his rule. Conscription was enforced for every male in the region, and even disabled individuals were forced to fight in the rear ranks. Taxes were heavy and though allowances were given in difficult times, on the whole taxes were far higher than those under the Ottomans.

The Ottoman Empire reacted to his aggressive military manoeuvres and recognised Muhammad Alis wars against the Palestinian Wali for what it was : A rebellion. They removed the titles bestowed upon Muhammad Ali and all his officers by the Ottomans, as well as stripping them from their posts.

Muhammad Ali responded by ordering the Clerics of Al-Azhar ( showing the concept of “government Scholars” is not that new a phenomenon ) to declare the Sultan of the Ottomans a disbeliever guilty of apostacy, which they duly did, as well as issuing a call for jihad against the Ottoman Empire.

Sadly, at this point” the disbelieving forces of France, Russia and Great Britain began to pressure the two forces to agree to a ceasefire in the interests of “peace”. This in hindsight was the beginning of European powers to exert their influence and change the dynamics of the middle east and thereby Islam as a ruling system. The two warring sides signed the treaty of Ktahya ( the Ktahya Accord ) in 1833. This awarded control of Egypt, the Hijaz and Crete to Muhammad Ali.

Later on, the European countries exploited this war and the relative weaknesses of the Ottomans and Muhammad Ali Pashas Kingdom through infighting. They demanded that any aggression between either side must be given permission first by the European powers, these being Prussia, Russia, France and Britain. Britain formed a blockade, which could be said to be a precursor to the so-called peacekeepers we see in conflict zones today, near Beirut. This lasted for some years, the European powers forcing the two countries to abandon the monopolies on trade in both of their Kingdoms, meaning that the markets were flooded with cheaper European goods. At the same time, Gaza was met with a huge outbreak of the Bubonic Plague, decimating its populating and damaging its trade significantly.

Eventually, the European powers wanted a permanent peace, fearing that the skirmishes continuning between the Ottomans and the Pasha dynasty would cause trade problems. They forced Muhammad Ali to withdraw to Egypt and Acre, and gave him 10 days to accept. During these Ten Days, the Ottomans and Britain attacked Palestine, resulting in a civilian revolt against Egypt. Muhammad Ali had to give up this territory, reluctantly pulling out of Gaza and returning to Egypt in 1841, with Gaza being returned to the Ottomans. Muhammad Ali eventually died in 1849, after being awarded the right of hereditary rule over his Kingdom which covered Sudan and Egypt, and with his title of Ottoman Viceroy being restored. Egypt however was a broken state after being forced to abandon its trade tariffs and import duties, with National debt being 80 Million Francs. He remains buried in the courtyard of Muhammad Ali Mosque.

This concludes Part 6, in Part 7 we will study the deteriorating relationship between the Ottomans and Britain.

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