|Biographical detail : ||An Albanian officer in the Ottoman army who made Egypt virtually independent of Istanbul and who achieved a major modernisation of the country.
Pasha Muhammad Ali who came to power in 1804 almost single-handedly dragged the backward province into the modern world. But the brutality of his method showed how difficult it was to modernise at such breakneck speed. He massacred the political opposition – thousands of peasants are said to have died in the conscripted labour bands that improved Egypt’s irrigation and water-communications.
To secularise the country, Muhammad Ali simply confiscated much religiously endowed property, systematically marginalized the ulema, and divested them of any shred of power. As a result, the ulema, who had experienced modernity as a shocking assault, became even more insular, and closed their minds against the new world that was coming into being in Egypt.
Muhammad Ali started a policy of attracting British, French, Italians and Greeks to settle in Alexandria, the city he had made his summer capital. Between the landing of British troops in Alexandria “to restore order” in 1882, and the departure in 1952 of Muhammad Ali’s great-grandson King Farouk, it was one of the most sophisticated cities in the Mediterranean.
The history of Egypt for the first half of the 19th century is virtually the history of Pasha Muhammad Ali who was also known as the founder of modern Egypt. He founded the first school of engineering in 1816, the first school of medicine 1821 and also the first Arabic newspaper in 1828.