The Intellectual Origins of Egyptian Nationalism

By Jamal Mohammed Ahmed | Go to book overview
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ALTHOUGH there never was a time when contact between Europe and the Near East was completely interrupted, Bonaparte's occupation of Egypt can be taken as marking the beginning of a new relationship between the two worlds and a new age in Egypt. The idea was not Napoleon's alone and he was certainly the instrument of a long-pondered policy in France. But the policy he followed, once he had made himself master of Egypt, was moulded in part by his own interest in the country. Before and during the occupation Islam exerted an attraction over his imagination, which indeed endured until the end of his life. 'During his captivity he liked to send his thoughts back to the Mussulman world, and in his dictation and his conversations at St. Helena there are some of the most impartial and some of the most sympathetic pages ever written on Islam in a Western language.'1

The proclamations and letters of the young conqueror show how curious he was about the customs and manners of those he ruled. He set himself to learn them and even adopted the oriental mode of dress, hoping by so doing to make a beginning in the work of reconciling the differences between the French and the Egyptians. By studying the doctrines of Islam he thought he would be able to win over the Egyptians and root his government in their acceptance. The more he tried, however, the more he was rejected. Al-Jabarti records in his journal almost daily signs of resentment against the army of occupation and against the Copts and Syrian Christians2 who became the native auxiliaries of Napoleon's government.

'Woe unto you, Nazarenes and French' was a common cry and made it impossible for the French to have a single day of

F. Charles-Roux, Bonaparte: Governor of Egypt, trs. by E. W. Dickes (1937), p. 71.
The term 'Syrian' is used in its ancient sense.


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