Muhammad Ali (1805-2005) is a special series published fortnightly by Al-Ahram Weekly in anticipation of the international symposium commemorating the bicentennial of Muhammad Ali Pasha's acendancy to power, to be held in Egypt on 10 November. Contributions, proposals and letters on the subject should be addressed to the series editor Amina Elbendary email@example.com or faxed to +202 578 6089.
Muhammad Ali: A view from the new world by Roger Owen
Muhammad Ali: the family man by Afaf Lutfi al-Sayyid Marsot
Muhammad Ali's ideological project
Salah Abu Nar*
examines the various ideological frameworks within which Egypt's Wali set out to modernise the country
It is often the case that every historic enterprise needs an ideology to legitimize it and veil its inconsistencies. In fact, every historic enterprise usually employs a number of such ideological elements reflecting the hierarchy of the notables who play a role in it and their differences and incompatibility, as well as affecting the enterprise's actual implementation and outcome.
Such a general rule could be applied to Muhammad Ali's historical project which comprised several contradictory yet intersecting ideological components. The multiplicity of these components need not concern us here. It might be more interesting to observe the effect these ideological elements had on the enterprise's historical process.
We can detect three broad ideological orientations for Muhammad Ali's historic enterprise. The first and foremost was the ideology of Muhammad Ali himself and the bureaucratic and military elite loyal to him.
To the right of this dominant orientation was another that some contemporary sources referred to as "the Turkish party opposed to reform." This party was at the height of its power during the era of Khedieve Abbas. Muhammad Ali's remaining schools were done away with; the Alsun School was closed down and Rifa'a Rafi' Al-Tahtawi was exiled to Sudan with a group of his students. Abbas Pasha returned to the old way of life, remaining inside his distant castles and fortresses among his horses and dogs until his bloody end at the hands of his Mamlukes in a manner reminiscent of the age of the Mamluke Beys.
To the left of the dominant orientation was a third, represented by Rifa'a Al-Tahtawi and some of his students in the Alsun School as well as the new Egyptian elite formed in the schools and academic missions of Muhammad Ali. This orientation combined elements taken from European liberal thought with the dominant ideology within a traditional Islamic context. The most important of these elements were nationalism, freedom, law and rationality as a source independent from religion for true human knowledge.
The conservative orientation played a role the scope of which is difficult to define, yet all historical sources concur that it impeded Muhammad Ali's projects, blocking their possibilities for development until he was ultimately defeated and Ibrahim Pasha's life and era ended. It destroyed the remainder of the enterprise except for aspects that were difficult to undo.
As for the orientation of Rifa'a Al Tahtawi and his associates, they granted Muhammad Ali's enterprise its real intellectual achievements. Ironically it did this in a way that contradicted the historical logic of the enterprise and continued its development and influence after Muhammad Ali's era. It is at the core of the intellectual renaissance that accompanied the attempt to revive Muhammad Ali's enterprise in the era of Khedieve Ismail with which it ultimately clashed.
Below we shall be dealing with the main component elements of Muhammad Ali's ideological project, by looking at primary sources including Muhammad Ali's speeches and decrees as well as other documents and laws he issued.
I RENAISSANCE: The centrality of the concept of renaissance to Muhammad Ali's ideology is obvious in many of the historical texts attributed to him. In 1833, he told Baron de Boislecomte, "My greatest goal is the civilisation of Egypt, yet time will not enable me to meet my hopes." In an 1834 speech to all government bureaus and offices he said, "Be certain that I will channel my efforts towards the prosperity of this country, even if I sacrifice myself and my family to do so."
The goal of renaissance acquired its central position as the pasha developed an awareness of the deep civilisational gap separating the Islamic east from the west. In 1837 Muhammad Ali said to Sir John Bowring: "I sent Adham Bey with fifteen young men to learn what knowledge your country can instill in them, and so that they can see with their own eyes and work with their hands and learn the secrets of your industries. They must also learn how you surpassed us and the reasons for this excellence, until they have spent enough time among you to return to their country and undertake the task of popular education."
The idea of renaissance gained further support under the influence of two other factors. The first was Muhammad Ali's growing awareness of Egypt's ancient civilization. He confirmed the legitimacy of his enterprise by transforming it into one of historical revival. In 1837 he told Prince Pèckler-Muskau: "You know that Egypt was once the most advanced of civilised countries, a model to which all other countries aspired. Now we find that Europe has taken its place, but at some time, it is possible that Egypt will regain its place and again become a center of civilisation."
The second factor was Egypt's natural potential and its excellent geo-strategic location. In a speech to all government bureaus and agencies in 1843, the pasha remarked: "It is known to all that the lands of foreign states are at advanced stages of civilisation due to the determination of their people despite their being cultivated only once a year, whereas Egypt's land is cultivated twice, and is even capable of being cultivated four times a year. Therefore Egypt should have been doubly and triply ahead in civilization."
He went on to say: "It does not require much observation or pondering of its ability to make advancements in civilisation during the shortest time possible given its particular circumstances, especially its connection in the east to India and China and in the west to Europe, which is a source of wealth and a gift to a unique country such as this."
The pasha was quite aware that such renaissance involved a gradual historical process and the efforts of several generations. In 1837 he told Bowring, "Your birthplace, England, reached its current status through the efforts of many generations. It is not within the ability of any country to gain greatness and prosperity in one drive. Despite this, I have contributed something to Egypt and have begun to work towards its reform... Before me and before my people are many things that we must learn."
II THE LEADER'S CENTRAL ROLE: A historical process that seeks to create a renaissance must be backed by a certain social force. In Muhammad Ali's vision of renaissance the leader himself was the central creative force, awakening the nation from its slumber and leading it along the path of progress. In 1837 he remarked to Prince Pèckler- Muskau: "All nations can become great nations and all armies can become victorious armies, if they are only able to find the man who knows how to lead them to the correct path." Muhammad Ali would realise his role in the Egyptian renaissance through this historical vision.
In 1833, the pasha told Baron de Boislecomte, "I took over everything to make everything productive, for the goal is production and who can do that other than me? Who has brought forward the necessary guarantees? Who has indicated the paths to be taken and the new crops that must be brought in? Who other than me has been able to enable the people to take share with Europe in the sciences and arts that were the cause of its superiority? Do you think that it ever crossed the mind of anyone in this country to bring in cotton and silk?"
In Muhammad Ali's view the people were weak and powerless like an orphan in need of a father or a body in need of a head. He saw himself as the sole person capable of performing these roles and believed that this was the precondition for the success of the renaissance.
In 1837, he shared similar ideas with Prince Puckler-Muskau saying, "I must possess the head for all of these people and it is an extremely meager thing to have nothing but one head for such a large number of people." He continued, "I have rushed into many fierce battles and despite that I have developed a sincere emotion that ties me to Egypt, my adopted homeland. I have never been blessed with rest and peace and that is because Egypt always seems to me like a deprived child who can find no one to help it, a child that has remained for long centuries asleep. I must stand before it in the role of father and mother, master and servant, judge and teacher. This is at all times, and I have often asked myself in the middle of the nights in which I am not blessed with sleep: Can Muhammad Ali alone feed the child and clothe him and grant him knowledge? Can he raise him until he comes of age? Until now I am not certain of my ability to do that."
III THE COLLECTIVE BLOC:
The leader's central role circles high in this ideological hierarchy, thereby allowing numerous ideological follies especially in the attitudes towards the people. A leader can continue like this as long as he doesn't look beyond himself and continues to justify political despotism through an ideological cover hiding the contradictions within his historic enterprise. As soon as his central role comes up against reality, it falls from its high heavens but without actually reaching the ground. It remains suspended over the people, central yet humbled. Despite the ideological rhetoric the leader's central role had a basis in reality; not only within the central Egyptian state which continued to place the state in control of social dialectics but also within the realistic historical initiative that Muhammad Ali took and practiced.
This controversial process simultaneously raised the concept of the collective bloc's role in the Egyptian renaissance. While the role of the collective bloc remained beneath the ruler's, the distance between the two was ironically shortened. The formation of the bloc's role was well ordered and rational, while the formation of the concept of the leader's role was closer to ideological lullabies reminiscent of poetic panegyrics in the caliph's castles, except that in this case the caliph was his own poet.
The collective bloc consisted of the groups and social strata integrated into state institutions making it a bureaucratic bloc and a traditional extension of the centralised Egyptian state. Yet several factors added a social character to this bloc's bureaucratic nature.
Firstly, the exceptional expansion of the state's role placed numerous social groups and strata at crossroads with state institutions or thereabouts. Secondly, transformations took place within the internal formation of the bureaucracy which witnessed the rise of Egyptian players in opposition to older Turkish ones. Populist elements were integrated in the form of village sheikhs, soldiers and tradesmen who rose to high regional administrative posts.
The concept of the collective bloc springs from a clear basis: the leader held a central role in the renaissance process but was not able to undertake it without a bloc of social groups that merged with state institutions and in which the ruling class played a central role. Muhammad Ali employed several concepts to regulate this collective bloc's participation in the renaissance enterprise and to mobilise efforts. A review of historical texts reveals four such basic concepts: unity, public interest, consultation, and law.
THE CONCEPT OF UNITY:
meant that individuals in the collective bloc could not perform their duties or fully contribute to the enterprise's success without being aware of themselves as a single unified social bloc, despite their personal and social differences. This concept is best expressed in the 1830 Comprehensive Supreme Instructions for the Rules and Etiquette of the High Council, 1830.
The statute's text reads: "The state council includes an elite who are shown to be sagacious and hold sound opinions. They are well prepared to meet interests with integrity and uprightness. They are free of hatred, aggression and personal interests and can sit united as one entity [...] These elite, although multiple, must consider themselves a single body due to the extreme unity and agreement among themselves, and when they do that, they are called a council."
PUBLIC INTEREST: was often mentioned in Muhammad Ali's speeches, letters, decrees and laws, sometimes interchanging it with the term "charitable interest." The concept of public interest refers to the goals of the renaissance enterprise which individuals had to meet at the expense of their or others' personal interests. An analysis of Muhammad Ali's texts reveals four aspects to his understanding of public interest.
Firstly, public interest must be placed above personal interest regardless of an individual's standing within the state's institutions. Muhammad Ali was intent on applying it to his own children as well. In March 1836 he issued an order to the inspectors of the Delta provinces saying, "My son the Pasha wants to dig a canal that would take land from the Talkha irrigation canal, and so I order an investigation, with the engineers' knowledge, to discern whether the Talkha canal, after digging the desired canal, will have enough water to irrigate its lands, that is whether the Talkha canal has enough water for two canals or not, and to send the results to me."
Secondly, public interest must come before internal relations between members of the ruling class and others incorporated within state institutions.
Thirdly, individuals incorporated into the historic enterprise should view their jobs as part of a collective endeavor to meet the public interest. All individuals had to perform their duties in a way that did not harm the functions of others even if that meant not fulfilling their duties to the greatest extent possible. In 1829 Muhammad Ali sent a letter to the governor of the sub-provence of Melig and Abiyar, writing, "The letter of Yousef Effendi the governor of the sub-provinces of Fuwa and Kafr Al-Sheikh states that you have cut off the water from the Al-Shabasat section in his administrative district of Kafr Rabi', which has damaged the summer cultivation in areas of that section due to lack of water. We marvel at your failure to notice such matters. Does the benefit of your region embolden you to damage a neighboring administrative district? Didn't it occur to you that damaging the cultivation of another administrative district would place you in our disapproval? Don't you know that our goal is to develop this entire kingdom?"
Fourthly and finally, individuals' protection of the public interest was the real standard for political loyalty, thus merging political loyalty to the ruler with loyalty to the historic enterprise itself.
CONSULTATION: was the means to participate in Muhammad Ali's historic enterprise, since such an enterprise cannot be fully implemented or closely supervised without some type of participation from a bloc of individuals incorporated into state institutions. Individuals were thus obliged to observe and be aware of what was going on within the state and were expected to present criticisms and suggestions without embarrassment or fear so that they would appreciate the breadth of their responsibility.
Yet the necessity of consultation was confined within the leader's central role in the historic enterprise which also meant that the opinions of participants carried no obligation on the ruler's part. Consultation was thus mainly a general relationship within state institutions at large. Though this general relationship was not systematized, Muhammad Ali tried to activate it and endow it with political and legal legitimacy. The actual results of this attempt cannot be determined, but the documents available allow an analysis of the concept itself.
The decree that Muhammad Ali directed to the cabinet ( shura al-mu'awana ) on 17 Rabi' Thani 1259 A.H. (1843 A.D.) best elucidates this. Other documents include the letter Muhammad Ali sent to his son Ismail on 13 Rabi' Awal 1236 A.H. (1820 A.D.) during the Sudan campaign. In the month of Jumadi Awal of 1259 A.H. the high court of justice ( al-gam'iyya al-haqaniyya ) transformed the decree of 17 Rabi' Thani into a general law with a clear change in its formulation. When the selected items law ( al-muntakhabat ) which included Muhammad Ali's basic laws, was formally issued, this was included in it. Thus it developed gradually: first a decree was issued, then a general law, and then it was included within the selected items law.
By analysing the text of the law, with reference to the previous decree, it is possible to observe four stages to Muhammad Ali's vision of consultation as a practice within the bloc of individuals affiliated with the state's institutions.
At first Muhammad Ali granted to those working in the vice-royal suite or cabinet ( al-ma'iyya al-saniyya ), the right to take initiatives in presenting criticisms and opinions on everything he issued for the benefit of public interest. At first, this right was granted only to the senior members of the cabinet. He later granted this right to the clerks and administrators within the cabinet. The text of the subsequent law states, "If a matter has been ruled on or issued by a decree and later is the object of doubt in the minds of the clerks charged with issuing the decrees, and if they conceive the goal of the issued decree, they are licensed to make a submission and benefit from raising it before the Khedive."
Secondly, the Pasha took this right beyond the range of the supreme retinue and the tight circle of power surrounding him granting it to all those working within Egyptian state institutions.
Later Muhammad Ali transformed these consultative responsibilities to the men in the administration themselves, in other words, the members of the collective bloc. The relative law states, "Whereas the degrees of rationality vary and some minds are distinguished over others, these clerks, if not convinced of what the Pasha has given them, must turn to their associates with the problem, and if all see an excess or shortcoming in the matter, then they should turn to the Pasha and present the requisite information."
Finally the pasha transformed this right into a duty. This is clear in the legal text; after granting the men in the supreme retinue the right to consultation the law states, "If they do not follow these four conditions, a quantity of dirhams is taken from each to be spent on charity and good deeds according to the extent of harm done and the rank of each one and their wealth."
LAW WAS THE FOURTH CONCEPT: that regulated the participation of collective bloc members in the historic enterprise. A law was devised to formalise the relationship between individuals and their duties according to their place within the state institutions thereby legalising their participation in the historic enterprise. An individual's duties became a legal obligation so that the liability of each individual could be determined, all efforts mobilised, and mistakes and shortcomings overcome. These notions are found in the introduction to Muhammad Ali's basic law, the Siyasat-name.
The introduction to the law states, "Government interests require all employees and beneficiaries to ask about matters of interest, the good and the bad. They are obliged to charitable business and satisfying rules in order to bring many benefits and protect government interests from deep complications. It has become necessary to regulate all good deeds and the responsible authorities must administrate them and adhere to the required formats. If human circumstances place them in situations that transgress those splendid statutes, then they should be punished and made an example. The path of circulating interests has begun to bring benefits. In any case, a complete policy must be formulated for the common good. A public law must be devised that will bring together the statutes and the Siyasat- name."
* The writer is a political scientist with published work on contemporary Arab ideology.