The Struggle of Egyptian People
The people of Egypt fought a fatal struggle against injustice and against the occupation for many years, until the struggle became part of the history of this great people. Let us know the struggle of this people, which is part of his great history.
The history of modern Egypt started after the permanent division of the Roman Empire into the Western Roman and Eastern Roman (Byzantine) empires in 395 A.D. Earlier Egyptian history is treated as the history of Ancient Egypt.
Egypt was an important part of the Byzantine Empire. As under the Romans, it served as a granary for other provinces. Alexandria, was a major port for Byzantine sea trade and, as before, the cultural center of Greek-language scholarship, including much early Christian theology.
In the fourth century Arius, an Alexandrian priest, originated a doctrine denying the Trinity. Although Arianism was ruled a heresy at the Council of Nicaea in 325, most Egyptians remained Arians. In the fifth century the doctrine of Monophysitism was adopted by the Byzantine church and then condemned, but the Coptic (Egyptian) church refused to give it up. Conflict became so bitter that when, in the seventh century, the Muslims invaded Egypt, the Copts made no effort to defend it.
The Muslim Conquest
Fighting was frequent between the Byzantine and Persian empires. In 616, the Persians seized Egypt, but the Byzantines soon regained it. The warring countries were ill prepared to meet the threat posed by Muslim invaders, who emerged from Arabia in 633. The Arab army advanced into Egypt in 639, and the last Byzantine forces withdrew in 642.
The Arab capital, El Fustat, was established at a site that is now within Cairo. The Egyptians were permitted religious freedom, but conversion to Islam (the Muslim religion) was very rapid. The Coptic language was gradually supplanted by Arabic.
Meanwhile, the Muslim empire was undergoing change. The caliph (supreme ruler) moved his capital from Arabia to Syria, and then in 750 to Persia. Eventually most of the government officials in Egypt were hired professional soldiers of non-Arab ancestry, such as Turkish and Kurdish. Twice Turkish officials made themselves independent rulers in Egypt. The first Turkish regime lasted from 868 to 905. The second, 935–69, was ended by an invasion from Tunisia of the Fatimids, a new Muslim faction. Cairo was founded as the Fatimid capital and Egypt thrived as the center of an empire extending to Asia Minor.
Egypt during the Crusades
In the 11th century new enemies appeared in the northeast. These were the Seljuk Turks, who became masters of all the territory from Turkestan to the Mediterranean, but failed in an attack on Egypt. The Turkish menace to the Byzantine Empire resulted in the Crusades, beginning in 1096.
The Crusaders conquered much of Palestine, which the Fatimids claimed, causing them to join with the Turkish sultan of Syria against the Christians. The sultan used the alliance to make one of his own officers' governors of Egypt in 1169. In 1171, Saladin, the sultan's appointee, abolished the Fatimid caliphate and in 1174, upon the death of the sultan, assumed independent rule of Egypt. Soon he became sultan of Syria as well and in victories over the Crusaders regained most of Palestine.
In the Fifth Crusade, 1218–21, Christian forces invaded Egypt, but were soon driven back. In the Seventh Crusade, 1248–54, also directed at Egypt, the Christian army led by King Louis IX of France was surrounded and captured.
The victorious Egyptian army was composed largely of Mamelukes, foreign (mainly Turkish and Circassian) cavalrymen. In 1250, during a struggle for the throne among Saladin's descendants, a Mameluke made himself sultan. Egypt soon faced a new menace, as Mongol invaders conquered Persia and proceeded westward. In 1260, the Mameluke and Mongol armies met in Palestine, near Nazareth, and the Mongol force was destroyed.
The early period of Mameluke rule in Egypt was one of prosperity and growing sea trade with both Asia and Europe. The country soon was weakened by internal struggles for power, however, and in the 15th century it was afflicted with droughts and famines. After the Portuguese in 1497–98 sailed around Africa to the East Indies, Egypt's role in world trade declined.
The Ottoman Turks, who had succeeded the Seljuks and absorbed the Byzantine Empire, in 1517 defeated the Mamelukes and annexed their empire. After acquiring Egypt, the Ottomans showed little interest in it. Mamelukes were permitted to serve as beys (provincial governors); gradually the leading bey became virtually a monarch.
In 1798, during the warfare between France and Great Britain brought on by the French Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Egypt, posing a threat to British-held India. The British and Ottoman Turks forced a French withdrawal in 1801.
Mohammed Ali, an officer in the Turkish army, was named pasha (governor) of Egypt in 1805. In 1807, he drove out the British, and in 1811 he had the Mamelukes massacred. Ali reorganized the government and sent a number of young men to Europe for their education. He also created a powerful army, which he used at first in the service of the Ottomans, but later in his own interests.
In 1831, Ali conquered Syria for himself, but was forced to give it up by European powers friendly to the Ottomans. He was given the right, however, to make the office of pasha hereditary in his family.
Expansion of Egypt: This map shows the area that came under the control of Egyptian ruler Mohammad Ali and his successors after 1805. The area included all of what is today Egypt and extended south to include what is today Sudan. In 1882, the United Kingdom invaded and occupied most of what is today Egypt.
A Frenchman, Ferdinand de Lesseps, had a plan for building a canal through the Isthmus of Suez. The British were opposed to it, but the Egyptian pasha, Said, signed an agreement with de Lesseps, and the canal was constructed, 1859–69. By the time of its opening, Ismail Pasha, Said's successor, had been elevated to khedive (viceroy).
The British soon discovered the canal's importance and in 1875, bought Ismail's shares in its ownership.
Ismail's ambitions had bankrupted Egypt, and in 1879, he was forced by the British and French to abdicate in favor of his son. Resentment against such foreign domination led to rioting. In 1882, British troops restored order and occupied Egypt. Although it remained nominally a part of the Ottoman Empire, in fact it was thereafter controlled by the British. When in 1914, Turkey entered World War I against the Allies, Britain deposed the khedive and made Egypt a protectorate.
After the war nationalist sentiment became overwhelming, and in 1922, Britain permitted Egypt to become an independent monarchy, with Fuad I, youngest son of Ismail, as king. To protect its use of the Suez Canal, however, Britain kept troops in the country.
The British ended their military occupation, except in the canal zone, in 1936. They reoccupied the country in 1939, because of World War II, and withdrew (again, except in the canal zone) in 1947. The battle of El Alamein, 1942, was the only major engagement in Egypt.
Egypt was a founding member of the Arab League in 1945 and joined with other Arab countries in an attack against newly formed Israel in 1948. Egypt performed poorly in this war, intensifying dissatisfaction with the monarchy. In 1952, a group of military officers led by Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser and General Mohammed Naguib deposed King Farouk and the next year proclaimed a republic, with Naguib as president. Internal friction led to Nasser's taking over the government in 1954.
Meanwhile, Britain had agreed to withdraw its troops from the canal zone and, along with the United States, to help construct the Aswan High Dam. In 1956, however, both nations withdrew their support because of Egypt's growing involvement with Communist countries. President Nasser then nationalized the canal, whereupon Israel invaded the Sinai Peninsula and British and French forces landed at the canal. International pressure forced the attackers to withdraw. The Soviet Union began to provide Egypt with financial, technical, and military assistance, including help in building the Aswan Dam.
Nasser's hostility to Israel was matched in intensity by his desire for Arab unity. In 1958, Egypt joined with Syria to form the United Arab Republic; it was dissolved three years later. (Egypt kept the name for some years, however.) Tension with Israel continued until, in 1967, a full-scale war erupted. In only six days Israel defeated Egypt and allied Arab nations and gained possession of the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaze Strip. The canal was left impassable.
Meanwhile, in the early 1960's, Nasser created the Arab Socialist Union as the only legal party and severely limited basic freedoms. Government ownership was imposed on virtually all business and financial institutions.
Nasser died in 1970 and was succeeded by Anwar Sadat. Dissatisfied with Egypt's dependence on the Soviet Union, Sadat established closer diplomatic and commercial ties with Western countries. In 1972, he expelled Russian military personnel.
In 1973, Egypt and Syria attacked Israel but after initial successes were beaten back. With the United States acting as intermediary, Egypt and Israel reached a troop-disengagement agreement in 1974. Egypt regained a strip of land east of the Suez Canal and was able to reopen the canal the following year.
During 1974, Sadat liberalized his rule by releasing political prisoners, easing censorship, and curbing police powers. Sadat also worked to increase private enterprise and foreign investment in Egypt.
Sadat's economic reforms were slow in achieving results. Egypt faced serious financial problems, partly because of huge military expenditures. In November, 1977, Sadat visited Israel to show his willingness to seek peace.
In 1979, Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty, under which Egypt regained the Sinai (in gradual steps from 1979 to 1982). Because the treaty contained no provision for a sovereign Palestinian state, Egypt was denounced by other Arab nations. In 1981, Sadat was assassinated by a group of Islamic extremists who opposed his treaty with Israel. His successor, Hosni Mubarak, maintained peace with Israel but also improved relations with other Arab states. He was reelected in 1987 and 1993.
By Fatma Dawod
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