Following the withdrawal of the French occupying army in 1801, Mohammed Ali was sent to Egypt at the head of an Ottoman army to re-occupy the province. He managed to gain the support of Egyptian religious establishment and the people, who demanded that he become Wali (protector) of Egypt in 1805; however, he was not satisfied with the authority to govern Egypt. He wanted to build a kingdom for himself out of the declining Ottoman Empire and he took drastic steps to modernize and strengthen his territory using Europe as a model. His program of modernization was so successful that he eventually threatened the authority of the Ottoman Sultan, who he was supposed to serve.
Ali nationalized all of Egypt’s agricultural lands to fund his military and set about improving them with a massive program of canal building. With the profits from the nationalization of agriculture, Ali established an industrial base that primarily supported his military, producing weapons and ships for a modern army and navy. He also built up Egypt’s textile industry to compete with Europe and trained a new generation of Egyptian factory managers, workers and bureaucrats. He also greatly expanded Egypt’s educational system in order to fill the ranks of his new bureaucracy. While Muhammad Ali had a reputation for brutality and maintained highly centralized authority over Egypt and the other lands that he conquered, the result of all of these reforms was an increase in social mobility, the growth of Egypt’s economy, and the emergence of Egypt as a modern nation, even if he never gained the full legal independence from the Ottoman Empire that he desired.
Today, Mohammad Ali is still regarded as the Father of Modern Egypt, even if his legacy is somewhat controversial given the great cost that average Egyptians paid for the changes he instituted. He remains very popular in the eyes of modern Egyptians. The most significant physical legacy of Mohammad Ali visible today is the Alabaster Mosque that towers over Cairo from the heights of the Citadel, completed as a memorial to the Khedives’ deceased son in 1848.
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