Sultan Mohammad Ali

Who was Mohammad Ali?


Mohammad Ali is regarded as the father of modern Egypt. He founded the Khedivate of Egypt and Sudan in 1805, capitalizing on the disorder in Egypt that followed the French occupation (1798 to 1801), and his descendants ruled Egypt until the Free Officers’ Revolution in 1952. Once in power, Khedive Ali operated independently from the Ottoman Sultan, even threatening to invade Istanbul at one point. Under his rule, Egypt underwent rapid and dramatic modernization and economic expansion.

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.


Sultan Mohammad Ali


How did Mohammad Ali contribute to Egypt's economic growth? 


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.


How was Egypt under the rule of Mohammad Ali? 


Under Khedive Muhammad Ali Egypt’s agricultural lands were expanded and nationalized, becoming state tax farms to generate revenue for reforms. Ali used this income to establish an industrial base producing equipment for a modern army and navy and textiles. He instituted a draft for the military and labor in state factories.
He also sent expeditions to Europe to learn languages and bring back new technologies and organizational strategies. The educational system was expanded to produce bureaucrats and managers to fill the positions in this new economy and government. The result was revolutionary in Egypt, quickly growing the economy and dramatically increasing social mobility in a society that had remained largely feudal up until that point.


Sultan Mohammad Ali


Mohammad Ali and Modern Egypt: 


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.


Sultan Mohammad Ali
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