The Ottoman sultan was Egypt's titular sovereign until 1914, but in the late nineteenth century some historians of Egypt were already locating the terminus of Ottoman rule in the French invasion (1798) and the inauguration of Mehmet `Ali's government (1805). This periodization was later canonized in Egyptian academia, so that Egypt's Ottoman history was defined as beginning in 1517 and ending in 1798. However, the vagaries of Egypt's relationship with Istanbul meant that this periodization was neither obvious nor uncontested. The purpose of this article is to compare evolving, discordant interpretations of Ottoman history presented in four works by notable Egyptian historians: `Abd al-Rahman al-Jabarti (ca. 1824), `Ali Pasha Mubarak (ca. 1889); Muhammad Farid (ca. 1912); and `Umar al-Iskandari and Salim Hasan (ca. 1919). The article investigates how the defeated Mamluk sultanate (which preceded the Ottomans) is related to Egypt's identity in these works, how the Ottomans are positioned in the flow of Egyptian and Islamic history, and how their conquest and rule over Egypt is characterized. The article also reviews these authors' reflections on the causes of Ottoman “decline” and analyzes what Mehmet Ali's rule portended for Egypt. The findings show that Egyptian historians differed radically on the relationship between the Mamluks and Egypt—oppressors versus protonationalists—and in their assessment of the Ottoman conquest's impact. There is no linear evolution of opinion before Egypt's independence in 1922 or a strict correlation between an Egyptian-nationalist orientation and attitudes toward the Ottoman state: Mubarak was a moderate nationalist but anti-Ottoman/anti-Turk, while Farid was an ardent and outspoken nationalist but treasured and promoted Egypt's organic bond with the Ottoman Empire. Broadly, one may distinguish between an appreciation of the Ottomans in their defense of Islam and implementation of Muslim justice (al-Jabarti and Farid), and a repudiation of the Ottoman period as Egypt's “dark ages” (Mubarak, Iskandari, and Hasan). However, Iskandari and Hasan's book's acceptance as a secondary school textbook represents the fixing of a historiographical orthodoxy that categorized Ottoman rule as alien, corrupt, and retrograde, a view that remains dominant in Egyptian popular consciousness until today.
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Michael J. Reimer; Egyptian Views of Ottoman Rule: Five Historians and Their Works, 1820–1920. Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 1 May 2011; 31 (1): 149–163. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/1089201X-2010-063
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