The challenges of imperial rule

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The challenges of imperial rule

Initial Contacts with the British Trade links had existed between the two countries for as long as anyone could remember. Egypt was a key part of the old spice and trade routes between Europe and Asia. British traders had been loading and unloading their cargoes in Ottoman waters for generations.

The challenges of imperial rule

British military and political interest in Egypt first manifested itself as it became obvious that in the Eighteenth Century, India was falling under the influence of Britain and away from France.

Despite, the direct sail routes around the Cape of Good Hope, Egypt still provided the quickest way of maintaining communications between Britain and India.

It required a brief overland journey, but it was still substantially quicker than circumnavigating Africa. It was the strategic foresight of Napoleon that first pointed out the importance of Egypt to Britain.


Inhe had the audacity of landing an army in Egypt that promptly defeated the Mameluke Army at the Battle of the Pyramids. All of a sudden, British alarm bells began ringing as they realised that their profitable Indian Empire was under direct threat.

Stranded, there was little that the French army could do and Napoleon promptly abandoned them to their fate. The French surrendered in At this point, it seemed as if the British forces would remain in place and that Egypt would just have remained under British control.

Unfortunately for the British, in a vigorous Egyptian leader came to the fore, known as Muhammed Ali. He took control of the Mameluke army and defeated the British in This setback forced them to withdraw from Egypt. The British would not formally return for another 75 years. Partly due to wounded pride, but also because supporting Egypt would have compromised one of their other stated policy aims, that of protecting and bolstering the Ottoman Empire.

This stance was primarily undertaken as a counterweight against Russian influence in Eastern Europe, but it meant that the British found themselves defending Turkish interests in a number of unlikely areas.

One such area was to be that of Lebanon, Syria and the Holy Lands in the s. InMuhammed Ali took advantage of a Russia defeat of the Ottomans by declaring Egypt as independent. Emboldened by the plight of the Ottomans, he advanced into their Near East dependencies.

At the time, there were serious political implications in Europe as the French and Russians tried to gain capital out of the ailing Ottoman fortunes. Whilst Britain, supported by the Austrians, desperately tried to maintain the last vestiges of Ottoman power in the area.

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Things turned even worse for the Ottomans as they launched an unsuccessful offensive against Muhammed Ali's Egyptian forces. The Ottomans were defeated at Nisibin and their fleet mutinied and went over to the Egyptians. At this point, the British and Austrians stepped in to save the Ottomans, and landed forces in Lebanon.

These forces defeated the sitting Egyptian army and, combined with a fleet despatched to Alexandria, forced Muhammed Ali to submit and to reign back his forces. After this event, British attitudes towards Egypt began to improve. Although the idea that Egypt would become a British colony was regarded by most as being highly fanciful.

It was the French who were thought to be the most active in the North Africa region.

The challenges of imperial rule

They funded the Suez Canal and steadily increased their economic base in the country. British interest in Egypt developed during the American Civil War. At this time, British mills were starved of cotton. Alternative sources had to be found and one such source was to be Egypt whose cotton was actually a particularly good quality product.

British companies began investing heavily in the production of cotton in Egypt. The hugely ambitious public works programs of the ruling Khedives also attracted British businessmen and their wares. Although, Egypt's inability to pay for these modern conveniences was not yet thought to be a barrier to trade.

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Egypt and the British Empire