How The Ottomans Almost Stopped Their Decline

How The Ottomans Almost Stopped Their Decline The arrival of the French in Egypt marked a significant turning point in the Muslim world. For the first time in history, it revealed that the armies, governments, and societal structures of Islamic civilization were lagging behind those of Western Europe. This was a stark contrast to the earlier era when Islam hosted the most advanced and powerful empires, being the hub of economic prosperity, scientific innovation, and political prestige.

Ottoman Empire And Alexandria

When the French landed in Alexandria, they were astonished to find that the once-legendary city had deteriorated into a mere shadow of its former glory. Years of neglect and stagnation had reduced it to a backwater town, with its society seemingly stuck in the past. In contrast, the French demonstrated remarkable organization and technology, which left the Muslim inhabitants in awe.

Paradoxically, this wake-up call was welcomed in the Muslim world. The Ottoman elite, its subjects, and vassals were deeply ashamed of how far their once-great empire had fallen. This momentous realization spurred them to embark on a path of reformation.

Egypt Ottomans

The withdrawal of the French from Egypt created a political crisis that altered the course of Ottoman history. While the Ottoman armies managed to recapture Egypt, the territory was effectively controlled by an Albanian mercenary unit known as the Bashi-Bouzaks, meaning “crazy-heads.” These mercenaries were loyal only to those who paid them for their services. When their demands were not met, they overthrew the Ottoman Pasha in 1805.

The man who replaced the Ottoman Pasha was an Albanian commander named Muhammad Ali. Despite his tyrannical rule, he won favor with the public by addressing their financial needs and promising radical reforms for the Egyptian Eyalet. Under his leadership, Egypt began to modernize and industrialize rapidly.

Muhammad Ali In Ottoman History

One of Muhammad Ali’s first tasks was the restructuring of the military. Unlike the Ottomans, who were constrained by the influential Janissaries, Muhammad Ali had his own army of mostly Albanian troops loyal to him. He established military schools teaching modern French artillery, cavalry, and infantry tactics.

Muhammad Ali also developed an arms industry, making Egypt less dependent on European imports. He took measures to industrialize Egypt’s economy, fostering local production of goods that were previously imported. Egypt’s agriculture thrived, especially in sugar, cotton, and rice production.

By 1830, Muhammad Ali’s Egypt resembled a modern European state, with judicial reforms and a Western-style penal code. Secular education establishments were created, allowing both men and women to participate. The success of Muhammad Ali’s Egypt impressed and intimidated the Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II, who was also pursuing reforms in the empire.

The Ottoman-Egyptian war

The Ottoman-Egyptian War demonstrated the vulnerability of the Ottoman Empire and the necessity of reform for survival. Sultan Mahmud II began to make the empire more “European.” He established a Council of Ministers, introduced secular laws into the courts, and encouraged the adoption of European fashion.

The alliance between Mahmud and the European powers, particularly Britain, helped protect the Ottoman Empire. His efforts to modernize the Ottoman government and military culminated in the disbandment of the Janissaries in 1826, making way for a more modern army.

Despite Mahmud’s reforms, Muhammad Ali’s forces challenged Ottoman authority, highlighting the Ottoman Empire’s dependence on Egypt. However, European powers pressured Egypt into signing a peace agreement, preserving Egypt’s subordination to the Ottomans.

Following Mahmud’s death, his successor, Abdulmejid, initiated the Tanzimat Era in 1839, aimed at making the Ottoman Empire more secular and modern. These reforms touched various aspects of society, including the legal system, infrastructure, and equal rights for different groups within the empire.

However, the Tanzimat reforms, while making significant improvements to public institutions and infrastructure, ultimately failed to save the declining Ottoman Empire. The empire’s economy continued to shrink, and its subjects lost faith in the Sultans’ ability to govern effectively.

Ottoman Empire Technology

The impact of the Tanzimat reforms, though unsuccessful at saving the empire, was profound. Enlightenment philosophies, technology, and Enlightenment policies inspired a new generation of intellectuals who championed their version of modernity. These intellectuals played a crucial role in advocating for reform, as the question of modernization evolved to become not just about government restructuring but also a matter of national identity.

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In essence, the arrival of the French in Egypt and the subsequent events triggered a series of reforms and shifts that deeply affected the Ottoman Empire and the Muslim world, pushing them towards modernization and change. The transformation was marked by significant challenges and complex questions, but it was a critical step towards adapting to the changing world order.

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