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In writing the history of the War in Syria, I began after the battle of Nizib, and the defection of the Turkish fleet, which had well nigh laid Turkey prostrate at the feet of her powerful vassal; but it is necessary that the uninformed reader should be acquainted how Mehemet Ali, who began a simple soldier, should have risen to such a height of power as to attract the attention of the nations of Europe, and cause them to come forward, at the imminent risk of a European war, to interfere between the vassal and the master.
Mehemet Ali is of low origin, and was born at Cavallo, in Roumelia, in 1769. He left his parents when young, and began his career as a tobacco-merchant, but soon tired of trade, became a soldier, and was sent to Egypt, at the time of the French invasion, at the head of a body of Arnauts (Albanians.) After the evacuation of Egypt by the French, he made himself extremely useful to Kourschid Pacha, the governor of Egypt, who was unpopular with the Mamelukes, and disliked by his own soldiers. Mehemet was too clever for the Governor, and soon began to see an opening for himself. Kourschid became jealous, and endeavoured to get rid of him; but the future Pacha of Egypt had gained over his countrymen to his interest, and, with the assistance of the Mamelukes, deposed the Pacha, and stepped into his shoes. His own talent, and the weakness of the Porte, kept him in place; though many attempts were made to remove him.
Mehemet Ali never openly opposed the Porte; he was the most submissive of Pachas, and always managed to gain his point, and each unsuccessful attempt of the Porte to displace him left him more powerful than ever. When the British landed at Damietta, in 1807, Mehemet Ali ruled in Egypt, and it was principally owing to his energetic conduct that the expedition failed.
The massacre of the Mamelukes, which took place in 1811, cannot be justified, even according to Eastern ideas. That they were extremely troublesome and dangerous there cannot be a doubt; they would have had no hesitation whatever in overthrowing Mehemet Ali’s government, and putting him to death; and had he openly attacked them, he would have been justified; but a breach of hospitality is a greater crime in the East than in the West. He had invited the Mamelukes to eat salt with him, and he treacherously attacked and butchered them in the citadel of Cairo in cold blood. One alone escaped; he took a desperate leap over the battlements, his horse was killed on the spot, and he alone, of between 400 and 500, survived to tell the story of the massacre of his fellows.
About this time the Pacha began to extend his views beyond Egypt, and his first step was to take advantage of the opening afforded by the depredations of the Wahabees, a reforming military sect of Arabs, who had captured Mecca and Medina, plundered the caravans, and put a stop to the pilgrimages of the Faithful. Less actuated, it may be fairly supposed, by religious zeal than by political wisdom, he procured orders from the Porte, by virtue of which he attacked, and at length, after several campaigns, succeeded in subduing them; his two sons Toussoon and Ibrahim greatly exerting themselves in the war. The pachalic of the Holy Cities was in consequence granted by the Sultan to Ibrahim, but Mehemet Ali pushed his arms still further, and did not desist till he had got into his possession the most valuable parts of the coast of Arabia.
Shortly after the massacre of the Mamelukes, Mehemet, with the assistance of Colonel Seve (now Souliman Pacha), an officer of merit in the French service, set to work to raise an army and to discipline it on the European model. The latter was no easy task; he had to contend against the habits and prejudices of the Arabs, but nevertheless, he succeeded in this, as he has done in most of his undertakings. In 1824 he was enabled to send a powerful army and fleet to Greece to assist in putting down the insurrection; here the Allies interfered; the “untoward” battle of Navarino destroyed his fleet, and not more than half his army returned to the land of their birth. As a reward for his services, however, the government of Candia was conferred on him by the Porte.