Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Bonaparte's Letter to the Pasha of Egypt

From A Selection from the Letters and Despatches of the First Napoleon. With Explanatory Notes By Denis Arthur Bingham. (London: Chapman and Hall, Ltd., 1884), pp. 213-215. Comments below between the text of the letters is by Bingham.

Bonaparte, on taking the port city of Alexandria, represented himself to the Ottoman viceroy or "Pasha" of Egypt, Ebu Bekir Pasha, as a 'friend of the Ottoman sultan,' and maintained that he had come to rescue the governor from the rebellious Georgian Beys or slave-soldier commanders, such as Ibrahim. He also implied that he was pro-Muslim and had fought the enemies of the Muslims, whether the Pope in Rome or the Knights of St. John in Malta. He would go on to allege that French Deism, in being monotheistic, was a sort of Islam. These fantastic assertions completely failed in their purpose, since the Ottomans may have been weak but were no fools.


In a letter to the Pasha of Egypt Bonaparte explained his presence. He had come to deliver him from the Beys. "You have no doubt been informed," he added,"that I have no intention of doing anything opposed to the Koran or the Sultan. You are aware that the French nation is the sole ally which the Sultan has in Europe. Come therefore to me, and curse the impious race of the Beys."

In a proclamation dated "14th Messidor, Year VI. (2nd July, 1798), 18th of the month of Muharrem, year of the Hegira 1213," Bonaparte, after dwelling on the baneful effects of Mameluke rule, added :— "Did we not destroy the Pope, who said it was necessary to wage war against the Moslems ? Have we not destroyed the Knights of Malta, because those madmen believed that God desired war with the Moslems ? Have we not for centuries been the friends of the Grand Signor [Ottoman Sultan] (may God accomplish his desires!) and the enemy of his enemies?"

Then followed comminatory articles like those of Italy, and any village offering resistance and favouring the Mamelukes was to be burned to the ground. The slaves who refused to be liberated from the Mameluke yoke were to be exterminated without pity.

"GYZEH, [2]2nd July, 1798.*"

I am very sorry for the violence done to you by Ibrahim. If you are your own master, return to Cairo, where you will enjoy the consideration due to the representative of our friend the Sultan. . . . By the grace of God, on which all depends, the Mamelukes have been destroyed. Be assured, and assure the Porte, that the same arms we have rendered victorious shall be always at the disposal of the Sultan. May Heaven fulfil his desires against his enemies."


Bonaparte experienced no trouble in landing and in capturing Alexandria, which was taken by surprise, and hardly defended.

4th July, 1798.

"Art i. The names of all the men killed at the capture of Alexandria shall be engraved on the column of Pompey.

"Art. 2. They shall be buried at the foot of the column, &c. "


In the criticism of our operations in Egypt in 1801, which Napoleon wrote at St. Helena, he blamed General Abercrombie for having wasted four days and a half after landing before he attacked Alexandria. He himself immediately attacked that city with a handful of men, without waiting for his guns, for, as he wrote, it is one of the great principles in war to act with celerity, which is even preferable to artillery.

He boasted that eighteen hours after his fleet had been signalled he stormed Alexandria. It must be remembered, however, that he disembarked with the utmost precipitation, fearing lest he should be caught in flagrante delicto by Nelson; also that he ordered Colonel Crétin to place Alexandria in a state of defence, consequently the Alexandria which Abercrombie had to attack was not the Alexandria surprised by Bonaparte, and captured with hardly any loss.

In engraving the names of the soldiers who fell at Alexandria he sought, as usual, to strike the imagination of the army. He was well aware of the excellent effect of this system on the Gallic mind. In the course of this campaign he said that the Directory could not last, as it did nothing for the imagination of the people. He did not sin in the same way himself.

On the 24th July Bonaparte addressed a long report to the Directory, giving an account of his operations, his triumphs, and especially of the battle of the Pyramids, where forty centuries looked down on the French army. In the body of this report we find a strong recommendation that the Directors should keep Egypt, which "has a rich soil, a healthy climate, and is close at hand."


*Bingham gives the date as the 2nd of July, but on the 2nd of July, Bonaparte was at Alexandria and the Mamluks had not been destroyed and Ebu Bekir [Abu Bakr] Pasha was still in Cairo. He must have dropped a '2' and this letter is dated the equivalent of 22 July.

1 comment:

eurofrank said...

I have just been told that delivery of the book in UK is delayed till after Gordon Brown says if the Brits are staying in Basra.