Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Napoleon in Egypt: Revolt in Cairo (1798)

On July 21, 1798, Napoleon led his French army to their first big victory against an Egyptian army in what came to be known as the Battle of the Pyramids. This allowed Napoleon to enter Cairo, the capital of Egypt, with his army.

On August 1, Horatio Nelson led his English warships in a battle against Napoleon’s French warships just outside of Alexandria in what came to be known as the Battle of the Nile. Horatio’s men captured or destroyed most of the French ships and the sailors aboard them. The rest escaped as quickly as possible.

Horatio’s victory meant that the French navy would not be able to bring new soldiers and fresh supplies to the French army in Egypt. Napoleon and his army stood alone. Whatever they needed, they would have to take from Egyptians.

In Cairo, Napoleon used his army to control Egyptians as much as possible. He imposed heavy taxes to pay his soldiers. He used his army to steal priceless ancient objects of art. Individual soldiers also took what they wanted, including women as well as property, from ordinary Egyptians.

Egyptians began to resent and resist Napoleon’s control. They started to murder French soldiers. French soldiers started to murder greater numbers of Egyptians in response.

Soon Napoleon was losing too many French soldiers to murder and to a new enemy: disease. In response, he forced sailors who had survived the Battle of the Nile to become soldiers. Then he forced Egyptians to fight as soldiers in his army.

Cairo finally exploded in violence on October 21. Armed Egyptians hit the streets and murdered every French soldier they found. Over 200 died.

Napoleon responded without restraint. Hundreds of Egyptians died when Napoleon ordered cannons to be fired at the Great Mosque in which they had taken refuge. Thousands more Egyptians were captured and beheaded.

Copyright © 2012 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.