African Unification Front

Muhammad `Ali'S Tax Inspectors, 1809 to 1814

From Chronicles of al-Jabarti - cAbd al-Rahman al-Jabarti cajaib al-athar f-il-tarajim w-al-akhbar, Cairo 1297/1879 IV, 93-94,141-142, 154, 183, 208-209).

And in [1224 ah/ 1809 ad] they began to prepare a register for the taking of half the yield from the multazim-s and another for the imposition of taxes on produce of waqf devoted to mosques, foundations, alms, and charitable works. . .

Proclamations were despatched to the villages and countryside and
officials were sent by the various provincial governors with
power to investigate the property belonging to mosques or used for charitable works. Each person controlling such land was ordered to present his title deed to the central government office and replace it with a new one; a delay of forty days was allowed for this, after which the title of the property could be taken away and given to another person. The pretext used in the proclamation was one which had never been advanced before, that when a sultan died or was deposed his orders and decrees ceased to be valid, and that the same applied to the sultan's deputies, and that therefore they had to be renewed by the new governor - and other such statements!

It should be remembered that these endowments dated back to Saladin's time - in the fifth century ah [sic, read sixth, ie twelfth century ad] - who paid for them out of the central treasury to facilitate matters for those who were entitled to receive allowances from the treasury.

His example was followed by kings, sultans, and princes until our day: they built mosques, hospices, asylums, and fountains, endowing them with land taken from their own private property, and the taxes or revenues which were used for that purpose. Similarly they would make endowments in favour of scholars or poor people, as a charity, enabling them to live and pursue learning; and when the beneficiary died the judge or the supervisor would appoint some deserving person in his place. the beneficiary's name would then be put down in the record of the judge and also in the register of the sultan's office, which were kept by a special official known as the clerk of the waqf property. This official would deliver a title deed, under the terms of the decree, and would put on it his seal and that of the Pasha and the chancellor. . . And thus the office of the waqf property remained preserved in perfect order in all the lands of Egypt, generation after generation . . .

The French occupied Egypt but did not touch this institution. But Sharif Effendi, the chancellor, who came shortly after the arrival of Yusif Pasha, the wazir [in 1801], ordered all multazim-s to pay to the government again . . . Their pretext was that the French occupation had rendered Egypt a war area [dar harb] which had been reconquered and whose lands had therefore become the property of the government; therefore anyone who desired to take possession of a piece of land or other property had to buy it from the sultan's deputy by payment of the prescribed amount.

In [1227 ah / 1812 ad] Ibrahim Bey, the son of the Pasha [Muhammad cAli] went to Upper Egypt, followed by Ahmad Agha Laz, the governor of Qina and Qus and the other sub-governors; they carried out a cadastral survey of the lands of Upper Egypt and imposed on them a tax of 7 riyals per faddan, a very high rate. The also made a survey of all the waqf devoted to mosques, alms and charity in Upper and Lower Egypt; the total amounted to 6,000,000 faddans. They then proclaimed that mosque waqf-s would pay half the assessed rate, ie, 3 1/2 riyals.

The beneficiaries of the waqf-s were greatly disturbed and many of them appealed to the sheikhs, who went of to speak to the Pasha on this subject. They said to him that that would lead to the ruin of the mosques, whereupon he replied: 'Where are the flourishing mosques? If anyone is not satisfied with this arrangement let him raise his hand and I will restore the ruined mosques and provide them with the necessary means.' Their protests were of no avail and they returned to their homes. . .

And he [Muhammad cAli] seized all the iltizams, leaving something to their former owners only in exceptional cases, and even so only in very small amounts. His pretext was that the Mamluk princes had seized these lands when they fled from Cairo [after the massacre of the Mamluks in 1811] to Upper Egypt and that he had fought and chased and killed them and therefore had inherited all their possessions, whether legitimately or illegitimately acquired [by them]. . . Lands which belonged to the local multazim-s, resident in Upper Egypt or Lower Egypt at the time of the influx of the Mamluks, and with whom he wished to keep on good terms, were treated differently.

If the owner made an appeal and asked for permission to continue in possession and declared that he had been free of obligations at the time of the Mamluk influx, and if he proved that with documents - drawn from the archives or other offices - he would either be allowed to continue in possession or told he could get compensation in the form of land in Lower Egypt. But the Pasha would then procrastinate and let time slip by , or else he would refer the matter to his son Ibrahim Pasha, saying he had nothing to do with Upper Egypt, which was under the authority of Ibrahim Pasha. And if the claimant then went to Ibrahim Pasha, the latter would say: " I will give you the compensation".

If he consented to this he would get a very small amount, and if he did not he would be told: "Bring an authorisation from our Lord." And both [Muhammad cAli and Ibrahim would either be travelling or absent, or only one of them would be present and he would be left hanging in the air like a dangling participle! . . .

And in [1229 ah/ 1814 ad] the chief of the archives and the other officials came, after the Coptic clerks had filled in, at their dictation, the registers with the names of the multazim-s and the extent of their shares. Then Mahmud Bey and Ghali and their retinue realised what they had contrived and devised in the matter of the cadaster. For, owing to the fact that they used a measuring instrument smaller than that previously employed, the extent of the land showed an increase of a third or a quarter. And they measured the waqf properties, noting the names of their lands separately, including the threshing floors and land not fit for cultivation and lands which could be reclaimed but which were not actually being cultivated or were uncultivable.

When this was done they reckoned the land in the new faddan, showing an increase in the area, and proceeded to tax it at the rate of 15 or 14 or 12 or 11 or 10 riyals per faddan, according to the nature of the region and the quality of the soil. The result was an enormous increase: thus a village which had formerly paid 1,000 riyals in taxes - a sum that had given rise to complaints on the part of the multazim-s and of the peasants and had resulted in uncollectible arrears - was now assessed at between 10,000 and 100,000 riyals, more or less.

And the Pasha's lieutenant bade Ibrahim Agha al-Razzaz and Shaykh Ahmad Yusuf come into his presence and gave them robes of honour. A special office was set up for them. Those who undertook to pay the taxes assessed on the share to which they were entitled received a title deed confirming their possessions, in return for which they engaged themselves to pay a stipulated sum at designated dates. This done, they could dispose of their share . . . cultivating it directly if they wished or else leasing it to others. . . And all the excess land resulting from the new cadastral survey. . . was taken over by the ruler.

As for the waqf property devoted to alms and charity, and to the upkeep of mosques, fountains, libraries, and other philanthropic works, they too were measured in the new unit and all the resulting excess was taken over by the government. The remaining part was registered in the name of the actual beneficiary and the original maker of the endowment and the actual cultivator. . . Such land was subjected to the same tax as village land. if the beneficiary could show satisfactory title, or had a new deed dating from the time of the Wazir and Sharif Effendi or later, half the rental value of the land would be registered in his name, the other half going to the government.

The clerk of the waqf property was ordered to set up a special office for that purpose, staffed by a large number of clerks. People would come to him with their title deeds and those who had new deeds would receive a copy of the entry in the register, which he would take to the Council, where it would be entered after investigation and much argument on both sides. Doubts often arose regarding the names of the title-holders of those block or plots.

In such cases the claimant would be asked to prove his claims and orders would be given to him to take to the local judges and district headmen, asking them to help him provide the evidence. He would then have to travel back to the village, incurring trouble and expense as well as encountering the difficulties created by the judges and headmen. After that he would return to the council with the required answers, where, however, he might be met with a counter-claim. And all this trouble and toil might be for a faddan of so! And the people crowded in on the office of the clerk of the waqf. This opened a door for abuse, for the clerk would not issue a deed until he had received a certain sum of money, the amount of which depended on the size of the land in question, the position of the claimants, the state of their deeds etc. . .

Firman of Appointment of Muhammad `Ali as Pasha of Egypt. Issued by Ottoman Sultan, 1840

The act of submission which thou hast just made, the assurances of fidelity and devotion which thou hast given, and the upright and sincere intentions which thou hast manifested, as well with regard to myself as in the interests of my Sublime Porte, have come to my sovereign knowledge, and have been very agreeable to me.

In consequence, and as the zeal and sagacity by which thou art characterized, as likewise the experience and knowledge which thou hast acquired in the affairs of Egypt during the long space of time that thou hast held the post of Governor of Egypt, give reason to believe that thou hast acquired a title to the favour and to the confidence which I may grant to thee, that is to say, that thou wilt be sensible of their full extent, and all the gratitude which thou shouldst have for them, that thou wilt apply thyself to cause these feelings to descend to thy sons and thy nephews, I grant unto thee the Government of Egypt within its ancient boundaries, such as they are to be found in the map which is sent unto thee by my Grand Vizier now in office, with a seal affixed to it, together with the additional privilege of hereditary succession, and with the following conditions:-

Henceforth, when the post shall be vacant, the Government of Egypt shall descend in a direct line, from the elder to the elder, in the male race among the sons and grandsons. As regards their nomination, that shall be made by my Sublime Porte.

If at any time fate should decide that the male line should become extinct, as in that case it will devolve upon my Sublime Porte to confer the Government of Egypt on another person, the male children, issue of the daughters of the Governors of Egypt, shall possess no right to, no legal capacity for , the succession of the Government.

Although the Pashas of Egypt have obtained the privilege of hereditary succession, they still must be considered, as far as precedency is concerned, to be on a footing of equality with the other Viziers, they shall be treated like the other Viziers of my Sublime Porte, and they shall receive the same titles as are given to the other Viziers when they are written to.

The principles founded on the laws of security of life, of the security of property, and the preservation of honour, principles recorded in the salutary ordinances of my Hatti Sheriff of Gulhane; all the Treaties concluded and to be concluded between my Sublime Porte and the friendly Powers, shall be completely executed in the Province of Egypt likewise.

In Egypt, all the taxes, all the revenues, shall be levied and collected in my sovereign name; and all the regulations made and to be made by my Sublime Porte shall also be put in practice in Egypt, reconciling them in the best way possible with the local circumstances and with the principles of justice and of equity, Nevertheless, as the Egyptians are likewise the subjects of my Sublime Porte, and in order that they may not one day be oppressed, the tithe, the duties, and the other taxes which are levied there, shall be so, in conformity with the equitable system adopted by my Sublime Porte; and care shall be taken to pay, when the period for payment shall arrive, out of the customs duties, the capitation tax, the tithe, the revenues, and other produce of the Province of Egypt, the annual tribute of which the amount is inserted and defined in another Imperial FIRMAN.

It being customary to send every year from Egypt provisions in kind to the two Holy Cities, the provisions and other articles, whatever they may be, which have up to this time been sent thither, shall continue to be sent to each place separately.

As my Sublime Porte has taken the resolution of improving the coin, which is the soul of the operations of society, and of effecting this in such manner that henceforth there can be no variation either in the alloy, or in the value, I grant permission for money to be coined in Egypt; but the gold and silver monies which I permit thee to coin shall bear my name, and shall resemble in all respects, as regards their determination, value, and form, the monies which are coined here.

In time of peace, 18,000 men will suffice for the internal service of the province of Egypt; it shall not be allowed to increase their numbers. But as the land and sea forces of Egypt are raised for the service of my Sublime Porte, it shall be allowable, in time of war, to increase them to the number which shall be deemed suitable by my Sublime Porte.

The principle has been adopted that the soldiers employed in the other parts of my dominions shall serve for five years, at the end of which term they shall be exchanged for recruits.

That being the case, it would be requisite that the same system should also be observed in Egypt in that respect. But with regard to the duration of the service, the dispositions of the people shall be attended to, observing what is required by equity with regard to them.

Four hundred men shall be sent every year to Constantinople to replace others.

There shall be no difference between the distinguishing marks and the flags of the other troops which shall be employed there, and the distinguishing marks and the flags of the other troops of my Sublime Porte. The officers of the Egyptian vessels shall have the same flags as the officers and vessels of this place.

The Governor of Egypt shall appoint the officers of the land and sea forces up to the rank of Colonel, With regard to the appointments to ranks higher than that of Colonel, that is to say, of Pashas Mirliva (Brigadier-Generals), and of Pashas Ferik (Generals of Division), it will be absolutely necessary to apply for permission for them, and to take my orders thereupon.

Henceforth the Pashas of Egypt shall not be at liberty to build vessels of war without having first applied for the permission of my Sublime Porte, and having obtained from it a clear and positive authority.

As each of the conditions settles as above is annexed to the privilege of hereditary succession, if a single one of them is not executed, that privilege of hereditary succession shall forthwith be abolished and annulled.

Such being my supreme pleasure on all the points above specified, thou, thy children, and thy descendants, grateful for this exalted sovereign favour, ye shall always be diligent in scrupulously executing the conditions laid down, ye shall take need not to infringe them, ye shall be careful to ensure the repose and the tranquility of the Egyptians by protecting them from all injury and from all oppressions, ye shall report to this place, and ye shall apply for orders on all matters of importance which concern those countries, it being for these purposes that the present Imperial FIRMAN, which is decorated with my sovereign signature, has been written, and is sent to you.

Ismail Pasha, the Suez Canal, and the Anglo-French Occupation of Egypt     

Ismail Pasha, son of Ibrahim Pasha, was born in Cairo in 1830. He was sent to France to complete his education, he followed a course of study at the École d’état-major, at the same time as his elder brother, Ahmet Rifaat, and returned to Egypt in 1849.

Some years later, Ismail travelled to Constantinople, where he received the title of Pasha. As long as viceroy Abbas Pasha was still alive, he stayed among the opposition ranks, which made up the so-called party of princes, and remained hostile to the system of government in place at the time.

Following the succession of his uncle, Said Pasha, a leader with extremely progressive ideas (1834), Ismail travelled to France on a mission, coming home via Italy, where he stopped in Rome to present to the Pope, on behalf of the viceroy, a series of magnificent gifts.

On his return to Egypt, he became a member of the state council, and was given charge of the government while Said was away visiting Asia and Europe in 1861. In the same year, he was placed at the head of a body of 14,000 men, a force he used to quell the insurrection launched by the Sudan border tribes. When Said Pasha died in 1863, he was succeeded by Ismail.

The reign of the prince had up until now been marked by few events of any great distinction. Following his succession, Egypt's cotton trade saw significant growth and soon became one of the country's main sources of income. Ismail Pasha, at England's instigation, proved considerably less favourable to the grand project to pierce the Isthmus of Suez than his predecessor, who had done nothing but encourage and promote the idea.

Following negotiations between him and M. de Lesseps, the colossal enterprise came to a halt for a short time and was in danger of being stopped altogether; however, a ruling by the head of the French government allowed the outstanding difficulties to be solved in 1864, and work was completed in full.

Shortly afterwards, Ismail, actively supported by his minister Nubar Pasha, introduced wide-ranging reforms in the political organisation of the country.

In May 1868, he obtained from the Sultan the amendment of the law governing transmission to the throne, which was now to take place by direct line; in December of the same year he formed a kind of parliament responsible for issues relating to tax, reforms in the legal system, irrigation and a wide range of administrative matters, as well as seeking, at the same time, to introduce the municipal system in Alexandria.

On 8 June 1867, Ismail received from the sultan, in place of viceroy, the title of Khedive, and the right to govern, without recourse to approval by Turkey, all matters concerning Egypt's internal administration and police force. In exchange for these concessions, he had to provide Turkey with a contingent to suppress the Cretan uprising. Completely free to act in his country as he deemed fit, he engaged in a policy of introducing western civilisation to Egypt, taking on French customs and founding a theatre in Cairo, he sought to promote learning, he embarked on negotiations with the courts of Europe with the aim of reforming consular jurisdictions in accordance with the capitulation treaties signed between the East and Europe, dispatched a representative to the monetary conference in Paris, etc.

In 1867, he travelled to France to visit the Universal Exhibition where he appeared in great splendour. When the work of building the Suez Canal was completed, he signed an agreement with the Company modifying certain clauses in the original treaty, notably the one conceding the customs franchise, and resolved to make the inauguration of the canal an occasion of solemn splendour.

To this end he personally visited the principle courts of Europe in May and June 1869 to invite the monarchs to attend the ceremony. However, as a result of the tour, throughout which he was received with much splendour and royal pomp, Turkey was greatly displeased, seeing in the Khedive’s behaviour an attack on its sovereignty. Much irritated, the sultan had his grand vizier dispatch threatening missals to Ismail criticising him for having engaged in negotiations with the courts of Europe, for incurring crippling expenses to the detriment of his people, for purchasing warships, highly sophisticated weapons, etc., and threatened to depose him if he failed to come within the scope of the imperial firmans.

For a short time, it seemed that war might break out, but the conflict soon eased and Ismail was able to carry out the solemn inauguration of the Suez Canal on 20 November 1869. At the beginning of the following year, he agreed, so as to avoid a break with Turkey, to deliver to it his armoured frigates and weapons in return for 13 million. Since this time, the viceroy has been in dispute, which has not yet been settled, with the Suez Canal Company. In 1872, he sent a military expedition to Abyssinia.

Unable to find a solution to rising foreign debt, Ismail was obliged to sell his shares in the Suez Canal company to England. In response, European countries imposed a Franco-British financial control on Ismail. At the time of the nationalist crisis set in train by Arabi Pasha, the Khedive tried to regain his independence. He was deposed by the sultan following a request from London and Paris on 25 June 1879. Ismail withdrew to Istanbul where he died in 1895.


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