In 1805, an illiterate Turkish-speaking Greek-born military officer, Muhammad Ali Pasha, became governor of Egypt. He reigned for 43-years and by the time of his death in 1848 Egypt was a profoundly different place. Hospitals, schools, law courts, factories and many new institutions sprang up. Muhammad Ali Pasha, who often likened himself to Napoleon and Alexander the Great, was also brutal. In 1811, he invited the heads of Egypt’s military aristocratic elite, the Mamluks, to celebrations at the Cairo Citadel, where Ali’s troops gunned them down. MEMO speaks to historian Khaled Fahmy to help us understand this violent, controversial and enigmatic man and his impact on Egypt.
Fahmy is Edward Keller Professor of North Africa and the Middle East at Tufts University. Educated at the American University in Cairo and the University of Oxford, and having taught at Princeton, NYU, Columbia, Harvard and Cambridge Universities, he is a historian of the modern Middle East with specific emphasis on nineteenth century Egypt. His books and articles deal with the history of the Egyptian army in the first half of the nineteenth century, as well as the history of medicine, law and urban planning.
Through working on such topics as conscription, vaccination, quarantines, forensic medicine and legal torture, he charts the specific ways in which a modern state was established in Egypt and the manner in which Egyptians accommodated, subverted or resisted the institutions of this modern state. In addition to his academic publications, which have appeared in both English and Arabic, Fahmy uses his social media platforms to share ideas about his new academic project: a military, social and cultural history of the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict.