An Early Attempt at Forging a Pan-Arab Movement: Egypt Liberates Syria From the Clutches of the Ottomans

Translated by Captain Ahab



By Ahmad Dahshan

In 1831, the Egyptian Arab army lead by Ibrahim Pasha liberated the Greater Syria region from the Ottoman usurpers, and Syria integrated itself completely with Egypt politically, economically, and socially, thus Egypt’s reign began in the Levant.

Egypt’s governance canceled the privileges of the two strongest, wealthiest and most powerful families that belonged to the Ottoman nobility in Syria, firstly the Ilirlia who were the local Janissaries, headed by their chiefs (Aghawat) who controlled the market, owned the land and protected the people and the merchants in exchange for fees or taxes. As for the second family, they were called the Dalatia, who were elite Ottoman forces that protected the Pasha or the Ottoman ruler, someone who was usually appointed by Istanbul, though on more than one occasion these two forces would disagree and clash, causing great harm to the people of Syria, and so Egypt abolished both these offices and confiscated their weapons, thus laying the foundations of the modern state and substituted both these gangs with police forces that would uphold the law and sustain the peace, Ibrahim Pasha had also started building Syria’s government and army institutions that would enable them to protect and run the country.

The Egyptians opened the schools for all the common folk, and just like that the era of free education started. Schools for girls were also opened, where before under the Ottomans they were banned from attending schools. Among the achievements was the establishment of complete equality between all Syrians, be they Christian, Sunni, Shi’a, Druze, all were equal citizens under the law, Ibrahim Pasha Syria laid the foundations of the Modern Nation State.

The Egyptians put in place modern systems of administration in planning urban cities and divided them into administrative zones, they also laid out plans for the agricultural sector. Syria lived in harmony and peace for 10 years under the rule of Egypt. The country was undergoing rapid progress after more than 300 years of stagnation and backwardness under the Ottomans.

The Druze, who dwelled on the Mountains of the Arabs, conspired with the British and they had with them the support of the 68th Maronite Patriarch Joseph Peter Hobaish against the Egyptian authorities, and so now Egypt were up against Britain, the Ottoman empire and the rest of the West, who were dead set on expelling the Egyptian army from Greater Syria due to the rapid advancement that had taken place in the social, economic and political realms.

Another reason why the British Empire assisted the Ottomans was that they were afraid that a Pan-Arab Nation State might arise and take the place of the rapidly deteriorating, sectarian and obnoxious Ottomans, which would seriously hamper Western interests and hegemony in the region, they would rather have a decrepit, corrupt and medieval foe in the Ottomans, making it a much easier task to control the Middle East once the Ottoman Empire was dismantled, than a modern state that was rapidly educating and modernizing its citizens and administrative structures as well as its military.

Patriarch Joseph Peter Hobaish issued an edict that all Christians should attack the Egyptian army’s barracks, and so British and American made weapons found their way to all Maronites, and any Maronite who did not participate in the insurrection was excommunicated. And so you had the British, Ottomans, Druze, Maronites and remnants of the Ilirlia plan an insurrection against the Egyptian army, as a result Egypt left Syria in 1840.

A year after Egypt left Syria and the Patriarch received a medal of honor from the Ottomans, the Druze turned against the Maronites, this time neither the Ottomans, the British nor the French came to their aid. The first civil war started in 1841, the second in 1845, and then came the year of 1860, where terrible massacres were perpetrated against the Christians in Lebanon and then extended into Syria (Translator note: This is when the great Emir Abdelkader saved the Christians from the Druze riot. He was honored for this by the French and Abraham Lincoln of the United States. In 1865 he was invited to Paris by Napoleon III, where he was greeted with respect).

Many Maronites, Orthodox, and Syriac Christians fled Lebanon and dispersed themselves across many countries, many went to Egypt where they found peace, security, equality (Translator note: Citizenship as opposed to being second class citizens i.e Dhimmis), and justice. Their grandsons went on to become great intellectuals, including literary geniuses such as Saleem and Beshara Takla who founded the Al-Ahram newspaper, Georgie Zidane, and Bishara Wakim among many other artists, and writers. And this is only a short story of the ten years where prosperity, growth and progress were enjoyed in Greater Syria as the fruits of its unity with Egypt.

The massacres that befell the Christians had an immense impact on the demographics of Lebanon, many towns converted to Islam to avoid any bloodshed, one of those towns is called Tyre, located in Lebanon. A movement had started to crystallize in Christian intellectual circles, especially among Syrian and Lebanese Christians, that of Arab Nationalism, as they had tasted the fruits of an Arab union with Egypt and contrasted it with the bitter experiences they had had with the Ottomans.

(Translator’s Note: Please, read all the links that have been attached in the article for a fuller and better understanding of the history, special attention should be given to the 1860 link.)

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