Napoleon’s Egyptian adventure by an Egyptian historian
It is a fascinating and compelling aspect of the character of Napoleon Bonaparte that as his star accelerated towards its zenith, his imagination and ambition for his own potential and those of the French revolutionary spirit he represented knew almost no limits. He saw the dominance of Europe and the Mediterranean region as but a gateway into the world at large with a limitless resource of lands, assets, trade and political influence not only for the taking but within the scope of his abilities to win. This found a French expeditionary force on the shores of Egypt, embarked upon what many regarded then and since as a romance, an adventure —an invasion with no real purpose, no logical place to go and no objective to achieve. An army determined to make its way by traditional force was accompanied by ‘savants’ concerned with expansion of knowledge and culture. It was a heady mixture and almost certainly doomed to disaster. Nelson, a British army, domestic discord and the truculent native population of a harsh oriental land far from home, hurried failure on its way. For the military historian the subject is entirely compelling. What makes this concise book interesting is that the era is considered here by an Egyptian historian who presents unique perspectives which will flesh out accounts by the French invaders or indeed those by modern historians from the West. This book originally brought the status of the Egyptian people up to date at the time the author wrote the his work, but since that was at the close of the nineteenth century and the sands of the middle east have shifted considerably since, the Leonaur editors have excised that element of the piece and this book is now confined to a single subject—that of a Napoleonic period history.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
The dewan having been broken up by the departure of Murad Bey and others of the Mamaluk chiefs, no regular council could be held; but Bekir Pacha, with some of the ulema and leading men who remained, held frequent consultations and were in constant communication with Ibrahim Bey, who remained at Boulac day and night to supervise the work there and along the river, by the side of which batteries were being erected for a distance of nearly three miles north of Boulac.<br>
Ibrahim Bey appears to the last to have preserved his confidence in the certainty of the Mamaluks proving victorious, but Bekir Pacha, when the news of the near approach of the French was received, decided in conjunction with some of the ulema to make an attempt to treat with the enemy. With this object in view they sent for a Monsieur Bandeuf, who was regarded as the leader of the French colony, and begged him to tell them candidly what he thought was the object of the invasion. He, of course, was no better informed upon this point than they were themselves, but he could at least form an idea, and his reply was that he believed it most likely the French desired nothing more than a free passage through the country to enable them to proceed to India to join their countrymen there in their struggle with the English.<br>
Accepting this as, at least, a possibly true explanation of the invasion, they proposed to Monsieur Bandeuf that he should go as an envoy from them to Bonaparte, and assure him of their willingness to facilitate him in every way if such were his object. Not without some hesitation occasioned by his fear that it would not be possible for him to reach the French camp in safety, Monsieur Bandeuf consented to do this, and was preparing to set out, with an escort of the Mamaluks of Ibrahim Bey for his protection, when the reverberations of the cannon at Embabeh were heard, and they realised that it was too late for such an embassy as they had proposed.<br>
As soon as Ibrahim Bey heard the commencement of the battle he began to take such steps as he could to forward assistance to Murad Bey, but long before any effective move in that direction could be made the battle was over, and Ibrahim Bey, hearing of the flight of Murad, hastened back to Cairo with Bekir Pacha, to take their families and valuables and flee.<br>
Words fail to describe the panic that overwhelmed the people. Utterly helpless, and unaccustomed to think or act for themselves, unarmed and without any possible means of defence, they saw themselves, deserted by their leaders, at the mercy of a foe from whom, as they thought, they could expect no quarter and no pity, while the military force, in the protection of which they had felt such unbounded confidence, was in full flight leaving them to their fate. To any unwarlike and helpless people to be thus suddenly abandoned as a prey to an unknown foe must have seemed an appalling disaster, but in this case no circumstance seems to have been wanting that could by any possibility add to the natural terror of the people at the calamity that had so suddenly befallen them. In less than an hour they were plunged from an exulting ecstasy of triumphant anticipation to the crushing despondency of the direst despair.<br>
The consternation that had been occasioned by the first news of the defeat of the Mamaluks at Shebriss had been largely, if not wholly, dissipated by the representations of the Mamaluks, and so loud and blatant were the vauntings of the people that Gabarty, whose Arab blood had but little sympathy for any open expression of the emotions, speaks in the most contemptuous terms of their conduct as wholly unworthy of a people deserving of any esteem. Nor had the Mamaluks, knowing well how little love the people bore them, neglected to contribute all they could to their fear of the French by attributing to these the lust of rapine and bloodthirsty cruelty. And with the news of the defeat and flight of Murad Bey came the tale of the slaughter of the Mamaluks by the riverside to confirm and augment the worst fears of the people.<br>
Later on reports were spread that the French were still busy slaying and destroying all before them, and, Ibrahim Bey having ordered the burning of all the boats to prevent the French using them to cross the river, the people, ignorant of this, took the dense columns of smoke arising from the riverside as confirmation of the ruthless ravage the French were said to be wrecking. In the dire madness of the despair that seized them no room was left for any other thoughts than those of self-preservation, and, as the evening closed in and night fell, the whole population, laden with all they could carry of their goods or wealth, streamed out of the city gates. In the maddened rush for safety, all the claims of blood and friendship were forgotten, and men and women alike, frantic from their fears, fought their way through the fleeing crowds heedless of parents, wives, brothers, sisters.