In the wake of the French retreat from Egypt, the Ottoman administration in Istanbul appointed an Albanian, Mohamed Ali, viceroy of the reclaimed province. The new ruler took power in 1805, and 6 years later liquidated what remained of the Mamlukes in a classic piece of ruthless treachery. Having invited them to dine at the Citadel, he allowed them to leave together through Bab al Azab, the gate that now lets out onto Midan al Qala, below the Citadel and in front of the Madrasa of Sultan Hassan. Though the gate is unfortunately now sealed, you can see from the walls above that between the top and the lower gates there is a narrow defile enclosed by high walls. Once his guests were in this chute, Mohamed Ali simply had both gates closed, and from there it was a simple enough matter to have his Albanian loyalists shoot the well-fed and probably tipsy Mamlukes. Having thus eliminated the possibility of serious opposition, Mohamed Ali could set about pursuing a remarkably energetic policy of reform aimed at bringing Egypt up to military and economic parity with Europe. Though he succeeded to a great extent, building a navy and an army that was the most effective in the region and forcing the Ottoman Sultan to establish his family as the hereditary rulers of Egypt, he also spent ruinously and converted much of Egyptian agriculture to the production of cotton for sale in Europe to pay for his reforms.
Mohamed Ali died in 1849, and his successors continued the path of reform, much of it carried out by European experts, to the best of their sometimes limited abilities. Old canals were repaired and new ones dug, a postal service was founded, bridges were built across the Nile, and a magnificent opera house was built. One particular reform, however, was to have unforeseen consequences: Opening Egypt to Western expertise and investment also made it possible to start borrowing money in large quantities. Initially, harsh taxation and manipulating the cotton market had been sufficient to make ends meet, if not actually balance the budget, but soon enough the practice of borrowing money to make up for domestic shortfalls became commonplace. Debts driven by the expense of modernization, a profligate elite, and 1875 Egypt's financial situation were so precarious that the country's share of the Suez Canal was sold to the British.
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