Muhammad Ali was born in the late 1760s in the small port of Kavala. His father was an Ottoman soldier of Albanian origin and a tobacco trader. When Selim III raised an army in 1798 to send to Egypt against Napoleon, the governor of Kavala in Thrace supplied three hundred men, the second in command being Muhammad Ali. The peace Amiens in 1802 and the British evacuation of the Nile found Muhammad Ali responsible for several thousand Albanian and Bosnian troops.
When the British left Egypt in 1803, Ali sided with the Mamluks and drove the Turkish government from Cairo. He then played one Mamluk faction against another. Finally, with the aid of the Cairo populace, he chased the Mamluks, deposed the new governor who just arrived from Istanbul, and was recognized as governor by the citizens of Cairo. Later he was appointed Pasha of Egypt by Selim and asserted his full submission to him.
Finances cramped him severely. War in Lower Egypt, and the passage of troops, had reduced the Delta to Barrenness. Previously, taxes and levies supported an Egyptian army, but Muhammad Ali found little to levy and taxes quite insufficient. In order to raise fund he surveyed all land holdings, seized land grants upon which payment to the state were in arrears, abolished the ancient system of land tenure, and expropriated the remaining fiefs (multazim).
As land taxes increased, Muhammad Ali turned his attention to commerce and established a government monopoly on the export of grain, in which the profit often reached 500 %. Irrigation system was improved, which provided water all the year around, and doubled the production of the land such as wheat, barley, beans, rice, sugar, sesame, indigo, short staple cotton, and later Egypt was able to export long staple cotton in large number.
Besides finance improvement, his other successful endeavors were sanitation and education. When great plagues and cholera raged every year, he organized a more effective quarantine and appointed committee for sanitation, which was given enough fund and absolute authority. The result is the general improvement of health condition and the restriction of the visitation of the diseases.
The first schools established by Ali were for the military. Most of the instructors in these schools were French. Egyptian boys were often sent to study in France and England. The polytechnic schools were founded, preparatory schools to feed the polytechnic were organized in Cairo and Alexandria, and medical college was established. In connection with the schools a government press was set up at Bulaq near Cairo. Newspapers printed in both Arabic and French. These educational activities made Egypt a leader of the Arab world in the intellectual life.
Muhammad Ali continued to make some improvement. Alexandria was transformed into Mediterranean city resembling Marseilles, Genoa and Naple. Construction for public use was carried out on a large scale, including barracks for the army, dockyard for the navy, office buildings for bureaucracy, schools, hospitals, palaces ECT. The Mahmudiya canal was dug, and country roads were improved and widened for better transportation.
Organization of the finances of Egypt and destruction of the Mamluk power enabled Muhammad Ali to widening his rule. He dispatched his able sons on military expeditions to the Hijaz, Sudan, Crete and the Morca. In 1833, Crete, Egypt, Syria, Adana and Tarsus were assigned to Muhammad Ali, for which he agreed to pay 150,000-Pound sterling a year tribute to Istanbul. His son Ibrahim governed Hijaz and Ethiopia consisting a few Red Sea ports, and later he became the governor of Syria also. Ali’s other son took Sudan and founded the city of Khartoum.
When Muhammad Ali declared his independence, Ottoman forces invaded Syria but were destroyed at Najib by Ibrahim in 1839. Five days later, Mahmud II died, and before July was out the Turkish fleet deserted to join the Egyptian at Alexandria. Muhammad Ali was now master of the situation, and the Porte prepared to surrender to his demands. However, a joint note from Austria, England, France, Prussia and Russia informed that they were concerned with the developments within the Middle East and recommended that no action be taken on Muhammad Ali’s claims without their approval. Later, after he refused the Treaty of London in 1840, signed by British, Russia, Prussia and Russia, Muhammad Ali had to face the military action against the four powers. Acre was captured by British-Austrian troops. Forcibly, Ali recalled his son Ibrahim from Syria and accepted the British term.
The defeats of 1840 and the diplomatic negotiation of 1841 gave Muhammad Ali full power in Egypt, but left him and old and broken man. However, ha has proved that he was a great ruler of Egypt who has reformed Egypt to modern country. He lived on until 1849, however, in 1847 the government passed to his grandson, Abbas.