*Napoleon’s Egypt*

by on July 4, 2013 at 2:27 am in Books, Current Affairs, History, Law, Political Science | Permalink

The author of this interesting work is Juan Cole and the subtitle is Invading the Middle East.  Here is one excerpt:

Many of the French took seriously Bonaparte’s proclamations that he intended to bring liberty to the Egyptians through institutions such as the clerically dominated divan.  The French not only interpreted Egypt in terms familiar to their eighteenth-century world, they were also capable of reinterpreting their own history in light of what they saw in Egypt.  Just as rationalist officers coded popular Islam as reactionary Catholicism, so the Republican French mapped the defeated beys as analogous to the French Old Regime and saw their overthrow and institution of municipal elections as the advent of liberty.

This book is one good place to start.  Here is the Wikipedia page on the French invasion of Egypt and Syria.

The Jimmy July 4, 2013 at 4:18 am

Don’t forget he’s married to his cousin too!

So Much For Subtlety July 4, 2013 at 5:45 am

So we get it, George W and Napoleon were both deluded and engaged in foolish ventures to liberate people who did not want to be liberated. Everyone knows “Juan” Cole will lay it on with the subtlety of a rhino in heat. Big deal.

The question is whether Cole grapples with why the Middle East is so resistant to Western liberation. The Christians of the Middle East were not. Nor the Jews. But the Muslims were and are. So does he waste everyone’s time with a crass and clumsy analogy with the neo-Cons, or does he try for something slightly more intelligent?

JonF July 4, 2013 at 12:27 pm

I take with a grain of sand the notion that Napoleon was interested in liberating anyone. There were sound strategic reasons to seek a French base in the eastern Mediterranean in order to counter British dominance in the sea. Around the same time, with France badly short of funds (the Jacobins had left the economy in shambles), Napoleon found a convenient band of Swiss revolutionaries seeking to overthrow the local banker oligarchy and he marched into the country to help them in their cause, then marched home after accepting their tangible gratitude in the form of all the bank vault gold his wagon train could cart off while absent-mindedly forgetting to reform any of the old Swiss feudal laws.

So Much For Subtlety July 5, 2013 at 12:04 am

But a desire to liberate and sound military reasons are not incompatible. Nor is there any lack of consistency between carting off all the loot they can carry and trying to force the Swiss to adopt a French-style Republic. For about five years, the Swiss did have such a state. And they did abolish laws such as judicial torture for a while – until reinstating them and so Switzerland became the last place in Europe to give up routine questioning under torture in criminal trials.

Compare it with the Soviets arriving in Poland. Yes the Soviet Army raped and looted. But they also liberated to some extent. If you were in a camp liberated by the Soviets, you probably did not mind them stealing your shoes all that much.

endorendil July 11, 2013 at 4:18 am

Two things:
1) It was sold as a liberation. It wasn’t really.
2) Even if you think you come to liberate, many people take a very dim view of foreign armies ruling their land, or even remotely encroaching on their sovereignty (UKIP, anti-UN movement in the US, …). Those who cooperate with the invaders tend to be seen as traitors (see Vichy regime, or Quisling). In general, if you’re trying to convince another country of your ideas, invading it is *the* worst way to do so, because you make everyone who promotes them suspect.

Hoosier July 4, 2013 at 7:28 am

Very similar statements could be made about the Napoleonic invasion of Spain which replaced the despotic Fernando VII regime. The French thought they were bringing enlightened government to the Spanish as well, but the people didn’t care and still revolted against the foreign intervention.

So in reply to the comment above, it was hardly only the Middle East that was resistant to ‘Western liberation’, sometimes it happened within the very same continent!

mkt July 4, 2013 at 9:37 am

And the Russians didn’t look kindly upon Napoleon’s offer to rid them of the czar either.

So Much For Subtlety July 5, 2013 at 1:43 am

A great deal of ink has been spilled explaining why the Spanish did not take to the French and the ideas of the Enlightenment at the time. But the French have been trying ever since and Spain’s membership of the EU marked a final surrender of all that is distinctive in Spain to the French. Bull fighting is about to be banned for instance. Gay marriage is legal. Franco would be spinning in his grave.

In the meantime, while Egypt and Spain had a great deal in common with each other in 1950, Egypt has gone the other way. There is rejection upon rejection. This is one of the more interesting questions of our time. The real split in Europe used to be along the Alps. Now it follows the religion line through the Mediterranean. Why? If “Juan” does not have an answer he is wasting our time.

Not sure Napoleon was really offering to get rid of the Tsar by 1812. He was an Emperor himself after all. Not even serfdom.

bob July 5, 2013 at 10:43 am

Butter vs Olive oil for cooking: That line remains as distinctive as ever.

And there’s also the political realities: Spain might have gay marriage, but caciquismo is still the law of the land. Remember that this is the country that has huge risk premiums when dealing with strangers for all but the safest of transactions.

Hoosier July 5, 2013 at 4:05 pm

Franco was hardly a representative Spaniard. There’s a reason he chose to rule by dictatorship as opposed to holding elections.

FC July 5, 2013 at 2:26 am

Cole is not an expert on France or on Egypt. Before he became a blogger his career had focused on Shi’ism. Fascinating subject, wrong professor for it.

TallDave July 5, 2013 at 12:47 pm

I have not found Juan Cole Arabist views to be worthwhile.

Jose July 13, 2013 at 6:12 pm

Yes, Napoleon’s “Enlightenment” of Spain … was his own Dictatorship: kill the unpleasant no-ass-kisser natives, destroy historical buildings and desecrate (rich people, of course) graves (like in my town) and carry jewels, paintings and all valuables to France . These were his contributions. Replace a shit with a foreign shit. Ok. The French Propaganda was (and is) hilarious.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: