The Ottoman Empire’s Policy in Egypt, 1801-1805

Based on Mühimme Defterleri No. 11

The ACRPS has published The Ottoman Empire’s Policy in Egypt, 1801-1805: Based on Mühimme Defterleri No. 11 (216 pp.) by Mohamed Abdelaaty. From the early 19th century, the Ottoman Empire devoted great attention to preserving its heritage, recording it in written documents, and passing legislation to protect this national asset. It formed special committees to categorize, publish, and make important documents available to researchers, and to encourage individuals and institutions to produce critical editions and disseminate them to the reading public. A major world power whose reach once spanned much of the globe, the Ottoman Empire left behind a wealth of textual evidence across this vast geographic area. This archival material is considered among the most significant sources for writing the history of the world, and of the Arab region in particular. It is the crown jewel for those interested in the historiography of Ottoman Egypt that stands out from related sources around the world. Most important were the “Registers of Important Affairs” [Arabic: dafātir al-muhimma; Turkish: mühimme defterleri]; the 11th of the Egypt registers is the subject of this book.

The Ottoman Empire’s Policy in Egypt offers a new perspective on the history of early 19th century Egypt, based on data from previously unpublished or unstudied documents. The book is useful to scholars and readers interested in Ottoman policies on the vilayets of Egypt, Hejaz, and Yemen. These regions account for a large portion of the Imperial Divan’s [dîvân-ı hümâyûn] registers, especially Important Affairs, because the authorities were greatly interested in their affairs and recorded all associated decrees in these registers until the mid-17th century CE (mid-11th century AH). After that period, Egypt-related rulings began to gradually disappear from the Important Affairs registers. A series of independent Important Affairs registers related exclusively to the Egypt vilayet were discovered in the 18th and 20th centuries, numbering 15 in total. They were later called the “Egypt Important Affairs registers”, indicating growing interest in Egypt, its affairs, and its relationship with the core of the Empire.

The book is divided into two sections: one on research, with three chapters, and one on translation. Chapter 1 discusses the power struggle in Egypt between mamluks, Albanian troops, bashi-bazouks, and Ottoman valis, whereby Muhammad Ali Pasha would eventually manage to resolve the situation in his favour and force the Sublime Porte to acknowledge him as vali of Egypt. Chapter 2 explores the Ottoman Empire’s policy in Egypt after the French withdrawal and prior to Muhammad Ali’s ascent, then its efforts to consolidate his rule by assisting him militarily against the mamluks. Chapter 3 addresses the end of the power vacuum in Egypt when, in 1805, the Ottomans managed to expel the mamluks with the help of Muhammad Ali, to whom they handed over power.

In the second section, Abdelaaty draws on modern translation methods and applies them to the 11th Egypt Important Affairs register, translated from Ottoman Turkish into Arabic. The author uses strategies such as borrowing source language words (in the absence of an equivalent in the target language), adapting phrases while preserving the meaning, replacing words with more natural parts of speech (e.g., noun phrases for verbs), rephrasing sentences for target language clarity (e.g., from the literal “this aspect is not to be compared with all other things in any way” to “this aspect is very important”), and equalizing differences in the target language and culture (e.g., from “to exert effort and energy” to “to make every effort”).

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