Ahmed Urabi

From Academic Kids

Colonel Ahmad Urabi (1841-1911) was a member of the Egyptian army who revolted against the khedive and the European domination of Egypt in 1879 in what has become known as the Urabi Revolt.

Urabi was born a peasant in the small town of Hiryat Raznah. He was the son of a village leader and one of the wealthier members of the community, which allowed him to get a decent education. He was not trained at the western schools, but rather had received a traditional Islamic education. He entered the army and moved up quickly through the ranks of the army, reaching Lieutenant Colonel by age 20.

He was a galvanizing speaker. Because of his origins he was at the time, and is still often today, viewed as an authentic voice of the Egyptian people. Ahmed Urabi's first intervention in politics occurred when Khedive Tawfiq issued a new law preventing peasants from becoming officers. Urabi lead the group protesting the preference shown to Turkish officers. Urabi and his followers, which included most of the army, were successful and the law was repealed.

Urabi and his allies in the army joined with the reformers and with the support of the peasants launched a broader effort to try to wrest Egypt from foreign control, and also to end the absolutist regime of the Khedive. The revolt spread to express resentment of the undue influence of foreigners, especially Christians.

Urabi was first promoted, then made under-secretary for war, and ultimately a member of the cabinet. Plans were begun to create a parliamentary assembly.

Feeling threatened, Khedive Tawfiq called on the sultan to quell the revolt, but the Sublime Porte hesitated to employ troops against Muslims who were opposing foreign Christian interference. The British were especially concerned that Urabi would default on Egypt's massive debt and that he might try to gain control of the Suez Canal. Thus when anti-European riots broke out in Alexandria in 1882 the British fleet opened fire on the city's forts. In September of that year a British army was landed in the Canal Zone and on September 13, 1882 they defeated Urabi's army at the Battle of Tel al-Kebir. Urabi was captured. The khedive and his cabinet sentenced him to death, but under pressure from Lord Dufferin, the British ambassador at Constantinople, who had been sent to Egypt as high commissioner, the sentence was commuted and Urabi was exiled to the British colony of Ceylon, where he spent the rest of his life.

While the British intervention was meant to be short term, it in fact persisted until 1952. Egypt was effectively made a colony until 1922. Urabi's revolt also had a long lasting significance as the first instance of Arab anti-colonial nationalism, which would later play a very important role in Egyptian history. Especially under Nasser, Urabi would be regarded as an Egyptian patriot, a national hero.


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