Who would have thought it? Napoleon invaded Egypt, which many thought the most foolhardy military adventure of his career, over two centuries ago on July 2nd, 1798 and fought “The Battle of the Pyramids” against the Mameluks on July 21st.
At that moment, under the Pyramids – his real intent perhaps to cut off the British route to India – he proclaimed the ideals of Republican France, proclaiming Frenchmen and Egyptians were brothers!
A month later on August 1st-2nd, his fleet was annihilated by Nelson, who took its total surrender, at the battle generally known in history as “The Battle of the Nile” (though by some “The Battle of Aboukir Bay” - Napoleon’s anchorage).
A year later, on August 29th, 1799, Napoleon ignominiously fled away in secret together with a small coterie of scholars and generals back to France (where he built a pyramid to commemorate his great “victory”), leaving General Kleber in command of the Army.
The French hung on in Egypt, though much disillusioned after Napoleon’s surreptitious departure which had originally been presented to the Army as a visit to the Nile Delta, embarking on campaigns in Palestine and Syria for two more years. Kleber had himself been assassinated by a Syrian student by the name of Suleiman al-Halabi, again a year later in June, 1800 (isn’t it strange, “Solomon from Aleppo” where most of the crucial fighting is taking place in Syria today) with a dagger in the heart - one of the first of the by-now so familiar to the West “terrorist-assassins”, though in the East they had been known since Crusader times and before.
Nevertheless they did not surrender to the British until September 2nd, 1801 after which under the terms of the surrender, they were repatriated to France on British ships (everything but the priceless hoard of antiquities that included the famous “Rosetta Stone," most of which ending up in the British Museum) and at the Treaty of Paris in June, 1802, in which peace was restored with the Ottoman Empire and Egypt officially returned.
But, as we can now see, the French had done their work well and the seeds of the Republicanism of the French Revolution – one of Napoleon’s avowed intents - had been implanted and seem to have ‘boiled away’ beneath the surface of Egyptian life for the next two centuries, unseen even by the Muslim Authorities and even their divines, ticking away under British control in effect from 1875 onwards when Benjamin Disraeli with Lord Rothschild’s help – both also not immune to the future enticements of Zionism - managed to get control of the majority shares of the French-built Suez Canal.
The history since then has been pretty obvious for all to see and many movies were even made about it like Khartoum and Chinese Gordon’s last stand there or Winston Churchill’s participation under Lord Kitchener in September, 1898 (a Century after Napoleon’s own arrival and departure) in one of the last British Cavalry charges at Omdurman which he often spoke of. Of course, one also has the popular movies emanating from the First World War like Lawrence of Arabia; but events since then, as they intertwined with Zionism, are pretty familiar to everyone.
What was not perhaps properly appreciated was the depth to which French (and to some extent British) "Republicanism" had penetrated the soul of Egypt and the ordinary Egyptian. Jalal Ad-Din Afghani and probably Mohammad Abduh felt it and no doubt so did Gamal Abdel Nasser and his confreres like Anwar Sadat, however superficially militarist they might have appeared (perhaps the surest way of advancement in post-Khedive Egypt – Robert Graves opines that Nasser seems to have been one of his students in secondary school when he taught there in Egypt - and Sadat for his part was a great writer of History; cf. his Revolt on the Nile, January, 1957).
Anyhow, no one – not even The Muslim Brotherhood – and certainly probably none of the other Islamic powers of the region, Sunni or Shi’ite, expected to see what we are seeing now on the streets of Cairo and saw there in “The Arab Spring” a year and a half previously. Obviously Prime Minister Recep Erdrogan of Turkey thought Republicanism and “Ataturkism” was on its way out and Islam was the wave of the future, not only in Turkey but also in the Arab Middle East and the Islamic World at large – so much so, that Zionism and Israel could become the no. 1 ‘whipping boy’ for him.
But what a surprise for everyone, probably even including Israel, but certainly also those in the White House and their associates in Washington. The seeds planted by Napoleon, whether totally on purpose or partially by accident, were not dead. They have suddenly sprung to life and are living again – what, Republicanism (in its classical sense – not to be confused by the political Party in America by that name) defeats Islam on its home turf? How could this be? Who would have ever thought it could be – but we are seeing it now unfolding right before our eyes on the very streets of Cairo, whether abetted by the military - itself obviously infused with Republicanism despite ‘the bum rap’ laid upon Mubarak - or in the hands of the computer-literate students and/or the sophisticated and upwardly-mobile emerging Middle Class.
Probably even the Lower Class, whose voice has seldom been heard so clearly before. Many perhaps are not interested in “honor killings”, beheadings, or necessarily wearing the hijab. What they are interested in, secular or otherwise, is being free – and free, secular, democratic Government. This does not mean one cannot be “religious”; but they do not wish to have the laws and rules of Religion (any religion) shoved down their throats by the Government; and we are seeing them on the streets in their millions – some have estimated 30 millions; others, perhaps exaggerating are estimating 70 million; and this in the heart of the Islamic Middle East, just as during the Crusades when the Center of Islam shifted after the Mongol onslaught from Baghdad to Cairo.
This is something no one could have anticipated – not the U.S. Government, not the Chinese, not even Morsi himself; and yet one sees it transpiring right before our eyes. And it matters not whether the seeds were planted by a quasi-dictator or tyrant like Napoleon, planted they were and following a germination and cultivation period of two hundred years, they are flowering as if out of nowhere, when no one expected them to; but flowering they are. Call it what you want “a Military Putsch”, a "Coup," or an overthrow of Democracy (which it is not; one thing Islam has never been known for is its either outright or enthusiastic embrace of Democracy); but flowering it is – and in the author’s view, never to be put to sleep again.
This is the moment when European, Napoleonic Republicanism has triumphed over pseudo-Democratic Authoritarian Islam (call it Sunnism; call it Shi’ism); and it is happening in perhaps the most important Arab Country of all – Egypt. Certainly there will be ups and downs in the years and centuries ahead; but, in the author’s view, it will not be put to sleep again - at least not completely and no one knows where in the Islamic World, it will germinate again. In the author’s view, this is perhaps the most significant event in the Middle East and perhaps, even (only time will tell) the whole Islamic World of the last forty years. "All power to the People" (as they say and said in France). May their urge to be free never falter or be once again or long enshackled - no matter under whomever or in whatever the guise.
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