The Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire

In 1517 the Ottoman sultan Selim I (1512-20), known as Selim the Grim, conquered Egypt, defeating the Mamluk forces at Ar Raydaniyah, immediately outside Cairo. The origins of the Ottoman Empire go back to the Turkish-speaking tribes who crossed the frontier into Arab lands beginning in the tenth century. These Turkish tribes established themselves in Baghdad and Anatolia, but they were destroyed by the Mongols in the thirteenth century.

In the wake of the Mongol invasion, petty Turkish dynasties called amirates were formed in Anatolia. The leader of one of those dynasties was Osman (1280-1324), the founder of the Ottoman Empire. In the thirteenth century, his amirate was one of many; by the sixteenth century, the amirate had become an empire, one of the largest and longest lived in world history. By the fourteenth century, the Ottomans already had a substantial empire in Eastern Europe. In 1453 they conquered Constantinople, the Byzantine capital, which became the Ottoman capital and was renamed Istanbul. Between 1512 and 1520, the Ottomans added the Arab provinces, including Egypt, to their empire.

In Egypt the victorious Selim I left behind one of his most trusted collaborators, Khair Bey, as the ruler of Egypt. Khair Bey ruled as the sultan's vassal, not as a provincial governor. He kept his court in the citadel, the ancient residence of the rulers of Egypt. Although Selim I did away with the Mamluk sultanate, neither he nor his successors succeeded in extinguishing Mamluk power and influence in Egypt.

Only in the first century of Ottoman rule was the governor of Egypt able to perform his tasks without the interference of the Mamluk beys (bey was the highest rank among the Mamluks). During the latter decades of the sixteenth century and the early seventeenth century, a series of revolts by various elements of the garrison troops occurred. During these years, there was also a revival within the Mamluk military structure. By the middle of the seventeenth century, political supremacy had passed to the beys. As the historian Daniel Crecelius has written, from that point on the history of Ottoman Egypt can be explained as the struggle between the Ottomans and the Mamluks for control of the administration and, hence, the revenues of Egypt, and the competition among rival Mamluk houses for control of the beylicate. This struggle affected Egyptian history until the late eighteenth century when one Mamluk bey gained an unprecedented control over the military and political structures and ousted the Ottoman governor.

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