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Imagined Empires by Zeinab Abul-Magd

Imagined Empires A History of Revolt in Egypt

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Ottomans, Plague, and Rebellion

1500-1800

In 1785, the Ottoman sultan received a report on the state of affairs in Egypt that revealed unpleasant news. Egypt, one of the shiniest jewels in the empire's crown, was not one intact province under the sultan's full hegemony. The eminent officer who compiled the report described the existence of an autonomous state in the south. Seemingly enjoying no access to this state, the Ottoman officer gave brief and incomplete information about its government. According to the report, the autonomous regime in Upper Egypt was ruled by its own Arab tribal regime that did pay an annual tax to the sultan, but Cairo's Ottoman governor exercised no authority over it. About one of its legendary leaders, the report stated,


The Arab named Shaykh Hammam is resident in ... the province of Upper Egypt. He always has in his side four thousand Arab troops, and he controls by right of inheritance most of the villages of Upper Egypt. They [Hammam and his sons] never come to Cairo.... They always pay in full all the money and grains required for the treasury from their village, and they never oppose the tax collection. They themselves appoint and send twenty governors annually to the towns and provinces under their authority, and they collect approximately several thousand pur