Birth of Ahmad Orabi (A Revolutionary Leader), March 31
Egypt, People, 3/31/2001
The modern history of Egypt is teeming with nationalist leaders who were actually the driving force behind the Egyptian people's struggle for independence and liberation from foreign domination. Of those, Ahmad Orabi emerges as an outstanding leader of a unique stand.
Being the first Egyptian army officer, he was strongly supported by the masses of the people. Through his full dedication and unrelenting nationalist action, he kept patriotic feelings aflame in the hearts of Egyptians. Ahmad Orabi was brought up in a purely Egyptian environment, and a middle-class family in the heart of the Egyptian Countryside.
Ahmed Orabi was born on March 31, 1841, in a village within Sharqia Governorate, approximately 80 kilometres to the north of Cairo. After receiving his elementary education in his home village, he joined AI Azhar, the religious education institute of Egypt, to complete his schooling in 1849.
In December 6, 1854, he joined the army, under a scheme for Egyptianizing the army. Rising from the ranks, simply as a regular soldier and in view of his commitment to discipline, and perseverance he was promoted to the rank of Colonel in 1860 and to Lieutenant-General in 1879. Ahmad Orabi was the first Egyptian officer to attain this rank.
During service, Ahmad Orabi, together with Egyptian officers, had long suffered from unjust and disdain on the part of the non-Egyptian (Janissary) officers in the army. This feeling made him convinced of the necessity of ending up injustice and providing equal opportunities to all Egyptians.
Orabi started his nationalist call in 1875, during the reign of Khedive Ismail. As a person Orabi commanded the intrinsic traits of leadership; a strong, attractive and highly effective personality and an eloquent, persuasive and tactful speaker.
These traits had the effect of securing devoted support from the Egyptian officers to Orabi in their struggle for abolishing injustice to both the army and people of Egypt.
It all started in January 16, 1881, when some unjust orders issued against Egyptian officers came to the knowledge of Orabi.
The army officers rallied around and elected him as their head to whom they pledged allegiance.
Together with his fellow-officers Lieutant Generals Abdel AI Hilmi and Ali Fahmi , he put up the army's requests, including abolition of injustice to officers and the reform of the Egyptian army.
On February 1, 1881, the three officers were arrested upon the orders of the War Minister. They were sentenced to imprisonment by a martial court.
As a result, the Egyptian officers rose in revolt, resolved to release their leaders in spite of Khedive Tawfiq's attempt to abort the movement of the army, the Ministry headquarters was attacked and the three leaders released. Angry army officers and personnel rallied in large numbers facing the Khedive's palace in Abdeen Square, Cairo, voicing their demands for their requests to be fulfilled.
Frightened by the situation, the Khedive agreed to respond to their demands. He ordered the then Minister of War and appointed Mahmoud Sami El Baroudi, a nationalist major officer in his place, and promised reform of the army and equal opportunity to all personnel.
However, El Baroudi was soon discharged, and once again injustice in all forms prevailed in the army. The country as a whole was soon shrouded in tension.
During that period, Egypt was undergoing severe crises, resulting from foreign intervention, predominant control by non-Egyptians of the key positions of the army, in addition to a popular feeling of injustice and repression, unfair and exorbitant taxation, foreign privileges and concessions and unjust treatment of Egyptian nationals.
Orabi did everything to instill the spirit of solidarity and unity into Egyptian officers in their drive to claim their rights. These efforts soon bore fruit. The intellectuals and other politically-conscious segments of the nation soon joined forces with the nationalist officer in claiming the adoption of a constitution, the institution of a representative council (parliament) and the abolition of the injustices inflicted by the autocratic rule of Khedive Tawfiq.
The Khedive himself had rejected a request to re-institute the representative Advisory (Shura) Council, already initiated by his father in 1866, actually with no authority.
Events soon followed in rapid succession. Orabi agreed with the nationalist officers to proceed with their requests to Abdeen Palace, the Khedive's residence, in a peaceful military demonstration. In order to avoid commotion or public disturbance, a notice was sent to foreign ambassadors and consuls.
On September 9,1882, the army proceeded in a demonstration of about 4,000 officers and personnel. Orabi submitted the army requests consisting in discharging Riyadh Pasha's autocratic government, instituting a representative council increasing the strength of the army to the internationally pre-approved complement of 18,000. Faced with resloved insistance by the army, the Khedive acquiesed to their demands. A new government, headed by shereef Pasha was appointed.
This marked a new phase in the history of Egyptian nationalist struggle. The people rallied round the army headed by Orabi, who, then, became widely known all over the country as a nationalist leader.
The Shereef Pasha's government proceeded with the reforming of the army and the affairs of the country in general. A representative Council was elected and preparations were made for the constitution to be drawn up.
However, conscious of the detrimental effect of such reforms on their interests, the foreign colonialist powers endeavoured to abort the nationalist movement. They sent a memorandum to the khedive pledging to assert his autocratic authority.
They deliberately created the crisis of the country's budget, which led to the resignation of Shereef Pasha's government. Mahmoud Sami El Baroudi, who was earlier the Minister of war, was appointed as Prime Minsiter. Orabi himself was appointed as Minister of War. Several conspiracies by non-Egyptian officers were made, under foreign instigation, against the lives of Orabi and his compatriots. The culprits were ordered by Orabi to be arrested. But the Khedive Tawfiq refused that a just punishment be inflicted on them.
The British and French fleets were sent to Alexandria, where they arrived in July 1882. The French fleet soon withdrew. The British fleet demanded the resignation of the government, the expatriation of Orabi and the discontinuation of military reforms in Egyptian ports. These demands were rejected by Orabi, backed by the army and the people, but were approved by Khedive Tawfiq, after taking asylum in Alexandria.
On July 11, 1882, the British fleet blasted and set fire on Alexandria. In Cairo, a general constituent assembly, including major army officers, religious scholars (Ulama), intellectuals and representatives of all classes and sects of the people was established. They all supported Orabi and rejected submission to colonialist demands.
The Egyptian army, led by Orabi succeeded in rebuffing the English army at Kafr El Dawwar (midway between Cairo and Alexandria), and inflicted heavy losses on them.
In a bid to protect the eastern front to the Suez Canal side, Orabi met with Mr. Ferdind de Lissips, then the Manager of International Suez Canal Company, warning that the Egyptian army would temporarily close down the Canal, should the English fleet be allowed to pass through it. Although de Lisseps promised not to do so, yet he did allow the English fleet to pass through the Canal.
The British troops could seize the cities of Port Said, Ismalia and Suez and proceed to El Tal El Kebeer, where they were faced' by the Egyptian army led by Orabi. However, due to infedility of some bedouins and janissaries, the Egyptian army was defeated at Tal El Kebeer. The whole affair ended up in the occupation of Egypt by Britian.
Orabi was put to trial. Orabi and six other nationalist leaders of the army were exiled to Srilanka and their property was confiscated. They left Egypt on December 28,1882 and stayed in exile for 19 years. On October I st 1901, Orabi returnd home where he stayed until his death on September 21,1911.
Ahmad Orabi still remains a devoted and highly-respected nationalist leader. His memory will always be a guiding star and an outstanding landmark in the history of the nationalist struggle of the Egyptian people.
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