When Napoleon invaded Egypt

More notes from “The emergence of the modern Middle East”

Remember how we said the whereabouts and name of what we know as “Middle East” are basically a French and British invention? Well, it seems that the beginning of its “Modern Era” are French-made too: as I’ve just found out, it is generally said it started in 1798, when Napoleon invaded Egypt.

It sounds like Napoleon saved the area from decline and stagnation. I think I’ve heard this story before… In fact, the thesis of decline (I can’t believe it actually exists and is called so! :P) says the Ottoman Empire started declining in the 16th Century already and that the influence of the West was amaaaazing, resurrected everything and blablabla, and what would they have done without Europeans?!?

Truth is, they probably would have been just fine. Istanbul (then Constantinople, I believe) was super vibrant at the time, and though the Empire was indeed in constant territorial retreat since the 1683 defeat of the battle of Vienna, it was still OK. And huge. And resilient in spite of frequent rebellions by minority groups. It kinda sounds like a parent having trouble during its kids’ teenage years, to me.

But hey, Napoleon invaded Egypt and we’ll never know how it would have gone otherwise, and what kind of self-made modernity the Middle East would now be enjoying. What’s for sure is that after the invasion tons of things changed because the introduction of European-style education system and laws clashed with the local collective identity. For instance, they provoked national uprisings in the Balkans (e.g. in today’s Greece and Serbia), where the Christians wanted independence – and got it, haha.

So Napoleon was totally the key to a period of rapid change, renovation, erosion of traditions, introduction of new stuff and ideas in politics, economics and all that. “Ideas are more dangerous than occupation”, said someone I failed to take note of! It would just be nice if there was one thing Europeans didn’t meddle with in recent history 😛

Coming up: the structure of society in 19th Century Middle East

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