From Amr to Nasser: Power Over a Sophisticated City They Never Embraced

Nasser Egypt
Alexander the Great founding Alexandria, by Placido Costanzi

Writers like E.M. Forster stated that though the Arab invaders had no intention of destroying the city of Alexandria, they destroyed her, as a child might a watch. She never functioned again properly for over 1,000 years or precisely until the reign of Mehmet Ali paşa.

Yet, scholars of modern and contemporary history would debate that Alexandria was fighting tremendously to survive many stimulators of dismal deterioration for a long time before the Arab invasion.

Political clashes between Romans, Christians, and Jews overburdened the city. By the time the Arabs invaded Alexandria, the city was already in a big mess; without her famous Bibliotheca, without her Museum, and without her Serapeum. The Arabs invaded the city of Alexandria after the purge and expulsion of most of her legacy and glory.

Writers like E.M. Forster stated that though the Arab invaders had no intention of destroying the city of Alexandria, they destroyed her, as a child might a watch.

Nevertheless, the city infatuated them; she was something captivating and unprecedented for the comers from the desert. The Mediterranean, the lighthouse, Pompey’s Pillar, Cleopatra’s needles, churches, palaces, pools, towers, walls, cisterns, and forts; even the streets dazzled them, being covered with alabaster and fine marble.

Scholars can, to a big extent, indeed acquit the Arab invasion of totally destroying the city of Alexandria, as Alexandria was already witnessing destruction earlier. However, the exact idea can be evoked when Nasser is concerned.

Nasser might have had real innocent intention to redistribute wealth, to enhance the circumstances of the disadvantaged Egyptians, to fight Colonialism and to lead Egypt toward a national enlightenment of development among various sects.

Nevertheless, the city infatuated them; she was something captivating and unprecedented for the comers from the desert.

Nasser was an officer of high rank in the Egyptian army, exactly like Mehmet Ali paşa who was serving in the army of the Sublime Porte. Unlike Mehmet Ali, and lamentably for Nasser, he reacted with the military rigidité exactly like the Arab invaders, when he attempted to contain the city on many different levels the way Mehmet Ali paşa did.

Also, Nasser was never lucky enough to obtain the august cortège of Mehmet Ali. Instead he ended up having Abdel Hakim Amer, Salah Salem and Salah Nasr around. These men rigorously resembled the corrupt Italian retinue around Farouk.

The abdication of Farouk I King of Egypt and the Sudan, Sovereign of Nubia, of Kordofan and of Darfur, and his departure into exile on July 26, 1952 cannot by any means be celebrated as a national day of the city of Alexandria.

At least Alexandria was the coddled child of all the rulers of the Mehmet Ali dynasty. Both the foreign and Arab quartiers hold amazing stories of an epoch of particular grandeur, when compared to how barren the abandoned city was to grow after this point and until the time being.

The foundation of the city in 331 BC can make a much better national day to celebrate, instead of July 26, 1952. Her revival by Mehmet Ali paşa, the inauguration of the old Library in 283 BC, or even the modern one in 2002, or when Emperor Hadrian rebuilt the city in 122 AD, or the construction of the Mahmoudiyah Canal in 1819 are also times which would be sufficient to celebrate a true national day of the city of Alexandria.

We could also consider the days in which the Alexandria opera house opened in 1921, or the defeat of the German troops in the battle of El- Alamein July 1942, which was one of the biggest battles of the WWII. We could even simply select the important date when the Farouk University (later the Alexandria University) was established in 1942.

Alexandria Cosmopolitanism was different from Cairo. The foreign consuls, the Mixed Tribunals, and the Cotton Exchange were all in Alexandria. The Cotton Exchange was the second largest in the world, after that of Liverpool. Alexandria was the foremost port in the Mediterranean.

Nasser Egypt
Two buildings of identical architectural style; the first from Alexandria and the second from Cairo.

After thoroughly studying for many years I understand that we cannot label an era as entirely golden or entirely lugubrious. We must consider the same thing when it comes to leaders. We cannot depict Farouk or Nasser as absolute emancipator or absolute ignoble.

Alexandria Cosmopolitanism was different from Cairo. The foreign consuls, the Mixed Tribunals, and the Cotton Exchange were all in Alexandria.

Studying the ancient, modern, and contemporary history of Alexandria since her foundation by Alexander the Great and his successors the Ptolemies, until the departure of King Farouk, the last ruler of the Mehmet Ali Dynasty, may give us a great account on what has happened to Egypt in its entirety.

We do not evoke the Cosmopolitan era in order to mourn what has gone or to pass condemnation; it is simply idle to criticize ourselves more than this. Yet, we can definitely learn from wandering through history and we can actively seek out what will make our present richer and more vivid.

After thoroughly studying for many years I understand that we cannot label an era as entirely golden or entirely lugubrious. We must consider the same thing when it comes to leaders.

Truth does not change because it is, or is not, believed by a majority of the people.” Hypatia of Alexandria (AD 350 – 370)

 

The author suggests the following resources for extended reading: 

Voices from Cosmopolitan Alexandria a book by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina

Ancient Alexandria timeline

Farida, the Queen of Egypt: A Memoir of Love and Governance by Farouk Hashem

Alexandria: A History and Guide by E.M. Forster

Foreign communities in Alexandria during the Ottoman rule by Dr. Salah Ahmad Haridy

Who is Nasser?

On Abdel Hakim Amer

 

Heba Essam

Heba Essam

Heba Essam was born on January 01, 1990 in Alexandria, Egypt. She studied English Literature in the Faculty of Arts, University of Alexandria, and then she worked on some Gender and women’s studies in the Middle East and North Africa. She is indulged into arts, civilisations and comparative cultural studies, and she is interested in preserving heritage and promoting cosmopolitan culture. Among her various interests are writing, ballet and photography. She is also a women’s rights activist and a humanitarian who successfully executed advocacy campaigns. She has been working for years with prestigious INGOs as a translator and a project coordinator, serving disadvantaged children and refugees. She was trained as a curator and tour guide and she shows around the city of Alexandria in a very different and bounteous stratagem. She is also an active volunteer in ecological and wildlife rehabilitation activities.

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