MOHAMMED ALI AND HELLENISM IN EGYPT AND HIS REQUEST …

TO TRANSLATE THE LIFE OF ALEXANDER THE GREAT INTO TURKISH

by Metropolitan Makarios (Tillyrides) of Kenya

 

There are many theories about Mohammed Ali's origins, but what is certain is that he was born and brought up in Kavala, Macedonia. As a result, he felt a close bond with Greeks. He invited them to Egypt and not only helped them to prosper there in various fields, but also himself made use of their services. Many Greeks at that time truly venerated him for the support which he offered. He stood by them and took pleasure in their advancement and success in trade, industry and various crafts. It was even said that Greek blood ran in Mohammed Ali's veins.

F.F.Oddis writes: "A learned Syrian whom I consulted assured me that Mohammed Ali was the son of a Greek woman who was converted to Islam by his father, Ibrahim Aga, chief of the gendarmeries in Kavala."

Mohammed Ali himself loved all things Greek. For this reason, he sometimes wished to imitate notable personalities of Greek history, such as Alexander the Great, Constantine the Great and others. The renowned citadel in Cairo where Mohammed Ali is buried was built by a Greek architect and is an exact copy of the Church of Saint Sophia in Constantinople. It is traditionally said that Mohammed Ali intentionally directed that it be built that way because he wished to be like Constantine the Great. Failing that, he would still gain. If Cairo were ever to fall under the control of the Christian Europeans, his temple would not be modified or destroyed because of its Christian form, whereas other Muslim mosques would be demolished. Instead of" being called the Mohammed Ali Mosque, it would be called the Church of Mohammed Ali! No matter how far-fetched this may appear, it seems he had actually foreseen that such a situation might arise.

Mohammed Ali admired the Greeks,and the feeling was mutual. When the independent Greek state was founded, the first representative in Egypt was Michael Tositsas, friend and colleague of Mohammed Ali from Kavala. Tositsas supported his friend later when the Hellenic community of Alexandria was established and he was elected as the first President. With his considerable charitable works, Tositsas became known as a great benefactor of the nation. Mohammed Ali stood by the Greeks of Egypt as they took their first steps in the creation of the Hellenic community. There is a richly poetical song written in praise of Mohammed Ali which illustrates the deep affection which the Greeks felt for him. The verse is particularly characteristic:

"Hail! I hear Africa, Europe and Asia proclaim you victor of the Nile and of the Bosporus, predicting in you the rebirth of a learned Egypt. Phoenicia of commerce. A true descendant of the first Alexander who civilized those he subjugated. And you welcomed the sons of Europe were there are so many brave men. You taught your reborn nations."

Mohammed Ali was not only on good terms with the Greek communities of Egypt. It seems he also enjoyed friendly relations with successive Patriarchs of Alexandria, particularly during difficult times and times of internal conflict. When Patriarch Theophilos 11 (1805-1825) died, he was succeeded by Ierotheos I. At that time there was some problem with the Catholics of Egypt and Tositsas, working through Mohammed Ali, gave some vital information:

"Nevertheless, I lost no time in reporting to His Excellency (meaning Mohammed Ali) our Master's probable course and to forewarm him with this information as at that time he had received verbal representations from the French Ambassador General here, helpful for the Catholics, so that I had the pleasure and favour of a response from His Highness our venerable Master, that the Catholics should remain in their former attire and that this scandal should (fade from the scene) or (from our midst)."

An interesting letter by Michael Tositsas to Ierotheos I, Patriarch of Alexandria, contains the following:

"Your Beatitude, etc,

My present letter following on today's other letter about the matter of the headdress serves to disclose to Your Beatitude that His Highness told me to write it. Your Beatitude may have in the library of your (palace?) a full and detailed history of Alexander the Great and that he would like to have it for himself so as to translate it into Turkish and adding besides that if it is not found at your palace, Your Beatitude knows where it can be found at Mount Sinai, Constantinople or elsewhere so that the search may be effected by Your Beatitude. Wherefore apprising Your Beatitude of this wish of His Highness I would further advise that the borrowed books will be used only for translation and will be returned. I remain, etc. … Michael Tositsas, Alexandria, September 3, 1833."

We do not know what the response of the Patriarch was to this request, but Mohammed Ali's feelings for the Greeks can be clearly seen. It is even more interesting that on the following day, September 4, 1833, Michael Tositsas was appointed as the first Consul of Greece in Alexandria. A letter to Mohammed Ali, signed by S.Trikoupis, contains the following notable information — "My King and revered Lord, desiring to have someone to look after the interests of his subjects who are engaged in trade in Egypt deigned to appoint Mr. Tositsas as his ambassador in Alexandria. I shall not let this opportunity pass without saying to Your Highness how much the King, my revered Lord, respects the existence of the friendly relations which are about to be inaugurated between his realm and Egypt. I do not doubt that Your Highness shares these kindly sentiments and will himself do everything Possible to increase trade between Greece and Egypt, the results of which will not fail, I would like to think, to contribute most profitably to the well-being of the two countries."

The close and friendly relations between the two countries of Greece and Egypt which were developed and cultivated at this time, continue to this day.

The contribution of Mohammed Ali was significant in the creation of a positive climate for the Greeks who arrived in Egypt. This is why he is not only considered a great reformer of modern Egypt, but also a valuable supporter of Hellenism and the Orthodox Church of the Patriarchate of Alexandria. For this reason, when the hundredth anniversary of his death was observed by the Egyptians, the Patriarchate of Alexandria, under the then Primate Christophoros, celebrated a formal doxology in the Church of the Annunciation in Alexandria to mark the occasion. Representatives of the Greek Consulate, the Hellenic community, members of the teaching staff and also members of the Egyptian government were present. In his momentous address on this occasion, H.B.Christophoros said the following: "Mohammed Ali demonstrated his protection of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and its*flock throughout the whole period of the revolution, both during the time of Ierotheos I and afterwards. On the one hand he did not cease to provide much material and moral protection to the Greek Orthod6x people; and on the other hand, upholding the privileges of the Patriarch in matters relating to the management of the internal affairs of the Church. This was manifest both in his personal relations with the Church and in his favourable interpretation of the Firmans (decrees of the Sultan) which were given by the Sultans after the election of the Patriarchs in recognition of them.

"With reference to the redemption and re-establishment of prisoners transferred to Egypt because of the revolution, Mohammed Ali made no small contribution ... We have many other decrees in our Patriarchal archives emanating from that great man, proofs of the goodwill with which he always embraced our Greek Orthodox Church and her children."

The above briefly described some of the events which linked the life of Mohammed Ali with the Greek communities in Egypt. Naturally, the story does not end here; there is much more to tell and the research will continue. There are so many events which illustrate how very much Mohammed Ali contributed to Hellenism in Egypt, and what friendly relations were cultivated between the peoples of the two nations, despite their different religious faiths. It is important that this closeness and co-operation continue. We must remember those who first came here and who toiled for the creation of this bond. lt is crucial for Hellenism in Egypt that we not only preserve the old ties with Egypt, but also work to enhance them for the good of Greece and Egypt alike.

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