European Influence on the Ottoman Empire and Egypt During the 18th and Early 19th Centuries

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From the 18th century through the beginning of the 19th century, European influence was a significant force in various aspects of the Ottoman Empire, Egypt, and Iran. Although the reforms, coined primarily by Gelvin as “defensive developmentalism,” were initially intended to centralize governmental control and strengthen the military, the actual effects were much broader. Based on varying pre-existing conditions and unique approaches to governorship, this process of modernization affected each region differently. This essay will explore the manners in which European influence shaped each territory, the primary areas of civilization, politics and culture that experienced reform, and the degree to which that influence was significant, or in the case of Iran, insignificant.

European influence was most prominent in Egypt, beginning with the dynasty of Muhammad Ali who initiated the reforms that would lay the groundwork for future rulers. Ali sought to achieve a degree of autonomy from the Ottoman Empire and expand the rule of Egypt, both of which required military reform. In order to finance his efforts, he had to expand the Egyptian economy.

Egyptian exports thrived on the back of cotton, which Ali attempted to consolidate into a government monopoly. Egypt’s focus on cotton production made it an export-heavy territory that was dependent upon European manufacturing imports from the West. In order to facilitate its exports, a robust transportation system was necessary. Egypt developed a railway from Cairo to Alexandria as well as ports along the Mediterranean coast because of its dependence upon the European market.

The structure of Egyptian politics and state administration was also redefined during Ali’s rule. As the go...

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...r the region; however, they were also reluctant to let it simply slip into the others hands. The effect was a further weakening of central government in the region, which, as previously noted, increased the power and influence of the regional ulama powers. The control of the ulama was at its height during the Tobacco Protest of 1891 when the religious leaders were able to successfully organize popular dissatisfaction and demonstration against the rulers in Tehran.

Ultimately, European influence played a fundamental role in the shaping of the Ottoman Empire and Egypt during the 18th and early 19th century. It’s influence was most significant through government, economic, and military influence but its effects reverberated throughout society. Western influence was much less significant in Iran, primarily due to the fragmented nature of governorship in the region.

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