INS: Journal Of Napoleonic Scholarship 1998

Agents of Napoleon in Egypt: 1801 to 1815

Fernand Beaucour

In September 1801, the French Army left Egypt after a presence of three years. The preliminaries of peace between French Republic and Turkey were signed on October 9th 1801 and Colonel Sebastiani was sent to Constantinople with a mission to the Sultan Selim III. After the departure of the French army, Egypt returned to the Turkish power.

Napoleonic historians often are not interested in Egypt after the end of the French power (September 1801). However, the history of Franco-Egyptian relations after this event needed to be studied, as it was the time of the birth of state of Egypt.

The treaty between France and Turkey was signed at Paris on June 25th 1802, some months after the Treaty signed at Amiens between France and England. The treaty signed on May 28th, 1740, between Louis XIV and the Sultan Mahmoud I was confirmed and Bonaparte got the same rights and privileges for the French in the Ottoman Empire as before 1798. General Brune was sent by Bonaparte as an Ambassador to Constantinople, with instructions that France was to recover the first rank at that place.

After the departure of the French from Egypt, the three forces allied to drive them away were soon in opposition and there was civil war and anarchy in Egypt. Egypt was unstable, the Turkish authorities were hard for the people to tolerate, and the English remained too long in Alexandria, controlling one of the keys of Egypt. The Egyptians regretted the French departure and respected the name of Bonaparte; he was venerated with enthusiasm and Colonel Sebastiani had good relations with Egyptian personalities.

Six months after, Lesseps and Drovetti arrived in Alexandria on June 2nd, 1803. The situation in Egypt was confused and Lesseps wrote on July 15th, 1803, to French ambassador Brune at Constantinople that so many interests and so many foreign plots made it very inextricable. He decided to go to live at Cairo and to let to his colleague Drovetti live at Alexandria. He was very well received at Cairo; the crowd was huge and wanted to see him. Lesseps trusted Mehemet Ali and the Albanese, because he thought that they would one day take power.

At that time, Bonaparte sent another agent, Mazieres de St. Marcel, to Egypt; he arrived at Rosette in May of 1804. At the same time, Bonaparte sent Framery to Egypt to study the situation in that country, its leaders and the influence of England. He observed how the name of Bonaparte remained venerated.

Mehemet Ali became the Pacha in 1807, serving in the name of the Sultan of Constantinople. After the departure of Lesseps, Drovetti had the official responsibilities and Felix Mengin, a merchant at Cairo, took the interim of the French affairs. As did Lesseps, Drovetti considered Mehemet Ali as the only person able to restore order in Egypt; he tried to understand his intention and he assured him of French support.

After the victories of Napoleon in Germany, Turkey approached France; and France sent officers of Artillery and Genie to Constantinople to help against attempts of invasion from the English. In February 1807, England sent an army to Egypt; at the peace signed at Tilsit, Napoleon retook the Ionian islands and the English left Egypt. Drovetti helped Mehemet Ali and the prestige of France was reinforced at Constantinople as well as at Cairo. Mehemet Ali became the primary political power in Egypt. The new situation allowed French commercial interests in Egypt to increase.

We have seen the name of Framery who had some secret missions. Other agents were also sent to Egypt (such as Colonel Boutin in 1811) to observe the country; Boutin was welcomed and gave much information to Paris. In 1812 and 1813, Boutin remained 16 months at Cairo.

Drovetti, a Bonapartist, was revoked at the fall of Napoleon, but he remained in Egypt and, in 1821, became the Consul General. A major activity of these agents was to fight against the English influence and to prevent their return to Egypt; to restore the credit of France, and to protect the French merchants. On the political level they recognized in Mehemet Ali the only man able to rule Egypt and they had good relations with him since the beginning of his political activities. England considered for a long time that he was attached to French politics.

Thus French presence in Egypt was affirmed and Napoleon remained in the mind of Mehemet Ali by admiration as well by fear. Mehemet Ali found in the agents of Napoleon a very useful counter balance to the great influence of England, and with them and this strong cooperation, he became the greatest Ottoman reformer of the 19th century.



Archives Nationales. AFIV Relations extérieures; F12 Commerce extérieur.

Archives des affaires Etrangères: Correspondance consulaire et commerciale:

Alexandria, Rosette, Damiette; Correspondance politique, Dossiers personnels.

Archives de la Guerre, Armée d'Orient.


Beaucour Fernand, LAISSUS Yves et ORGOGOZZO Chantal, La découverte de l'Egypte, (Paris, Flammarion, 1989, traduit en anglais)

Driault, Edouard, La politique orientale de Napoléon, Sebastiani et Gardane, (Paris, 1904)

Faivre D'Arcier, Amaury, Les agents de Napoléon en Egypte (1801-1815), (Levallois, Centre d'Etudes Napoléoniennes, 1990)

Laurens, Henry, L'expédition d'Egypte (1798-1801), (Paris 1989).

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