French and British policy and culture in Egypt 1798-1841: the reign of Muhammad Ali and the Eastern Crisis

Author: Kieran Mortimer-Murphy

Mortimer-Murphy, Kieran, 2020 French and British policy and culture in Egypt 1798-1841: the reign of Muhammad Ali and the Eastern Crisis, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

Terms of Use: This electronic version is (or will be) made publicly available by Flinders University in accordance with its open access policy for student theses. Copyright in this thesis remains with the author. You may use this material for uses permitted under the Copyright Act 1968. If you are the owner of any included third party copyright material and/or you believe that any material has been made available without permission of the copyright owner please contact with the details.


British and French policy in the Eastern Crisis of 1839-1841 has traditionally been viewed through the lens of diplomatic history, without an attempt to bring Saidian analysis of the cultural contexts in which British and French policies were being made to bear on events. The cultural and diplomatic contexts surrounding the Eastern Crisis require a focus not just on the crisis itself, but on how British and French relationships with Egypt and the Ottoman Empire developed over the preceding decades. This thesis does this by focusing on the period from the French invasion of Egypt and its origins, under the French revolutionary regime, through to the crisis itself, as this whole period is important to the development of the differing cultural relationships of France and Britain to Egypt. This thesis aims to blend diplomatic history, with cultural history to examine the crisis and its origins. Through analysis of cultural texts such as travel histories and a focus on the cultural view of Egypt and the Ottoman Empire in France and Britain, this thesis will explore how French and British perceptions of the ‘Orient’ affected their policy decisions in the area.

Placing cultural imperialism and cultural narratives about Egypt within an analysis of French and British policy in the early nineteenth-century helps place policy choices in their proper context. It enables an examination of French and British views of Egypt in the early nineteenth-century and reveals important differences between British and French understandings of the nature of Egypt and the Ottoman Empire. Far from all expressing the same orientalism, writers explored different positions, and argued for different policies based on different theories or views on the prospects for change in the Middle East.

To demonstrate this, the thesis scrutinises the tension between narratives of reform and despotism surrounding Muhammad Ali’s regime. Muhammad Ali, the ruler of Egypt from 1805 until his death in 1849, and his rule became central to British and French policy towards Egypt. Ali himself also focused on his relationship with Britain and France and in turn he attempted to shift narratives in Britain and France to be more positive towards him and his rule. Ali’s actions, as well as some of the actions of the Ottoman Sultans and government during this period, help illustrate that regimes outside Europe actively attempted to shape the way their polities were represented in Europe. Whether during the Napoleonic period, the Greek War of Independence or during Muhammad Ali’s challenge to the Ottoman Sultan, Anglo-French representations of Muhammad Ali, Egypt and the Ottoman Empire are shown to be changeable and malleable. As such, these views both enabled and restricted policy responses to Eastern developments.

Keywords: Orientalism, Egypt, Imperialism, Muhammad Ali, Ottoman Empire, Empire, Eastern Crisis, Oriental Crisis, France, Britain, Palmerston, Guizot, Thiers, Egyptomania

Subject: History thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2020
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Andrekos Varnava