Agents of Napoleon in Egypt: 1801 to 1815
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
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
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
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,
Faivre D'Arcier, Amaury, Les agents de Napoléon
en Egypte (1801-1815), (Levallois, Centre d'Etudes
Laurens, Henry, L'expédition d'Egypte
(1798-1801), (Paris 1989).