By Ian Coller
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Additional info for Arab France: Islam and the Making of Modern Europe, 1798-1831
The fundamental role of Islam in cementing the legitimacy of Ottoman rule had provided a constant pressure to expand into the non-Muslim world, but it also served to constrain change within a powerfully theocentric vision of the world. Despite the frequent characterization of the Ottoman regime as despotic and arbitrary, the sultan could by no means ignore the will of his people, and above all the opinions of the religious intellectuals. In the early part of the century, several sultans were deposed in revolts led by populist figures who accused the Porte of neglecting the tasks imposed by Islam, or failing to deliver prosperity to the people.
The Melkites rapidly expanded their networks across the region. 64 When the French arrived in , they found the Melkites concentrated in the coastal cities, particularly Alexandria and Damietta, with well-established connections to Europe and European culture. They had almost entirely displaced the Jews as the privileged agents of the Mamluk rulers, in trading matters and sometimes in diplomacy between the various rulers they served. Philipp describes a meteoric Melkite rise to positions of wealth and power in Egypt.
Napoleon, it seemed, had departed Egypt eager to seize in France the kind of absolute power he had exercised in Cairo. The “refugees from Egypt” would have to make a swift and radical change of mentality from one system of power to another, just as they had done when the French took power in Cairo in . The loss of Egypt that gave rise to this emigration was quite a serious shock to the confidence of postrevolutionary France. It was extremely reassuring, then, to insist that France had snatched a cultural and intellectual victory from the jaws of defeat.