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Juan Cole. Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East. New York Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. Illustrations, maps. xi + 279 pp. $16.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-230-60603-6. Reviewed by Ziad Fahmy (Assistant Professor, Modern Middle East history, Department of Near Eastern Studies, Cornell University) Published on H-Levant (December, 2009) Commissioned by Amy A. Elouafi Bonaparte's Egyptian Quagmire General Napoleon Bonaparte's 1798 expedition to Egypt has been traditionally characterized by historians as an important threshold in the history of Egypt and the Middle East, signaling the official entry of Egypt, and by proxy the rest of the Middle East, into the "modern" world. This thesis was certainly reflected in Christopher Harold's classic _Bonaparte in Egypt_ (1962), which until quite recently was the only comprehensive English-language book covering the French expedition to Egypt. In the last couple of years, several books in English written for a general readership have documented differing aspects of Bonaparte's Egyptian expedition: Terence M. Russell's _The Discovery of Egypt: Vivant Denon's Travels with Napoleon's Army_ (2005), Paul Strathern's _Napoleon in Egypt_ (2008), Nina Burleigh's _Mirage: Napoleon's Scientists and the Unveiling of Egypt_ (2008), and Juan Cole's _Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East_ (2007). Of these new studies, only Cole's book complicates the oversimplified modernist narrative. Although not the most comprehensive of these new monographs, _Napoleon's Egypt_ is by far the most polished. While other studies have covered the macro political and wider cultural impact of the expedition, Cole trains his sights on some of the everyday details of the occupation. These pragmatic, though at times ideologically pregnant, encounters are seamlessly patched together, revealing the full complexities of the cultural and human interactions taking place between colonizers and colonized. Cole has written a gripping, accessible and elegant book. One of its great strengths is its weaving together a wealth of data into compelling historical vignettes and anecdotes. The author is an excellent storyteller and this book is a pleasurable and entertaining read. _Napoleon's Egypt_ begins with the uncertain preparations for the French expedition at the Port of Toulon. During the first three chapters, Cole details the departure of the expeditions from southern France to Malta to the shores of Alexandria and finally to the outskirts of Cairo. The history of the French expedition to Egypt is often portrayed as a quick and uneventful invasion; the French land west of Alexandria, defeat the Mamluks at the Battle of the Pyramids, and effortlessly march towards and occupy Cairo. Cole's account slows these events down and carefully examines the almost daily struggles experienced by both the exhausted, out-of-place French soldiers and the initially shocked and demoralized Egyptian population. The difficulties of the march from Alexandria to the Nile delta and later to the outskirts of Cairo are vividly described with plenty of details from French memoirs. This includes the French soldiers' encounters with the alien Egyptian natural environment, the summer temperatures, the desert, floods, disease, and even Nile crocodiles, which are interlaced into the narrative from several firsthand accounts. The thirst and heat exhaustion experienced by the soldiers, coupled with unrelenting attacks by villagers, Bedouin, and Mamluks, are brilliantly described. Chapters 4 through 6 depict the capture of Cairo and the early consolidation of French rule. Cole discusses the first tentative steps taken by Napoleon to facilitate the administration of the country, from taxation and confiscation of property to the establishment of a consultative divan composed of local Egyptian notables and clerics. Attempts to build relationships with the Arabic-speaking Egyptian notables were central to Bonaparte's strategy of not only establishing local administrative positions but simultaneously countering the Mamluk/Ottoman power base. Chapters 7 through 9 examine successive French attempts to legitimize their occupation to the Egyptian populace, and especially their concerted, though often ineffective, attempts to use Islamic rhetoric as part of their ruling strategy. Cole expertly depicts the French administration's efforts at gaining acceptance from both official and popular Islam, from the portrayal of Napoleon as a pseudo-Muslim and the repeated efforts to win over the support of the_ '__u__lama_, to sponsoring popular religious festivals and "evoking mystical and millenarian themes in folk Islam" (p. 216). Finally, the last three chapters portray the systemic and more organized anti-French revolts, taking place in late 1798. Although Bonaparte does not depart Egypt until August 1799, and the French army remains in Egypt for another two years until they surrender to a British/Ottoman force in September 1801, these events are hastily covered in a couple of pages at the end of the manuscript. Though Arabic sources, especially the writings of the Egyptian chronicler_ _'Abd al-Rahman al-Jabarti, have been adequately consulted, _Napoleon's Egypt_ covers the first year of the French expedition primarily through the eyes of Bonaparte's officers. Cole employs previously underutilized French memoirs, including those of François Bernoyer, Joseph-Marie Moiret, and Charles Antoine Morand, which he carefully unpacks to provide an entertaining and informative narrative. Also, interweaved within the historical story line, Cole adds descriptive episodes and observations covering late eighteenth-century Egyptian life and culture. There are several descriptions of late eighteenth-century folk Islam, for example, from Sufi rituals to _mulid_s and carnivalesque religious festivals. An important component of the book is Cole's in-depth analysis of the differing ways that ordinary Egyptians opposed the French occupation. _Napoleon's Egypt_ is full of passages describing continued physical resistance by Egypt's townspeople who "peppered the French with gunfire or pelted them with stones" or even lured "hapless individual French soldiers into back alleys and [slit] their throats" (p. 24). He brings center stage the resistance of Egyptian peasants, Bedouin, and even "lake dwellers"--his term for the fisherman living around the Manzala Lake in the northeastern Nile delta--who for generations employed varying strategies to keep Cairo's centralizing authority at bay (pp. 166-167). As Cole documents, resistance more often took on more subtle and less violent forms, as some migrated from their towns or villages to Upper Egypt or even Syria, some hid their property or evaded taxation, and still others coped with the occupation by simply "carrying on with business as usual" (p. 26). In response to these ongoing acts of defiance, the French often resorted to brutal repressive measures, ranging from collective punishments of entire villages, mass killings, and public beheadings, even displaying some of the severed heads on stakes. Despite such harsh measures, the French never had control of the countryside or Upper Egypt, and at times barely controlled Cairo and the other urban areas in the delta. The military encounter is central to Cole's narrative, though he does not neglect other, less violent encounters between colonizers and colonized. Indeed, one of the strengths of _Napoleon's Egypt_ is its close reading of the intermixing of peoples and cultures. Egyptian women are well represented in the narrative, even if the absence of sources means not in their own voices. Though many of these examples are derived from French memoirs, they give the reader a glimpse of everyday life at the turn of the nineteenth century. The author especially devotes many pages to the sexual and romantic relationships between French soldiers and officers with free and enslaved Egyptian, Sudanese, and Turco-Circassian women. As al-Jabarti has documented, marriages were common between French officers and soldiers and local women, with the most famous being that of General Jacques Menou, who after converting to Islam and changing his first name to Abdullah, married Zubayda, the daughter of the owner of Rosetta's communal bathhouse (p. 134). The romantic encounters between Captain Moiret and Zulayma, the widow of a Mamluk official, and François Bernoyer and Fatima, the "daughter of a destitute carpenter," are among the many illustrative examples depicted by Cole (p. 138). The significant roles which the wives of dead or exiled Mamluk leaders played in negotiating, resisting, and at times collaborating with French authority are also highlighted, all of which illustrate the intricacies and ambiguities of Franco-Egyptian interactions. Cole's discussion of the varying interactions between the Egyptian clerical and notable community and French authorities perfectly reveals the often gray and murky complexities of these relations. Sheikh al-Sadat, for instance, initially cooperated with the French, but when a Cairo rebellion broke out he was "drafted by the rebels to be their leader" and had no choice but to reluctantly accept (p. 205). Other prominent intellectual and religious figures like al-Jabarti and Sheikh Sayyid al-Bakri, characterized as a part of "the quietest political elite," sided with political stability at all cost and hence encouraged peaceful cooperation with the French (p. 205). As hinted at in the subtitle of the book, "Invading the Middle East," Cole makes frequent comparisons with the 2003 United States invasion of Iraq. In the introductory chapter, Cole describes the French decision to invade Egypt using modern-day constructions and terminologies: Charles Maurice de Talleyrand is described as a nineteenth-century neo-conservative who advocated the use of "military contractors" in expanding French colonialism (pp. 12-16). Undoubtedly there are many similarities between both military misadventures, but I found the repeated comparisons to current events at times distracting, as it interfered with the flow of the book. Since the book does not cover the rest of the French occupation until the final surrender of French troops in the summer 1801, the last few pages feel rushed, with Cole quickly wrapping up all the loose ends in order to satisfactorily conclude his narrative. At times some of Cole's assertions require more evidence, for example when he declares that "before the rise of nationalism a century later, an Arabic-speaking gentleman in Cairo would generally have referred to himself as an Ottoman subject, not as an 'Arab'" (p. 27). Though Cole is correct that an eighteenth-century Arab-speaking Cairene man would certainly not have referred to himself as "Arab," it is, I believe, equally doubtful that he would have identified himself as an Ottoman. The most likely primary identification of a Cairo resident at the time would have been simply as a Cairene, coupled with a religious association as a Muslim, Christian, or Jew. _Napoleon's Egypt_ is written for a general non-academic readership, and as such endnotes are scarce. It does, however, make for an excellent introductory text for undergraduate classes in colonialism or modern Middle East history. Cole skillfully and rightfully disabuses us of the notion that the French occupation was simply a glorious and entirely positive cultural exchange. Unlike some of the earlier works on the French occupation, which portray the French expedition as a macro-scale beneficial enterprise, introducing Egyptians to the boundless benefits of modernity, _Napoleon's Egypt_ gives a more realistic picture, highlighting the everyday struggles experienced by both the Egyptians and the French. It is a pleasurable read, full of interesting anecdotes and firsthand accounts, and will persist as one of the best portrayals of the French expedition to Egypt. Citation: Ziad Fahmy. Review of Cole, Juan, _Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East_. H-Levant, H-Net Reviews. December, 2009. URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=25379 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. ----- For subscription help, go to: http://www.h-net.org/lists/help/ To change your subscription settings, go to http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/wa?SUBED1=h-war -----