Ahmed Orabi (April 1, 1841 - September 21, 1911), (Arabic: أحمد عرابي); also known as Orabi Pasha, was an Egyptian army officer and later an army general who revolted against the khedive and European domination of Egypt in 1879 in what has become known as the Urabi Revolt. He was the first Egyptian national political and military leader to rise from the Fellahin.
لقد خلقنا الله أحرارًا، ولم يخلقنا تراثًا أو عقارًا؛ فوالله الذي لا إله إلا هو، لا نُورَّث، ولا نُستعبَد بعد اليوم.
How can you enslave people when their mothers bore them free.
He was born in 1841 in the village of Hreyya Razna near Zagazig in the Sharqia Governorate, approximately 80 kilometres to the north of Cairo. Orabi was the son of a village leader and one of the wealthier members of the community, which allowed him to get a decent education. After completing elementary education in his home village, he enrolled at Al-Azhar University, to complete his schooling in 1849. He entered the army and moved up quickly through the ranks of the army, reaching Lieutenant Colonel by age 20. The modern education and military service of Urabi, an Egyptian Fellah, would not be possible without the modernizing reforms of Ismail Pasha, which abolished the exclusive access to the Khedivate's military ranks held by a minority caste of Turkish, Balkan and Circassian extractions, and conscripted soldiers and recruited students throughout Egypt regardless of class and ethnic backgrounds in order to form a "modern" and "national" Egyptian military and bureaucratic elite class.
Protest against Khedive
He was a galvanizing speaker. Because of his native peasant origins he was at the time, and is still often today, viewed as an authentic voice of the Egyptian people. Indeed, he was known by his followers as 'El Wahid' (the Only One) and when the British poet and explorer Wilfrid Scawen Blunt went to meet him, he found the entrance of Urabi's house was blocked with supplicants. When Khedive Tawfiq issued a new law preventing peasants from becoming officers, Urabi led the group protesting the preference shown to Turkish officers. He and his followers, who included most of the army, were successful and the law was repealed. In 1879 they formed the Egyptian Nationalist party.
He and his allies in the army joined with the reformers, and with the support of the peasants launched a broader effort to try to wrest Egypt from foreign control, and also to end the absolutist regime of the Khedive, who was himself subject to Anglo-French control under the rules of the Caisse de la Dette Publique. The revolt spread to express resentment of the undue influence of foreigners, including the Turko-Circassian aristocracy.
He was first promoted to Bey, then made under-secretary of war, and ultimately a member of the cabinet. Plans were begun to create a parliamentary assembly. During the last months of the revolt (July to September 1882), it was claimed that Urabi held the office of prime minister. Feeling threatened, Khedive Tawfiq called on the sultan to quell the revolt, but the Sublime Porte hesitated.
The British were especially concerned that Urabi would default on Egypt's massive debt and that he might try to gain control of the Suez Canal. They and the French therefore dispatched warships to Egypt to intimidate the nationalists, though the French later withdrew their contingent of the operation. This naval presence spurred fears of an imminent invasion (as had been the case in Tunisia in 1881) and caused anti-European riots to break out in Alexandria on the 12th of June 1882. One month later, the warships opened fire on the city's gun emplacements after the Egyptians ignored the ultimatum issued by Admiral Seymour which demanded an immediate end to the installation of those emplacements. In September of that year a British army landed in Alexandria but failed to reach Cairo after being defeated at the battle of Kafr-el-Dawwar. Another army, led by Sir Garnet Wolseley, landed in the Canal Zone and on September 13, 1882 they defeated Urabi's army at the Battle of Tel el-Kebir. From there, the cavalry advanced on Cairo which surrendered without a shot, as did Urabi Pasha and the other nationalist leaders.
Exile and return
Orabi was tried by the restored Khedivate for rebellion on December 3, 1882. In accordance with an understanding made with the British representative, Lord Dufferin, Orabi pleaded guilty and was sentenced to death, but the sentence was immediately commuted to one of banishment for life. He left Egypt on December 28, 1882 for Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). During his time in Ceylon, Orabi served to uplift the quality of education amongst the Muslims in the country. Zahira College, Sri Lanka's first school for Muslims, was established under his patronage. In May 1901, the Khedive Abbas II permitted Orabi to return to Egypt. He returned on October 1, 1901, and stayed until his death on September 21, 1911.
While British intervention was meant to be short term, Egypt was officially made a British protectorate until independence was officially granted in 1922, following the 1919 revolution. Orabi's revolt also had a long lasting significance as the first instance of Egyptian anti-colonial nationalism, which would later play a very important role in Egyptian history. Especially under Nasser, Orabi would be regarded as an Egyptian patriot, and a national hero.