The Chronicle of the French Occupation, 1798 – Napoleon in Egypt, was written by the Egyptian born scholar and jurist, Abd al-Rahman al-Jabarti (c. 1753-c.1825) between 1798 and 1801, framing the French occupation of Egypt. Both the Middle East and Europe, during the late 17th century were in a state of redefinition. Although the chronicle had covered only the brief period during first seven months of 36, it serves as a crucial accounting. Clearly illustrated is a paradigmatic shift between a modern culture and an antiquated system with a chronicle of events that swings between something that is merely observational to something written by an emotionally charged spectator. Although the work has been widely accepted, there is still some speculation as to degrees of censorship and possible omissions through various translations.
The French occupation is a confrontation between exported modernity and an old regime: the French revolutionaries and their dominance over the Ottoman social order that is markedly different in contrast; and, al-Jabarti reports on how it transfers cross-culturally. Levels of contestation, open and/or secretive acceptances give way to losses and gains driven by high emotion – even for this writer. He “describes very carefully every step in the negotiation of the organization of society, from administration to inheritance, from property to charity or from justice to deliberation.”
Al-Jabarti’s accounts were written with a criticism and tone that lacked very little neutrality. Clearly described is the questioning of Napoleon’s sincerity. They did not believe that a Christian could be a redeemer for Islam and distrusted him immensely. The disdain for Napoleon’s attempts to gain the trust and favor of the Islamic community, to demonstrate himself as a friend to the Ottoman Sultan and to present himself as a liberator, was abundantly evident. Strongly written are events showing the level of disrespect to holy vessels: “rejecting their beliefs, killing the priests, and destroying churches;” and, at one point refers to the French as “Satan’s gang” based on their atrocious. The swinging pendulum of al-Jabarti’s writing style was clear as it goes between him being a “careful chronicler, the recorder of events” to one who completely lacked any sense of objectivity. His inability to detach himself personally from the events is clear as he vehemently opposes Bonaparte’s attempt to use the religion to gain alliances; and, his demonstrations of false morality. Yet, at other times, he is sincerely noted to respect the French for various aspects such as some conduct in handling the Qur’an, their willingness to make a societal contribution to assimilate through religion and academics.
For all the accolades received for this and al-Jabarti’s other work, it would seem that he was, at times, not above writing events that can be misleading, whether deliberate or inadvertent. For example, in Livingston’s analysis of The Rise of Shaykh...