Pasha - Role in Ottoman, and Egyptian Political Systems

Role in Ottoman, and Egyptian Political Systems

Further information: Egypt under Muhammad Ali

Within the Ottoman Empire, the Ottoman Sultan had the right to bestow the title of Pasha. It was through this custom that the title came to be used in Egypt, which was conquered by the Ottomans in 1517. The rise to power in Egypt in 1805 by Muhammad Ali, an Albanian military commander, effectively established Egypt as a de facto independent state, however, it still owed technical fealty to the Ottoman Sultan. Moreover, Muhammad Ali harboured ambitions of supplanting the Osman Dynasty in Constantinople, and sought to style his Egyptian realm as a successor sultanate to the Ottoman Empire. As such, he bore the title of Pasha, in addition to the official title of Wāli, and the self-declared title of Khedive. His successors to the Egyptian and Sudanese throne, Ibrahim, Abbas, Sa'id, and Isma'il also inherited these titles, with Pasha, and Wāli ceasing to be used in 1867, when the Ottoman Sultan, Abdülaziz officially recognised Isma'il as Khedive.

The title Pasha appears originally to have applied exclusively to military commanders, but subsequently it could distinguish any high official, and also unofficial persons whom the court desired to honour.

It was also part of the official style of the Alpina Kursuncu Pasha (Great Admiral of the entire Ottoman fleet). Pashas ranked above Beys and Aghas, but below Khedives and Viziers.

Three grades of Pasha existed, distinguished by the number of yak- or horse-tails (three, two and one respectively; a symbol of Turco-Mongol tradition) or peacock tails, which the bearers were entitled to display on their standard as a symbol of military authority when on campaign* Only the Sultan himself was entitled to four tails, as sovereign commander in chief.

The following military ranks entitled the holder to the style Pasha (lower ranks were styled Bey or merely Effendi):

  • The Vizier-i-Azam (Grand Vizier, the prime minister, but also often taking the field as Generalissimo instead of the Sultan)
  • Mushir (Field marshal)
  • Ferik (army Lieutenant-general or navy Vice-admiral)
  • Liva (major general or Rear-admiral)
  • The Kizlar Agha (chief black eunuch, the highest officer in the Topkapı Palace; three tails, as commander of the baltacı corps of the halberdiers in the imperial army
  • Istanbul's Shaikh ul-Islam, the highest Muslim clergyman, of cabinet rank.

If a Pasha governed a provincial territory, it could be called a pashaluk after his military title, besides the administrative term for the type of jurisdiction, e.g. eyalet, vilayet/walayah. Both Beylerbeys (governors-general) and valis/wālis (the most common type of Governor) were entitled to the style of Pasha (typically with two tails). The word pashalik designated any province or other jurisdiction of a Pasha.

Ottoman, and Egyptian authorities conferred the title upon both Muslims and Christians without distinction. They also frequently gave it to foreigners in the service of the Ottoman Empire, or of the Egyptian Khedivate (later Sultanate, and Kingdom in turn), e.g. Hobart Pasha.

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