By Mark Sedgwick
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Extra info for Muhammad Abduh
A delegation of the Kawkab al-Sharq went to congratulate him. DEFEAT Tawfiq, however, refused to accept the parts of the “national plan” that would have turned Egypt into a constitutional monarchy, and Sharif Pasha resigned as prime minister. Afghani spoke publicly against Tawfiq in the important and central Hasan mosque, criticizing him as a tool of European interests. His speeches were fiery: You have been born into slavery and are living under despotism. For centuries, you have been under the yoke of conquerors and oppressors …That which you earn by the sweat of your brow has been taken away from you without your knowledge … Rise from your indifference!
On the face of it, then, Egypt was becoming an independent constitutional monarchy, and Afghani’s group was partly responsible for this – though the extent of Afghani’s responsibility, and indeed what was really going on behind the scenes, is far from clear. The Sharif government, however, was in fact composed mostly of men loyal to Ismail, and what at first appeared to be the triumph of constitutionalism and representative government quickly turned into the restoration of the khedive’s autocracy.
First, it was overcrowded – Azhar students were exempt from conscription, and so when conscription was introduced numbers of students had risen from the normal 2,000–3,000 to over 7,000. Numbers dropped after the end of Mehmet Ali’s wars, but jumped again in 1866, and in 1867 there were almost 5,000 students. Second, the Azhar was in financial difficulties. Its senior scholars had assisted Mehmet Ali’s rise to power in the first years of the century, but Mehmet Ali recognized that those who had helped him might one day help a rival, and so once he was firmly enough established he set about reducing the power of the ulema, and of the Azhar.