June 17th, 2014
On this date in 1800 — which was the same date they buried his victim — the 23-year-old student Suleiman al-Halabi was put to death in Cairo for assassinating French General Jean Baptiste Kleber.
Casualty of the brief Napoleonic adventure in Egypt, Kleber had received supreme command of the expedition when Napoleon himself returned to France the previous year — a mission which involved running the English naval blockade that trapped the Armee d’Orient.
Kleber, a product of the French Revolution’s military meritocracy who had attained his rank capably suppressing the Vendee royalists, was certainly up to the martial tasks at hand. He routed a larger Ottoman-English-Mamluk force in March of 1800, and then smashed a revolt in Cairo.
But the Napoleonic invasion often figures as a periodization marker for this region: the germ of liberalism and nationalism that would tear apart the Ottoman Empire and set the scene for a recognizably modern Middle East. So it’s somewhat fitting that Kleber would be undone by a figure who could be lifted from the evening news,* the anti-occupation insurgent.
Suleiman al-Halabi (English Wikipedia entry | French) was a Syrian Kurd hailing from Aleppo. (“al-Halabi” means “of Aleppo”)
He had been in Cairo to study, but after a return visit home was induced by the Turks to attend himself to punishing the invader instead. He then made his way back to to Egypt where, disguising himself as a beggar, where he was able to approach the general innocuously and dagger him to death.
The French, of course, had just a few years before this point introduced its most distinctive execution device in place of the ghastly old methods, and employed it with egalite for commoner and king alike. Nor was France, as an imperial power, reluctant about exporting its invention to the every corner of earth.
But in this particular instance, the French decided to prioritize, er, cultural sensitivity.
The committee, after carrying through the trial with all due solemnity and process, thought it necessary to follow Egyptian customs in its application of punishment; it condemned the assassin to be impaled after having his right hand burned; and three of the guilty sheikhs to be beheaded and their bodies burned.
The “guilty sheikhs” in question were men to whom the killer had confided — not his plan, exactly, but the fact that he was on a jihad mission. Hey, close enough.
As for Suleiman al-Halabi himself,
The executioner Barthèlemy sat down on Suleiman’s belly, drew a knife from his pocket, and made a large incision to widen the rectum, then hammered the point of the stake into it with his mallet. Then he bound the patient’s arms and legs, raised the stake the air and mounted it in a prepared hole. Suleiman lived for four hours, and he had lived longer save that, during the absence of Barthèlemy, a soldier gave him a drink which caused his immediate death.
(Impaling victims could live for agonizing days, but the water caused Suleiman, mercifully, to quickly bleed out.)
Not content with going all Vlad the Impaler, the French then paid homage to the invasion’s scientific sub-theme** by shipping Suleiman’s remains back to France for use as an anthropological exhibit.† His skull still remains at the Musee de l’Homme to this day. What’s left in his homeland(s) is a martyr’s memory.
According to the scholar al-Jabarti, whose chronicle is one of the principal sources on this episode, the investigation indicated that Suleiman undertook his mission for no ideology save his family’s desperate need of the purse the Porte was willing to offer. But in the ensuing decades’ growth of nationalism and, eventually, anti-colonialism, the brave young Muslim dying on a spike to slay the French commander could not help but be viewed in an exalted light. (Notably, at the acme of Arab nationalism, the Egyptian writer Alfred Farag celebrated Suleiman as an avatar of resistance in a 1965 play. “I do not kill for revenge,” Farag’s Suleiman avers — and when pressed for the reason, he has a one-word reply: “Justice.”)
* Indeed, the name has been in the news: there’s a Suleiman al-Halabi neighborhood in Aleppo that has seen fighting during the ongoing Syrian civil war. Since it’s even a Kurdish neighborhood one can’t but suspect that it’s named for the man featured in this post; however, I haven’t been able to establish that with certainty. If any reader knows, a comment would be most welcome.
** Napoleon brought a corps of scientists and intellectuals along on his invasion, kicking off the modern Egyptology craze. His mission also uncovered the Rosetta Stone — although that artifact now resides in the British Museum because of the aforementioned naval blockade.
† According to Dark Trophies: Hunting and the Enemy Body in Modern War, phrenologists hailed Suleiman’s skull as an outstanding exemplar of criminality and fanaticism.
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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Egypt,Execution,France,History,Impaled,Martyrs,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Occupation and Colonialism,Ottoman Empire,Power,Syria,Torture,Treason,Wartime Executions
Tags: 1800, 1800s, cairo, jean kleber, june 17, napoleon, napoleon bonaparte, suleiman al-halabi
January 31st, 2010
On this date in 1955, two Egyptian Jews enrolled by Israeli intelligence as saboteurs were hanged in Cairo.
The strange and disturbing “Lavon affair” — or “Esek habish,” the “shameful affair” — has never had a completely satisfying explanation.
It broke in 1954, when Egypt arrested a ring comprised of Egyptian Jews who had bombed locations in Alexandria and Cairo, including an American diplomatic post, in an apparent false flag operation meant to be attributed to the radical Muslim Brotherhood. (The apparent operation had a recent precedent.)
The germ and the goal of this project have been fodder for speculation ever since; the most commonly accepted theory is that it was intended to trigger western intervention or pressure on Egypt that would prevent Nasser from nationalizing the Suez Canal.
Initially blamed on the Defense Minister Pinhas Lavon, unrelated court testimony in 1960 would reveal that he was a fall guy.
But in any guise, the hangings this day in Cairo prompted national mourning in Israel and an immediate political shakeup whose dimensions might as well have sprung from this morning’s paper:
The dovish government of Moshe Sharett fell; hawkish founding Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion was recalled from retirement in a Negev kibbutz; and Israel launched a reprisal raid at Gaza. Little more than two years later, Israel and Egypt would contest control of the Suez on the battlefield.
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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Egypt,Execution,Hanged,History,Israel,Jews,Scandal,Spies,Terrorists,Torture,Treason
Tags: 1950s, 1955, cairo, january 31, lavon affair, moshe marzouk, muslim brotherhood, pinhas lavon, shmuel azar, suez canal, suez crisis
November 11th, 2009
One hundred years ago today, Will James was lynched as a murderer in Cairo, Illinois.
“The Frog” or “The Froggie” was a black man implicated in the murder of a white girl, captured in nearby Belknap and
taken to the most prominent square in the city and strung up. The rope broke and the man was riddled with bullets. The body was then dragged by the rope for a mile to the scene of the crime and burned in the presence of at least 10,000 rejoicing persons. Many women were in the crowd, and some helped to hang the negro and to drag the body.
Part of the mob then sought other negroes. Another part, at 11:15 o’clock, after battering down a steel cell in the county jail, took out Henry Salzner, a white man charged with the murder of his wife last August, and lynched him.* (New York Times, Nov. 12, 1912)
Other pictures related to the Will James lynching are at the Without Sanctuary site here (images 41 through 47).
The grey lady’s dim view of this jubilant scene prompted a letter to the editor in defense — the author’s disclaimer notwithstanding — of the lynching, which paints a grim and striking portrait of the town where it occurred.
Former Resident Says They Are Spoiled by Coddling and Are a Menace.
As a former resident of Cairo, Ill., where I was the editor of a daily newspaper for three years, I crave a word, not in defense of the double lynching which occurred there a few days ago, but in explanation of it. Cairo, at the extreme southern point of Illinois, at the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, is peculiarly located. Across one river is Missouri; across the other is Kentucky, and Tennessee is only fifty miles away. Cairo thus becomes a buffer between the North and the South. It is probably the only town in the North which has a true race problem to deal with. … Out of a population of 13,000 in 1900, 5,000 of the inhabitants of Cairo were negroes. Of the 100,000 negroes in the State of Illinois 5 per cent are massed in this one little town. Aside from this, the floating colored population is unusually large, and Cairo, at some time or other, harbors most of the “bad niggers” from St. Louis, Cincinnati, Louisville, Memphis, Vicksburg, and New Orleans. It is these whom citizens fear the most, and for whom the police are constantly alert. Murders by negroes either of white men or negroes are alarmingly frequent, but the murderer usually escapes either to Kentucky or Missouri, and is never heard of again. Thus crime after crime is recorded against the name of Cairo, with no recompense in the name of the law. On the other hand, there is hardly a time when there are not forty or fifty Cairo negroes in the Southern Illinois Penitentiary, all convicted of theft or burglary.
The white people of Cairo have always dealt indulgently with the negro. For years it has been the policy to keep two negroes on the small police force, and there have been negro Justices of the Peace. A negro physician once came near being elected a member of the Board of Education. While they pay but little taxes, the negroes are provided with three public schools. The Sumner was the first colored High School ever established in the United States. Yet this negro population, coddled as it is, is a constant menace to the town. No white woman dare venture outside of the house at night alone for fear of assault. Many outrages of which the world has never heard have been attempted. This is why, as Mayor Parsons says, the effect of the recent lynching will be “salutary.”
Altogether it is not surprising that a lynching took place in Cairo. The only wonder is that one did not take place long ago.
New York, Nov. 14, 1909
That electric arch and celebratory mob are now long gone from Cairo: in the century since Will James was butchered, Cairo, Ill., has withered — striken in part by its own poisonous legacy of racism. (Also by flooding from the adjacent rivers, the routing of transportation corridors elsewhere, and the general deindustrialization of the heartland.)
During the civil rights struggle as played out in Cairo in the 1960’s and 1970’s (more in this pdf), the town’s white business owners made a name for themselves by refusing to integrate their workforces in response to black boycotts … preferring to go out of business and/or leave town.
Cairo today is a near ghost town at one-quarter of its previous population, and generally appalling quality-of-life indicators.
* Salzner’s lynching occurred after midnight, according to the same article; hence, his absence from this article’s marquee.
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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Botched Executions,Burned,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Illinois,Lynching,Murder,No Formal Charge,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Shot,Summary Executions,USA
Tags: 1900s, 1909, cairo, november 11, racism, will james
January 2nd, 2009
Fifteen years ago, a Libyan-born dissident of American nationality was abducted from a human rights conference in Cairo.
The fate or current whereabouts of Mansour Kikhia remain unknown to this day — although one widely-suspected scenario (and the conclusion of a CIA report on the incident) is that he was spirited to Libya and secretly executed early in 1994.
While other speculation has had Kikhia being held alive, the insulin-dependent diabetic would have been in a bad way absent the sort of painstaking medical attention he would not likely have been receiving from his captors.
The former Libyan foreign minister and United Nations ambassador, who had broken with dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi in 1980, was in Egypt to participate in an Arab Organization of Human Rights conference. The date he vanished from his hotel, last seen in the company of unknown Egyptian men driving vehicles with Mukhabarat markings, was December 10, 1993 — the 45th anniversary of the seminal modern human rights document, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Several distinguished Middle Eastern scholars wrote an open letter shortly after Kikhia’s disappearance imploring
Arabs, Americans with an interest in the Arab world and human rights organizations not to rest until he regains his freedom. Nothing could be worse than to let the governments concerned think he will be forgotten.
If not “forgotten” in the strictest sense — see some links of the bulletins issued over the years to keep alive his memory — the governments concerned sure seem to have paid no price for having disappeared Mansour Kikhia.
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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Borderline "Executions",Disappeared,Egypt,Execution,Libya,No Formal Charge,Summary Executions,Torture,Uncertain Dates,USA
Tags: 1990s, 1993, 1994, arab organization of human rights, cairo, december 10, diplomacy, human rights, mansour kikhia, mukhabarat, universal declaration of human rights
June 22nd, 2008
On this date in 1711, a Janissary captain in Ottoman Egypt was beheaded in Cairo as the “Great Insurrection” gave way to the last gasp of Mamluk power in Egypt.
Mamluks (or Mameluks) — enslaved soldiers who had evolved into a military caste — had ruled Egypt from 1250 until absorbed by the Ottoman Empire in 1517. Now nominally under the power of the sultan, Mamluks remained as beys (district governors) and were drawn into a labyrinthine political environment that boiled down to a contest for rent collection from the lucrative country.
The relative power in Egypt of the Ottoman viceroy (wali) vis-a-vis Mamluk beys in shifting alliances waxed and waned through the 17th century, but the position of wali was always fundamentally undermined by his short-term appointment and the presence of imperial troops who did not answer to him and therefore became independent players Cairo. The most prominent of these were the Janissaries — elite troops whose original servile composition somewhat mirrored the Mamluks’ own and who had established themselves as the wealthiest (and most arrogant, and most resented) regiment by making profitable commercial partnership with the Cairo artisans.
Read all about the Qasimi and Faqari founding myths (and possible realities).
As we lay our scene in the early 18th century, the Ottoman walis have been thoroughly eclipsed; politically, Mamluk Egypt is independent in all but name. The Mamluks are themselves grouped into two great factions, the Qasimi and the Faqari.*
Each faction was composed of the personal mamluks of the leader, retainers who attached themselves to the leader, bedouin tribes, men of the garrison regiments [that is, the Janissaries and other Ottoman military corps], and private armies composed of free-born Ottoman mercenaries. (From the introduction to this translation of Al-Damurdashi’s Chronicle)
An accelerating cycle of revolts and disturbances culminated in the “Great Insurrection,” (or “Great Sedition”) several years of friction climaxing in three months of armed conflict in early 1711 — “to all intents and purposes, a civil war among the elite” over dividing up spoils, as Afaf Lutfi Sayyid-Marsot puts it.
Ifranj (or Ifrandj, or Afranj) Ahmad — “Ahmad the European,” a distinctive name since the Janissaries were mostly locally born by this point — was a lower officer, but a predecessor in his position had mounted a temporarily successful revolt against the Janissary brass in the 1690’s, and Ahmad (as events would prove) commanded the loyalty of his regiment. A dispute over an attempt to remove him helped precipitate the open fighting in 1711.
Ifranj Ahmad was just an excuse … The main reason was the resentment of the other regiments, primarily the ‘Azab [“armourers” — (distantly) second only to the Janissaries among the military corps], at the privileged position and the profits the Janissaries were enjoying. … Siding with Ifranj Ahmad were the majority of the Janissaries, the pasha [the wali], … the Faqari governor of Upper Egypt who brought with him reinforcements of … bedouins, some elements of the other regiments, and most of the Faqari beys and their Mamluk households. On the other side were almost all the ‘Azab and the other regiments, 600 Janissary defectors, the Qasimiyya beys, and Qaytas Bey, a Faqari grandee who had quarrelled with … the Faqari leader, and had joined the Qasimiyya. (Egyptian Society Under Ottoman Rule)
In short, the Faqari and Qasimi factions, backed respectively by the Janissaries and the ‘Azab.
As one can readily infer from Ifranj Ahmad’s presence in these pages, the Qasimi had the better of the fight; Ahmad was nabbed trying to flee and summarily beheaded, a fate shared with several other Faqari leaders.** Here’s the account from Al-Damurdashi, an ‘Azab officer at the time:
Afranj Ahmad and his colleague had fled through the Mahjar Gate, but as they passed by the guard post … [and] captured and were [being dragged] to the ‘Azab barracks, but one of the [captors] brought [Ahmad] to the ground with a blow on his jugular vein. He then cut off his head, took it to the ‘Azab barracks and received a reward from the senior officers.
Although Istanbul would continue trying to exert its influence, this day’s denouement marked the end of real Ottoman authority on the Nile — the Turks had their hands full fighting the Russians at this moment, anyway — and inaugurated a long sunset of Mamluk power until Napoleon’s quixotic Egyptian adventure overturned it for good.
* There are many different transliterations of both these names — Faqari, Faqariya, Faqariyya … Qasimi, Qasimiya, Qasimiyya
** It was so far from an extermination, however, that the Faqari turned the tables on the Qasimi twenty years later, and the Qasimi thereupon faded from influence.
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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Egypt,Execution,History,Occupation and Colonialism,Ottoman Empire,Political Expedience,Power,Soldiers,Summary Executions
Tags: 1711, cairo, ifranj ahmad, janissaries, june 22, mamluks