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Muhammad `Ali'S Tax Inspectors

from Chronicles of al-Jabarti - cAbd al-Rahman al-Jabarti cajaib al-athar f-il-tarajim w-al-akhbar, Cairo 1297/1879 IV, 93-94,141-142, 154, 183, 208-209).

And in [1224 ah/ 1809 ad] they began to prepare a register for the taking of half the yield from the multazim-s and another for the imposition of taxes on produce of waqf devoted to mosques, foundations, alms, and charitable works. . .
Proclamations were despatched to the villages and countryside and officials were sent by the various provincial governors with power to investigate the property belonging to mosques or used for charitable works. Each person controlling such land was ordered to present his title deed to the central government office and replace it with a new one; a delay of forty days was allowed for this, after which the title of the property could be taken away and given to another person. The pretext used in the proclamation was one which had never been advanced before, that when a sultan died or was deposed his orders and decrees ceased to be valid, and that the same applied to the sultan's deputies, and that therefore they had to be renewed by the new governor - and other such statements!

It should be remembered that these endowments dated back to Saladin's time - in the fifth century ah [sic, read sixth, ie twelfth century ad] - who paid for them out of the central treasury to facilitate matters for those who were entitled to receive allowances from the treasury. His example was followed by kings, sultans, and princes until our day: they built mosques, hospices, asylums, and fountains, endowing them with land taken from their own private property, and the taxes or revenues which were used for that purpose. Similarly they would make endowments in favour of scholars or poor people, as a charity, enabling them to live and pursue learning; and when the beneficiary died the judge or the supervisor would appoint some deserving person in his place. the beneficiary's name would then be put down in the record of the judge and also in the register of the sultan's office, which were kept by a special official known as the clerk of the waqf property. This official would deliver a title deed, under the terms of the decree, and would put on it his seal and that of the Pasha and the chancellor. . . And thus the office of the waqf property remained preserved in perfect order in all the lands of Egypt, generation after generation . . .

The French occupied Egypt but did not touch this institution. But Sharif Effendi, the chancellor, who came shortly after the arrival of Yusif Pasha, the wazir [in 1801], ordered all multazim-s to pay to the government again . . . Their pretext was that the French occupation had rendered Egypt a war area [dar harb] which had been reconquered and whose lands had therefore become the property of the government; therefore anyone who desired to take possession of a piece of land or other property had to buy it from the sultan's deputy by payment of the prescribed amount.

In [1227 ah / 1812 ad] Ibrahim Bey, the son of the Pasha [Muhammad cAli] went to Upper Egypt, followed by Ahmad Agha Laz, the governor of Qina and Qus and the other sub-governors; they carried out a cadastral survey of the lands of Upper Egypt and imposed on them a tax of 7 riyals per faddan, a very high rate. The also made a survey of all the waqf devoted to mosques, alms and charity in Upper and Lower Egypt; the total amounted to 6,000,000 faddans. They then proclaimed that mosque waqf-s would pay half the assessed rate, ie, 3 1/2 riyals. The beneficiaries of the waqf-s were greatly disturbed and many of them appealed to the sheikhs, who went of to speak to the Pasha on this subject. They said to him that that would lead to the ruin of the mosques, whereupon he replied: 'Where are the flourishing mosques? If anyone is not satisfied with this arrangement let him raise his hand and I will restore the ruined mosques and provide them with the necessary means.' Their protests were of no avail and they returned to their homes. . .

And he [Muhammad cAli] seized all the iltizams, leaving something to their former owners only in exceptional cases, and even so only in very small amounts. His pretext was that the Mamluk princes had seized these lands when they fled from Cairo [after the massacre of the Mamluks in 1811] to Upper Egypt and that he had fought and chased and killed them and therefore had inherited all their possessions, whether legitimately or illegitimately acquired [by them]. . . Lands which belonged to the local multazim-s, resident in Upper Egypt or Lower Egypt at the time of the influx of the Mamluks, and with whom he wished to keep on good terms, were treated differently. If the owner made an appeal and asked for permission to continue in possession and declared that he had been free of obligations at the time of the Mamluk influx, and if he proved that with documents - drawn from the archives or other offices - he would either be allowed to continue in possession or told he could get compensation in the form of land in Lower Egypt. But the Pasha would then procrastinate and let time slip by , or else he would refer the matter to his son Ibrahim Pasha, saying he had nothing to do with Upper Egypt, which was under the authority of Ibrahim Pasha. And if the claimant then went to Ibrahim Pasha, the latter would say: " I will give you the compensation". If he consented to this he would get a very small amount, and if he did not he would be told: "Bring an authorisation from our Lord." And both [Muhammad cAli and Ibrahim would either be travelling or absent, or only one of them would be present and he would be left hanging in the air like a dangling participle! . . . And in [1229 ah/ 1814 ad] the chief of the archives and the other officials came, after the Coptic clerks had filled in, at their dictation, the registers with the names of the multazim-s and the extent of their shares. Then Mahmud Bey and Ghali and their retinue realised what they had contrived and devised in the matter of the cadaster. For, owing to the fact that they used a measuring instrument smaller than that previously employed, the extent of the land showed an increase of a third or a quarter. And they measured the waqf properties, noting the names of their lands separately, including the threshing floors and land not fit for cultivation and lands which could be reclaimed but which were not actually being cultivated or were uncultivable. When this was done they reckoned the land in the new faddan, showing an increase in the area, and proceeded to tax it at the rate of 15 or 14 or 12 or 11 or 10 riyals per faddan, according to the nature of the region and the quality of the soil. The result was an enormous increase: thus a village which had formerly paid 1,000 riyals in taxes - a sum that had given rise to complaints on the part of the multazim-s and of the peasants and had resulted in uncollectible arrears - was now assessed at between 10,000 and 100,000 riyals, more or less.

And the Pasha's lieutenant bade Ibrahim Agha al-Razzaz and Shaykh Ahmad Yusuf come into his presence and gave them robes of honour. A special office was set up for them. Those who undertook to pay the taxes assessed on the share to which they were entitled received a title deed confirming their possessions, in return for which they engaged themselves to pay a stipulated sum at designated dates. This done, they could dispose of their share . . . cultivating it directly if they wished or else leasing it to others. . . And all the excess land resulting from the new cadastral survey. . . was taken over by the ruler.

As for the waqf property devoted to alms and charity, and to the upkeep of mosques, fountains, libraries, and other philanthropic works, they too were measured in the new unit and all the resulting excess was taken over by the government. The remaining part was registered in the name of the actual beneficiary and the original maker of the endowment and the actual cultivator. . . Such land was subjected to the same tax as village land. if the beneficiary could show satisfactory title, or had a new deed dating from the time of the Wazir and Sharif Effendi or later, half the rental value of the land would be registered in his name, the other half going to the government.

The clerk of the waqf property was ordered to set up a special office for that purpose, staffed by a large number of clerks. People would come to him with their title deeds and those who had new deeds would receive a copy of the entry in the register, which he would take to the Council, where it would be entered after investigation and much argument on both sides. Doubts often arose regarding the names of the title-holders of those block or plots. In such cases the claimant would be asked to prove his claims and orders would be given to him to take to the local judges and district headmen, asking them to help him provide the evidence. He would then have to travel back to the village, incurring trouble and expense as well as encountering the difficulties created by the judges and headmen. After that he would return to the council with the required answers, where, however, he might be met with a counter-claim. And all this trouble and toil might be for a faddan of so! And the people crowded in on the office of the clerk of the waqf. This opened a door for abuse, for the clerk would not issue a deed until he had received a certain sum of money, the amount of which depended on the size of the land in question, the position of the claimants, the state of their deeds etc. . .

Contributed by C. R. Pennell, University of Melbourne, rpennell@unimelb.edu.au