18th century Egypt and a travelling Frenchman

In C. S. Sonini de Manoncourt, “Travels in Upper and Lower Egypt”, vol. 3, (1807), p.292, I find this anecdote.  The Reis is the captain of the boat on which de Manoncourt is travelling up the Nile, and he is in the region of Antinoupolis.

Among those persons whom the Reis had put on board, there were four soldier’s servants who had run away from the army. Well pleased at escaping from the toils of war, their insolence had no bounds. Having been informed that we were Europeans, their insults and impertinence were particularly pointed at us. I had determined to chastise them at the first town where we should stop; but having arrived at Mellawi in the night, I was obliged still to restrain myself. The four unruly gentlemen continued their invectives the following day. They carried their audacity so far as to strike two of my companions; the latter were not long in returning the blow; the engagement, began, and guessing from the noise what had happened, I hastened to the spot with my sabre in my hand, and applied a few strokes to the shoulders of the aggressors with the flat side. They immediately quitted their hold; but an exclamation was heard over all the boat. An infidel to strike a Mussulman!  It was an offence unpardonable, and which threatened me with instant death. They were talking of throwing me overboard. The Reis, instead of appeasing the tumult, as great a fanatic as the rest, cried louder than any of them. I retired with my companions into the chamber which we occupied, and we entrenched ourselves as well as we could, fully expecting to be attacked. The fire-arms, however, with which we were supplied, appeared to the desperadoes who surrounded us, formidable enough to prevent their approach, and they contented themselves with murmuring and concerting plans of revenge.

Through the lattice of my chamber, I perceived at Scheick Abade, the ruins of Antinoe, and on the same eastern coast, Benihassan, a village at the foot of a mountain of rock, rising perpendicularly, in which the ancients have hollowed out sepulchral caverns. A little tower and a forest of palm-trees form a beautiful contrast with the rugged aspect of the rocks which border this bank of the Nile. The village of Savouadi succeeds to this. There the ruins of several ancient buildings are perceptible. The rock has been carved and hollowed in various places ; the entrances of a vast quantity of catacombs are arranged over the front of the mountain, and near them I observed hieroglyphics and symbolical figures.

The vessel dropt anchor at Miniet. The Reis immediately disembarked with about twenty of the passengers, and made the best of his way to the Kiaschef, in order to prefer a complaint against me, for having had the audacity to strike a Mussulman. These wicked people took care to relate every fact, and to represent it in the worst light possible. The populace of Miniet thronged in crowds ; a flock of fanatical barbarians demanded the head of the dog who had abused a favourite of Mahomet. I had dispatched my two Egyptian servants after the Reis, in order to observe what might come to pass. They returned to acquaint me with the ferment which the accusation of the Reis had raised in the minds of the people; they had advanced into the court of the house of the Kiaschef, where an assembled mob were calling for vengeance, and they had heard it reported, that I was to undergo the punishment of the bastinado on the soles of the feet. I had not a moment to lose after this information. It was necessary, they said, either to conceal myself or to make my escape. I could not, with propriety, have chosen either of these alternatives : I took a resolution directly opposite. I determined to face the danger, and to present myself openly, in order to avert it. I quitted.the boat immediately with one of my attendants; my habit prevented me from being recognised. We passed through several streets. Every where the topic of conversation was the Franc who had beaten a Mussulman. I arrived at the house of the Kiaschef; I penetrated through the crowd, who little supposed that the person on whom their thoughts were employed was in the midst of them; at length I stood before the Kiaschef. An immense number of persons surrounded him. The Reis and my other accusers stood forward and pointed me out to the commandant. “Is it you, then,” said the Kiaschef to me in the most angry tone imaginable, “who was audacious enough to offer violence to a believing Mussulman?” “Give no heed,” I replied, in a determined tone, “to the vain clamour of these paltry fellahs, to whom, for the honour of a valiant Mameluc, you have already paid but too much attention. You are the slave of Mourat Bey; you know very well that I am his friend; I have some important intelligence to communicate to you from him; attend.” I immediately approached, and pretending to whisper in his ear, I slipped a few chequins into his hand, which I held ready in my own.

The Kiaschef, who had raised himself a little from his cushion to hear what I had to say, now took his seat again, and darted menacing glances at the Reis. “You know not,” said he to him, with anger feigned, or at least purchased, “what a Franc is.” He then pronounced a long and absurd encomium on the qualities and the power of the Francs, which he knew nothing at all about. The Reis wished to reply ; but the Kiaschef rose, and bestowed on him a hearty box on the ear, and then ordered him to receive several blows with a cane. In an instant this mob, ignorant and foolishly habituated to despotism, after having regarded me as the greatest criminal, dispersed, crying up the justice of the Kiaschef, and extolling, the excellent qualities of the Francs.

Corruption in men of exalted stations, which is an undeniable testimony of the depravity of manners, and a certain presage of the fall of empires, and the dissolution of the bonds of society, appeared among the despots of Egypt to be customary, and a system universally adopted. They were unanimous in opinion, that with the assistance of money every thing might be obtained.  Too great sacrifices, even in this respect, were not requisite to obtain the object desired. It is only in those countries, where they are continually speaking of virtue and of honour, and where, in fact, they do not exist, that the price of corruption is an effect of a considerable commerce to which few people can attain: but it is moderate in those places where honour not being in common use, it is unnecessary to distribute gold to purchase silence. I had just experienced a signal act of justice, which, considering the manners of the people of Egypt, and the circumstances under which I had obtained it, might have passed for injustice. A single minute had proved sufficient to appease the most furious anger, and to make its effects recoil on those who had provoked it; and, nevertheless, it had only cost me from seven to eight chequins.

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