The Man without a Heart
Nubar Nubarian (later Nubar Pasha) was a young man freshly graduated from a British university when he came to Egypt to join his uncle Boghos Bey, then Mohammed Ali's trusted Armenian adviser. On the evening of his arrival, his uncle took him to Ras El-Teen Palace to meet his future master.
In his Memoirs, Nubar recounts his first encounter with the Pasha of Egypt: "At the bottom of an immense hall lit by a white crystal chandelier and deriving grandeur from its austerity and its majestic proportions, a man was seated in the corner of a sofa covered with a rich length of material adorned with gold tassels: it was Mohammed Ali. Leaning on a pillow, his legs slightly bent, he was listening to one of his secretaries' reading of the day's dispatches Five or six young Mamluks attended the proceedings standing humbly at attention my uncle introduced me. 'Work,' the Pasha told me. 'I want to see you at work.' I then withdrew respectfully having kissed, as the etiquette required, the hem of the carpet he was sitting on."
Lord A.W.C. Lindsay offers a similar description of the Pasha's palace in his 1838 Letters on Egypt, Edom and the Holy Land. "We visited the old spider [Mohammed Ali] in his den, the citadel Ascending a broad marble passage on an inclined plane and traversing a lofty antechamber crowded with attendants, we found ourselves in the presence-chamber, a noble saloon but without an article of furniture, except a broad divan, or sofa, extending around three sides of the room, in a corner of which squatted his highness Mohammed Ali. Six wax candles stood in the center yet gave but little light."
Oddly, neither Nubar nor Lindsay make mention of Mohammed Ali's piercing eyes, a trait commented on by almost every traveler who happened to meet him, even briefly. As such, Mr. Ramsay, Lord Lindsay's friend and companion on the visit, was more alert: "He [Mohammed Ali] did not address any of his subjects, but I observed his sharp, cunning eyes fixing on everyone." Another traveler, Mr.
Wilde, who visited the Shubra Palace in 1837 with his friends, came across the Pasha in the garden. Seeing a group of foreigners, Mohammed Ali stopped briefly to salute them. "He is a fine old man now," wrote Wilde after this encounter, "upward of seventy with a very long silver beard Slight as was our view of him, it did not pass without making us feel the power of an eye of more brilliancy and penetration that I ever beheld."
If so many travelers looked at Mohammed Ali in awe, it was because his reputation as a bloodthirsty Oriental potentate had been well established by the massacre of Mamluks at the Citadel in 1811, which he orchestrated to establish his power over Egypt once and for all.
The awareness of the regime's cruelty was perpetuated by the sight of tortured bodies floating down the Nile every so often, as the one observed by the count of Forbin in 1817: "His two hands were nailed and crushed between two planks. A thigh had been devoured by the fish."
Forbin, a writer and a painter, wanted to meet Mohammed Ali and approached Bernardino Drovetti - who would later become the French Consul in Egypt and had the ear of the Pasha - for an introduction.
He was welcomed at the Palace of Ras El-Teen: "Mohammed Ali received me very graciously, and expressed his regrets not to have been in Cairo when I was visiting the city," wrote Forbin. "His features are lively and his eyes very expressive. He was smoking: his gold narghile [referred to as shisha today] is covered in precious stones Conversation with Mohammed Ali is often interrupted by a sort of convulsive hiccup. I was assured that this infirmity befell him after he had been given a violent poison, which effects, caught in time, left only that sequel. Many great European doctors were consulted to provide a remedy, but until now this has been to no avail."
Forbin was allowed to paint Mohammed Ali a portrait for which the Pasha posed with evident pleasure. This painting and Forbin's account of his visit inspired the painter Horace Vernet in his tableau of the Pasha half-reclining on his cushions, gazing fixedly ahead. Next to him is a small lion symbolizing might. He is making a fist with his right hand, the only indication that he is aware of the massacre of the Mamluks taking place in the courtyard beyond.
Nubar Pasha had many opportunities to learn of Mohammed Ali's callousness. Tales of the bloody events that had brought him to power were reaching the young man's ears and it did not take him long to discover that his uncle had at one time been victim of the ruler's ruthlessness: Soon after Ali came to power, he called Boghos, who was then director of the customs, to Damietta. They had a slight disagreement over the accounts, which enraged the master, who shouted, "Drag him by his feet." This was tantamount to a death sentence. One of the Turkish attendants got hold of Boghos and dragged him out, but since he owed him a favor, instead of taking of him to the Nile where his body should have been thrown after the execution, he hid him in a safe house. A few days later Mohammed Ali had trouble collecting the taxes in Rosetta and, finding himself short of cash, exclaimed: "If only Boghos were here, he would have solved the problem!"
The attendant, believing that Mohammed Ali had found him out, confessed to the hiding of the customs director. "Boghos is alive," cried the Pasha. "Bring him to me at once and if you don't, you won't live long enough to regret it."
It seems that, from that day on, Boghos earned more and more esteem in the Pasha's eyes, but the poor man could never relax enough to enjoy the favors bestowed on him. Years later, after Boghos had retired, an incident occurred which left him feeling slighted by one of the Pasha's administrators. He was hurt so deeply that he took to his bed and refused to take any nourishment. Alerted, Mohammed Ali sent one of his secretaries to inform Boghos that the Pasha was ordering him to get well.
"If my master has ordered," Boghos told his physician, "then I must.
See what you can do."
But it was too late, however, and Boghos died soon after his master's command. His funeral was a little-publicized, discreet affair until the Pasha, who was residing in Alexandria at the time, found out that the old man was not buried with military honors, as he deserved. He dispatched at once the following letter to the commander in chief of his armies:
"To my honored son, the mighty Osman Pasha: You are an ass and a brute. The man who bought you and raised you dies, and you and the troops under your orders do not accompany him to his grave! As soon as you receive this letter, you and the Alexandrian regiment will go to the Armenian church, dig out Boghos and bury him again with the military honors due to him. Don't you dare disobey me."
The body was not disinterred, but a new mass was said, attended by Osman Pasha and the regiment, the commander and high-ranking officers, while soldiers stood at attention in the courtyard.
Excerpt from: MOHAMMED ALI, By Fayza Hassan (Egypt Today - Oct 4 2005)