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When Napoleon Bonaparte and the French army entered Alexandria on July 1st 1789, she was no more than a small town. The population of the city that was once the second largest in the world had shrunk to a mere 8000. Illustrations and maps shown in "Déscription d'Egypte", the comprehensive book complied by the French expedition, suggest that the population was mainly centered around the Turkish Town, now known as El-Mansheya. Only ruins, sand dunes, and two obelisks known as the Cleopatra's Needles which one of them is in London, the capital of England.
Although the French expedition eventually failed when in 1799 the British Lord, Nelson, defeated the French at Abou-Qir (Canopus), its influence on Egyptian history was dramatic. It was a wake up-call to a country that was struck by ottoman isolationism and Mamelouk corruption. It also brought to the attention of the British the importance of Egypt's strategic location. For the next decade, Alexandria wittenessed military confrontations between the Ottomans and the Mamelouks as well as the British who sent another expedition in 1807.
During the course of the events, a new political figure started to emerge. An Albanian officer by the name of Mohamed Ali who had been appointed by the Ottoman Sultan as ruler of Egypt was gradually gaining power. He finally declared Egypt as an autonomous state under the Ottoman sovereignty, and started a dynasty of Khedives and Kings that lasted for over a century.
Mohamed Ali is one of the most controversial figures in Egyptian history. Some consider him a great leader who had ambitious plans to revive Egypt's old glory. Others believe he was just another dictator who was abusive to the country and the people. Most, however, agree that Egypt experienced an age of rising under his rule. He gave away Alexandria's own Cleopatra's Needles as gifts to the British and American governments. But he also dug the new Mahmoudeya Canal and connected it to the Nile, an achievement that revived Alexandria's as well as Egypt's economy. He also prepared the Western Harbor to be Egypt's main port, and built a modern lighthouse at its entrance. When Mohamed Ali died, Alexandria's population had grown from a meager 8,000 to a prosperous 60,000.
Under the rule of Mohamed Ali's successors, Alexandria continued to grow. When the Suez Canal was inaugurated in 1867, Alexandria's exports increased to constitute 94% of Egypt's total. New communities emerged east from Ancient Alexandria, as far as Octavian's Necropolis (El-Raml), to accommodate the growing population.
In 1882, Ahmed Orabi, an Egyptian nationalist then minister of military, led a revolt against the Khedive (king) Tawfik to protest British intervention in Egypt. The situation was aggravated when the British fleet arrived in Alexandria in May. On July 11th, Alexandria suffered greatly when she was bombarded by the British. The bombardment lasted for 2 days and the city surrendered, marking the beginning of a British occupation to Egypt which lasted for 70 years.
During the 20th century, the city became Egypt's summer Capital. Al-Montazah Palace was designated as the King's summer residence, and the official government headquarters were based in Bulkeley. In 1944, Arab delegates signed the birth document of the Arab League in Alexandria. She witnessed the abdication of King Farouk and his departure to exile in Italy on July 26th 1952. And exactly four years later, president Nasser (who was born in the middle-class district of Bacchus in Alexandria) announced the nationalization of the Suez Canal at Al-Mansheya Square.
Today, the city looks different from that of the Ptolemies. Greater Alexandria stretches nearly 70 kilometers (45 miles) along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, with urban areas covering more than 100 square kilometers. Her rich population of more than 4 million still reflects her ancient history and close ties to the Mediterranean. With ethnic minorities including Armenians, Greeks, Italians, Lebanese, Maltese, and Syrians among others, Alexandria is considered the most diverse culturally of all the Egyptian cities. Her diverse experiences are deeply engraved in the names of the districts: Greek names Bachuss; Ptolemaic names Soter and Cleopatra; Roman /Coptic names Camp Caesar, Sainte Catherine, Saint Stefano, Arab names such as Shatby, Sidi Bishr, Sidi Gaber. There are also Jewish names like Smouha, Measha (Menasce); modern Egyptian names Moharam Bek and Moustafa Kamel; and modern European names Fleming, Laurens, Glymenopoulo, Schutz, Stanley.