Digital library
Digital library

El Arish, Convention of (24 Januaiy 1800)

On 24 August 1799 Bonaparte departed from Egypt and returned to France leaving General Jean-Baptiste Kleber in command of the 10,000 French forces in the Ottoman province. Kleber faced a difficult position. The French army was restless and near mutiny, a Turkish force under Grand Vizier Yussef was approaching from Syria, and Kleber believed that Bonaparte and France had abandoned the army in Egypt. Kleber approached Sir Sidney Smith, a temporary commodore in the Royal Navy, to serve as a mediator between himself and Yussef. Many scholars have questioned whether either man had the political authority to negotiate a treaty. However, considering the distance from Europe and the fact that instructions could take up to two months to reach Kleber from Paris or Smith from London, one can understand why the men would enter political negotiations without authorization from their respective home governments.

Kleber had a number of conditions he wished to see fulfilled: He insisted his men should be allowed to depart Egypt with honor, carrying their weapons and baggage with them and without molestation from Turkish forces. He also demanded that Turkish vessels carry French troops home to France, that the British and Russians guarantee their safe conduct during the passage, that Turkey should end its alliance with Britain and Russia, and, finally, that the Turks should pay the costs of maintaining the French army in Egypt as it awaited transport. Yussef refused to honor the request for a halt in his advance as the negotiations were being conducted. As Yussef’s men approached the 250-man French garrison at El Arish on the northern coast of the Sinai Peninsula, the French troops mutinied against their commanders, raided the town’s liquor supply, and actually helped the Turkish force enter the town. The Turkish army immediately began to massacre the French, an atrocity only halted at the insistence of a British officer serving as an adviser to the force.

Smith and two French negotiators arrived at Yussef’s headquarters in El Arish on 13 January 1800 in order to open direct negotiations. Yussef agreed to Kleber’s request for the safe departure of French troops aboard Turkish vessels, but he proved reluctant to accept the other points. Kleber’s counteroffer conceded to Yussef’s demands that the Turkish army enter Egypt prior to the French departure and that the alliance with Britain and Russia be maintained until after a peace agreement was achieved with France. However, Kleber insisted on Turkish financial support for the French troops awaiting departure.

The parties signed the Convention of El Arish on 24 January, Kleber ratified his copy on the twenty-eighth, and the two parties exchanged ratifications on the thirtieth. In accordance with this agreement, French forces evacuated Katia, Es Saliya, Bilbeis, and Cairo and moved to Alexandria, Aboukir, and Rosetta to await Turkish transport vessels. In the meantime. Smith received a message from Vice Admiral Lord Keith, written prior to the signing of the convention, directing that British military and naval commanders should ignore any agreement reached separately between the French and Turkish forces. Keith added that the Royal Navy would intercept any enemy troops trying to reach France. Meanwhile, in London, the British government repudiated the terms of the convention, though word did not reach Keith, who acted unilaterally.

On 18 March Kleber received a letter from Keith stating in strong terms that the British would accept nothing less than unconditional surrender of the French forces in Egypt. By this time Yussef had arrived at Cairo with 40,000 troops. An angry Kleber terminated the armistice, marched from Cairo, and defeated the numerically superior Turkish army at the Battle of Heliopolis.

Terry M. Mays

See also Heliopolis, Battle of; Kleber, Jean-Baptiste; Middle

East Campaign; Smith, Sir Witham Sidney

References and further reading

Herold, J. Christopher. 2005. Bonaparte in Egypt. London: Leo Cooper.

Mackesy, Piers. 1995. British Victory in Egypt, 1801: The End of Napoleon’s Conquest. New York: Routledge.

Pocock, Tom. 1996. A Thirst for Glory: The Life of Admiral Sir Sidney Smith. London: Aurum.

Shankland, Peter. 1975. Beware of Heroes: Admiral Sir Sidney Smith’s War against Napoleon. London: PurneU.

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Literatura: Encyclopedia of French Revolutionary and Napoleoni