GENERAL YA‘QUB (1745-1801)
He was born at Mallawi in Middle Egypt in 1745. He was one of the powerful Coptic laymen who contributed to the renaissance of the Coptic Church in the 18th and 19th centuries. He was a financial commissioner of Asyut’s Mamluk governor Sulayman Bey. Ya‘qub concluded that neither the Turks nor the Mamluks were good for Egypt.
He accompanied French General Louis Desaix to fight the fleeing Mamluk beys in Upper Egypt. He received permission from French General Kleber to form the Coptic Legion. In 1800, he defended the Coptic quarter, which was a target of Muslim mobs during a siege of three weeks.
The Coptic Legion under the leadership of General Ya‘qub clearly demonstrated that native Egyptians could learn how to fight, and many joined the army. General Ya‘qub was the first Egyptian in modern times who spoke of an independent Egypt. He hoped that European powers might help to free Egypt from the rule of the Mamluks and Ottomans.
He left Egypt for France not long after the withdrawal of the French from Egypt. In 1800, the old Coptic Cathedral at al-Azbakiah was built on land belonging to General Ya‘qub, one year before his death.