A noted Copt (d. 1810) who after the death of his brother IBRAHIM AL-JAWHARI (1795) replaced him as director of the Egyptian administration of taxes and finances, and also became an intimate confidant of the dominant Mamluk amirs. He was—like his predecessors in that position—a sort of gray eminence, in whose hands all threads of the Egyptian administration converged. The beys were aware of his services and esteemed them.
Al-Jawhari lived in a splendid house situated next to the newly built palace of Muhammad Bey al-Alfi at Birkat al-Azbakiyyah, a region where several other beys and leading ‘ulama’ (religious chief justices) had their villas. He owned another palatial residence near Qantarat al-Dikkah. In addition, al-Jawhari owned houses and business buildings in other quarters of Cairo and in Bulaq, where French officers were billeted during the occupation.
Napoleon’s conquest of Egypt and the expulsion of the beys in 1798 did not damage the position of Jirjis al-Jawhari. He immediately sought to gain Napoleon’s favor, and he provided the furnishings of the palace of Muhammad Bey al-Alfi, which Napoleon had chosen as his headquarters, perhaps at al-Jawhari’s suggestion. Napoleon reconfirmed him in his post as al-mubashir al-‘-am (intendant general), and left the calculation and collection of the public revenue to his and his Coptic functionaries’ management.
Moreover, al-Jawhari had to inform the French provincial governors in writing concerning the administrative pecularities of their districts of command; he had to work out territorial reforms of the provinces; and he had to make regular reports to the commander in chief concerning revenue, cash holdings, arrears, and other financial matters. The French filled the provincial intendancies with people he proposed. Al-Jawhari computed the total amount that was to be paid by each province, and he informed the intendant of the province of the amount to be collected by him. All his employees in Cairo and in the provinces were paid from his central office.
Jirjis al-Jawhari was a factotum in the administration of French Egypt. In cooperation with the administrator general of finance, he took pains to satisfy the wishes of Napoleon and his generals. He looked after the maintenance of canals and dams, and saw to their protection against unauthorized use. He took care that the salaries were paid to the members of provincial dawawin (sing., diwan, council), their interpreters, and their secretaries, as well as the units of janissaries and the native police.
It was his responsibility to see that food supplies from the estates of Mamluks who had fled or died were brought into the French storehouses. He satisfied the army’s need for 3,000 horses by having them gathered in the provinces. In the province of Beheirah, in a short time he implemented a special tax in kind, as an advance on the taxes to be paid, in order to remedy the food shortage of the troops in that district.
At the end of August 1798, Napoleon demanded from Jirjis al- Jawhar the immediate collection of an amount between one-fifth and one-sixth of the miri, the public revenue from the land tax. He was charged with the task of exacting the punitive levies Napoleon had inflicted upon the villages, which had been hostile to the French. Under his supervision, two offices worked together on the editing and translating of a land register. He had to sell wheat and rice owned by France that could not be stored.
He negotiated with the Muslim leaders of Cairo and the French on the accommodation of the great caravan of Muslim pilgrims from the Maghrib. He took care of the precious booty that the army had seized, and he procured the animals necessary for starting a camel corps.
Al-Jawhari’s readiness to help the French was so strong that in some cases he personally went out into the provinces to secure what the French wanted. Whenever Napoleon went out into the country, al-Jawhari was with him. Jirjis al-Jawhari’s position as an agent of French interests was so great that it rendered him a potential mediator between the leaders of the army and his coreligionists. He was also called to arbitrate between the French and the Muslims in cases of difficulties between them. In addition, he undertook the task of provisioning and feeding the army. He organized an intelligence service that spread to all the provinces. From among his rich coreligionists he was able to raise enormous loans that he placed at the disposal of the French.
For a long time Jirjis al-Jawhari was able to maintain his important position under Napoleon’s successor, General Jean-Baptiste Kléber. But their relationship was overshadowed by Kléber’s demands for subsidies and loans from the Coptic population, on the assumption that they would be repaid from future public revenues. Moreover, there was growing dissatisfaction among the French administrative agents with the Coptic methods of tax collection, which they regarded as inefficient and fraudulent.
Although the French leaders did not doubt al-Jawhari’s personal sincerity and unselfishness, they made him responsible for all irregularities of his tax collectors. In mid-January 1800, Kléber lost his patience and ordered the arrest of al-Jawhari, threatening to execute him if the money he had demanded was not immediately paid. But thanks to the intervention of the leading French officials in the administration, Kléber decided to set him free.
During the insurrection in Cairo that followed the failure of the Treaty of al-‘Arish, Jirjis al-Jawhari asked the Muslim military leaders for a guarantee of security and got it by paying a large sum. Nevertheless, during the battle around the neighboring French headquarters, his house would have been set on fire, and he himself would have been killed, had it not been for the French troops who rescued him.
After the reconquest of Cairo, his colleague, the Coptic general YA‘QUB, replaced him in the position of favor with the French commander in chief. With the reorganization of the financial administration, al-Jawhari was relieved of responsibility for the collection of public revenues, which was given to a Frenchman named Estève. However, he continued to work as one of the five leading provincial general intendants.
Al-Jawhari’s willingness to support the French was motivated by the conviction that the Coptic community would have a better future under such a government than under Muslim rule, be it Mamluk or Ottoman. During the first months of French rule in Egypt, he went to Napoleon on behalf of his community to ask for the suppression of discrimination against Dhimmis (people of the Covenant) and establishment of freedom of religion with no distinction.
Napoleon granted some of his requests immediately, in anticipation of earning further Coptic support. Al-Jawhari’s sympathy for the French remained unshaken even after their failure. When, more than a year later, one of Napoleon’s envoys visited Egypt, he highly praised al-Jawhari. According to the French officer, al-Jawhari offered him regular reports on the Egyptian situation and a promise of Coptic support in case of any future plans in the Orient.
After the departure of the French in 1801 and the Ottoman takeover of the government, the Coptic intendants general of the provinces, of whom only General Ya‘qub had preferred to emigrate to France, were confirmed in their functions. Consequently, Jirjis al- Jawhari was able to gain favor with Muhammad Pasha Khusraw, the first Ottoman governor after the French occupation, by splendidly furnishing the house he moved into. He then regained his former position as the leading figure in the collection of revenues. Al- Jawhari was treated like an Ottoman dignitary. His advice was taken seriously by the new Turkish leaders.
During the rebellion of the Ottoman military against Muhammad Pasha Khusraw at the beginning of May 1803, Jirjis al-Jawhari narrowly escaped the murdering and plundering soldiers, but his house was devastated. However, the leader of the insurgents, Tahir Pasha, promised to indemnify him for his losses and confirmed him in office. When Tahir was murdered three weeks later and the Mamluk beys seized power in Cairo, Jirjis al-Jawhari became reconciled with his former master, Ibrahim Bey.
At the beginning of December 1803 he nearly became the victim of a plot by some members of an Ottoman corps who were out to murder him and two other leading Coptic intendants. He escaped after payment of a heavy ransom to his attackers. In 1805, he was confirmed by MUHAMMAD ‘ALI on his accession to power. In the meantime, Ahmad Pasha Khurshid, the representative of the Sublime Porte, confirmed him in his post of bash mubashir (intendant general).
Under Muhammad ‘Ali, who had finally seized power in Cairo in July 1805, al-Jawhari fell into disgrace because he resisted Muhammad ‘Ali’s demands for money. He lost his leading position in the financial administration, which was given to Mu‘allim GHALI, and was put under arrest for some time, along with other Coptic intendants. Once released, he fled to the Mamluk beys in Upper Egypt—after placing his property under the care of the Coptic patriarch MURQUS VIII, who paid a heavy indemnity to the viceroy.
Al-Jawhari was pardoned only after four years of exile. He then returned to Cairo, where, al-Jabarti says, “Muslims as well as Christians, educated as well as uneducated men, came to greet him.” Jirjis al-Jawhari enjoyed the greatest esteem among the Mamluk amirs, the leading ‘ulama’, the French military administrators, and the Ottoman officials. Like his brother Ibrahim, he always took great pains to preserve their favor with gifts and to find ways to satisfy their material wishes. The loss of his position and his exile undermined both his wealth and his health. Ten months after his return to Cairo, he became seriously ill, and he died in September 1810.