Egyptian slavery is as old as the pyramids and though it was banned in the 1870s under British pressure, it has never entirely gone away.
The first independent Muslim ruler of Egypt relied on black slaves and at his death is said to have left 24,000 (white) Mamaluks and 45,000 Nubian military slaves. In north Africa the source of black slaves from Nubia and Sudan were too convenient to ignore. At the time of the Fatimid defeat, in the twelfth century, black troops formed the majority of the army. By the fifteenth century black military slaves were being favored with the use in battle of firearms (the Mamaluks refused to use such dishonorable weapons).
Even as late as the mid-nineteenth century, Egyptian rulers actively recruited black slaves into their army — for example, they were included in the Egyptian expeditionary force sent by Sa’id Pasha to Mexico in support of the French in 1863.
For a while the British agents of the Slave Trade Bureau roamed Egypt hunting for Egyptian slavers transporting African slaves from the Sudan. One such famous case in 1894 involved Ali Pasha Sharif, the head of Egypt’s Legislative Assembly, who was charged with purchasing a smuggled Sudanese slavewoman. A few weeks earlier Ali Pasha Sharif had called for shutting down the Slave Trade Bureau on the grounds that slavery no longer existed in Egypt.
Despite such British attempts at cracking down on the slave trade, it never went away.
Count Della Sella, the former head of the Slave Trade Bureau, said that all the laws against slavery proved useless. “Now there is a constant current of thousands of these petty dealers, each of whom brings three or four women slaves with him under the name of wives and servants. They sell their slaves in Egypt and as the price has now risen, three or four, are quite enough to allow of a profitable journey. The large caravans of former days are mostly stopped, but a constant stream of small lots of slaves sets into Egypt from the Sudan.”
Modern day instances of the same phenomenon keep showing up all too reliably.
An Irvine man and his former wife pleaded guilty Thursday to forcing a 12-year-old illegal immigrant from Egypt to work as their domestic slave.
Under terms of a plea deal with federal prosecutors, Abdel Nasser Eid Youssef Ibrahim, 45, and his former wife, Amal Ahmed Ewis-abd Motelib, 43, each face up to three years in prison.
Like Ali Pasha, the Salafis, who played a major role in drawing up the new Egyptian Islamist constitution, objected to any mention of slavery… because it did not exist.
Muhammad Saad Gawish, a member of the Constituent Assembly, wondered: “How can an article [#33] mention human trafficking when this is not happening in Egypt?” Likewise, Yunis Makhiyun, another Constituent Assembly member complained that “this article will give [Egypt's] citizens the impression that things like slavery, trafficking in females and children, are happening in Egyptian society, when such things do not exist.”
And since they don’t exist. There is no need to outlaw them.
Accordingly Egypt’s new constitution has dropped its ban on slavery.
Omissions of certain articles, such as bans on slavery or promises to adhere to international rights treaties, were equally worrying to critics of the new draft, who pulled out from the panel before the vote.
Isn’t it ironic, that the first black man in the Oval Office has helped bring to an end the ban on trading African slaves in Egypt? But then Obama’s ancestors, unlike those of the gullible African-Americans who sold him their votes, were never slaves. They were slave owners.