The Mamluks Continued to Threaten Muhammad Ali Pasha’s Power
The 1805 defeat and massacre of the Mamluks greatly weakened but did not eradicate them. Survivors retreated to Upper Egypt, and began to unsuccessfully negotiate for a compromise. Muhammad Ali led an expedition that defeated them in 1807. However, they were saved at the last minute when news arrived of a British invasion of Alexandria and the Nile Delta region. Alarmed, the Pasha offered the Mamluks concessions if they helped him expel the invaders, and they accepted. Together, the two forces marched north to deal with the invaders. Divisions soon arose among the Mamluks, however. One faction advocated cooperation with the British, and another wanted to honor the agreement with Muhammad Ali.
It soon became moot. The British, who had invaded on the assumption that the Mamluks would join them, finally grew disgusted with their dissensions, despaired of their assistance, and evacuated Alexandria in September, 1807. An uneasy peace then descended between Muhammad Ali and the Mamluks. Some of their leaders were appointed administrators of certain Egyptian districts on condition that they pay taxes, and many of them returned to Cairo and resumed their residence there. However, Mamluk forces continued to clash with those of Egypt’s governor, until he took a final step to deal with them once and for all.
In 1811, an Egyptian army was prepared for a campaign against the Wahhabis in the Arabian Peninsula. Amidst a lull in tensions between Muhammad Ali Pasha and the Mamluks, the latter were invited to a ceremony in the Cairo Citadel to invest the governor’s son with the army’s command. They accepted, and on the morning of March 1st, 470 Mamluks, dressed in all their ceremonial finery and armed with shining gilded swords, rode their best horses, richly caparisoned, to the Citadel. There, they were warmly greeted in the courtyard by Egypt’s governor. As they were presented with coffee and hookah pipes per hospitality customs, the Pasha struck up casual and friendly conversations with them.
Eventually, Muhammad Ali rose, a signal to end the ceremony. The guests then mounted their horses, and formed in a procession preceded and followed by their host’s troops. It was planned that they would ride through Cairo to be seen by the crowds that lined the streets, until they reached the army’s camp, where a celebratory feast was to be held. The procession slowly made its way down a steep and narrow road that led to the Citadel’s great gate, Bab al Azab. The Pasha’s troops in front exited the Citadel, but soon as the Mamluks reached the gate, it was slammed shut before them. Simultaneously, the troops behind them raced back to close the exit to the rear.
As the procession of Mamluks confined along a narrow path milled about in confusion before the closed Cairo Citadel gate, a signal was given to begin their final eradication. Albanian troops loyal to Muhammad Ali Pasha, placed on the rooftops of nearby buildings that overlooked the trapped Mamluks, opened fire. An eyewitness described what happened next: “It was only moments before the narrow path was crowded with the corpses of men and horses, lying on top of each other, making any movement even more difficult than before. As for the Mamelukes who happened to reach the portal Bab al-Azab, they found it closed and turned back their horses.
But this caused even more chaos amongst the men and horses that were at the top of the incline, and they in turn tried to turn their horses back to the Citadel away from the bullets. However, the infantry spread across the walls opened fire, killing them in droves and the mayhem and horror increased. The Mamelukes soon realized that their horses were useless and so they descended to walk on foot and took off their clothes and finery which only hindered their movements at that terrible time. They started to run, swords and firearms in hand, wanting to meet an enemy to take their revenge for the catastrophe which had befallen them. But they found no-one and the bullets continued to rain down upon them hitting their mark.” That did in the slave soldier dynasty for good. Tales of spooky sightings of anguished and terrified Mamluk ghosts at the Citadel have circulated ever since.
The Spooky Aftermath of the Cairo Citadel Massacre
Of the 470 Mamluks who entered Cairo’s Citadel on March 1st, 1811, only one, Amin Bek, is reported to have survived the massacre. He was at the back of the procession when the gate was slammed shut. As death closed in from all sides, he spurred his horse into a jump from one of the Citadel’s walls, from a height of about 65 feet – equivalent to a modern building’s seventh floor. The horse died, but Amin Bek miraculously survived, and managed to escape to Syria. In the years after the massacre, many spooky tales circulated of encounters at the Cairo Citadel with the tormented ghosts of the slain Mamluks.
The events at the Citadel kicked off an indiscriminate slaughter throughout Egypt. Muhammad Ali Pasha had instructed subordinates throughout the country to be ready. When word arrived, they fanned out to slay any Mamluks they could lay their hands on. In Cairo, the Pasha’s soldiers began to loot Mamluk houses, and by the time order and discipline were restored among the troops, over 500 houses had been pillaged and trashed. A few Mamluk survivors fled south to Nubia, but even that refuge was lost to them in 1820, when the Pasha’s troops invaded and conquered the region. Muhammad Ali had secured the final destruction of Egypt’s Mamluks, and he went on found a dynasty that ruled Egypt until 1952.
Paranoid Fears of a Spooky “Witch” in 1970s America
In the fall of 1969, a high school social studies teacher invited a University of Arizona expert on witchcraft and folklore to give a speech to upperclassmen. The speaker, Dr. Byrd Granger, addressed students of Flowing Wells High School in Tucson, AZ, and gave a presentation about the common traits of witches. According to Dr. Granger, witches like to wear devil’s green, have green or blue eyes, blond hair, a pointed left ear with a node, and a widow’s peak – a V-shaped point in the hairline in the center of a forehead.
As it so happened, there was somebody at the presentation who fit the description. It did not take long before heads swiveled towards Ann Stewart, a Flowing Wells English teacher who had all of those attributes. Few could have predicted the brouhaha that would ensue from that speech. After the witchcraft presentation, Flowing Wells High School students began to tease English teacher Ann Stewart about whether or not she was a witch. In the kids’ interest in the spooky stuff, Mrs. Stewart saw an opportunity to enhance their interest in literature and folklore. As seen below, that did not go well.
This Teacher Thought Spooky Rumors That She Was a Witch Were Lighthearted Fun
As Ann Stewart described it later: “I like to get kids involved. I teach American literature, among other things. Although I’ve never had a unit in the occult, we do delve into early American folklore and witchcraft. It was good fun and it stimulated them“. So she played along with the banter. She never said she was a witch. However, whenever students asked if she was one, she did not deny it. Instead, she replied with a variant of “Well, I have all the signs. What do you think?” What they – and the school administration – thought got her fired.
In 1970, to heighten her students’ interest in literature, Ann Stewart had suggested that they find out what astrology is all about. That further enhanced the rumors about her involvement with the occult. Later that year, a junior high school teacher invited her to speak before her eighth graders about folklore and witchcraft. As part of the presentation, Mrs. Stewart dressed up and played the part of a witch. When those eighth graders arrived in Flowing Wells High School that fall, many of them fueled the rumors that Mrs. Stewart really was a spooky witch.
This Conservative Community Did Not See Witchcraft as Fun and Games
Ann Stewart didn’t think much of the kids’ whispers that their English teacher was a spooky witch, and dismissed it as all in good fun. Unfortunately, Flowing Wells was a particularly conservative community. Many students, their parents, and faculty members at the high school did not get the joke. On November 27th, 1970, Stewart was suspended for: “teaching about witchcraft, having stated that you are a witch in a way that affects students psychologically“. She was also alleged to have been insubordinate, discussed subjects beyond the curriculum, been a bad influence on students, and aggravated other teachers.
The suspension of an American teacher in 1970 for witchcraft became international news. In conservative Flowing Wells, Stewart became a pariah, shunned by neighbors and former friends. She appealed to the school board, but it confirmed the decision to fire her. So she sued in court, and there won on grounds that the board had violated the legal procedures for dismissing a tenured teacher like Stewart. The court ordered her reinstatement, but as of February, 1972, she had not returned to her job, and it is unclear if she ever taught at Flowing Wells again.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading