MUBASHIRUN, title of the leading Coptic officials in the Egyptian tax administration during the French occupation of Egypt (1798- 1801).
"Mubashirun" (sing. mubashir, steward) and katabah (sing. katib, secretary), were names given in Mamluk and Osmanli Egypt to employees in the ruznamah (state financial administration) and in the domain of the Mamluk and native ruling class. In the second half of the eighteenth century, these posts were held predominantly by Copts. In particular, the Mamluk beys employed Copts as agents. Usually they had a whole staff of secretaries. At their head was the ra’is al-kataba (chief secretary) or katib awwal (first secretary). There was, as a rule, beside him a katib yadd as chief assistant. In addition there was a katib al-‘aliq (secretary for fodder), who had the task of providing for the horses in the stables of the Mamluk household, a katib al-makhlah (bookkeeper), in charge of disbursements within the house, a katib al-khazinah (secretary of the exchequer), who kept watch on the treasury, and a special sarraf (money changer) competent for all calculations and questions of money. To these were added the employees who worked in the assessment and collection of taxes on the bey's estates, among them the sayarif (sing. sarraf, tax collector) or jubat (sing. jabi, tax collector), the massahun (sing. massah, surveyor), and the ‘ummal (sing. ‘amil, agent).
The first secretaries of the leading Mamluk beys attained considerable political, economic, and social influence in the second half of the eighteenth century; above them all was the katib of the ruling shayk al-balad of Cairo, the bey, who de facto exercised authority over Egypt. This Coptic secretary was at the same time head of the corporation of all Coptic secretaries and tax collectors. He was designated as ra’is al-katabah al-aqbat bi-Misr (chief of the Coptic secretaries of Egypt) or kabir al-mubashirin bi-al-diyar al-misriyyah (chief of the administrative officials of Egypt). As an influential member of the Coptic upper class, he was generally treated as political representative of the Copts as a whole, and also simply called kabir or ra’is al-aqbat (leader of the Copts). In the second half of the eighteenth century the holders of this post were Mu‘allim (master) Rizq, the katib of ‘Ali Bey al-Kabir (1755-1772), IBRAHIM AL-JAWHARI, and his brother JIRJIS AL-JAWHARI, both secretaries of Ibrahim Bey (1775-1798). With the increasing control over the sultan's financial administration that the Mamluk beys secured for themselves, the Coptic secretaries also gained access to these key posts in the administration of Egypt. (The office of the kabir al-mubashirin is not to be confused with that of the sarraf bashi or chief money-changer, the leader of the corporation of the public money-changers, to which native Christians and Muslims belonged as well as many Jews.)
When the French occupied Egypt in 1798 and expelled the Mamluks, they could easily dispense with the Osmanli personnel of the ruznamah, who for the most part had taken flight, because they had available in the Coptic secretaries administrators familiar with the secrets of Egyptian tax and financial administration and ready to cooperate. Napoleon left to this corporation the calculation and collection of taxes on agriculture, which made up the major part of Egyptian tax income, and appointed Jirjis al-Jawhari as intendant général. This title from the French administration of the Ancien Régime was considered an equivalent of kabir al-mubashirin.
The complete administrative staff of the comptroller general comprised some 100 employees: thirteen provincial comptrollers, four of them at the rank of comptroller general, each of whom had as assistants two chief secretaries and four other tax collectors, and some collaborators in the central office of the comptroller general in Cairo. These official employees, paid by the treasury, used to employ further collaborators and subordinates at their own expense. They paid them from the side income which they were accustomed to make in the collection of taxes, although the French for the most part regarded this as illegal.
Jirjis al-Jawhari held the position of responsible leader of the tax administration until the treaty of al-‘Arish came into effect in February 1800. After the failure of this agreement and the reconquest of Egypt, Jirjis al-Jawhari lost his status of pre-eminence to Ya‘qub Hanna. However, he remained one of the five comptrollers general, alongside Ya‘qub Hanna and his colleagues, Filta’us Malati and Antun Abu Taqiyyah. It is not known whether his function as ra’is al-katabah also passed to Ya‘qub. Since the latter left Egypt with the French, Jirjis al-Jawhari in time regained his former prominent position in the Egyptian tax and financial administration.
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