I drove to the edge of the city, where new houses and freshly cut roads edged into fields of maize. “Here,” my guide said, “this is the battlefield.” We scanned the horizon, then climbed atop the car and looked again. There! In the distance thumbnail-size trian¬gles, dark gray in the haze. Fighting here, Napoleon had exhorted his men by referring to those distant pyramids: “Soldiers, 40 cen¬turies look down on you!”
The enemy was a pushover: The Mamluk horsemen, gorgeously enrobed, heavily armed, fought in medieval fashion. Thou¬sands of the enemy died, 30 Frenchmen.
“The coming of Napoleon was a shock to us,” a Cairo University professor said. “Be¬fore, we thought what we had was the best in the world, and that we were the masters of everything. We thought of ourselves not as nations but as Muslims; we lived in the Mus¬lim home, Darul-Islam; everything else was the place of the infidels.
“If we were defeated, the reason must be first that we had forgotten the ways of God, committed sin; and God had sent these peo¬ple to punish us. Later we understood that the reason for our defeat was the difference between the medieval and modern world. We began to watch the French: their courts, their doctors, even their cabarets.
“This is what was behind the so-called modernization of our country in the 19th century. The English would occupy us later, but the French stayed in our minds: the idea of the French Revolution, their manners, their language. To this day the old ladies of our elite class speak French.”
If Napoleon shocked Egypt, he would himself receive a shock there. An officer confided to him what most others knew:
Josephine was unfaithful; she was often seen in Paris with a dashing and amusing young hussar, Hippolyte Charles. “I have great private unhappiness,” Napoleon wrote to brother Joseph, “the veil has at last quite fal¬len from my eyes.”
From this time he seemed to become more brutal. On a campaign into Syria he ordered the massacre of 3,000 prisoners of war at Jaf¬fa; when that campaign proved unsuccess¬ful, he slipped away from Egypt, leaving his stranded army under the command of an¬other general—who was so informed only after Napoleon left.