General Bonaparte enters Cairo
Napoleon was impressed by the city of 600,000 inhabitants that was as big as Paris and the largest in Africa. As usual, he was a whirlwind of activity during his short stay in Cairo. In every district of Cairo, of which there were 16, Napoleon created a divan, or council, consisting of local dignitaries. Local divans would send a representative to the Grand Divan. Napoleon wanted to introduce the Egyptians to the progressive ideas of assembly and government. He therefore gave the divans some powers over justice and administration.
The general himself participated in the meetings of the Grand Divan and appeared to the onlookers jolly and full of ideas. Napoleon established a postal system, street lighting and cleaning services, a coach service between Cairo and Alexandria, a mint and a rational tax system that, in contrast to the Mamluks’ government, didn’t bleed the Egyptian peasants to death. He also abolished feudalism, replacing it with the rule by the divans, set up a new French trading company, built modern plague hospitals and produced Egypt’s first printed books. These reforms were undertaken through Napoleon’s own initiative without any involvement from the Directory.