The invention of photography in the 19th century came at a time of major developments in the Near and Middle East. So it is not out of place here to recall them so that the context of the development of photography in this region may be better understood.
In 1799 the study of Egyptology took a great leap forward thanks to a discovery of great importance. A French officer came across the famous Rosetta Stone, which made possible the deciphering of the hieroglyphics. Although the stone was taken by the British and Thomas Young had begun to decipher it, it was the French historian Jean François Champollion who finally completed the study, in 1822.
In 1812, Petra and Abu Simbel were effectively explored by the Swiss Johan Ludwig Buckhardt.
The first regular shipping line between Marseille and Alexandria started operation in 1835.
In 1859, Ferdinand de Lesseps (1805-1894) began the piercing of the Suez Canal, which entered into service ten years later following an official international ceremony under the patronage of the Empress of France, the Emperor of Austria and the Crown Princes of Prussia and Denmark. So the lines of communication, transport and commerce were greatly shortened.
Jerusalem, which up till then had aroused little interest apart from its Holy Places, developed as an international center. The British were the first to open a consular office there, in 1833, followed by the Prussians in 1842, the French in 1843, the Americans in 1844, the Austrians in 1845, and the Russians in 1858. In 1837 the Turkish postal services began to operate from Palestine and the first telegraphic service in the region was installed in Jerusalem in 1865.
In 1881, the first wave of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe arrived in Palestine, among them photographers.
During the 19th century, there were two ways of corresponding in the Ottoman Empire. There was the Turkish Post Office, slow and not very reliable, and there were the various post offices opened by the foreign powers. The most efficient ones were that of Austria, backed by Lloyd’s maritime Austriaco, and that of France. It was in this way that the French postal service established itself in the Ottoman Empire from 1830 on. This implantation was basically meant to make up for the shortcomings of the Turkish postal service and to improve the postal communications necessary for the smooth functioning of the French and other European enterprises and commercial operations set up in the main ports around the Mediterranean. Among the first five post offices installed between 1830 and 1849 was that of Beirut, in 1845. The stamps affixed on the letters were those of the countries running the post offices, and the stamped mail was carried regularly by the frigates anchoring off the Grand Hôtel d’Orient (hôtel Bassoul) near the present Hotel Phoenicia.
In the 19th century Britain and France had little difficulty extending their influence over the Levant, for although the Ottomans had been ruling there for three centuries, they had imposed neither their language nor their civilization, and had never imposed their culture over the Near East. What was more, they openly despised the local populations. Consequently, the rule of the countries of Western Europe had much more influence than that of the Ottomans. France spread its influence over Egypt, Lebanon and Syria through its commercial and cultural activities and through its social and cultural services. Great Britain was more concerned with the work of its missionaries and the extension of Protestant influence. One of the principal aims of these missionaries was the conversion of the local populations, the Jews in the Holy Land, particularly in Jerusalem, the Druze in Mount Lebanon, and the Greek Orthodox in Beirut, with financial aid for those who were converted. The limited success they met with in their mission seems today to be a proof of the difficult conditions of survival in the region.
At first, France was more successful in spreading its influence over the area. Britain, being preoccupied by its colonial efforts in India, was less concerned with the Near East. Further, the attitude of the French towards the local peoples proved more agreeable to them than that of the British.
During the second half of the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire, called by the Europeans the Sick Man of Europe, was crumbling on every front. This weakening of the Empire was due to several factors.
-As a result of the participation of France together with Great Britain during the Crimean War (1851-1853), Sultan Abdel-Magid was obliged to grant certain privileges to the non-Muslim inhabitants of his empire and to strengthen the reformist current in conformity with European conceptions.
-During the 1870s, the internal situation in Egypt deteriorated. The country was bankrupt and the Panislamic nationalist movements opposed to westernization became more numerous and violent. The condominium established by Paris and London over the finances of the Khedive provoked strong nationalist agitation which led up to the military revolt led by Arabi Pasha in 1882 and on June 11th to the massacre of some sixty Europeans in Alexandria. One month later, the British Navy bombarded Alexandria and then made landings there. In September, the British forces finally sent an expeditionary corps to occupy the whole of Egypt.