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Spanish Founder of the Egyptian Artillery Academy

The following article appeared in the Egyptian Gazette, February 18, 1997. It is represented here exactly as the author wrote. To see the original periodical click here: Feature article of The Egyptian Gazette, 2/18/97 (link is no longer available)

 

The Spanish Founder of the Egyptian Artillery Academy

DON ANTONIO DE SEQUERA Y CARVAJAL

 

Samir Raafat

The Egyptian Gazette, Tuesday, February 18, 1997

 

Don Antonio de Sequera y Carvajal, a descendant of Christopher Columbus, was born in Granada in January 1789. But unlike the fate of his ancestor which took him west to discover the Americas, Don Antonio’s destiny took him east, to the land where it all began thousands of years ago. Perhaps Their Majesties, the King and Queen of Spain, who are visiting Egypt this week, do not realize that thanks in part to this valiant Spaniard, Egypt very nearly brought the Ottoman Empire to its knees.

 

The King and Queen of Spain are in town on a state visit. Our country is not new to either royal, for King Juan Carlos paid us a state visit in 1977 during the Sadat era, while Queen Sofia, has fond childhood memories of Egypt such as the English Girl’s College, the Benachi mansion in Alexandria, the Couterelli beach cabin at Sidi Bishr No. 2 and the Mena House Hotel. It was in Egypt that the Greek royal family took refuge during part of WW-II. Active in social affairs, Doña Sofía returned several times at the head of humanitarian and cultural delegations. She is also an honorary board member of the UNESCO-sponsored Alexandria Library.

 

Rather than fill this page with stories about the political ties between Egypt and Spain such as the Madrid Conference that launched the peace process, the arrival of Spanish diplomat Miguel Angel Maratinos and his EU team of peacemakers, the Euro-Mediterranean Barcelona Conference, or about those excellent bilateral relations between Spain and Egypt that go back such a long way, I could elaborate on how one of the biggest players in our oil sector is Spain’s Repsol. I can also tell you about the successful joint venture between Egypt’s Banque Misr and Spain’s Banco Exterior. It’s offspring, Bank Misr Exterior has been in business since 1980, promoting infinite commercial transactions between our two countries, from electric grids to financing short term trade. According to seöor Alvargonzales, Misr Exterior’s Spanish managing-director, his institution is today the 5th largest bank in Egypt. But all this you can read about in the editorials and related press releases in the other dailies.

 

One should not forget the Spanish cultural institute with branches in both Cairo and Alexandria. How many of its Egyptian alumni have mastered the language of Cervantes thanks to its excellent facilities. Egyptian Hispanists are often rewarded with scholarships to Spain where they can further their language skills while making time to visit the splendors of Granada, Cordoba and Sevilla, all three legacies from the Spanish Arabs. Yes, and many of us love Don Quixote and of late, have learned to dance the Macarena.

 

On a historical note, how can we deny that the guest of honor at the opening of the Suez Canal in September 1869, was the Spanish born aristocrat, Eugenie de Montijo y Teba, that beautiful woman who had smitten our Khedive even though she was already spoken for as the wife of the Emperor of the French. It was Empress Eugenie’s relation, Ferdinand de Lesseps, who master-minded the whole Suez Canal affair bringing this mammoth engineering task to a successful completion. De Lesseps was himself half Spanish through his Teba grandparents.

 

And there are those well-to-do Egyptians who, along with the world’s jet setters, have found their way to Costa del Sol and Majorca making it a habit of summering there each year, while thousands of Spanish tourists visit Egypt each year sometimes traveling on the katr al-isbani” (Spanish train) between Cairo and Alexandria . Lastly, as an active campaigner to save our colonial architectural heritage, I can fill this page with words of praise for the Spanish Embassy in Cairo which has so graciously restored Zamalek’s Villa Marcel HÚnon on Ismail Mohammed Street, turning it into one of the smartest chanceries in town. From all of us who do care about our heritage, muchas gracias amigos for setting this wonderful precedent.

 

I will however relate to you something you don’t know, and that is that Egypt’s first artillery academy was created by a Spaniard. His name? Don Antonio de Sequera y Carvajal, a descendant of the Christopher Columbus.

 

Very early in his life and as befitting a member of his caste, Don Antonio joined the Spanish military academy in 1802 as a cadet in the Royal College of Artillery. He remained there for all of three years. Soon after he graduated, Don Antonio was put to task when Spain was sucked into a long, drawn out war with its formidable neighbor to the north. Following his Egyptian and Italian campaigns, General Napoleon Bonaparte turned to the Iberian Peninsula where he would eventually place his elder brother, Joseph, on the throne of the Spanish Borb÷ns (ancestors of our royal guests).

 

As happens in times of political and military defeat, regiments are invariably disbanded, chiefs of staffs de-commissioned and new governments propped up. Former officers often find themselves either in exile or in the service of foreign armies, doing what they know best: fighting or training others to do so.

 

At about the time when Don Antonio was out of a job, Egypt was in a state of perpetual war with its neighbors. The country’s ‘caudillo,’ Mohammed Ali Pasha, was in the process of founding modern Egypt. A military man, the pasha was forever exploring ways to improve and modernize his Nizam al-Jedid or army. He had no qualms about using French, American or German expertise. Why not Spaniards? Hadn’t they valiantly fought against the Frenchman who temporarily occupied Egypt.

 

At the recommendation of two of his Spanish recruits, RafaÚl JimÚnez and Don Agusto Rubio (who later became Ibrahim Aga), Mohammed Ali Pasha employed Don Antonio in 1829. Upon arrival in Egypt, Don Antonio, was conferred with the Ottoman military grade of Amiralai (Colonel) and placed under the command of Mohammed Ali’s eldest son, General Ibrahim Pasha. Don Antonio’s first priority was to create an artillery school based along the lines of his alma mater.

 

The Egyptian version of El Colegio de Cuerpo was located in the small Nile town of Torah south of Cairo. Assisting him were JimÚnez and Rubio; Don Antonio needed all the help he could get with a mostly unruly collection of Turkish recruits from the elementary school of Kasr al-Aini. Nevertheless, in one year, the Spaniard proved his metal and the first batch of artillery soldiers graduated from his new academy.

 

Besides target practice, using rifle and canon, the cadets learned mechanics, maths, strategic fortification as well as a spatter of French, Italian and English. Meanwhile, Don Antonio learned Arabic and supervised the translation of several military manuals.

 

The first graduates saw military action in Syria in 1833. They did the Pasha and their Spanish instructor proud. In his book Egypt Under Mohammed Ali, Prince (Herman Ludwig) Pueckler-Muskau of Germany gave high marks to the artillery cadets and their instructor Colonel Antonio Sequera. “Out of 48 marksmen, 28 got bulls’ eyes at a distance of 700 meters,” writes Muskau.

 

But it is from an anonymous report domiciled in Spain, published recently by Instituto Diego de Colmenares that we learn the in June 1883, Viceroy Mohammed Ali paid a visit to the Artillery Academy in Torah accompanied by his son Ibrahim Pasha and the usual retinue of courtiers and foreign consuls. The Viceroy was so pleased with the organization, discipline and cleanliness of the academy that he expressed his desire to see all the other academies emulate the one on hand. The Viceroy expressed his regretts for not being young enough to join the artillery academy himself.

 

During another visit, the Viceroy witnessed military maneuvers and war games using live ammunition. Eight batteries were on display. Later in the year, Mohammed Ali Pasha discussed with Don Antonio the possibility of sending his navy’s cannoneers to the academy for additional training -- between March 29 and July, Egypt had launched four frigates: “Acre”, “Homs”, “Menouf” and “Baylan”.

 

Such was the pleasure of Mohammed Ali that henceforth, Don Antonio was asked to report directly to the pasha himself, thus circumventing his direct superior, the French-born Soliman al-Fransawi Pasha, with whom relations had always been strained. The Spanish-speaking British consul-general, Colonel P. Campbell, who had served in Spain and rewarded with the Cross of San Fernando & Carlos III, congratulated Don Antonio for his achievements. He restated that it was thanks to the Artillery Academy and the excellent performance of its cadets that muezzins (preachers) from Acre to Damascus, Aleppo, Homs and Konya sang the praise from their lofty minarets on how Mohammed Ali’s armies and artillery defeated the Turks.

 

When Mohammed Ali revisited the academy in April 1834, he awarded Don Antonio a diamond studded decoration and the rank of Lewa (General) which carried with it the honorific title of Bey. The head of the Artillery Academy was henceforth addressed as ‘Sequera Bey’. The Turkish and French officials who accompanied Mohammed Ali on his trip, deeply resented the pasha’s glowing admiration of his favorite officer. As was customary in these envy-charged situations, a series of palace intrigues followed to the detriment of an already homesick Don Antonio. King Fernando VII of Spain had passed away and Don Antonio’s friends in Spain were beckoning him to return. Morover, their appeals coincided with the death of Don Antonio’s wife, Doöa Mercedes PÚrez de Lema.

 

His decision made, Don Antonio resigned his functions shortly after the burial of his wife, by a Jesuit priest, in Matariah near Shagaret Mariam, the tree under which Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus are said to have rested during their flight into Egypt. A disappointed Mohammed Ali Pasha attempted to no avail to deter Don Antonio from leaving, offering him a promotion and a raise, both of which were courteously declined. By then, Don Antonio was making 11,000 piasters per month, the approximate equivalent of 110 English pounds, a generous sum in those days.

 

According to a contemporary Egyptian biographer, the academy’s golden days were slowly coming to an end. In 1847, ten years after Don Antonio’s departure, the academy - under the administration of a Colonel Ahmed Bahgat -- was shut down. Mohammed Ali’s reign ended the following year.

 

 

 

You can contact the author of

this article at samir@ottawa.com

 

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