24 November 2023

For more than two centuries, Soleyman El-Halebi has carried the burden of an unfinished death. His skeleton, like others, awaits eternal oblivion in the half-light of the reserves of the Musée de l’homme, in Paris, a secure place that he almost never leaves, where a constant temperature and degree of humidity reign. . Strange destiny than his… Recovered by the doctor of the Eastern expedition, Doctor Dominique-Jean Larrey, the skeleton of the young assassin of the French general Jean-Baptiste Kléber, in 1800, in Egypt, finds himself the year next in France. Throughout the 19the century, he accompanies the development of science in his own way, traveling at the pace of the latter, from the first comparative anatomy cabinet of the Natural History Museum, to the Jardin des Plantes, installed near the menagerie, to the first gallery of anthropology, then, from 1937, place du Trocadéro, opposite the Eiffel Tower, at the headquarters of the new Musée de l’homme.

Born in the Syrian city of Aleppo, then under Ottoman domination, probably in 1777, this student of religion who went to war against the French occupiers was executed in Cairo, and therefore reduced to silence, but scientists and writers did not subsequently stopped speaking for him. The first wanted to see on his skull the “bumps” of ” crime “ and “fanaticism” who predestined him, the son of a butter merchant, to this disastrous fate according to the thuriferous of a theory then in vogue. The latter locked him in a character of ” Syrian fanatic », the term used in the notice that accompanies it in the windows where it is exhibited, thus contributing to a disturbing orientalist imagination.

On his lands of origin, no one was moved, at the time, by his post-mortem fate; a disinterest it is true old. At the time of Kléber’s assassination, his gesture did not seem to arouse much support on the spot. In any case, not that of Abd Al-Rahman Al-Jabarti, whose Diary of a notable in Cairo during the French expeditionpublished shortly after the events, evokes the episode of the assassination. Fearing that he would lead to reprisals against the entire Cairo population, which had already risen a few months earlier against the French occupiers, this bourgeois took care to insist on the origins of the assassin. A “Alepin”A “Syrian”, “simple and bounded”, he insists. In other words, a stranger.

No mercy

His atrocious torture – impaled to his last breath – inspires no pity in the notable. The latter prefers to dwell on the procedure that led to his death. Neither he nor those who were arrested on his instructions were immediately executed. (…). Much more, (the French) set up a jury and a tribunal, summoned the murderer, repeated questions and interrogations to him, sometimes verbally, sometimes under torture (…). They then carried out the sentence of the jury, such as the deliberation of the court had fixed it. », he seems surprised. Abd Al-Rahman Al-Jabarti opposes this formalism to the behavior of the Ottomans, the previous masters of Egypt: “These thugs of soldiers who call themselves Muslims, call themselves warriors of the holy war and whom we see indulging in massacres and ruin (…) for the satisfaction of their animal passions. »

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