In March 1798, Napoleon proposed a military expedition to seize Egypt, then a province of the Ottoman Empire, seeking to protect French trade interests and undermine Britain's access to the British Raj in India. The Directory, although troubled by the scope and cost of the enterprise, readily agreed to the plan in order to remove the popular general from the center of power.
Napoleon raised a large army including scientists and cultural experts, and sailed from Toulon on May 19. An unusual aspect of the Egyptian expedition was the inclusion of a large group of scientists assigned to the French expeditionary force: among their discoveries was the finding of the Rosetta Stone, which proved to be the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics. This deployment of intellectual resources is considered by some an indication of Bonaparte's devotion to the principles of the Enlightenment, and by others as a masterstroke of propaganda, obfuscating the true imperialist motives of the invasion.
In a largely unsuccessful effort to gain the support of the Egyptian populace, Bonaparte also issued proclamations casting himself as a liberator of the people from Ottoman oppression, and praising the precepts of Islam.