Informed by postcolonial critique, this article presents an alternative approach to the Napoleonic campaign in Egypt from 1798 to 1801. Focusing on Upper Egypt, it argues that military misfortunes were not the reason behind the rapid failure of the colonizer. Rather, a crisis of images was at work. French experts on the Orient imagined oppressed natives awaiting their liberation and imagined themselves as competent liberators and managers of resources. In reality, the French faced manipulative natives and a holy war, and they had to reinstall the very ancient régime they came to depose. The French brought environmental destruction to Upper Egypt with a massive wave of plague.