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Ismail Pasha

Ismail PashaBorn: 31-Dec-1830
Birthplace: Cairo, Egypt
Died: 2-Mar-1895
Location of death: Istanbul, Ottoman Empire
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Religion: Muslim
Race or Ethnicity: Middle Eastern
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Royalty

Nationality: Egypt
Executive summary: Khedive of Egypt, 1863-79

Ismail Pasha, Khedive of Egypt, was born at Cairo on the 31st of December 1830, being the second of the three sons of Ibrahim and grandson of Mehemet Ali. After receiving a European education at Paris, where he attended the École d'État-Major, he returned home, and on the death of his elder brother became heir to his uncle, Said Mohammed, the Vali of Egypt. Said, who apparently conceived his own safety to lie in ridding himself as much as possible of the presence of his nephew, employed him in the next few years on missions abroad, notably to the pope, the emperor Napoleon III and the sultan of Turkey. In 1861 he was despatched at the head of an army of 14,000 to quell an insurrection in the Sudan, and this he successfully accomplished.

On the death of Said, on 18th January 1863, Ismail was proclaimed viceroy without opposition. Being of an Orientally extravagant disposition, he found with considerable gratification that the Egyptian revenue was vastly increased by the rise in the value of cotton which resulted from the American Civil War, the Egyptian crop being worth about £25,000,000 instead of £5,000,000. Besides acquiring luxurious tastes in his sojourns abroad, Ismail had discovered that the civilized nations of Europe made a free use of their credit for raising loans. He proceeded at once to apply this idea to his own country by transferring his private debts to the state and launching out on a grand scale of expenditure. Egypt was in his eyes the ruler's estate which was to be exploited for his benefit and his renown. His own position had to be strengthened, and the country provided with institutions after European models. To these objects Ismail applied himself with energy and cleverness, but without any stint of expense. During the 1860s and 1870s Egypt became the happy hunting-ground of self-seeking financiers, to whose schemes Ismail fell an easy and a willing prey. In 1866-67 he obtained from the sultan of Turkey, in exchange for an increase in the tribute, firmans giving him the title of khedive, and changing the law of succession to direct descent from father to son; and in 1873 he obtained a new firman making him to a large extent independent.

Ismail projected vast schemes of internal reform, remodelling the customs system and the post office, stimulating commercial progress, creating a sugar industry, introducing European improvements into Cairo and Alexandria, building palaces, entertaining lavishly and maintaining an opera and a theater. It has been calculated that, of the total amount of debt incurred by Ismail for his projects, about 10% may have been sunk in works of permanent utility -- always excluding the Suez Canal. Meanwhile the opening of the Canal had given him opportunities for asserting himself in foreign courts. On his accession he refused to ratify the concessions to the Canal company made by Said, and the question was referred in 1864 to the arbitration of Napoleon III, who awarded £3,800,000 to the company as compensation for the losses they would incur by the changes which Ismail insisted upon in the original grant. Ismail then used every available means, by his own undoubted powers of fascination and by judicious expenditure, to bring his personality before the foreign sovereigns and public, and he had no little success. He was made G.C.B. in 1867, and in the same year visited Paris and London, where he was received by Queen Victoria and welcomed by the lord mayor; and in 1869 he again paid a visit to England. The result was that the opening of the Canal in November 1869 enabled him to claim to rank among European sovereigns, and to give and receive royal honors: this excited the jealousy of the sultan, but Ismail was clever enough to pacify his overlord.

In 1876 the old system of consular jurisdiction for foreigners was modified, and the system of mixed courts introduced, by which European and native judges sat together to try all civil cases without respect of nationality. In all these years Ismail had governed with éclat and profusion, spending, borrowing, raising the taxes on the fellahin and combining his policy of independence with dazzling visions of Egyptian aggrandizement. In 1874 he annexed Darfur, and was only prevented from extending his dominion into Abyssinia by the superior fighting power of the Abyssinians. But at length the inevitable financial crisis came. A national debt of over one hundred millions sterling (as opposed to three millions when he became viceroy) had been incurred by the khedive, whose fundamental idea of liquidating his borrowings was to borrow at increased interest. The bond-holders became restive. Judgments were given against the khedive in the international tribunals. When he could raise no more loans he sold his Suez Canal shares (in 1875) to Great Britain for £3,976,582; and this was immediately followed by the beginning of foreign intervention. In December 1875, Stephen Cave was sent out by the British government to inquire into the finances of Egypt, and in April 1876 his report was published, advising that in view of the waste and extravagance it was necessary for foreign Powers to interfere in order to restore credit. The result was the establishment of the Caisse de la Dette.

In October Mr. (afterwards Lord) Goschen and M. Joubert made a further investigation, which resulted in the establishment of Anglo-French control. A further commission of inquiry by Major Baring (afterwards Lord Cromer) and others in 1878 culminated in Ismail making over his estates to the nation and accepting the position of a constitutional sovereign, with Nubar as premier, Mr. (afterwards Sir Charles) Rivers Wilson as finance minister, and M. de Blignières as minister of public works. Ismail professed to be quite pleased. "Egypt", he said, "is no longer in Africa; it is part of Europe." The new regime, however, only lasted six months, and then Ismail dismissed his ministers, an occasion being deliberately prepared by his getting Arabi Pasha to foment a military pronunciamiento. England and France took the matter seriously, and insisted (May 1879) on the reinstatement of the British and French ministers; but the situation was no longer a possible one; the tribunals were still giving judgments for debt against the government, and when Germany and Austria showed signs of intending to enforce execution, the governments of Great Britain and France perceived that the only chance of setting matters straight was to get rid of Ismail altogether. He was first advised to abdicate, and a few days afterwards (26th June), as he did not take the hint, he received a telegram from the sultan (who had not forgotten the earlier history of Mehemet Ali's dynasty), addressed to him as ex-khedive, and informing him that his son Tewfik Pasha was his successor. He at once left Egypt for Naples, but eventually was permitted by the sultan to retire to his palace of Emirghian on the Bosporus. There he remained, more or less a state prisoner, until his death on the 2nd of March 1895.

Ismail was a man of undoubted ability and remarkable powers. But beneath a veneer of French manners and education he remained throughout a thorough Oriental, though without any of the moral earnestness which characterizes the better side of Islam. Some of his ambitions were not unworthy, and though his attitude towards western civilization was essentially cynical, he undoubtedly helped to make the Egyptian upper classes realize the value of European education. Moreover, spendthrift as he was, it needed -- as is pointed out in Milner's England in Egypt -- a series of unfortunate conditions to render his personality as pernicious to his country as it actually became. "It needed a nation of submissive slaves, not only bereft of any vestige of liberal institutions, but devoid of the slightest spark of the spirit of liberty. It needed a bureaucracy which it would have been hard to equal for its combination of cowardice and corruption. It needed the whole gang of swindlers -- mostly European -- by whom Ismail was surrounded." It was his early encouragement of Arabi, and his introduction of swarms of foreign concession-hunters, which precipitated the "national movement" that led to British occupation. His greatest title to remembrance in history must be that he made European intervention in Egypt compulsory.

Son: Tewfik Pasha (Khedive of Egypt)

    University: École d'État-Major, Paris, France

    Khedive of Egypt 18-Jan-1863 to 26-Jun-1879


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