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Isma'il Pasha (Ismail Paşa in Turkish), known as Ismail the Magnificent ( ) (December 31, 1830 – March 2, 1895), was Wāli and subsequently Khedive of Egyptmarker and Sudanmarker from 1863 until he was removed at the behest of the British in 1879. While in power he greatly modernized Egypt and Sudan, but also put the country heavily in debt. His philosophy can be glimpsed in a statement he made in 1879: "My country (Egypt) is no longer in Africa; we are now part of Europe. It is therefore natural for us to abandon our former ways and to adopt a new system adapted to our social conditions."


Ismail, of Albanian descent, was born in Cairomarker at Al Musafir Khana Palacebeing the second of the three sons of Ibrahim Pasha and grandson of Muhammad Ali. His mother was Hoshiar (Khushiyar), third wife of his father. She was reportedly a sister of Pertevniyal Valide Sultan (1812 - 1883). Pertevniyal was a wife of Mahmud II of the Ottoman Empire and mother of Abdülaziz I.

Youth and education

After receiving a European education in 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 I, the Wāli of Egypt and Sudan. 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 Ottoman Empire. In 1861 he was dispatched at the head of an army of 18,000 to quell an insurrection in Sudanmarker, and this he successfully accomplished.

Khedive of Egypt

After the death of Said, Ismail was proclaimed Wāli on January 19, 1863. Like all Egyptian rulers since his grandfather Muhammad Ali, he claimed the higher title of Khedive, which the Ottoman Porte had consistently refused to sanction. However, in 1867, Ismai'l succeeded in persuading the Ottoman Sultan Abdülâziz to grant a firman finally recognizing him as Khedive in exchange for an increase in the tribute. Another firman changed the law of succession to direct descent from father to son rather than brother to brother, and a further decree in 1873 confirmed Egypt's virtual independence from the Porte.


Ismail launched vast schemes of internal reform on the scale of his grandfather, remodeling the customs system and the post office, stimulating commercial progress, creating a sugar industry, building palaces, entertaining lavishly and maintaining an opera and a theatre. He greatly expanded Cairomarker, building an entire new city on its western edge modeled on Paris. Alexandriamarker was also improved. He launched a vast railroad building project that saw Egypt and Sudan rise from having virtually none to the most railways per habitable kilometer of any nation in the world.

Isma'il Pasha Statue in Alexandria, Egypt

One of his most significant achievements was to establish an assembly of delegates in November 1866. Though this was supposed to be a purely advisory body, its members eventually came to have an important influence on governmental affairs. Village headmen dominated the assembly and came to exert increasing political and economic influence over the countryside and the central government. This was shown in 1876, when the assembly persuaded Ismail to reinstate the law (enacted by him in 1871 to raise money and later repealed) that allowed landownership and tax privileges to persons paying six years' land tax in advance.

Ismail tried to reduce slave trading and extended Egypt's rule in Africa. In 1874 he annexed Darfurmarker, but was prevented from expanding into Ethiopiamarker after his army was repeatedly defeated by Emperor Yohannes IV, first at Gundat 16 November 1875, and again at Gura in March of the following year.

War with Ethiopia

Ismail dreamt of expanding his realm over the whole Nile including its diverse sources and over the whole African coast of the Red Seamarker. This, together with rumours about rich raw material and fertile soil, led Ismail to expansive policies directed against Ethiopiamarker under the Emperor Yohannes IV. In 1865 the Ottoman Sublime Porte ceded the Ottoman Province of Habesh (with Massawamarker and Sawakin at the Red Sea as the main cities of that province) to Ismail. This province, neighbor of Ethiopia, first consisted of a coastal strip only, but expanded subsequently inland into territory controlled by the Ethiopian ruler. Here Ismail occupied regions originally claimed by the Ottomans when they had established the province (eyaleti) of Habesh in the 16th century. New economically-promising projects, like huge cotton plantations in the Barka, were started. In 1872 Bogos (with the city of Keren) was annexed by the governor of the new "Province of Eastern Sudan and the Red Sea Coast", Werner Munzinger Pasha. In October 1875 Ismail's army occupied the adjacent highlands of Hamasienmarker, which were then tributary to the Ethiopian Emperor. In November this army was virtually annihilated during the battle of Gundet near the Mereb river. In March 1876 Ismail's army again suffered a dramatic defeat after an attack by Yohannes's army at Gura'. Ismail's son Hassan was captured by the Ethiopians and only released after a large ransom. This was followed by a long cold war, only finishing in 1884 with the Anglo-Egyptian-Ethiopian Hewett Treaty, when Bogos was given back to Ethiopia. The Red Sea Province created by Ismail and his governor Munzinger Pasha was taken over by the Italians shortly thereafter and became the territorial basis for the Colonia Eritreamarker (proclaimed in 1890).

Suez Canal

Ismail's khedivate is closely connected to the building of the Suez Canalmarker. He agreed to, and oversaw, the Egyptian portion of its construction. 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 much success. In 1867 he visited Paris and London, where he was received by Queen Victoria and welcomed by the Lord Mayor. Whilst in England he also saw a Royal Navy Fleet Review with the Ottoman Sultan. In 1869 he again paid a visit to England. When the canal finally opened, Ismail held a festival of unprecedented scope, inviting dignitaries from around the world.


These developments - especially the costly war with Ethiopia - left Egypt in deep debt to the European powers, and they used this position to wring concessions out of Ismail. One of the most unpopular among Egyptians was the new system of mixed courts, by which Europeans were tried by judges from their own nation. But at length the inevitable financial crisis came. A national debt of over one hundred million pounds 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 the British Government for only £ 3,976,582; 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, George Goschen and Joubert made a further investigation, which resulted in the establishment of Anglo-French control over finances and the government. A further commission of inquiry by Major Baring (afterwards 1st Earl of 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, Charles Rivers Wilson as finance minister, and de Blignières as minister of public works.

Urabi Revolt and exile

This control of the country was unacceptable to many Egyptians, who united behind a disaffected Colonel Ahmed Urabi. The Urabi Revolt consumed Egypt. Hoping the revolt could relieve him of European control, Ismail did little to oppose Urabi and gave into his demands to dissolve the government. The British Empire and Francemarker took the matter seriously, and insisted in May 1879 on the reinstatement of the British and French ministers. With the country largely in the hands of Urabi, Ismail could not agree, and had little interest in doing so. As a result, the British and Frenchmarker governments pressured the Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamid II to depose Ismail Pasha, and this was done on June 26, 1879. The more pliable Tewfik Pasha, Ismail's son, was made his successor. Ismail Pasha left Egypt and initially went into exile to Naplesmarker, but was eventually permitted by Sultan Abdülhamid II to retire to his Palace of Emirgan on the Bosporusmarker in Istanbulmarker. There he remained, more or less a state prisoner, until his death. He was later buried in Cairomarker.



  1. Musafirkhana Palace, Cairo, Egypt : Reviews of Musafirkhana Palace - Yahoo! Travel
  2. Christopher Buyers, "The Muhammad 'Ali Dynasty Genealogy"
  3. Non European Royalty Website, entry:"Egypt"
  4. "Women in Power" 1840-1870, entry: "1863-79 Valida Pasha Khushiyar of Egypt"
  5. Rulers from the House of Mohammed Aly
  6. Historic photo of the Khedive Ismail Pasha Palace (Hıdiv İsmail Paşa Sarayı) that once stood in the Emirgan district of Istanbul, on the shores of the Bosporus.

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