Ismail was a visionary leader who had his own dreams for a modern
European-style Egypt, just like his grandfather, Mohamed
Few years after this accession to the throne, Ismail tried to gain
independence by bribing Ottoman
officials and doubling the tribute sent to the Ottoman Porte.
His efforts were reaped in gaining the right of primogeniture instead
of seniority in the inheritance of rule. Ismail was also granted the
title of Khedive,
a Persian title that means prince, in 1867. This was to differentiate
his autonomy from other Ottoman provinces.
The same year saw the start of the postal services.
In 1869 Suez Canal
was inaugurated in a splendid ceremony. The canal, which claimed the
life of 100 thousand Egyptian diggers and overburdened the economy,
was now to add to Egypt's strategic position. Ismail invited dignitaries
like Empress Eugenie of France, princes of Prussia, Sweden, Hesse
and Netherlands, and many other distinguished guests.
imaginary scene of the digging of Suez Canal
Ismail had well prepared for the ceremony. He built palaces in the
new cities along the canal. He paved roads for the procession of the
dignitaries and lightened them.
An opera house was built for that occasion and famous Italian composer
Giuseppe Verdi was assigned to compose his famous masterpiece Aida
but since costumes could not be ready in time Rigoletto was performed
Ismail put the country on show, inviting guests to lavish banquets
and splendid balls. This cost him millions and encumbered the country
with more debts.
And in 1873 Ismail's efforts with the Ottoman sultan -aimed at
gaining more concessions- were paid off by an Ottoman decree to
grant him virtual autonomy.
Ismail, who embarked upon the second modernization wave of the country
after Mohamed Ali, built residential quarters in Cairo
of European style, installing all up-to-date infrastructures like
Ismail also realized the importance of education so he re-sent educational
delegations to Europe, particularly France, and reopened secular
Also because of his efforts, the Egyptian
museum and the Geographical Society were opened in Egypt.
Ismail also introduced an administration reform. He had some interest
in agriculture so he expanded irrigation canals and extended the
system to the Suez Canal, bringing water to the new canal cities.
Massive projects were executed to modernize the infrastructure by
building bridges, paving roads and expanding railway lines.
So much money was spent by Ismail to finance his modernization
schemes, which the country couldn't really afford. Ismail, however,
did secure large amounts of loans from major European banks and
imposed heavy taxes on the people to meet his ambitious plans.
Unfortunately his endless visions led to the eventual bankrupcy
of the state and in 1877 Ismail couldn't even pay the interests
of his debts so had to sell Egypt's shares in the Suez Canal to
the British government.
The next year an institution called Caisse de la Dette Public was
formed by the creditors to provide direct European management on
Egypt's finances. The body was representing the chief bondholding
countries. Besides, a Dual Control of Britain and France was set
up in order to supervise the revenues and expenditures of the state.
By pressures from the creditors, Ismail had accepted the entity
of the British and French in key ministries in his cabinet in 1878.
Meanwhile, the 'European' cabinet caused an outrage among the army
officers and this was one reason the first nationalist grouping,
Al-Hezb Al-Watani, was formed in 1879. This signaled a dissatisfaction
feeling with the government controlled by foreigners.
Consequently, Ismail dismissed the European cabinet in April.
Europeans finally put pressure on the Ottoman sultan to depose
Ismail, which was finally done in June 1879. He was instantly succeeded
by his son Tawfik who had fewer
qualities and abilities than his father who died later in exile
in Istanbul in 1895.