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Khedive Ismail Pasha the Magnificent (1830 – 1895)

Ismail Pasha, also known as Khedive Ismail Pasha, was born on December 31, 1830, in Cairo, Egypt, and died on March 2, 1895, in Istanbul, Turkey. He was a prominent ruler during the latter half of the 19th century, playing a significant role in shaping Egypt’s modernization and its relationship with European powers. 

Khedive Ismail Pasha, (1830-1895) – Stamp of Egypt 1945.

Ismail Pasha was the grandson of Muhammad Ali Pasha, the founder of the modern Egyptian state. He received an education influenced by both Egyptian and European traditions, which fostered his interest in modernization and reform. 

In 1863, Ismail Pasha ascended to the position of Khedive, or viceroy, of Egypt, succeeding his uncle Said Pasha. He embarked on an ambitious program of modernization and development, aiming to transform Egypt into a regional power and assert its independence from Ottoman control.

Modernization of Egypt

One of Ismail’s major initiatives was the modernization of Egypt’s infrastructure, including the construction of railways, telegraph lines, and irrigation systems. He also sought to improve education, healthcare, and the military.

Khedive Ismail continued his grandfather’s massive internal reforms by reorganizing the customs system and modernizing the postal system, with the first Egyptian postage stamp issued in 1866.

The first Egyptian postage stamp issued in 1866 during the reign of Khedive Ismail.
The first Egyptian postage stamp issued in 1866 during the reign of Khedive Ismail.

He also boosted the economic growth, by establishing a sugar industry, expanding the cotton industry, modernizing the transportation system, constructing palaces, and keeping an opera and theatre running. He oversaw the construction of a whole new neighbourhood on Cairo’s western fringe, inspired by Paris, and populated by more than 100,000 Europeans. Alexandria saw an improvement as well. As a result of his massive railroad construction initiative, Egypt and Sudan went from having almost no railways to having more railways per kilometre of liveable land than any other country in the world.

During his reign, Ismail Pasha multiplied the education budget by more than ten as a result of school reform. He also established additional technical and vocational schools in addition to the expansion of existing elementary and secondary institutions. The sending of students on educational missions to Europe resumed, with the goal of cultivating an elite educated in Western traditions. He also established a national library in 1871. In 1975 he founded the Royal Egyptian Geographical Society and appointed a German traveller and ethnologist as its first president.

The Financial Crisis

To finance his modernization projects, Ismail Pasha took on substantial foreign loans, primarily from European powers, particularly France and Britain. However, the cost of these projects, combined with economic mismanagement and corruption, led to a severe financial crisis in Egypt.

In 1875, Ismail Pasha’s government sold its shares in the Suez Canal Company to Britain, exacerbating Egypt’s financial woes. This ultimately led to the establishment of British control over the canal and increased European influence in Egypt.

Deposition and Exile

The mounting debt crisis and European intervention sparked discontent among Egyptians and strained Ismail’s relationship with the Ottoman Empire, which had nominal suzerainty over Egypt. In 1879, under pressure from European creditors and the Ottoman Sultan, Ismail Pasha was removed from power and replaced by his son, Tewfik Pasha.

After his deposition, Ismail Pasha lived in exile in Europe, primarily in Istanbul and Paris, where he remained until his death in 1895.

Despite his aspirations for modernization and development, Ismail Pasha’s reign is often remembered for its financial mismanagement and the erosion of Egyptian sovereignty under European influence. Nevertheless, his ambitious projects laid the groundwork for Egypt’s subsequent modernization efforts.

The Egyptian post issued the stamp above in 1945 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of the Khedive Ismail Pasha.

Catalog reference: Yvert & Tellier 234

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