From Intervention to Occupation, 1876-82
Seriously concerned with the country's financial situation,
Ismail asked for British help in fiscal reform. Britain responded
by sending Steven Cave, a member of Parliament, to investigate.
Cave judged Egypt to be solvent on the basis of its resources and
said that all the country needed to get back on its feet was time
and the proper servicing of the debts. Cave recommended the
establishment of a control commission over Egypt's finances to
approve all future loans.
European creditors, however, would not allow Egypt time. When
Ismail suspended payment of interest on the loans in 1875, his
creditors in Britain and France appointed two men to represent
their interests and negotiate new arrangements with the khedive.
The Goschen-Joubert Mission achieved three things: the
consolidation of the debt; the appointment of two European
controllers, one British and one French; and the establishment of
the Caisse de la Dette Publique, a special department with
representatives from the various European creditor states to
ensure the service of the debt. Revenue from the most productive
provinces went straight to the department, and by 1877 more than
60 percent of all Egyptian revenue went to service the national
Although Egypt serviced the debt faithfully, European
intervention increased. At the insistence of the French, a
commission of inquiry was appointed in 1878 to examine all
sources of revenue and expenditure. The commission had the right
to ask any Egyptian official or government deputy to testify
before it and to subpoena all records. Such powers implied the
dilution of Egyptian sovereignty by Europeans.
The commission report indicted the khedival government and
suggested limiting Ismail's power as a first step in solving the
country's financial problems. The khedive accepted the
commission's conditions, including a cabinet containing Europeans
and the principle of ministerial responsibility. He appointed
Nubar Pasha as prime minister and asked him to form a government
containing two Europeans. Many Europeans were appointed at high
salaries in various government departments; thirty British
officers were appointed to the Land Survey Department alone.
Ismail was also forced to delegate governmental responsibility to
his cabinet, which was made independent of the khedive and
responsible for the administration of the country.
Opposition to European intervention in Egypt's internal
affairs emerged from the Assembly of Delegates, which Ismail had
created in 1866, and from the Egyptian army officers. The
assembly, composed mainly of Egyptian notables, had no
legislative power. It was Ismail's attempt to associate the
Egyptian notables with his financial policies, and thus, to
demonstrate support for his taxes and foreign loans. The presence
of Egyptian officers in the army resulted from the 1854 decree of
Said, who ordered the sons of village notables to join the army.
Said allowed them to be trained as officers and to rise to the
rank of colonel, but the top posts in the army continued to be
held by members of the Turco-Circassian elite.
The Assembly of Delegates, meeting between January and July
1879, demanded more control over financial matters and
accountability of the European ministers to the assembly. At the
same time, a group of Egyptian army officers who opposed the
mixed cabinet protested the placing of 2,500 officers on half-
pay. A group of army officers marched on the Ministry of Finance
and occupied the building. Only the personal intervention of the
khedive, who was suspected of instigating the incident, saved the
situation. At this point, Ismail realized that he could use both
the assembly and the army officers to rid himself of foreign
In April 1879, Ismail's opportunity came. Under foreign
pressure, Ismail ordered the assembly to dissolve. Its members
refused, saying they represented the nation and would not
relinquish their mandate at the order of the khedive, influenced
and pressured as he was by foreign powers. On March 29, they
presented a manifesto to the khedive protesting the Council of
Ministers' attempts to usurp their power and authority. They also
stated their determination to reject the European ministers'
demand that Egypt declare itself bankrupt.
The leader of the delegates was the constitutionally minded
Muhammad Sharif Pasha, who was among the members of a secret
society called the National Society (later the Hulwan Society).
The society had drawn up a plan for national reform (Laiha
Wataniyah) that proposed constitutional and financial reforms to
increase the power of the assembly and resolve Egypt's financial
problems without foreign advisers or control.
In a shrewd political move, Ismail summoned the European
consuls and confronted them with the discontent of the delegates,
the disaffection in the army, and the general public uneasiness.
He informed them that he had decided to act in accordance with
the resolutions of the assembly. Therefore, he rejected the
proposal to declare Egypt bankrupt and stated his intent to meet
all obligations to Egypt's creditors. He also invited Sharif
Pasha to form a government. Sharif Pasha and his Egyptian cabinet
dismissed the European ministers.
Although these actions made Ismail popular at home, they
threatened continued European control over Egypt's finances. The
European powers, particularly Britain and France, decided Ismail
had to go. Since he refused to abdicate, the European powers put
pressure on the Ottoman sultan to dismiss him in favor of his son
Tawfiq. On June 26, 1879, he received a telegram from the grand
vizier addressed to "the ex-khedive Ismail." Ismail left Egypt
for exile in Naples and subsequently in Istanbul, where he died
Tawfiq proved to be a more pliable instrument in the hands of
the European powers. The dual control of Egypt's finances was
reinstituted. An international commission of liquidation was
appointed with British, French, Austrian, and Italian members. In
July 1880, the Law of Liquidation was promulgated, limiting Egypt
to 50 percent of its total revenues. The rest went to the Caisse
de la Dette Publique to service the debt. The Assembly of
Delegates remained dissolved.
The direct interference of Europeans in Egypt's affairs and
the deposition of Khedive Ismail forged a nationalist movement
composed of Egyptian landowners and merchants, especially former
members of the assembly, Egyptian army officers, and the
intelligentsia, including the ulama and Muslim reformers. A
secret society of Egyptian army officers had also come into
existence in 1876, comparable to the secret society of Egyptian
notables. The army society included Colonel Ahmad Urabi, who
would become the leader of the nationalist movement, and colonels
Ali Fahmi and Abd al Al Hilmi. In 1881 a link, if not a merger,
was formed between the Urabists and the National Society. This
expanded group took the name Al Hizb al Watani al Ahli, the
National Popular Party.
Beginning in 1881, the army officers demonstrated their
strength and their ability to intimidate the khedive. They began
with a mutiny provoked by the anti-Urabist minister of war. Not
only were they able to force the appointment of a more
sympathetic minister but by January 1882, Urabi joined the
government as undersecretary for war.
These developments alarmed the European powers, particularly
Britain and France. Britain was especially concerned about
protecting the Suez Canal and the British lifeline to India. In
January 1882, Britain and France sent a joint note declaring
their support for the khedive. The note had the opposite effect
from that intended, producing an upsurge in anti-European
feeling, a shift in leadership of the nationalist movement from
the moderates in the assembly to the military, and the formation
of a new government with Urabi as minister of war. At this point,
the goal of Urabi and his followers became not only the removal
of all European influence from Egypt but also the overthrow of
In another attempt to break Urabi's power, the British and
French agreed on a joint show of naval strength. They also issued
a series of demands including the resignation of the government,
the temporary exile of Urabi, and the internal exile of his two
closest associates, Ali Fahmi and Abd al Al Hilmi. As a result,
violent anti-European riots broke out in Alexandria with
considerable loss of life on both sides.
During the summer, an international conference of the
European powers met in Istanbul, but no agreement was reached.
The Ottoman sultan Abdul Hamid boycotted the conference and
refused to send troops to Egypt. Eventually, Britain decided to
act alone. The French withdrew their naval squadron from
Alexandria, and in July 1882, the British fleet began bombarding
Following the burning of Alexandria and its occupation by
British marines, the British installed the khedive in the Ras at
Tin Palace. The khedive obligingly declared Urabi a rebel and
deprived him of his political rights. Urabi in turn obtained a
religious ruling, a fatwa, signed by three Al Azhar
shaykhs, deposing Tawfiq as a traitor who brought about the
foreign occupation of his country and betrayed his religion.
Urabi also ordered general conscription and declared war on
Britain. Thus, as the British army was about to land in August,
Egypt had two leaders: the khedive, whose authority was confined
to British-controlled Alexandria, and Urabi, who was in full
control of Cairo and the provinces.
In August Sir Garnet Wolsley and an army of 20,000 invaded
the Suez Canal Zone. Wolsley was authorized to crush the Urabi
forces and clear the country of rebels. The decisive battle was
fought at Tall al Kabir on September 13, 1882. The Urabi forces
were routed and the capital captured. The nominal authority of
the khedive was restored, and the British occupation of Egypt,
which was to last for seventy-two years, had begun.
Urabi was captured, and he and his associates were put on
trial. An Egyptian court sentenced Urabi to death, but through
British intervention the sentence was commuted to banishment to
Ceylon. Britain's military intervention in 1882 and its extended,
if attenuated, occupation of the country left a legacy of
bitterness among the Egyptians that would not be expunged until
1956 when British troops were finally removed from the country.
Data as of December 1990