Egypt: European Domination

European Domination

In 1854, Said granted Ferdinand de Lesseps a concession for the construction of the Suez Canal, a project that put Egypt into deep financial debt and robbed it of its thriving transit-trade on the Alexandria-Cairo railroad. In addition, the strategic nature of the canal, which opened in 1867, shifted Great Britain's focus in the Middle East from Constantinople to Cairo and opened the door to British intervention in Egyptian affairs. Said was followed by Khedive (viceroy) Ismail Pasha, whose rule was characterized by accelerated economic development, Westernization, and the establishment of Egyptian autonomy. The cost of Said's reforms, of the construction of the Suez Canal, and of his conquests in Africa, however, put Egypt deep into debt and forced Ismail to sell (1875) his Suez Canal shares to the British. Egypt's financial problems led to further subordination of the country to great-power interests. Ismail was forced to accept the establishment of a French-British Debt Commission.

In 1879, Ismail was compelled to abdicate in favor of his son Tewfik Pasha, who was confronted with financial and political chaos; his situation was complicated by the outbreak of a nationalist and military revolt (1881–82) under Arabi Pasha. The British reacted to the revolt with a naval bombardment of Alexandria in July, 1882, and by landing British troops, who defeated Arabi Pasha at the battle of Tell el Kabir and went on to occupy Cairo.

The British consolidated their control during the period (1883–1907) when Lord Cromer was consul general and de facto ruler. By 1904 the governments of France, Austria, and Italy agreed not to obstruct Britain in its intention to stay in Egypt indefinitely. During World War I, after Turkey joined the Central Powers, Great Britain declared Egypt a British protectorate and deposed Abbas II, the allegedly pro-German khedive, substituting Husein Kamil (1914–17), a member of his family. After the war Egyptian nationalists of the Wafd party, led by Zaghlul Pasha, were especially vigorous in their demands for freedom.

Sections in this article:

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Egyptian Political Geography