FATHER OF MODERN EGYPT
The Khedivial Opera House in Cairo was built during the reign of Ismail Pasha, also known as Ismail the Magnificent. During his reign from 1863 to 1879, as Khedive (Viceroy) of both Egypt and Sudan, the two countries realised the greatest urban modernisation because of his relentless investment in industrial and economic development. The Pasha's desire was to push the status of his territories beyond the limitations of Africa. The extent of the Pasha’s ambitious plans were revealed in a statement that he delivered in 1879, in which he expressed: "My country is no longer in Africa. We are now part of Europe. It is therefore natural for us to abandon our former ways and adopt a modern system, more in tune with our new social conditions.” Such was the desire of Ismail Pasha to remodel the capitals, Cairo and Khartoum, into sophisticated urban realms on par with great European cities such as London and Paris, that he unfortunately bankrupted the government. Systematically, he was forced to sell the country's shares in the Suez Canal Company to Great Britain, leading to his ultimate fall from grace and toppling from power.
As the grandson of Muhammad Ali Pasha, a self-declared Khedive of Egypt, he received a refined European education in Paris where he completed his studies at the École d'état Major. Thus, when Ismail rose to power his idea of stimulating economic progress by way of lavish over-spending was inherited from the economic policies of his grandfather, Muhammad Ali. It was an ambitious plan to transform Egypt into an independent regional power away from the clutches of the Ottoman Empire. To do that, Muhammad Ali Pasha needed to streamline the economy along European lines by improving the infrastructure, building an extensive railway network, and developing a modern army. However, to achieve all this he needed a constant stream of revenue, which he did by raising the taxes on the agricultural sector. But when the tax collectors failed to collect the money owed to the government by the peasants who farmed the land, Muhammad Ali confiscated their properties. In addition, he also allowed a monopoly on trade in Egypt.
In doing so, manufacturers of all types of goods were ordered by law to sell to the state. In return, the government was responsible for the distribution of Egyptian-made products in foreign markets, which proved very profitable. Next, Muhammad Ali turned his attention to factories specialising in military equipment, weapons and textiles. To run these vital industries, he introduced a corvée labour system, which faced strong objection from the population. But Muhammad Ali's bureaucratic rule heeded on unfazed by the opposition on the street. To continue building a functioning economy, he sent promising citizens to Europe to study, and hired the best European managers to develop the industries the country needed, and to also help train Egyptian labourers. Muhammad Ali's not so wise move, however, happened when he agreed to help the ottomans put down a violent revolt, spreading throughout Greek provinces. The Turkish Sultan promised him the island of Crete in return for his assistance.
Hence, the Egyptian governor agreed to send an unbeatable navy of 16,000 soldiers, which was entirely sunk by the European Allied fleet. It was a disastrous confrontation that the Pasha was not prepared for, and which lost him a substantial amount of his highly competent, expensively assembled, and maintained army. The Pasha was forced to shamefully withdraw. But like all the other Egyptian rulers his attention quickly turned to the Levant, where well developed markets together with a thriving international community offered the best opportunity for exporting Egyptian products. Ultimately, an excuse was needed for the invasion, so Muhammad Ali claimed that 6,000 of his farm labourers have fled to the Levant to escape the corvée and tax system. He simply demanded them back.
Eventually, the long campaign to seize additional territory in the Levantine and Turkey took its toll on Egyptian economy, and the squeeze was felt by the people on the street. In the end, the Pasha became paranoid and was unfit to rule. But despite the controversy surrounding his rule, Muhammad Ali Pasha was known as the 'Father of Modern Egypt.' Nevertheless, his critics view him as a conqueror because he is originally Albanian and not Egyptian. Rather than a national hero, he is seen by some as a calculating ambitious monarch, who exploited Egyptian resources to benefit himself and his dynasty, on the expense of the wider Egyptian society.