The defeat and departure of the French army in 1799 was followed by a period of anarchy in Egypt, which led to the rise of Mohammed Ali, as the Governor of the- country. Mohammed Ali is considered as the founder of modern Egypt. He not only destroyed the power of the Mamelukes-a hereditary caste, which constituted the aristocracy and ruling class-but also did much to raise the social and political status of the country.
He succeeded in securing from la; Sultan of Turkey autonomous status for Egypt and made himself the absolute master of the country. He created a new army, but new canals and encouraged cultivation of cotton. He also expanded the territory of Egypt by adding Syria to it. However, he could not become a popular ruler and the people greatly disliked his autocratic methods and personal whims.
Mohammed Ali died in 1849 at the age of eighty. His successor were very feeble and incompetent rulers. They tried to promote their own interest at the cost of the interests of the people and dignity of the nation.
These rulers lost touch with the people of the land and started relying on the friendship and protection of European friends. They also raised several loans for their own use and thus allowed the country to be saddled with national burden.
In 1856, Sayeed Pasha, one of the successor of Mohammed Ali obliged his friend Ferdenand de Lesseps, an Engineer from France, by granting him permission to construct the Suez Canal. The canal was completed and formally opened in 1869 for navigation. Though initially Britain strongly opposed the project and refused to participate in its implementation, the opening of the canal evoked her interests in the region.
It not only led to increase in the French influence in the region but also posed a serious threat to India (the most important British colony) by reducing the time and expense of shipping to India. Therefore, Britain’s interest in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East greatly increased.
Britain got a chance to increase her influence in the region in 1875 when Ismail Pasha, the Khedive (Governor) of Egypt decided to sell his shares to pay of interests on the various loans contracted from various international bankers. Disraelly, the Prime Minister of England, acted with remarkable speed and even without waiting for the Parliamentary sanction for his action, purchased these shares on behalf of the British government for 4,000,000 pounds. If may be noted that this was more of a political rather than an economic transaction.
Even with this money Ismail Pasha was not able to discharge all the liabilities regarding loans and interests and in 1876 he declared himself as bankrupt. There upon a Commission of Debt was appointed which contained Austrian, French and Italian representatives.
Initially Britain refused to send any representative on the commission. However, subsequently Major Baring was appointed as representative of the British bondholders on the commission. The commission was expected to conduct an inquiry into the resources of Egypt and suggest means for the rehabilitation of the country as well as satisfaction of the claims of the bond-holders. The Commission of Debts gradually took over control of the Egyptian government.
They not only made a bid to get the Khedive’s accounts in order but also made an attempt to raise taxes. The Khedive was asked to reduce the salaries of civil servants and army officers as well as to cut his expenses. All these measures were greatly resented by Ismail Pasha and he tried to resist them. Ultimately the English and French persuaded the Sultan to depose Ismail Pasha and appoint his son Tewfik Pasha in his place.