Khedive Ismail, by Robert Soleil

Khedive Ismail, by Robert Soleil
Khedive Ismail, by Robert Soleil

Robert Soleil is a writer with a different pen and a vision that seems far from everything that others control. I had previously interviewed him in the newspaper, in which he told me the story of his love for Egypt, because he is simply Egyptian by birth and passion. He was born in Egypt in 1946 of Levantine origins that made Arab civilization part of it. His human makeup, and he moved to France at the age of seventeen, where he worked in the newspaper “Le Monde” as a correspondent between Rome and Washington, then became head of the cultural department in it, and then took writing in French as his literary identity.

Despite his departure from Egypt, he chose to have a literary project that connects him to Cairo, where he started with the novel “The Fez” in 1992, then “The Festival Hotel” and “The Mood” and “The Scholars of Bonaparte in Egypt” (The Lighthouse of Alexandria). (Sadat), (Chambillion), (The Deposed Pharaoh) and other literary publications that narrate the history of Egypt and the corridors of political events, and delve into the depths of influential personalities who had a leading role in political movements, such as President Sadat.

In early 2022, the Lebanese publishing house Hachette Antoine issued the translated Arabic version of the book (Ismail Pasha – Khedive of Egypt) by Robert Soleil in 264 pages..and it is the house that previously translated most of his works published in French for him. The book was published by Perrin House in 260 A page of intermediate pieces, titled:


Grandson of the governor of Egypt

The book is a biography of a ruler from the dynasty of Muhammad Ali Pasha. Its events begin in 1830, when Ismail Pasha was born in Cairo, and ends with the final chapter in 1895, with his death in Istanbul.

Many pens have already dealt with the story of Khedive Ismail’s life, which is full of events, but what is different about Robert Soleil is that he possesses a graceful pen, a journalistic pen mixed with a narrative glance and accurate information made available to him through his knowledge and his many sources in research and scrutiny, which makes most of his writings tend to the always hidden truth. Behind the falsehood of those who write history.

Khedive Ismail is a very confusing figure and a picture of a ruler who was fair to history despite the accusations that were attached to his rule, despite his accusation that he led Egypt to bankruptcy, which led to its occupation by the British, but many saw him as a great reformer as he made improvements to the education system, the judiciary, transportation lines and street planning .

Unlike his grandfather Muhammad Ali, who was turbaned and wore loose pants, Ismail chose for his clothes the new fashion that spread in the Ottoman Sultanate at the time, Istanbul (the long black dress buttoned to the collar, European pants, and a red fez.

He spoke Turkish, Arabic and French properly, but he was not handsome, but was a short and fat man, according to what Soleil wrote at the beginning of his book.

The fact is that the author relied on every page and in the index also with the names of the references, newspapers and people from whom he came with his information and everything that was written in the book, which makes the information that he singled out and that no one else mentioned is accurate.

A heavy legacy and a big dream

Ismail inherited a country at the peak of economic prosperity. The American civil war, which prevented the United States from exporting cotton, came back to Egypt with great benefit, as its white gold generated great wealth. However, at the beginning of his reign, an epidemic spread that affected the country’s animals and led to a real disaster. In 1836, all the livestock of Lower Egypt died, and the epidemic reached the south of the country in the fall, and then the carcasses of animals that were thrown into the Nile spread, which led to the stop of the waterwheels from working, and this delay in irrigation threatened the cotton season.

Ismail wanted to change Egypt, and his great dream was that Egypt would become like Europe. He considered himself complementary to his grandfather Muhammad Ali Pasha’s project to establish a modern state.

Ismail worked on developing the infrastructure, so he showed great interest in roads, bridges, canals, and secondary railways, and worked hard to develop the infrastructure.

He was passionate about ships and wanted to establish a high-quality commercial fleet, and most of the ships that cost his predecessor huge financial burdens were out of service.

Suez Canal again

The idea of ​​establishing the Suez Canal was not a new idea, but rather it was an idea that wandered in minds since the beginning of the nineteenth century, and the first to draw broad lines for it were the Bonaparte engineers, followed by Saint Simon who prepared a new plan for the canal, but De Lesseps chose the correct timing and method to re-introduce The project.


Ismail completed the step, and even went to great lengths to prepare for the opening ceremony of the Suez Canal after its construction, to the extent that he built Saraya Al Jazeera in Zamalek, similar to the Alhambra Palace in Granada, to be the residence of Empress Eugenie and her entourage during the opening ceremony, and the place of the palace is now located in the Marriott Hotel in Zamalek, which cost nearly From 750 thousand pounds, it was designed by court architect Julius France, and finished in 1968.

The Khedive also built the Opera House, which took five months to build at a cost of 160,000 pounds. Khedive Ismail summoned 500 chefs and servants from France and Italy for the ceremony, in order to show the extent of the renaissance he brought about in his country.

The opening was attended by 100,000 foreigners and Egyptians, and the ceremony cost 1,400,000.

From one impasse to another

Ismail was in need of money, as he accumulated the prices of huge purchases of livestock, agricultural machinery, the costs of works projects, the expenses he arranged to visit the Sultan of Istanbul and the gifts he gave to various officials in Istanbul. On the other hand, Ismail found the money he was looking for with European bankers who were very eager to lend him, and the “Egyptian Trade Company” that he founded also lent him, and he also invested in Dereview Bank because the main goal of that was to be able to withdraw sums of money easily and without endangering his reputation in the market.

The governor continued to borrow left and right, according to what Soleil mentioned in one of the chapters of the book, until the arbitration decision issued by Napoleon III, which obligated Egypt to pay compensation to the Suez Company at a value of 84 million francs to increase the size of the public debt, which brought Ismail back to borrowing again!, as if it was a vicious circle. way out of it.

The Khedive had to impose painful taxes on real estate and on the peasants, whose condition deteriorated because of those taxes.

Urbanization and education

Ismail saw in Europe an important model of urbanization, a word that he used as long as he used it to transfer the state of civilization in European countries to Egypt. Thus, Ismail continued to educate his children while waiting for them to be sent to France and England to complete their education. Ismail also believed in government education, a belief stemming from his grandfather, Muhammad Ali. Pasha, who took two initiatives, the first was to send young Frenchmen to France to prepare them in various fields, and the second was to establish specialized schools aimed at preparing cadres in the state and the army.

He raised the budget for education, especially in villages and rural areas, and in cities he tried to make changes to primary schools by introducing an expanded program that included arithmetic, grammar, history and geography.

Despite all this, Khedive Ismail remained the first responsible for the financial bankruptcy of Egypt, which led to the British occupation in 1882..

Ismail overestimated what he had despite his many accomplishments, but he lacked the correctness of the assessment, and he was not content with setting up major projects, but he wanted them to be great, and he did not choose the time well.. Europe charmed him and he never backed down from making Egypt an image of it.

the end

Ismail passed away and his image remained to fluctuate between those who threw flowers at him and those who carried him as the cause of ruin. There is no doubt that Khedive Ismail was an ambitious and energetic ruler, but he failed as people fail, and there is also no doubt that Egypt moved during his reign from one era to another.

He was opposed by those who opposed him..and supported by those who supported him. However, the best defense that was said about this man was the one that came from his grandson, the former Khedive Abbas Helmy, in the wake of World War I, who said:

He is blamed for his extravagance and his love of pomp, but what are those two qualities when compared with the greatness of his many and varied works, from the reorganization of public works, the encouragement of agriculture and the reform of the judiciary, his contribution to the completion of the Suez Canal, and his pacifist international policy? He resided in Egypt 100 A thousand Europeans brought to it, in addition to their wide appetite for wealth, modern methods and principles of progress.

Ishmael sowed a seed and left behind something other than debt: Egypt became a nation.”

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