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Mohammed Ali Dynasty

Although the Ottoman army remained in the country after the French left Egypt, it was weak and had large internal conflicts. A lieutenant of a contingent of Albanian Ottoman army, called Mohammed Ali, took advantage of this jumble. In the five years following the departure of the French troops, Mohammed Ali intrigued and fought to become Pasha (Governor) of Egypt. Thereafter, Mohammed Ali was undisputed master of Egypt, and his efforts henceforth were directed primarily to the maintenance of his practical independence. The Sultan of Constantinople was too weak to oppose this usurpation and the only threat to the power of Muhammad Ali Pasha could come from the Mamelukes. In 1811, Muhammad Ali arranged a plot to get rid of the danger of the Mamelukes forever. He invited 470 Mameluke soldiers to a banquet at the Citadel and ordered them to be killed in what is known as the ‘Citadel Massacre’ and thus, the Mameluke threat was brought to an end.

 

– The Development Project of Muhammad Ali

Basically, Muhammad Ali’s development strategy was based on agriculture. He expanded the cultivated areas; and introduced the cultivation of cotton, planted crops, sugar cane and rice. He also aimed at exporting these crops, especially the long-staple cotton. Public works were financed from the surplus income of agricultural production. He attended to developing the infrastructure of the country, improving methods of irrigation, excavating canals, building dams and barrages. Besides, Muhammad Ali was also committed to the industrial development of Egypt. He raised the country from medieval feudalism to something close to industrialization. The government set up modern factories for weaving cotton, silk, and wool. With the assistance of foreign advisers and imported machinery, he established factories for producing sugar, indigo, glass, and tanning. Prohibiting the export of the agricultural products, he monopolized their resources. Consequently, the government was buying directly from the peasants and selling to the buyer, cutting out the intermediaries or merchants. Commercial activities took place aiming at establishing foreign trade monopolies and acquiring a favorable balance of trade. However, in 1838 Muhammad Ali was compelled to agree to the Anglo-Ottoman Convention which established “free trade” in Egypt. Muhammad Ali also worked on financing and equipping the military. He was an ambitious expansionist whose armies extended his power over Syria, Sudan, Greece and the Arabian Peninsula until he controlled a large portion of the Ottoman Empire by 1839. When he died in 1848, his heirs made their objectives to continue reforms and social projects in order to catch up with European civilization. Among these projects was the creation of railways, factories as well as the first postal and telegraph system in the world. The young Egyptian cotton industry grew, while the production of the U.S.A was affected by civil war. Profits were generally used in sustaining new projects. The biggest of all was the Suez Canal, opened in 1869 with great pomp and with the assistance of almost all European monarchs.

– Abbas I 

After Muhammad Ali’s death, his grandson, Abbas I, succeeded him. Abbas I opened Egypt to free trade, closing schools and factories and effectively halting the moves towards industrial development and economic self-sufficiency Mohammed Ali had set in motion.

 

Khedive Ismail

During the reign of Khedive Ismail, Egypt witnessed an awakening administrative reform, while agriculture, industry, construction and architecture prospered. Most notable of his achievements was the establishment of the Opera House, railroads and the Suez Canal which was opened to international navigation in 1869. Ismail was depending on the vastly inflated cotton prices caused by the American Civil War in funding his development projects. However, by the end of the war, Ismail had to find new sources of funding to keep his reform efforts alive. He depended on international loan and followed the policy of extorting the poverty-stricken population. He also sold 176,602 Suez Canal shares to the British government. Gradually, Egypt was put under the British Protection. In December 1875, Stephen Cave and Colonel Stokes were sent to Egypt to inquire into the financial situation. In September 1878, a constitutional ministry was formed, under the presidency of Nubar Pasha and two foreign ministers of finance and of public works (one was British and the other French). Many Europeans were employed at high salaries in various government departments. 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. Between January and July 1879, the assembly held a meeting in which it demanded more control over financial matters and accountability of the European ministers to the assembly. But in April 1879 and under foreign pressure, Ismail ordered the assembly to dissolve.

The National 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. Ismail agreed on this Laiha and 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. Then, the European ministers were dismissed. European powers put pressure on the Ottoman Empire and Khedive Ismail was forced to abdicate in 1879. Britain began to assume greater control over the country. In the meantime, Ismail’s son, Tawfik, was appointed Khedive of Egypt. In July 1880, the Law of Liquidation, which limited Egypt to 50% of its total income, was promulgated. The rest went to the Public Debt Safe to service the debt. At that time, the Assembly of Delegates remained dissolved.

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