Khedivate of Egypt

Khedivate of Egypt

The Khedivate of Egypt (Arabic: ٱلْخُدَيْوِيَّةُ ٱلْمِصْرِيَّةُ or خُدَيْوِيَّةُ مِصْرَ, Egyptian Arabic pronunciation: [elxedeˈwejjet ˈelmɑsˤɾje]; Ottoman Turkish: خدیویت مصر Hıdiviyet-i Mısır) was an autonomous tributary state of the Ottoman Empire, established and ruled by the Muhammad Ali Dynasty following the defeat and expulsion of Napoleon Bonaparte’s forces which brought an end to the short-lived French occupation of Lower Egypt. The Khedivate of Egypt had also expanded to control present-day Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, northern Somalia, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Greece, Cyprus, southern and central Turkey, in addition to parts of Libya, Chad, Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as northwestern Saudi Arabia, parts of Yemen and the Kingdom of Hejaz.

The United Kingdom invaded and took control in 1882. In 1914 the Ottoman Empire’s connection was ended, and Britain established a protectorate called the Sultanate of Egypt. 

History of Khedivate of Egypt

Rise of Muhammad Ali 

Upon the conquest of the Sultanate of Egypt by the Ottoman Empire in 1517, the country was governed as an Ottoman eyalet (province). The Ottoman Porte (government) was content to permit local rule to remain in the hands of the Mamluks, the Egyptian military led by Circassian-Turkic origin leaders who had held power in Egypt since the 13th century. Save for military expeditions to crush Mamluk’s Egyptian uprisings seeking to re-establish the independent Egyptian sultanate, the Ottomans largely ignored Egyptian affairs until the French invasion of Egypt in 1798. 

Between 1799 and 1801, the Porte, working at times with France’s main enemy, Great Britain, undertook various campaigns to restore Ottoman rule in Egypt. By August 1801, the remaining French forces of General Jacques-François Menou withdrew from Egypt. 

The period between 1801 and 1805 was, effectively, a three-way civil war in Egypt between the Egyptian Mamluks, the Ottoman Turks, and troops the Ottoman Porte dispatched from Rumelia (the Empire’s European province), under the command of Muhammad Ali Pasha, to restore the Empire’s authority. 

Following the defeat of the French, the Porte assigned Koca Hüsrev Mehmed Pasha as the new Wāli (governor) of Egypt, tasking him to kill or imprison the surviving Egyptian Mamluk beys. Many of these were freed or fled with the British, while others held Minya between Upper and Lower Egypt. 

Amid these disturbances, Koca Hüsrev Mehmed Pasha attempted to disband his Albanian bashi-bazouks (soldiers) without pay. This led to rioting that drove Koca Hüsrev Mehmed Pasha from Cairo. During the ensuing turmoil, the Porte sent Muhammad Ali Pasha to Egypt. 

However, Muhammad Ali seized control of Egypt, declaring himself ruler of Egypt and quickly consolidating an independent local power base. After repeated failed attempts to remove and kill him, in 1805, the Porte officially recognised Muhammad Ali as Wāli of Egypt. Demonstrating his grander ambitions, Muhammad Ali Pasha claimed for himself the higher title of Khedive (Viceroy), ruling Egypt’s self-proclaimed (but not recognised) Khedivate. He murdered the remaining Mamluk beys in 1811, solidifying his control of Egypt. He is regarded as the founder of modern Egypt because of the dramatic reforms he instituted in the military, agricultural, economic and cultural spheres. 


During Muhammad Ali’s absence in Arabia, his representative at Cairo had completed the confiscation, begun in 1808, of almost all the lands belonging to private individuals, who were forced to accept inadequate pensions instead. By this revolutionary method of land nationalisation, Muhammad Ali became the proprietor of nearly all the soil of Egypt, an iniquitous measure against which the Egyptians had no remedy. 

The pasha also attempted to reorganise his troops on European lines, which led to a formidable mutiny in Cairo. Muhammad Ali’s life was endangered, and he sought refuge by night in the citadel while the soldiery committed many acts of plunder. Presents reduced the revolt to the chiefs of the insurgents, and Muhammad Ali ordered that the sufferers of the disturbances should receive compensation from the treasury. The project of the Nizam Gedid (New System) was abandoned for a time because of this mutiny. 

While Ibrahim was engaged in the second Arabian campaign, the pasha turned his attention to strengthening the Egyptian economy. He created state monopolies over the main products of the country. He set up several factories and began digging, in 1819, a new canal to Alexandria called the Mahmudiya (after the reigning sultan of Turkey). The old canal had long fallen into decay, and the necessity of a safe channel between Alexandria and the Nile was much felt. The conclusion in 1838 of a commercial treaty with Turkey, negotiated by Sir Henry Bulwer (Lord Darling), struck a death blow to the system of monopolies. However, the application of the treaty to Egypt was delayed for some years. 

Another notable fact in the country’s economic progress was the development of cotton cultivation in the Delta in 1822. The cotton grown had been brought from Sudan by Maho Bey, and the organisation of the new industry from which, in a few years, Muhammad Ali was enabled to extract considerable revenues. 

Efforts were made to promote education and the study of medicine. Muhammad Ali showed much favour to European merchants, on whom he depended for selling his exports. Under his influence, the port of Alexandria again rose to importance. It was also under Muhammad Ali’s encouragement that the overland transit of goods from Europe to India via Egypt was resumed. 

Invasion of Libya and Sudan

In 1820 Muhammad Ali gave orders to commence the conquest of eastern Libya. He first sent an expedition westward (Feb. 1820) which conquered and annexed the Siwa oasis. Ali’s intentions for Sudan were to extend his rule southward, capture the valuable caravan trade bound for the Red Sea, and secure the rich gold mines which he believed to exist in Sennar. He also saw in the campaign a means of getting rid of his disaffected troops and obtaining a sufficient number of captives to form the nucleus of the new army.

The forces destined for this service were led by Ismail, the youngest son of Muhammad Ali. They consisted of 4000 and 5000 men, Albanians, Turks and Egyptians. They left Cairo in July 1820. Nubia at once submitted the Shaigiya tribe immediately beyond the province of Dongola were defeated, the remnant of the Mamluks dispersed, and Sennar was reduced without a battle.

In October 1822, Ismail, with his retinue, was burnt to death by Nimr, the mek (king) of Shendi; and the defterdar, a man infamous for his cruelty, assumed the command of those provinces and exacted terrible retribution from the inhabitants. Mahommed Bey, the defterdar, with another force of about the same strength, was sent by Muhammad Ali against Kordofan with the result, but not without a hard-fought engagement. Khartoum was founded at this time, and in the following years, the rule of the Egyptians was greatly extended, and control of the Red Sea ports of Suakin and Massawa was obtained.

Greek campaign

Muhammad Ali was fully conscious that the empire which he had so laboriously built up might at any time have to be defended by force of arms against his master Sultan Mahmud II, whose whole policy had been directed at curbing the power of his too ambitious vassals, and who was under the influence of the personal enemies of the pasha of Egypt, notably of Koca Hüsrev Mehmed Pasha, the grand vizier, who had never forgiven his humiliation in Egypt in 1803.

Mahmud also was already planning reforms borrowed from the West. Muhammad Ali, who had had plenty of opportunity of observing the superiority of European methods of warfare, was determined to anticipate the sultan in the creation of a fleet and an army on European lines, partly as a measure of precaution, partly as an instrument for the realisation of yet broader schemes of ambition. Before the War of Greek Independence outbreak in 1821, he had already expended much time and energy in organising a fleet and training under the supervision of French instructors, native officers and artificers. However, it was not till 1829 that opening a dockyard and arsenal at Alexandria enabled him to build and equip his vessels. By 1823, he had succeeded in reorganising his army on European lines, the turbulent Turkish and Albanian elements being replaced by Sudanese and fellahin. The effectiveness of the new force was demonstrated in the suppression of an 1823 revolt of the Albanians in Cairo by six disciplined Sudanese regiments, after which Mehemet Ali was no more troubled with military mutinies.

Muhammad Ali had already, in 1821, been appointed governor of Crete, which he had occupied with a small Egyptian force. His foresight was rewarded by the invitation of the sultan to help him in the task of subduing the Greek insurgents, offering as a reward the pashaliks of the Morea and Syria. In the autumn of 1824, a fleet of 60 Egyptian warships carrying a large force of 17,000 disciplined troops concentrated in Suda Bay. The following March, with Ibrahin as commander-in-chief, landed in the Morea.

His naval superiority wrested from the Greeks the command of a great deal of the sea, on which the fate of the insurrection ultimately depended, while on land, the Greek irregular bands, having largely soundly beaten the Porte’s troops, had finally met a worthy foe in Ibrahim’s disciplined troops. The history of the events that led up to the battle of Navarino and the liberation of Greece is told elsewhere; the withdrawal of the Egyptians from the Morea was ultimately due to the action of Admiral Sir Edward Codrington, who, early in August 1828, appeared before Alexandria and induced the pasha, by no means sorry to have a reasonable excuse, by a threat of bombardment, to sign a convention undertaking to recall Ibrahim and his army. But for the action of European powers, it is suspected by many that the Ottoman Empire might have defeated the Greeks.

Wars against the Turks

Although Muhammad Ali had only been granted the title of wali, he proclaimed himself Khedive, or hereditary viceroy, early on during his rule. The Ottoman government, although irritated, did nothing until Muhammad Ali invaded Ottoman-ruled Syria in 1831. The governorship of Syria had been promised him by the sultan, Mahmud II, for his assistance during the Greek War of Independence, but the title was not granted to him after the war. This caused the Ottomans, allied with the British, to counterattack in 1839.

In 1840, the British bombarded Beirut, and an Anglo-Ottoman force landed and seized Acre. The Egyptian army was forced to retreat home, and Syria became an Ottoman province again. As a result of the Convention of London (1840), Muhammad Ali gave up all conquered lands except for Sudan and was, in turn, granted the hereditary governorship of Sudan.

Muhammad Ali’s successors

By 1848, Muhammad Ali was old and senile enough for his tuberculosis-ridden son, Ibrahim, to demand his accession to the governorship. The Ottoman sultan acceded to the demands, and Muhammad Ali was removed from power. However, Ibrahim died of his disease months later, outlived by his father, who died in 1849.

Ibrahim was succeeded by his nephew Abbas I, who undid many of Muhammad Ali’s accomplishments. Abbas was assassinated by two of his slaves in 1854, and Muhammad Ali’s fourth son, Sa’id, succeeded him. Sa’id brought back many of his father’s policies but had an unremarkable reign.

Sa’id ruled for only nine years, and his nephew Isma’il, another grandson of Muhammad Ali, became wali. In 1866 the polity occupied the Emirate of Harar. In 1867, the Ottoman sultan acknowledged Isma’il’s use of the title khedive. In 1874, Ismail Pasha ordered the deputation of warships to patrol Tadjoura. After ten years, the Khedivate was established from Zaylac to Berbera until their withdrawal on April 1884 and failed attempts to establish themselves beyond Berbera and the eastern littoral of Somalia.

British occupation

In 1882 opposition to European control led to growing tension amongst native notables, the most dangerous opposition coming from the army. A large military demonstration in September 1881 forced the Khedive Tewfiq to dismiss his Prime Minister. In April 1882, France and Great Britain sent warships to Alexandria to bolster the Khedive amidst a turbulent climate, spreading fear of invasion throughout the country. By June, Egypt was in the hands of nationalists opposed to European domination of the country. A British naval bombardment of Alexandria had little effect on the opposition, which led to the landing of a British expeditionary force at both ends of the Suez Canal in August 1882. In September, the British defeated the Egyptian Army at Tel El Kebir and took control of the country, putting Tewfiq back in control. The purpose of the invasion had been to restore political stability to Egypt under a government of the Khedive and international powers, which were in place to streamline Egyptian financing since 1876.

British occupation ended nominally with the deposition of the last Khedive Abbas II on 5 November 1914 and the establishment of a British protectorate, with the installation of sultan Hussein Kamel on 19 December 1914.

Sanctioned khedival rule (1867–1914)

By Isma’il’s reign, the Egyptian government, headed by the minister Nubar Pasha, had become dependent on Britain and France for a healthy economy. Isma’il attempted to end this European dominance while at the same time pursuing an aggressive domestic policy. Under Isma’il, 112 canals and 400 bridges were built in Egypt.

Because of his efforts to gain economic independence from the European powers, Isma’il became unpopular with many British and French diplomats, including Evelyn Baring and Alfred Milner, who claimed he was “ruining Egypt.”

In 1869, completing the Suez Canal gave Britain a faster route to India. This made Egypt increasingly reliant on Britain for both military and economic aid. Isma’il made no effort to reconcile with the European powers, who pressured the Ottoman sultan into removing him from power.

Tewfik and the loss of Sudan

Isma’il was succeeded by his eldest son Tewfik, who, unlike his younger brothers, had not been educated in Europe. He pursued a policy of closer relations with Britain and France, but his authority was undermined in a rebellion led by his war minister, Urabi Pasha, in 1882. Urabi took advantage of violent riots in Alexandria to seize control of the government and temporarily depose Tewfik.

British naval forces shelled and captured Alexandria, and an expeditionary force under General Sir Garnet Wolseley was formed in England. The British army landed in Egypt soon afterwards and defeated Urabi’s army in the Battle of Tel el-Kebir. Urabi was tried for treason and sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to exile. After the revolt, the Egyptian army was reorganized on a British model and commanded by British officers.

Meanwhile, a religious rebellion had broken out in Sudan, led by Muhammad Ahmed, who proclaimed himself the Mahdi. The Mahdist rebels had seized the regional capital of Kordofan and annihilated two British-led expeditions sent to quell it. The British soldier-adventurer Charles George Gordon, an ex-governor of Sudan, was sent to the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, with orders to evacuate its minority of European and Egyptian inhabitants. Instead of evacuating the city, Gordon prepared for a siege and held out from 1884 to 1885. However, Khartoum eventually fell, and he was killed.

The British Gordon Relief Expedition was delayed by several battles and thus could not reach Khartoum and save Gordon. The fall of Khartoum resulted in the proclamation of an Islamic state, ruled over first by the Mahdi and then by his successor Khalifa Abdullahi.

Reconquest of Sudan

In 1896, during the reign of Tewfik’s son, Abbas II, a massive Anglo-Egyptian force under the command of General Herbert Kitchener began the reconquest of Sudan. The Mahdists were defeated in the battles of Abu Hamid and Atbara. The campaign was concluded with the Anglo-Egyptian victory of Omdurman, the Mahdist capital.

The Khalifa was hunted down and killed in 1899 in the Battle of Umm Diwaykarat, and Anglo-Egyptian rule was restored to Sudan.

End of the Khedivate of Egypt

Abbas II became very hostile to the British as his reign drew on and, by 1911, was considered by Lord Kitchener to be a “wicked little Khedive” worthy of deposition.

In 1914, when World War I broke out, the Ottoman Empire joined the Central Powers against Britain and France. Britain now removed the nominal role of Constantinople, proclaimed a Sultanate of Egypt and abolished the Khedivate on 5 November 1914. Abbas II, who supported the Central Powers and was in Vienna for a state visit, was deposed from the Khedivate throne in his absence by the enforcement of the British military authorities in Cairo and was banned from returning to Egypt. He was succeeded by his uncle Hussein Kamel, who took the title of Sultan on 19 December 1914.


During the khedivate, the standard form of Egyptian currency was the Egyptian pound. Because of the gradual European domination of the Egyptian economy, the khedivate adopted the gold standard in 1885.

Adoption of European-style industries

Although the adoption of modern, Western industrial techniques was begun under Muhammad Ali in the early 19th century, the policy was continued under the khedives.

Machines were imported into Egypt, and by the abolition of the khedivate in 1914, the textile industry had become the most prominent one in the nation.

Notable events and people during the khedival rule


  • Greek War of Independence (1821–1830)
  • Egyptian invasion of Syria (1831)
  • Oriental Crisis of 1840 (1840)
  • Crimean War
  • 2nd Franco-Mexican War
  • Cretan Revolt
  • Serbian-Ottoman War (1876-1877)
  • Russo-Turkish War (1877-1878)
  • Completion of the Suez Canal (1869)
  • Urabi revolt (1881)
  • First Mahdist War (1881–1885)
  • Second Mahdist War (1896–1899)
  • Abolishment of the khedivate; establishment of the Sultanate of Egypt (1914)


  • Muhammad Ali: First hereditary Ottoman governor of Egypt
  • Ibrahim: Muhammad Ali’s son and successor (in 1848)
  • Abbas I: Ibrahim’s successor
  • Sa’id: Abbas’ successor
  • Isma’il: First khedive of Egypt; Sa’id’s successor
  • Tewfik: Second khedive; Isma’il’s successor
  • Abbas II of Egypt: Third and last khedive; Tewfik’s successor
  • Hussein Kamel: Isma’il’s son; first Sultan of Egypt
  • Nubar Pasha: Egyptian politician; often prime minister of Egypt
  • Ahmed Urabi: Egyptian soldier, war minister; leader of the Urabi revolt
  • Muhammad Ahmed: Self-proclaimed Mahdi; leader of the Sudanese Mahdist rebellion