Equal Partners
by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners

By Roland Ezri

"Women are the backbone of all societies. They do a substantial part of the work, and play a major role in raising the future generation yet they are largely powerless. The decisions that count are made by men and foisted upon women."

Writings by Roland Ezri

The Second Exodus – Egypt – XI. Historical Context (3 of 3)

Khedive Ismail

Ismail Pasha (1830 – 1895) was a man of many accomplishments.  He ruled Egypt from 1863 to 1879.  He received a European education in Paris, where he attended L’Ecole D’etat Major.

He was enamored with Europe.  More than any other person, we can lay at his feet the blame for elevating Western values and downgrading all things Egyptians.  If an Egyptian of Italian origin tells you that he is Italian, even though there are 4 generations before him born in Egypt, part of the blame for that oddity can be traced to the Khedive Ismail.  Mind you, many Europeans were proud to be Egyptians and considered their origins as inconsequential.  My dad and myself were proud to call Egypt our native country.  My mother, on the other hand, had a Polish father, and she proudly proclaimed to the very end that she was European.

His western leaning can be glimpsed in a statement he made in 1879:  “My country (Egypt) is no longer in Africa; we are now part of Europe.  It is therefore natural for us to abandon our former ways and to adopt a new system adapted to our social conditions.”

Khedive Ismail greatly modernized Egypt and Sudan, but he was also a spendthrift.  He saddled Egypt with an enormous debt.

When Ismail succeeded Muhammad Said as the head of state in Egypt in 1863, the American Civil War was raging.  The American South was no longer able to produce cotton and demand for Egyptian cotton soared.  The concession to build the Suez canal was negotiated with a French company by his predecessor.  Ismail agreed to pay a huge compensation to change some of the terms of the original contract.

The end of the American Civil War put an end to the demand for Egyptian cotton.  As well, the Suez Canal did not, at first, earn the expected profits.

Ismail, having lost both the cotton and Suez Canal bets, was forced to take huge loans at a high interest rate.  He also sold 44% of the shares in the Suez Canal Company to British Prime Minister Disraeli for 4 million pounds.  By 1876, the state was bankrupt, with a debt reaching 1 billion pounds (an enormous amount for the time).  Under the circumstances, he had to accept financial supervision from the French and the British.

Ismail was eventually deposed in 1879.


The Mamelukes have been a constant in Middle Eastern history since the 13th century.  They also played a prominent role in Egypt’s history.  It is therefore relevant (in this context) to briefly talk about them.

Mamluk is the Arabic word for owned, and indeed the Mamelukes started as slaves.  They were often seized as young boys, and taught the military arts.  Some were educated, and served as officials.  In time, they secured power for themselves and replenished their ranks by importing more slaves.  They were first of Turkish origin, thereafter they were generally of Circassian* origin.

The Egyptian Mamelukes came to power in 1250 and established a line of more than 50 independent sultans.

The Ottoman conquest did not affect them; they shared the power with the newly emerging Ottoman empire.

They were eventually wiped out from the pages of history, first by Napoleon, and then by Muhammad Ali.

If you were to visit the Citadel in Cairo, you will find at the front a gate that is closed to the public; its name is Bab El Azab (The Gate of Suffering).  It’s an appropriate name since behind the gate there is a crooked lane enclosed by high walls; this is the place where Muhammad Ali massacred the Mamelukes chiefs after having invited them to a feast and feeding them.

The year was 1811.

[*The Circassians or Adyge as they refer to themselves are the oldest indigenous people in North Caucasus.  While originally Christians, in time Islam replaced Christianity.  They are now scattered over many countries; predominantly Turkey and Russia; Israel, the U.S., Syria, and Jordan have small Circassians populations.]


1) Muhammad Ali Dynasty – New World Encyclopedia

2) Isma’il Pasha:  Biography from

3) Napoleon in Egypt

4) Napoleonic Guide
Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaign
1798 to 1801

5) Napoleonic Guide
Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaign (2)
1798 to 1801

6) Napoleonic Guide
Napoleon Egyptian Campaign (3)
1798 to 1801

7) Napoleon in Egypt

8) Napoleon and the Scientific Expedition to Egypt/Linda Hall Library
The Rosetta Stone

Note:  After the French had been defeated in Egypt, they had to relinquish the Rosetta Stone to the British.

9) Egypt News
Ambassador of the Arab Republic of Egypt to Australia before
Alliance Francaise

10) The Middle East Today
Don Peretz

11) What’s on – Exhibitions – “Bonaparte et l’Egypt, feu et lumieres”

12) Mamelukes
General Information
Robert G. Landen

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