Ismail Pasha, Or Ismail I., khedive of Egypt, born in Cairo in 1830. He is a son of Ibrahim Pasha, and his mother was a Circassian woman. He was educated in Paris, and returning to Egypt soon after his father's death, Nov. 9, 1848, he became a determined opponent of the new viceroy Abbas Pasha. The latter accused him in 1853 of complicity in the assassination of one of his favorites, but the charge was not substantiated. Abbas suddenly died next year, and was succeeded by Said Pasha, who employed his nephew Ismail abroad and at home, placed him at the head of the administration during his visit to Europe in 1862, and made him general-in-chief of the army, in which capacity he distinguished himself by restoring tranquillity in the territory of Soodan. On the death of Said, Jan. 18, 1863, he succeeded him as fifth viceroy of Egypt, and acquired an enormous fortune through the production of cotton during the American civil war. The difficulties with M. de Lesseps in regard to the Suez canal were settled in 1864, and Ismail became thenceforward the most active promoter of the enterprise. "While residing occasionally in his superb palace at Ermighian on the Bosporus, he lived, as in Cairo, in a truly oriental style of magnificence, lavished large sums of money upon Turkish officials, and so ingratiated himself with the sultan and his court that he secured in 1866 the long coveted privilege of a direct line of succession for his dynasty, which makes the eldest of his three sons, Hussein, his heir apparent.
In the same year he voluntarily increased his tribute to the sultan, with whom he cooperated at the same time, with 30,000 Egyptian troops, against the Cretans. New and important prerogatives were consequently granted to him in 1867, together with the titles of highness and khedive; but Ismail was not satisfied with these, and put forward the most extraordinary pretensions, threatening to withdraw his army from Crete, and even to seize that island, in case of non-compliance. The intervention of foreign powers caused him to abate his pretensions, and for a time appeased the exasperated sultan. But the viceroy, not content to extend his sway over the upper Nile (1868) and over the White Nile through Sir Samuel Baker (1869), continued to make foreign loans for the increase of his army and navy, proposed the deneutralization of the Suez canal, invited the potentates of Europe to attend its opening (Nov. 17, 1869), and acted as a completely independent sovereign to such an extent that after the closing of these festivities the sultan's long cherished design of curbing his vassal's ambition was immediately carried out.
Ismail was commanded to reduce his army to 30,000 men, to recall his order for the construction of ironclads and breech-loaders in Europe, and to discontinue the contraction of loans in foreign markets; and he was threatened with instant deposition in case of disobedience. Disappointed in the hope of support from Russia and other powers, the khedive reluctantly postponed his schemes and submitted to the sultan's will (Dec. 9). When, despite this agreement, he made another attempt to conclude a foreign loan in 1870, Abdul Aziz put an end to it by publicly denouncing the illegality of the proceeding. Within the next few years their relations were apparently smoother, owing to the altered condition of the balance of power in Europe consequent upon the Franco-German war and other events, and also to the khedive's increasing wealth and judicious manner of dispensing it in Constantinople. He obtained not only a confirmation of all previous prerogatives (June 9, 1873), but new concessions which give him absolute control over the organization and extension of his army, and the right of making loans and commercial treaties.
He is still restricted in the acquisition of ironclads, in the intercourse with foreign powers, and in some other respects, but otherwise is an absolute sovereign; and he is acting as such in extending his authority in various parts of Abyssinia and on all the borders of the Nile. Early in 1874 he achieved an important victory over the sultan of Dar-foor, and sent in the same year another expedition up the Nile under Capt. Gordon, ostensibly for the suppression of the slave trade. At the same time he is bringing the rude tribes in his outlying dominions under the influence of civilization by drawing military cordons round those ill-defined regions, and by building public roads and promoting agriculture. His successful aggressive policy became however in 1874 a fresh source of uneasiness for the sultan, though he had the latter's sanction for taking military possession of the Suez canal, which compelled M. de Lesseps, with whom differences had arisen, to submit to the decision of the international tonnage commission. Like nearly all rulers of Egypt from time immemorial, the khedive holds the whole land in fee simple, as it were, and his subjects work it on his account and on his own terms.
Through his enterprise and activity immense progress has been made in industrial development and the execution of public works of all kinds; and the whole business of the country being under his control, his wealth is incalculable, while the mass of his subjects, and particularly the fellahs or peasantry, remain in a condition of serfdom and pauperism. He has embellished Cairo and Alexandria, and introduced the gay fashionable life of Paris; employs many foreigners in the army, navy, and other branches of service; is a munificent patron of archaeological, geographical, and ethnological researches; has established a library in the ministry of education, rich in oriental works; and has enabled Rohlfs to explore the Libyan desert. The clear complexion which he has inherited from his Circassian mother gives Ismail rather the appearance of an Englishman than of an oriental. He is of medium stature, inclined to the obesity of his family, with small gray eyes and a shrewd expression of countenance.