Abbas Hilmi I, 1848-54 and Said, 1854-63

Egypt Table of Contents

Ibrahim was succeeded by Abbas Hilmi I, a genuine traditionalist with no interest in continuing the development plans of his grandfather, Muhammad Ali. Abbas disliked Europeans, but he allowed a railroad line to be built between Alexandria and Cairo that facilitated British imperial communications with India. Regular steamship services already linked Britain to India via Alexandria, Suez, and Bombay. This partially overland route to India took thirty-one days, compared to three months for the journey around the Cape of Good Hope.

Abbas's successor was Said, the fourth son of Muhammad Ali. He revived the works in agriculture, irrigation, and education begun by his father. Under his rule, the first land law governing private landed property in Egypt was passed in 1858. Said abolished the agricultural monopolies of his father by granting landowners the right to dispose freely of their produce as well as the freedom to choose what crops to cultivate. He also introduced uniform military service and the first organized pension plan for public servants.

Said was a friend of the French engineer Ferdinand de Lesseps, to whom he granted a concession in 1854 to construct a canal from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean. The Suez Canal Company was organized to undertake the construction, and the concession to the company included two items that proved costly for Egypt. First, the company was granted a strip of land linking the Nile with the canal site. There a freshwater canal was constructed, and the strip of land was decreed tax free, allowing the company to enjoy the benefits of its cultivation. Second, the viceroy undertook to supply labor for the canal's construction, in what amounted to a system of forced labor.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress