British cavalry in desert kaki uniform patrolling the Egyptian countryside.

The assassination of Butros Ghali Pasha had some hard repercussions on the political life of Egypt.  Khedive Abbas who had built a strong relationship with the different nationalist movements and particularly the National Party (AL HIZB AL WATANI) felt his position threatened by the strength of the nationalists and decided to crack down on those movements.  Sir Eldon Gorst who replaced Lord Cromer as Consul General in Egypt, with instructions from the British Government to adopt a much more lenient policy than his predecessor, changed his policy of conciliation. 

In that stormy atmosphere the Khedive requested Mohammad Saeed Pasha, who was Minister of Interior in the Ghali Cabinet, to form a new Government.


Born in Alexandria on January 18, 1863, Saeed was the scion of well off Turkish family. He studied law and, at his graduation, started a successful career as a Prosecutor (WAKEEL NYABA) for the Mixed Courts and the Judiciary.  He was appointed as Minister of Interior, in the Ghali Cabinet, then Prime Minister, on February 23, 1910, after the assassination of his boss.  Like a “weather cock” He was thought to be a Nationalist sympathizer but he cracked down on their movement during his first Prime Ministry, from February 23, 1910, until his resignation on April 5, 1914. And, during his Second and last Premiership from May 21, 1919, to November 20, 1919, when the 1919 Revolution was in full swing.  But, this did not stop him from serving as Education and Justice Minister in the different Saad Zaghloul Pasha Cabinets in the nineteen twenties. Saeed Pasha was the maternal grandfather of Safinaz Zulfiqar who became the first wife of the late King Farouk and mother of his three daughters, under the name of Queen Farida.  He died on July 20, 1928.

Sir Eldon Gorst died of cancer in 1911 and was replaced, as British Consul General to Egypt, by Lord Herbert Kitchener with strict order from London to “pacify” the Country, which did not augur well with the Egyptian National Movements.

One of the first move of the Saeed Cabinet was to reduce the what was then thought as the inflammatory influence, on the students, of Saad Zaghloul, who was Minister of Public Instruction, by removing to the Ministry of Justice.  As a Justice Minister, Zaghloul Pasha vehemently opposed the Exceptional Laws depriving the Press of the freedom it previously enjoyed, and, at the implementation of those Laws, he resigned his Cabinet Post, on April 1, 1912.

To firmly control the Nationalist Groups, the Saeed Cabinet cracked down on the newspapers well known for their support and sympathy towards the different Nationalist Groups.  To achieve that objective, the Minister of Interior banned the publication of the “El- Alam” (the flag) along with two other Newspapers for their support of the assassination of Ghali Pasha.  More Newspapers were later banned for criticizing the Government ‘s interior policy.

To subdue the political activities of the students and their increasing participation in anti Government demonstrations, the Ministry of Education instituted special attendance marks for the students at the Primary and Secondary level.  Students were sacked out of their schools if their attendance marks did not reach the acceptable level.

It was during that period that the relations between the Khedive and the Colonial Power deteriorated drastically. This conflict was caused by two Khedivial decrees that Lord Kitchener forced the Khedive to sign:

1- The institution of a new Ministry called “Wizaarat al-Awqaf” (Ministry of Religious Affairs).  Until that decree was issued the Khedivial Palace ran this important source of “charity money” and, by conferring it to a new Ministry, the Khedive lost a large source of income. 

2- The institution of a new Ministry called the Ministry of Agriculture thus separating Agriculture from the Ministry of Public Works.  The Colonial Power felt that an independent Ministry of Agriculture could better control the cultivation of cotton needed by the Lancashire textile industry. 

To avoid the heat of the summer months in Cairo, the Saeed Cabinet decided to make Alexandria the summer Capital of Egypt and bought a large property in Bulkley district of Alexandria for that purpose. 

To pacify the Country the Government adopted the following popular decisions: 

1- A complete reorganization of the Azhar University and the institution of a new Faculty to train the judges in Islamic Law (Shari`a)

2- The establishment of thirty Professors Chairs, at the Azhar University, which would constitute the Committee of the Highest Ulemas (Hay'at Kibar AL Ulama')Eleven of those Chairs were given to the Ulemas of the Hanafi School, nine Chairs to the Shafe’ School, nine to the Maleki School and one to the Hanbali School.  All the students of the Azhar University were totally forbidden from participating in demonstrations and/or working for or writing in any newspaper or magazine. 

3- On March 30, 1914, the Cabinet, in a great celebration attended by the Khedive, placed the first stone towards building the Egyptian University (years after it received the name of Fouad First University).  Th University was to be built on six “Feddans” graciously donated by Princess Fatma, the daughter of Khedive Ismail (and aunt of Khedive Abbas). 

4- The Cabinet ordered the formation of a Committee composed of parents who wish to send their children to further their education overseas.  This Committee was to coordinate with the Ministry of Education the choice of Universities and the supervision, by the Ministry, of their students children while abroad. 

5- The Cabinet decreed to help those small farmers owning less than five “feddans” in rescheduling their debts by forbidding the seizure of their land by the lenders.  Needless to say that the lenders, individuals or companies, lobbied and fought hard, but without success, to stop the implementation of that decree. 

6- The Cabinet prohibited the hunting of birds that feed on the worms that are destructive to crops. 

7- The Cabinet agreed on increasing the budget of the Ministry of Public Works by three thousands one hundred and forty seven pounds for the purpose of opening a garage for the maintenance of the Government vehicles.  It is interesting to note that the Egyptian Government had eighteen cars and one motorcycle. 

8- The Cabinet decreed to make the Police Officers salaries equal to those of Army Officers. 

9- The Cabinet imposed, as from January 1, 1913, to charge on those Government Employees who earn more than ten pounds a month, a rent for the Government lodgings they occupy with the understanding that the rent would not exceed ten percent of their salaries. 

10- On January 10, 1914, the Khedive, while vacationing in Europe, signed a decree, proposed by the Cabinet, instituting a Legislative Assembly to replace the “ Laws Shura Assembly”.  The new Assembly was to be composed of sixty-six members to be elected from the Governorates and seventeen members to be appointed by the Government, representing all the classes of society, above and beyond all the members of the Cabinet.  The Assembly‘s role was to be strictly consultative and the Khedive would have the right to dissolve it at the request of the Cabinet.

(To be continued) 

Kamal K. Katba

British soldiers in desert helmets line up for inspection in Cairo, circa 1911



© Kamal Katba 2005


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