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Entre réforme sociale et mouvement national

Alain Roussillon

Émergence problématique du politique

Reform and Legitimacy: The Egyptian Monarchy

Avriel Butovsky

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  • * Avriel Butovsky est tragiquement décédé le 7 octobre 1993. Il nous avait remis une première versio (...)

1Note portant l’auteur*


2This paper proposes to examine the relationship between the way in which the khedivate was imagined and portrayed and the discourses of reform in the reign of the Khedive Tawfiq (1879-1892). It looks especially at a number of works which carry images of Tawfiq and the khedivial family in order to explore the changing and multiple meanings of khedivialism in this period. It makes no claims at being exhaustive, as this is an enormous topic given the proliferation, in particular, of constitutionalist and reformist journalism in the period leading up to the Urabi rebellion. Instead, it attempts to capture some of the key ways in which the image of the khedivite was deployed and adjusted by the court and its allies in order to cope with profound changes in society and politics. Not all of this is seen as emanating "from above": the images of khedivialism are put to use within society, by different social actors, to achieve a variety of didactic, social and political ends. Attention will also be paid to some of the ways in which these images were disseminated in society.

3The starting point for any discussion of this struggle as it engaged the khedivate must surely begin with the latter years of Ismail’s reign (year to year) and the opening up of political debate in Egypt. This transformation in the political culture, while abruptly arrested by the British occupation, was at least in one sense irreversible; in practice, it removed a key source of khedivial largesse in the form of the Da’ira Saniya and the state domain, and introduced the civil list for selected members of the khedivial family — this being only one aspect of the larger picture whereby the Egyptian authorities were stripped of the economic control of the country; it also saw the introduction of a form of ministerial government, though responsible rather more to itself and to the foreign creditors than to the chamber of deputies; there was, moreover, the chamber of deputies itself, which however much the creature of Ismail to begin with, bespoke, if not of or as a division of powers, at least of or as a qualified constitutional expression of an important switch in the theory of political representation in the country. From a theory which remained largely bound within the precepts of the ruler’s responsibility to God, the "ulama" and notables responsibility to advise and cajole, and the subjects’ responsibility to obey, there was emerging a theory of shura and representation which gave this concept some teeth and came to take on the meaning of the representation of the umma by its representatives. By the late 1870s these theoretical innovations were being made explicit in the demands of the constitutionalist leaders, within the assembly, and in the press and other institutions of political sociability.

4Reform had been central to the public image of the khedivate under Ismail. It was meant, in the heyday of Ismail’s rule, in the sense of the progress of material life on the one hand, and of a new social morality associated with civilisation, not seen as being problematic to Islam, on the other. This was the political language of the khedivate and its most prominent functionaries. It co-existed with the more traditional language of the just Muslim ruler. It was such ideas that provided the official domestic understandings of the enormous set of reformist practices embarked upon by the regime.

5In the crisis years of the later 1870s, a new meaning of reform came on the scene, promoted by the agents of the European powers and the creditors. This discourse made the point that, far from the khedivate being the agent of civilizing reforms, it was part of the problem impeding their introduction. What needed to be reformed was the system of rule and administration which had given rise to corruption, oppression, debt and bankruptcy. According to the report of the commission of inquiry of 1878, the problem was Ismail’s despotism and its nefarious effects. This had to be restrained by the installation of a new system of rule, in particular a cabinet independent of his control. Thus was a linkage drawn between financial mismanagement and political power which was to lead to Ismail’s downfall once he challenged these provisions by encouraging the assembly to produce the Laiha al-Wataniyya in April 1879.

6The opening up of political debate in the crisis years introduced many new voices into the public sphere, meant here in a very broad sense as the realm of political debate conducted publicly, through the media, speeches in associative bodies, the political theatre, etc. At this time, the possible meanings of reform were very much broadened. The Urabists called into being new political constituencies for active involvement in the process of political change. Among the intellectual influences on their movement and from their ranks there arose voices which dignosed the problem of reform partly in terms of the need to drastically reduce European influence over the society, economy, culture and political life of Egypt. There were questions asked about how virtuous a model European civilization could be and appeals to draw upon Islamic and local values instead. Reform here was infused with the idea both of a purge of corruption in social behaviour which weakened the social and political body as well as a need to incorporate some of the material achievements of modernity. (Nadim, but also Islamic reformers).

7The khedivate — the identity of the khedive, the scope of his powers, were subjects of open contestation. In the course of fending off foreign pressures, Ismail had configured a new identity for the khedivate, that of a national symbol, representing the unified national will against foreign interests by operating with what were now declared to be the representatives of the nation in the Chamber of Deputies. The notables that backed him in 1879 had strong material interests for doing so as the financial settlement backed by the European controllers and the Egyptian statesmen who worked with them harmed their interests.

8On the other hand the Egyptian statesmen who backed the European plans against Ismail were inclined to think in terms of a benevolent despot — rather than the malignant despot who was Ismail — who could guide the country along the path of the European reforms. They seem to have been split among followers of Prince Halim, in exile in Istanbul, and Tawfiq. The intellectual circles around Afghani were also thinking in such terms. There is an irony here because they opposed the increase of European influence. But what they believe, was that Ismail’s misrule only increased that influence, and that only by getting rid of him would it be possible to elevate an enlightened despot.


9These, in very broad strokes, are the principal ways in which the connections between the khedivate and reform were drawn up to the accession of Tawfiq. When Tawfiq came to power, new ways of thinking about the relationship of the khedive to society and the process of social change had come into the public sphere. Different groups in society attached various hopes to the figure of the new khedive. Soon enough, when Sharif was forced to resign and a ministry under Riyad was formed, it became clear that the khedive would not be a constitutional monarch. Instead, European financial reform plans were introduced under the auspices of a reforming cabinet without the chamber of deputies.

  • 1 Sami A., Taqwim al-Nil, Cairo: Matba’at Dar al-Kutub al-Misriyya, 1936, pt. 3,
  • 2 See Gaston Wiet, "Les déplacements de Mohamed Ali", Cahiers d’Histoire égyptienne, t. 2, 1949, pp, (...)
  • 3 Al-Ayyubi Iliyas, Ta’rikh Misr fi ‘ahd al-Khidiwwi Isma‘il Basha min sanat 1863 ila sanat 1879, re (...)

10In early 1880, the khedive went on tour around the country, first to Fayyum, then to Upper Egypt, then to Lower Egypt. This type of touring on the ascension to the khedivial throne was not exactly unprecedented, as Abbas I had gone on such a tour in his first year.1 Muhammad Ali had moved constantly around the country, but at the beginning of his reign this was to lead military expeditions and to inspect public works; it seems he did not go on systematic tours of the entire country until the 1930s.2 But Ismail seems not to have done such touring, opting instead for the annual movements between Alexandria and Cairo, and the creation of a more sedentary palace culture. On the visit of Sultan ‘Abd al-‘Aziz in 1863, only Alexandria and Cairo were covered.3

  • 4 Cairo, Matba’at Bulaq, 1297.
  • 5 Cairo, Matba’at Bulaq, 1297. Part one of this work, al-Tali’ al-Sa’id, which covered the visit to (...)
  • 6 Biographical note of Husayn Husni Pasha in ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Rafi’i, ‘Asr Isma’il, Cairo, Dar al-M (...)

11The royal tour of 1880 was extensive: Tawfiq spent from 8th January to 12th February in Upper Egypt, then from 10th April to 4th May in Lower Egypt. The trip to Lower Egypt was described in two works, one by Muhammad Bey Uthman, al-Siyaha al-khidiwwiyya fi’l aqalim al-bahriyya4 and the other by Muhammad Qasim, al-Qism al-thani min al-siyaha al-khidiwwiyya al-musami al-kawkab al-durri fi rihlat al-khidiwi al-'A'zam ila iqlim al-wajh al-bahri.5 The first was a short work of thirty-four pages, Muhammad Bey Uthman was a member of the Ma’iyya Saniyya, the royal cabinet. The second was wrote under the supervision of Husayn Bey Husni,6 director of Muhammad Qasim who was an editor (khadim tashih) at the Bulaq press.

12These works carry a certain discourse about the relationship between the khedive and society. It is a starkly archaic vision, given the developments of the years preceding it. There is not a hint of constitutionalism or the new political languages which had been born and deployed in the public sphere in these years. The khedive is not a national figure, nor a figure whose powers are in any way curtailed. He is depicted as a father, or a shepherd. He visits the provinces because his concern is the welfare of his subjects. At each stop he meets the local government officials and notability, holds banquets, visits saints’ tombs, distributes charity. In his visit to Benha, the emphasis is on the beauty and light of the decorations; the joy of those present; the honour proffered by the khedive in the banquets he held for the local notability and in his visits to the well-furnished and lit pavilions which were set up by the notables for him, in which they had arranged food and music; the happiness of both parties; the multitudes of people lining the banks of the river as his barque moved through the countryside and the displays of horsemanship by the bedouins. The most important notables are named throughout. At the end of each stage of the journey, Muhammad Qasim in his account inserts the praise poetry (qasa’id madh) and verses of greeting (tahni’a) submitted to the Ma’iyya Saniyya by the local notables and students in the schools; there are also interspersed at various points articles from the Waqa‘i al-Misriyya describing the visits. Included too in the larger account are photos of many of the stops, especially of the pavilions set up for the occasion by the local government officials and notables.

13These works have a relevance to the discussion of the khedivate and its relationship to discourses of reform. They are as follows:

  1. To my awareness they are the first of a generation of which was to have a lifespan at least until Fuad. This, and the very real possibility of the tour itself having been a revived tradition from an earlier period in the khedivate, bespeak a shift in the style of the khedivate, as wanting to make the khedive appear more present, in a personal sense, among the people, and not only allow the projection of his power through palaces, public works, city planning, etc.
  2. At a time of contestation, when the issue of the khedive’s authority was being challenged, this was to studiously ignore these challenges but to argue instead for a traditional view of the relationship of the khedive to his subjects.
  3. At this particular conjuncture, there was a reaffirmation of the relationship of the khedive to the provincial notables, and to the general happiness of the rural population. The reforms of Riyad and of the Commission of Inquiry report, which eventually led the commission to prepare the Law of Liquidation (March 1880), had been opposed by the large landowning interests, for example, the Egyptian National Party-Helwan Group. There was, therefore, a need to shore up support.
  4. In other words, this was an attempt to subsume the substance of the reforms within an idiom of "traditional" socio-political relations, at a time when these had been clearly challenged. This is an example of the way old cultural forms can be deployed in new contexts, whereby their meanings change. The major changes in social relations in the countryside, particularly the direct contact made among merchants, bankers and various middlemen with peasant cultivators due to the inflow of credit, the mixed courts and their implications in terms of land deals and indebtedness — all of these new relations are incorporated into the idiom of the old relationships.
  5. This is seen clearly in the section on the visit to Tanta in Qasim’s account. First we get a formulaic rendition of the reception of the khedivial barque, the visit to the shrine of Sayyid Badawi and Sayyid 'Abd al-Mu’tal, the procession to his pavilion, then a visit to the Mudiriyya. After that follows the incorporation, entirely within the forumulaic idioms, of the following very portentous encounter:

14At 11 am there had arrived the train of 'atuftlu Riydh Pasha the Chairman of the Council of Ministers, and his excellency Rivers Wilson the head of the Commission of Liquidation and its members in order to have the honor of meeting His Highness. After the greeting ceremonies it was sundown and tables were prepared. The Khedive sat at a special table with Riyad and the members of the Commission of Liquidation, and the other invitees sat at different tables, 80 all together, among whom were "mamurs" and "umdas" and members of the ma’iya sat at each of these out of sociability. And after eating dinner they departed Muthinin Mamnunin (full of praise and gratitude) — just the formulas used in describing many other banquets (147-48).

15The remainder of my examples are drawn from the period of the British occupation. To one extent or another, they are inscribed with the requirement of in some way accounting for the events of the Urabi rebellion, and of adjusting to the colonial presence and its discursive expressions in a form of "colonial sociology".

British Occupation

16– Cromer, Lord Dufferin and colonial sociology.

17It was central to the justification of the British presence and reformist project in Egypt that the Egyptians were not yet ready for self-rule. This would indeed be an enormous injustice because it would permit the old Turkish pashas to exploit the peasantry as before. Egypt was not a unified national society. The attitude towards the position of the khedive was circular: they had occupied Egypt declaredly to restore his authority. At the same time they raised the spectre that their departure would lead to the restoration of despotism, which made it necessary to check his power. Hence it was necessary that they remain.

  • 7 Lord Cromer, Modern Egypt, London, Macmillan and Company, 1908, vol. 2, p. 331.

18Another aspect, as Cromer put it in discussing the "workers of the machine of Government in Egypt", was that Tawfiq was considered "an admirable link between the Englishman and the Egyptian... often perform(ing) useful work in moderating the views of both sides". Tawfiq "possessed another very valuable quality. He knew his countrymen well. It was not in vain that Arabi had marched with horse, foot and artillery in to the square of Abdin Palace, and had imposed his will on his reluctant sovereign. It was not in vain that he had listened to the inflated rubbish talked by would-be patriots about free institutions, which were uncongenial to the soil of Egypt. He had laid these matters to heart".7

19It is clear from this show central a figure the khedive was in the British viewpoint for the operation of the veiled protectorate and thus also for the possibility of introducing the reforms under the proposals of Lord Dufferin.

20Muhammad Durri Bey al-Hakim, Kitab al-nuhba al-durriyya fi ma'athir al-'a'il al- muhamadiyya al-‘alawiyya (Bulaq: al-Matba'a al-kubra al-amiriyya, 1307).

21– The author was the most important surgeon of his day. (Rafi’i, ‘Asr Isma’il, II, 277-78). He was a protégé of the Khedive Ismail, then an associate and admirer of 'Ali Basha Mubarak, whose autobiographical piece in the Khitat he reproduced with his own addition. In 1307/1888 he published his 53-page book on the Muhammad Ali family. The reason for this was gratitude: the gratitude owed by the subjects of the Muhammad Ali family for raising the country out of darkness into the light of civilization. As one of these Egyptians, "the grace of this venerable family reached me directly and extended to me its multiple benefits, and I was educated in its schools and it paid for me to travel to France so that I could complete my education, so that I achieved what I have; and it was therefore incumbent upon me that I thank its virtue and publish its praise enveloped in glorification and exaltation".

22The form of the book is especially important for the writer; organized into short chapters on different members of the dynastic family since Muhammad Ali, it contains visual images of each member of the family (if he could locate them); these are engravings made from photos or old engravings redone in Paris at the author’s expense. This was meant to be a service to the people of Egypt, since "most of them know only the names (of the dynastic members) but never saw them, so one of us might say that our lord Muhammad Ali or Ibrahim Basha or others did so and so then go on to tell some of his deeds, but this is without at the same time there being engraved in his mind the image of the performer of these deeds, so that he is known through his actions but not in himself".

23The audience is defined as the general population of Egyptians, but especially the school and kuttab students and the seekers of knowledge.

24In the chapter on Tawfiq, we see the expression of themes which were very widely disseminated regarding the khedivate. The first is to attribute to the khedive all of the reforms that had been carried out first by the various regimes of financial control, then under the occupation. Education, the provisions of the Dufferin Report on the constitutional change, legal reform, irrigation works, water distribution, pensions, reductions of taxes — all are attributed to his grace. Following this, his piety and patronage of the construction of religious buildings is described. His love for the Reaya is like that of a merciful father, as seen in his inspections of the country, his care for the sick in the cholera epidemic of 1883, and in the commutation of the sentences of the Urabist rebels. The British are hardly mentioned.

25Here we are clearly in a new period, which was characterized by the need to deal with the veiled protectorate and its claims about reform. This book makes clear the means of political socialization at the time: it is a call for social deference, for gratitude. It bespeaks an entire attitude to political socialization and education.

26The author is acting of his own accord but gets his book published at the government press.

27The wings of Tawfiq have now been clipped. But not all of those who went along with the notion of reform and progress thought in the same way regarding the occupation. What feels like a language of tradition and veneration for the dynastic family is in fact an altered language whose meaning has also changed given the new context. There is here an explicit acknowledgement of the need for reform and the attribution of this to the khedivial family. Here the dynasty is used as a beneficiary and promoter of reform to "nativize" the changes occuring, including those aspects of change most easily associated with British interests and those of incoming foreigners. The British are completely absent from the account.

28Mikha’il Nahhas, al-Athar wa-huwwa ta’rikh faqid al-awtan al-rafi‘ al-makan sakin al-jinan al-maghfur lahu Muhammad Tawfiq al-Awwal Khidiwwi Misr al-Sabiq (Alexandria: Matba’at al-Ittihad al-Misri, 1892). Aziz Zend, Ta’rikh al-Khidiwwi Muhammad Basha Tawfiq (French frontispiece title: Aperçu sur la vie et la mort de SA. Mehemet Tewfik I Khedive d’Egypte (reprint: Cairo: Madbuli, 1991)

29Shortly after Tawfiq’s death in 1892, two biographies appeared, which have some similarities to one another but also contain some noticeable differences of approach in their discussion of the relation of the dynasty to reform.

  • 8 See Sami Aziz, al-Sihafa al-Misriyya wa mawqifuha min al-ihtilal al-inglizi, Cairo, Dar al-Katib a (...)

30Zend was the editor of al-Mahrusa, one of the newspapers owned by Syrian Christians which initially expressed constitutionalist views, being pro-Sharif and anti-Urabis, but after the occupation turned pro-Ottoman and anti-British.8 His biography contains a copy of the doctors’ reports on Tawfiq’s death, copies of obituary notices from the local and foreign press, extensive quotations of elegiac (ritha´) poetry, and finally a 30 page biographical notice properly speaking, out of a total length of 212 pages. Like al-Durri’s book, all reforms of the period are attributed to the khedive, and the British are scarcely mentioned.

31The Ottoman connection is here very much emphasized, especially by publishing the full texts of the telegram and firman of investiture, and mentioning the succession of Ottoman decorations conferred upon him by the sultan.

32The Urabi revolt is dealt with to emphasize both the khedive’s firmness in dealing with the rebels but also emphasizing his courage in not seeking refuge on the British warships off Alexandria.

33In addition to nativizing the reforms, we see here the additional element of using the khedive to emphasize certain broader allegiances, especially to the Ottoman empire.

34As for Nahhas, he was again someone in the circle of al-Naqqash, Adib Ishaq, & al. Al-Ittihad al-Misri was another constitutionalist newspaper, which after the occupation became pro-British.

35The difference in this book is that the credit for the reforms is given to the British. The Khedive is instead praised for working with them for the reform of the country.

36Most of the book is given over to a discussion of the Urabi revolt to exonerate the khedive of any notion of treason and indict the Urabists for bringing on the occupation in the first place.


37Ibrahim Efendi ‘Abd al-Masih, Dalil Wadi al-Nil li-'ammai 1891,1892 (French frontispiece title: Indicateur de la Vallée du Nil. Année 1891-1892), n.p.

38Yusuf ‘Asaf and Qaysar Nasr, Dalil Misr li-'ammai 1889, 1890. (Cairo: al-Matba’a al-Amiriyya, 1889).

39Yusuf ‘Asaf, Dalil Misr 1891 (Cairo: al-Matba’a al-Amiriyya, 1890) Bound into one volume with a history of the Ottoman sultans, a history of the Muhammad Ali family, and a biographical dictionary of the famous men in Egypt.

40Again in the circles of the Syrian journalists, law (‘Asaf)

41A certain ordering of society. In ‘Abd al-Masih at the front come the names and orderings of the khedive, the princes and princesses of the khedivial family, the officials of the khedivial diwan, the ceremonial section, the ma'iya saniyya, his personal guard, and the da’ira khasa. This precedes the ministry. In ‘Asaf, first comes a history of the Ottomans, followed by a history of Egypt.

42The photos, ‘Asaf.

43When one moves to the economic section, the first "firms" listed are the dairas of members of the khedivial family.

School Texts

44Muhammad Efendi Zaki, Kitab al-nafha al-zakiyya fi ta’rikh Misr wa-akhbar al-duwwal al-islamiyya (Bulaq: al-Matbaca al-kubra al-amiriyya 1893).

45The modern history of Egypt again begins with the history of the Ottoman state since its foundation before moving on to the Muhammad Ali dynasty.

46Again, Tawfiq is credited with all the reforms. The Urabi revolt and the events surrounding it are said "to be well-known in all their details and hence there’s no need for us to explain them here"; the point being that he "never desisted from the reform of the country (p. 98).

47Muhammad Efendi Diyab, Khulasat ta’rikh Misr al-qadim wa’l- hadith (n. pl. 1310). Already under Abbas II.

48Similar, Tawfiq was responsible for all the reforms in his period, but there less emphasis on Ottomans.

49What emerges from this body of literature is a use of the khedive as a figure, however weakened in power, who could justify reform and social change, but who could also be used, paradoxically, to call up allegiances which were anti-British and pointed in the direction of a national symbol such as Abbas Hilmi II was to become.

50Generally, they bespeak an acceptance of the thrust of reform under the occupation. Their implication is that there is a division between the material aspects of reform, perceived as infrastructure, and the superstructure of culture, ideas, and education. Values mediated by the khedivate institution could ensure that the former would not lead to a repetition of the upheaval of the Urabi years. Here was another important aspect of khedivial imagery, and another way in which it asserted a cultural presence in society.

  • 9 Khouri Mouna, Poetry and the Making of Modern Egypt 1882-1992, Leiden, Brill, 1971, p. 56.

51He was also important in keeping alive, through a period of massive change and reorderings of power, a culture of social deference, as seen in the continuation of the madh and ritha'. The poet Shawqi, who was patronized by Tawfiq, wrote in his autobiographical note that when he was starting out the poetry of madh of rulers was the standard of poetic excellence, and that he was determined to excel in this himself.9 Court ritual, decorations, tours, a lifestyle were all part of this.


1 Sami A., Taqwim al-Nil, Cairo: Matba’at Dar al-Kutub al-Misriyya, 1936, pt. 3,

vol. 1, pp. 33 & 39.

2 See Gaston Wiet, "Les déplacements de Mohamed Ali", Cahiers d’Histoire égyptienne, t. 2, 1949, pp, 86-120.

3 Al-Ayyubi Iliyas, Ta’rikh Misr fi ‘ahd al-Khidiwwi Isma‘il Basha min sanat 1863 ila sanat 1879, reprint, Cairo, Madbuli, 1990, vol. 1, pp. 26-55.

4 Cairo, Matba’at Bulaq, 1297.

5 Cairo, Matba’at Bulaq, 1297. Part one of this work, al-Tali’ al-Sa’id, which covered the visit to Upper Egypt was also published but I have been unable to locate a copy.

6 Biographical note of Husayn Husni Pasha in ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Rafi’i, ‘Asr Isma’il, Cairo, Dar al-Ma’arif, 1987, 4th printing, vol. 1, p. 253. He was a central figure in the renewal and reform of the press until his death in 1885.

7 Lord Cromer, Modern Egypt, London, Macmillan and Company, 1908, vol. 2, p. 331.

8 See Sami Aziz, al-Sihafa al-Misriyya wa mawqifuha min al-ihtilal al-inglizi, Cairo, Dar al-Katib al-'Arabi li'l taba’a wa’i nashr, 1968, 50, 165.

9 Khouri Mouna, Poetry and the Making of Modern Egypt 1882-1992, Leiden, Brill, 1971, p. 56.

Notes de fin

* Avriel Butovsky est tragiquement décédé le 7 octobre 1993. Il nous avait remis une première version de son texte que nous avons décidé de publier en l’état.

© CEDEJ - Égypte/Soudan, 1995

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