Saad Zaghlul Pasha (1859-1927), Egyptian political leader, founded the country's most important political party, the Wafd.
Saad Zaghlul was born in Ibyana, a village in the province of Gharbiyyah in the Egyptian Delta, of pure Egyptian parents of modest means. At Azhar University he specialized in Islamic law, philosophy, and theology and came under the strong influence of the Islamic reformers Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Muhammad Abduh. Zaghlul's subsequent career reflected the imprint of these reformers, and he championed the internal reform of Egyptian social, educational, and political institutions till the end of his eventful life.
Zaghlul's first appointment was as assistant editor of the Arabic section of the Egyptian Official Journal, which was edited by Muhammad Abduh. His insight and commitment to educational reforms soon began to be reflected in the various essays either written or inspired by Zaghlul that were highly critical of the low state of Egyptian education and institutions. With the outbreak of the first Egyptian revolution (1879-1882), commonly referred to as the Arabi Rebellion, the Egyptian political scene became complex, and most reformers of the time were implicated in that rebellion.
Rise in the Bureaucracy
Zaghlul experienced his first detention. Upon his release, he practiced law and distinguished himself; amassed some independent means, which enabled him to participate in Egyptian politics, then dominated by the struggle-moderate and extreme—against British occupation; and effected useful and permanent links with different factions of Egyptian nationalists. He became close to Princess Nazli, and his contacts with the Egyptian upper class led to his marriage to the daughter of the Egyptian prime minister Mustafa Pasha Fahmi, whose friendship with Lord Cromer, then the effective ruler of Egypt, accounts in part for the eventual acceptability of Zaghlul to the British occupation. In succession Zaghlul was appointed judge, minister of education (1906-1908), minister of justice (1910-1912); in 1913 he became vice president of the Legislative Assembly.
In all his ministerial positions Zaghlul undertook certain measures of reform that were acceptable to both Egyptian nationalists and the British occupation. Throughout this period, he kept himself outside extreme Egyptian nationalist factions, and though he was acceptable to the British occupation, he was not thereby compromised in the eyes of his Egyptian compatriots. The relationship between Britain and Egypt continued to deteriorate during and after World War I.
Leader of a Revolution
Egyptian insistence on, and British refusal to grant, independence ultimately led to the outbreak of the second Egyptian revolution, in 1919. Leading the revolution was Zaghlul, who as the head of the Egyptian delegation (Wafd) presented the demands for Egyptian independence to the British high commissioner. Zaghlul was arrested and in March deported to Malta. Upon his release in April, he went first to Paris to try to present to the Peace Conference the Egyptian demand for independence; was refused a hearing; in June 1920 traveled to London to negotiate with the Colonial Office; and returned empty-handed to Egypt in March 1921.
Zaghlul continued his disruptive activities, and the British once more imprisoned him and deported him later in 1921, first to Aden, then to the Seychelles, and finally to Gibraltar. He was finally released in March 1923 and was permitted to return to Egypt. The Egyptian delegation which he had initially led was transformed into the Wafd party, the largest and most effective political party ever formed in Egypt. He was called upon to form the first Cabinet of the independent kingdom of Egypt (January-November 1924).
For the next three years Zaghlul was the effective national leader of Egypt without, however, occupying any official position. He tried, unsuccessfully, to check the autocratic tendencies of King Fuad I and to increase the effectiveness of the Cabinet and the Parliament. Zaghlul died on Aug. 23, 1927. He is remembered by all Egyptian elements for his educational, judicial, and social reforms; for his skilled political and leadership qualities; and ultimately as the father of Egyptian independence. His house became known as the "House of the Nation," where future leaders of Egypt received their first lessons in Egyptian politics.
Further Reading on Saad Zaghlul Pasha
Information on Zaghlul Pasha is in Lord Cromer, Modern Egypt (2 vols., 1908); Jamal M. Ahmed, The Intellectual Origins of Egyptian Nationalism (1960); Albert H. Hourani, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798-1939 (1962); and Afaf Lutfi al-Sayyid, Egypt and Cromer: A Study in Anglo-Egyptian Relations (1968).