Sa'd Zaghlul was the founder and leader of the Wafd Party, the leading nationalist party in Egypt after World War I. Zaghlul was born in the Delta area and was a scholarship student at al-Azhar University.
He was influenced by the reformers Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Muhammad Abdu, with whom he worked on the Egyptian Gazette. He became a lawyer and worked as a judge before being appointed minister of education in 1906. Zaghlul's abilities and hard work earned the praise of Lord Cromer, the British de facto governor of Egypt.
Zaghlul was elected to the legislative assembly and served as vice president of the assembly from 1913 to its closure by the British at the outbreak of World War I in 1914. A gifted orator, Zaghlul was an outspoken critic of the government and an ardent nationalist. In 1896 he married Safia Fehmy, the daughter of Mustafa Fehmy, a wealthy aristocrat and former prime minister.
The marriage was childless, but Safia became a close confidante and a supporter of her husband's political work. Their large villa in Cairo became known as Beit al-Umma, or House of the People. Sa'd Zaghlul was also politically close to Makram Ebeid, a Coptic Christian, whom he called his "adopted son."
Encouraged by Allied statements regarding selfdetermination and freedom, Zaghlul gathered together a group of like-minded Egyptian nationalists to form a delegation, or Wafd, shortly before the end of World War I.
The Wafd presented its demands for complete independence to Reginald Wingate, the British high commissioner, who forwarded their request to London. However, the British, who had no intentions of relinquishing control over Egypt, refused to meet or negotiate with Zaghlul.
As national unrest increased throughout Egypt, Zaghlul and several other Wafdists were arrested and deported to Malta in 1919. The arrests led to a fullscale revolution that the British put down by force. in her husband's absence Safia Zaghlul became a leading spokesperson for the Wafd and was called Um Misr (mother of Egypt).
She addressed striking students from the balcony of her home and in 1919 led the first political demonstration of women in the Middle East. in the face of unending demonstrations and strikes, the British were forced to release Sa'd Zaghlul, who then traveled to the Paris Peace Conference and London but failed to secure Egyptian independence.
Zaghlul was a national hero in Egypt, and the Wafd was the dominant political party. in 1922 Britain ended the protectorate over Egypt and declared it independent, but it was symbolic rather than actual independence. When nationalist discontent continued, Zaghlul was deported to the Seychelles via Aden.
More demonstrations predictably ensued, and he was freed after more than a year in captivity. Zaghlul won the open and free 1924 elections with a large majority, but he was forced to resign following the assassination of Sir Lee Stack, the British sirdar (ruler) of Sudan, in Cairo several months later.
Sa'd Zaghlul died in 1927 after a short illness. Safia assumed a more important role in the Wafd. As Wafdists met to discuss who should replace Sa'd Zaghlul, Safia Zaghlul announced that she intended to withdraw from the political arena but supported Mustafa Nahhas to assume leadership of the party. With Safia Zaghlul's support, Nahhas became the Wafd's second president.