Sa'id was a Francophone, educated in Paris. Under Sa'id's rule there were several law, land and tax reforms. Some modernization of Egyptian and Sudanese infrastructure also occurred using western loans.
In 1854 the first act of concession of land for the Suez Canal was granted, to a French businessman Ferdinand de Lesseps. The British opposed a Frenchman building the canal and persuaded the Ottoman Empire to deny its permission for two years. Sudan had been conquered by his father in 1821 and incorporated into his Egyptian realm, mainly in order to seize slaves for his army.
Slave raids (the annual 'razzia') also ventured beyond Sudan into Kordofan and Ethiopia. Facing European pressure to abolish official Egyptian slave raids in the Sudan, Sa'id issued a decree banning raids. Freelance slave traders ignored his decree.
When the American Civil War brought a cotton famine, the export of Egyptian cotton surged during Sa'id's rule to become the main source for European mills. At the behest of Napoleon III in 1863, Sa'id dispatched part of a Sudanese battalion to help put down a rebellion against the Second Mexican Empire. Under Sa'id's rule the influence of sheikhs was curbed and many Bedouin reverted to nomadic raiding.
In 1854 he established the Bank of Egypt. In the same year Egypt's first standard gauge railway was opened, between Kafr el-Zayyat on the Rosetta branch of the Nile and Alexandria. Sa'id's heir presumptive, Ahmad Rifaat, drowned in 1858 at Kafr el-Zayyat when a railway train on which he was travelling fell off a car float into the Nile.
The Mediterranean port of Port Said is named after him.
There is now a member of his family lineage is Prince Mohammed Farouk Sharif is the eldest grandson of Ahmed Sherif Basha son of Mohamed Said Pasha and is now living in Alexandria.