Born in Tirana, Albania, he was a supporter of the Young Turks, serving as deputy for Albania in the Ottoman parliament. During the 1913 Balkan War, he was commander of the Ottoman forces at Shkodėr, until he was forced to surrender to Montenegro in 1913.
As head of the powerful Toptani family, Essad Pasha was originally appointed to the cabinet created by William of Wied in February, 1914, but by May of that year he had been dismissed and arrested for treason. He managed to reach Italy, but returned to Albania following the ouster of William in September. With an army of supporters, he occupied the city of Tirana in the center of the country and was declared prime minister on October 5.
Though his rule was shortlived, Pasha succeeded in controlling much of central Albania until 1916, when he left for Serbia to help them in their war against the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After the war, he travelled to France, hoping to represent Albania at the Paris Peace Conference but, like William of Wied, he was virtually ignored by the delegates.