Modern History and Politics: La France et l'Egypte De 1882 a 1914: Interets Economiques et Implications Politiques

Article excerpt

La France et l'Egypte de 1882 a 1914: interets economiques et implications politiques, by Samir Saul. Paris: Ministere de l'Economie, des Finances, et de l'lndustrie, 1997. xix + 714 pages. Sources to p. 752. Indices to p. 773. Tables to p. 787. 249FF.

Samir Saul's monumental study of Franco-Egyptian relations prior to World War One supplements political and economic history with a meticulous analysis of French companies' business strategies and financial accounts. Although the forest is often obscured by the luxuriant overgrowth of balance sheets and other microeconomic detail, the selective reader will be rewarded with insights into the dynamics of the internationalization of capital that still appear to be relevant in the present era of renewed globalization and internationalization of capital. If, as Saul argues in his concluding analysis (abbreviated to some 15 pages from 140 in his original doctoral dissertation), imperialism is defined as "the internationalization of capital accompanied by a strategy of control" (p. 709), his assumption is that states coordinate and implement the strategies. In the prewar Concert of Europe, the traditional French dirigiste conception of capitalism gave primacy to the state controller/strategist, but in the contemporary world, the Anglo-American conception of market-driven capitalism has triumphed at least temporarily. States are supposed to leave matters of control to rating agencies (for portfolio investment) and the multinationals. These matters, however, are subject to scholarly and partisan debate, and, for some readers, imperialism may still be alive and kicking.

It is well known that France invested substantially more in Egypt than any other European country, including Britain, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Saul exhaustively analyzes the major French enterprises operating in Egypt under the British occupation. The Suez Canal Company, the Credit Foncier d'Egypte (CFE), and the Societe Generale des Sucreries de la Haute-Egypte are his principal case studies; but he also examines scores of other companies, including the Belgian Baron d'Empain's Cairo Electric Railways and Heliopolis Oases Company (inspired by the development of Brooklyn, NY, p. 141), in order to compare the various patterns of control of European capital. For instance, the Belgians shrewdly preserved their control of local management while keeping the big French banks at arms length, yet using the capital of small French investors.

The French had a more difficult task of keeping their locally managed enterprises under control. Between 1882 and 1914 French capital invested in Egypt tripled, exceeding the French share of the public debt. In the 1903 Entente between Britain and France, the latter acquiesced to Britain's political control of Egypt in exchange for a green light in Morocco, and French investments in Egypt accelerated. …