Biographical Dictionary of Modern Egypt

Biographical Dictionary of Modern Egypt

Biographical Dictionary of Modern Egypt

Biographical Dictionary of Modern Egypt


"Scholars and writers often encounter problems when conducting research on Asian and African countries because of the scarcity or inaccessibility of information about the lives of significant historical figures. Responding to that lacunae in the coverage of Egypt, this desk reference provides biodata, biographical sketches, and source material for approximately four hundred men and women who have played a major role in Egypt's national life."


Egypt ranks first among the Arab countries in population, popular culture, and historical documentation. Its people have a durable sense of national identity. Both Egyptians and foreigners have written numerous scholarly studies and popular accounts of modern Egypt's foreign relations, domestic politics, commerce and industry, religions, prose and poetry, visual arts, entertainment, and intellectual life. Specialized works of collective biography also abound, and in Arabic at least, there are individual biographies for most of Egypt's intellectual and political leaders, past and present. Up to now, however, researchers in Egypt's modern history have not had an organized and accessible reference tool, comparable to the American National Biogra- phy, with concise accounts of the lives of the country's leaders. Nor could they find bibliographic aids that could point them to source materials published in Arabic and in European languages. This work fills that void.

For more than thirty years I have wanted to assemble, or to persuade others to assemble, a biographical dictionary of Egypt that could later serve as a working model for volumes covering other Arab countries, as well as Israel, Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan. The development of the computer's word-processing capabilities has made what was a utopian vision seem attainable.

I made some debatable decisions in producing this biographical dictionary. The work takes "Egypt" to be the region or country ruled from Cairo by Mamluks, Ottoman governors or khedives, British consuls or high commissioners, kings, and presidents; but it excludes Sudan. There is no consensus on when "modern" Egypt begins; Egyptian historians often debate whether Napoleon's invasion in 1798 or Muhammad 'Ali's seizure of power in 1805 marks the onset of modernity. I think that an ambitious effort was made to strengthen Egypt during the reigns of 'Ali Bey and Muhammad Bey Abu al-Dhahab in the late eighteenth century and that the first signs of intellectual revival can be seen in the work of Murtada al-Zabidi and 'Abd al-Rahman alJabarti. Therefore, these leaders and a few of their contemporaries are the earliest figures dealt with in the dictionary.

Almost everyone asks about the criteria for inclusion. Many worthy generals, admirals, poets, novelists, journalists, lawyers, doctors, and parliamentarians failed to make the cut; some readers may gasp at the inclusion of a few men and women who did. The primary criterion was, "Is the inclusion of person X needed to give a representative picture of modern Egypt's history?" Traditional biographical dictionaries in the West stress generals, politicians, and diplomats; those of the Muslim world emphasize religious leaders, scholars, and poets. All deserve attention, but so, too, do founders of newspapers, department stores, theatrical troupes, and innovative techniques of visual representation. There are some regrettable omissions: farmers and laborers, athletes and guides, and some Egyptians now at the leading edge of the arts and sciences. I deliberately omitted Egyptians whose historically significant activities took place in other countries. I included some nonEgyptians, especially French and British nationals, who did play a prominent role in Egypt's modern history.

The entries vary in length according to my judgment of the importance of the people covered. Exact birth and death dates are usually supplied, to facilitate future analysis of age cohorts . . .

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