Imagined Empires: A History of Revolt in Egypt

Imagined Empires: A History of Revolt in Egypt

Imagined Empires: A History of Revolt in Egypt

Imagined Empires: A History of Revolt in Egypt


Through a microhistory of a small province in Upper Egypt, this book investigates the history of five world empires that assumed hegemony in Qina province over the last five centuries. Imagined Empires charts modes of subaltern rebellion against the destructive policies of colonial intruders and collaborating local elites in the south of Egypt.

Abul-Magd vividly narrates stories of sabotage, banditry, flight, and massive uprisings of peasants and laborers, to challenge myths of imperial competence. The book depicts forms of subaltern discontent against "imagined empires" that failed in achieving their professed goals and brought about environmental crises to Qina province. As the book deconstructs myths about early modern and modern world hegemons, it reveals that imperial modernity and its market economy altered existing systems of landownership, irrigation, and trade-- leading to such destructive occurrences as the plague and cholera epidemics.

The book also deconstructs myths in Egyptian historiography, highlighting the problems of a Cairo-centered idea of the Egyptian nation-state. The book covers the Ottoman, French, Muhammad Ali's, and the British informal and formal empires. It alludes to the U.S. and its failed market economy in Upper Egypt, which partially resulted in Qina's participation in the 2011 revolution. Imagined Empires is a timely addition to Middle Eastern and world history.


Empire is almighty. It is an all-encompassing political entity capable of penetrating places big and small, near and far, and establishing full hegemony. the semidivine omnipotence of empire is made manifest not only in its ability to control the high politics of the metropolis but also in its penetration of the daily life of peoples in the remotest places—in the periphery of the periphery of the empire. “Wherever it appears, empire is competent, fast, and successful in achieving its goals and altering people’s lives. But that is a myth. Omnipotent empire was imagined. Although empire managed to extend into the farthest places on earth, it failed in that which it thought itself to be most competent, instead leaving behind environmental devastation and revolt. the history of Qina Province, a small place deep in the south of Egypt, over the last five hundred years proves this case.

On the eve of the Egyptian Revolution of 2011, I visited the southern half of the country, Upper Egypt, in order to conduct field research for this book. in the farmlands bordering a small town in Qina Province, I noticed an enormous cylindrical, silver building that looked alien to its surroundings. “When I inquired about its contents, I learned that this was a silo for the wheat from the us Agency for International Development (USAID). the controversial American food aid to Egypt, which many analysts believe to be a tool of imperial hegemony through the establishment of grain dependency, had made its way to the farthest reaches of Upper Egypt. I also learned that the “informal empire” made an appearance in the province in many other ways. For almost twenty years before the 2011 revolution, deposed President Hosni Mubarak’s economic reform program—which followed the neoliberal “Washington Consensus”—deeply hurt the large number of sugarcane cultivators in Qina. the former legal codes of landholding, promulgated by the . . .

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