Nurturing the Nation: The Family Politics of Modernizing, Colonizing and Liberating Egypt (1805-1923)

Nurturing the Nation: The Family Politics of Modernizing, Colonizing and Liberating Egypt (1805-1923)

Nurturing the Nation: The Family Politics of Modernizing, Colonizing and Liberating Egypt (1805-1923)

Nurturing the Nation: The Family Politics of Modernizing, Colonizing and Liberating Egypt (1805-1923)

Synopsis

Focusing on gender and the family, this erudite and innovative history reconsiders the origins of Egyptian nationalism and the revolution of 1919 by linking social changes in class and household structure to the politics of engagement with British colonial rule. Lisa Pollard deftly argues that the Egyptian state's modernizing projects in the nineteenth century reinforced ideals of monogamy and bourgeois domesticity among Egypt's elite classes and connected those ideals with political and economic success. At the same time, the British used domestic and personal practices such as polygamy, the harem, and the veiling of women to claim that the ruling classes had become corrupt and therefore to legitimize an open-ended tenure for themselves in Egypt. To rid themselves of British rule, bourgeois Egyptian nationalists constructed a familial-political culture that trained new generations of nationalists and used them to demonstrate to the British that it was time for the occupation to end. That culture was put to use in the 1919 Egyptian revolution, in which the reformed, bourgeois family was exhibited as the standard for "modern" Egypt.

Excerpt

In May 1919, Egypt’s acting consul general, Sir Milne Cheetham (1869– 1938), sent an intelligence report to the Foreign Office in an attempt to explain why Egypt had erupted in a series of violent uprisings. Having perused the Egyptian political press, Cheetham reported to British foreign secretary Lord Curzon (1859–1925) that he found the Egyptian peasants, workers, and bourgeois nationalists (the effendiyya) to be largely uninterested in politics. the contagions of Bolshevism, Turkish nationalism, and general Egyptian unruliness—not desires for independence and self-rule—were at the heart of the uprisings. His comments, designed as much to explain away the causes of the 1919 Revolution as to uncover them, were meant to persuade Curzon to maintain Egypt as a British protectorate state. Cheetham wrote:

More significant than what appeared in the Press were often the things which
were entirely ignored. There were endless general expressions of admiration for
the noble hospitality of the Egyptian people, and for its wonderful success in
proving its political solidarity by demonstrations, modified only by a repudiation
on behalf of the intellectuals of any responsibility for the excesses of the mob …
the resignation of the … ministry passed almost without comment, and hence
forth references to Zaghloul Pasha’s delegation were comparatively few and far
between. Attention was henceforth diverted mainly to such matters as the neces
sity of more interest on the part of Egyptians in trade, the uses of trade unionism,
and the necessity of charity on the part of the rich towards the poor.

In explaining away the revolution, the British missed a number of crucial points about Egyptian politics and the ways that they were shaped.

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