Academic journal article Anarchist Studies

Caught between Internationalism, Transnationalism and Immigration: A Brief Account of the History of Anarchism in Egypt until 1945

Academic journal article Anarchist Studies

Caught between Internationalism, Transnationalism and Immigration: A Brief Account of the History of Anarchism in Egypt until 1945

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

In 1976 Leonardo Bettini published a two-volume work entitled Bibliografia dell'anarchismo (Bibliography of anarchism). This included a chapter on the history of Italian anarchism in Egypt, Appunti per una storia dell'anarchismo italiano in Egitto (Notes for a history of Italian anarchism in Egypt). This was a pioneer work and the first of its genre dedicated to the history of anarchism in the Mediterranean South. In this initial work, Bettini traced the transnational networks of Italian anarchists: their movement, activities, and most importantly, their publications and personal trajectories. Even though he focused on the Italian anarchist community in the region, he opened a broader perspective on the transnationality of anarchism, one which not only transcended European confinement, as anarchism had already spread to South America, but also its deeply-rooted Western cultural borders. In general terms, anarchist historiography has been silent on the emergence of anarchism in non-Western contexts (Adams 2002). Knowledge of anarchist communities in the South and the East of the Mediterranean has been particularly absent in histories of anarchism.

Thirty years after Bettini's book more research appeared, Anthony Gorman published a series of articles (the most important ones: 2005, 2008, 2010), examining anarchism in the South Mediterranean, and in Egypt in particular, analysing archival material from the Italian and British consulates (until that moment unknown). Ilham Khuri Makdisi published The Eastern Mediterranean and the Making of Mediterranean and the Making of Global Radicalism 1860-1914 (2010). This traced radical networks of dissent in the Mediterranean between Beirut, Cairo and Alexandria, and demonstrated the importance of these networks in creating and spreading internationalist ideologies such as anarchism and communism in the region, as well as other repertoires of contentious politics. The importance of these studies is that they demonstrate the close historical relationship between anarchism and political and labour migration in the peripheral regions of the Mediterranean. They also shed some light on the role that the anarchist movement in Egypt played in disseminating radical social and political ideas and practices in a territory that was in the process of being integrated in the global capitalist market. In particular, the work of Khuri-Makdisi made evident the transnationalism and intersections of these radical ideas in the Mediterranean at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth.

The anarchist movement in Egypt developed principally in the coastal city of Alexandria and in the capital, Cairo. It emerged around 1860 due to the entry and expansion of Egypt in the global economy: work on the Suez Canal and a boom in cotton production stimulated the arrival of European and non-European migrants looking for jobs (as was also the case in Tunisia and other parts of the Ottoman Empire). Italians, Greeks, French, Syrians and Armenians all arrived in the region and it was from these migrant populations that the first internationalist groups were born. Alexandria and Cairo quickly became important centres for anarchist activities in the Mediterranean, and hubs for networks that extended to Tunis and other coastal cities of the Ottoman Empire, to Europe and South and North America. Anarchism spread significantly between 1898 and 1906, in step with Egypt's rapid economic development and increases in European immigration. Individuals from different social groups and communities came together, bringing a rich mix of ideas to their activism: from labour organising, to cultural gatherings, libertarian education and global solidarity campaigning. After a brief surge of activity in 1909, the movement eventually went into decline between 1914 and 1920. The First World War, the emergence of Bolshevism, bourgeois nationalism and fascism, were some of the reasons why anarchism declined as a major radical force in the region. …

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