Egypt in Transition

By Jean Lacouture; Simonne Lacouture et al. | Go to book overview

III
The Cotton Boom

There was cotton in Egypt before Mohamed Ali came. Grown in India from 3000 B.C., it was probably brought to the Nile Valley during the period of Assyrian rule. Except for brief references in Herodotus and Pliny to the 'wool-tree', little is known about how important the crop was until the tenth century, when the Arab chronicler Ibn el Awam was the first to mention its success. We have no idea of the amount of production and export before the eighteenth century. The Marseilles Chamber of Commerce noted in its archives the arrival of 200,000 pounds of spun cotton from Alexandria in 1711. But at the end of the century Volney said that Egyptian cotton was 'far less highly thought of than that of Syria and Armenia'. His contemporary, Browne, mentioned that the Damietta weavers and spinners bought their raw material in Syria. Finally, some of the investigators who came with the 1798 expedition described an active and fairly prosperous artisan cotton industry at Beni-Suef, Rosetta, Damietta and Mahalla-al-Kubra, while saying that it was hindered by the inadequate local harvests and their relatively poor quality.

The whole situation changed from 1820 onwards. A French engineer named Jumel, one of the many European technicians who were attracted by the Viceroy's keenness for modernization, found in his friend Maho Bey's garden, near Cairo, a cotton-plant with fibres of a length and softness hitherto unknown. He at once told the Pasha, who imposed this 'Jumel cotton' on the peasant people he held under his sway. It is still not known whether this plant came from India, the Sudan or Ethiopia. Here the monopoly of agricultural purchase was a boon, for the Viceroy paid twice as much for 'Jumel' as for the old kind of cotton, which quickly disappeared. Between 1820 and 1835 cotton production rose from 1,000 cantars (a cantar being a little under half a hundredweight) to 243,000. After 1835 -- the period of great military activity -- there was a fall in output due to the lowering of the price paid to the fellahs. Mohamed Ali's greed threatened him with ruin. The upward trend was not resumed until

-56-

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Egypt in Transition
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 5
  • Contents 7
  • Illustrations 8
  • Introduction - Egyptian Continuity And Revolutions 11
  • Part One - The Awakening of Egypt 37
  • I - The Advent of Bonaparte 39
  • II - Mohamed Ali Creates a State 50
  • III - The Cotton Boom 56
  • IV - A Revolution in Irrigation 60
  • V - The Adventurous Khedive 63
  • VI - The Arabi Revolt 69
  • VII - The Reformers 74
  • VIII - British Technocracy 78
  • IX - The 1919 Revolution 82
  • X - The Wafd 86
  • XI - Making the Best of War -- 1939 97
  • XII - The Burning of Cairo 105
  • Part Two - The Officers' Republic 123
  • I - A Short History of the 'Free Officers' Movement 125
  • II - Power -- to What Purpose? 160
  • III - Neguib's Fall 179
  • IV - The Structure of Nasser's State 192
  • V - The 'Diplomacy' of Small Nations 196
  • VI - The Political Parties 240
  • VII - Revolutionary Tendencies, 1952-57 275
  • VIII - Not a Real Revolution. 292
  • Part Three - Working Life in The Valley 307
  • I - The Land and Its Men 309
  • II - The Agrarian Reform 340
  • III - The Problem of Over-Population 357
  • IV - Economic Growing-Pains 362
  • V - Industrialization and Social Problems 367
  • VI - The Aswan Dam Problem 388
  • Part Four - Forging a Society 397
  • I - Cairo -- City of Convulsions 399
  • II - In Search of a National Culture 413
  • III - Egypt, Islam and the Modern World 430
  • Part Five - The Great Test 451
  • I - Nasser as He Really Is 453
  • II - The Suez Crisis 467
  • III - The Franco-British Invasion 481
  • IV - Egypt Carries On 493
  • V - The 'United Arab State' 505
  • A Chronology of Modern Egypt 515
  • Reading List 519
  • Index 523
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