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Imagined Empires

Imagined Empires: A History of Revolt in Egypt

Zeinab Abul-Magd
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 216
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt3fh2n5
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  • Book Info
    Imagined Empires
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95653-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. [Maps]
    (pp. viii-x)
  5. INTRODUCTION: Imagined Empires, Real Rebels
    (pp. 1-16)

    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...

  6. ONE Ottomans, Plague, and Rebellion (1500–1800)
    (pp. 17-42)

    In the 1760s, the Ottoman sultan received a report on the state of affairs in Egypt that revealed unpleasant news. Egypt, one of the shiniest jewels in the empire’s crown, was not one intact province under the sultan’s full hegemony. The eminent officer who compiled the report described the existence of an autonomous state in the south. Seemingly enjoying no access to this state, the Ottoman officer gave brief and incomplete information about its government. According to the report, the autonomous regime in Upper Egypt was ruled by its own Arab tribal regime that did pay an annual tax to...

  7. TWO The French, Plague Encore, and Jihad (1798–1801)
    (pp. 43-69)

    In 1798, when Napoléon Bonaparte’s army landed in Egypt, its declared goal was to liberate the country from the despotic rule of the Ottomans. Granting freedom to the country’s minority of Orthodox Christians, the Copts, was the second task of the French colonial troops. Upon arriving in Egypt, the soldiers advanced from Cairo into the south, Upper Egypt, where the Coptic population was concentrated. As expected, Christian inhabitants received the French with admiring eyes and tender hearts. The Copts provided the French with extensive logistical support until the French triumph over the tyrannical Mamluks—the Turkic ruling elite appointed by...

  8. THREE The Pasha’s Settlers, Bulls, and Bandits (1805–1848)
    (pp. 70-94)

    Between 1820 and 1824, a series of unprecedented revolts erupted in Upper Egypt, all from Qina Province, aiming to overthrow the regime of Muhammad ‘Ali Pasha. Throughout the long, rigid forty-year reign of Muhammad ‘Ali (d. 1848), Egypt had never witnessed such outbreaks, in either the country’s north or south. Ahmad al-Salah, an Arab shaykh, led the first and largest revolt, mobilizing about forty thousand followers for his cause, including peasants and Arab tribal shaykhs. From his home village of Salimiyya, al-Salah emerged as a Sufi mystic and self-proclaimed messiah and declared a holy war against the pasha, claiming that...

  9. FOUR A “Communist” Revolution (1848–1882)
    (pp. 95-121)

    In 1864, a massive Egyptian revolt once again erupted from Qina Province. Ahmad al-Tayyib did what his father had done forty years earlier during Muhammad ‘Ali’s reign: he led tens of thousands of peasants in an attempt to overthrow the government. The rebels attacked the steamboats of European merchants, Turkish plantation owners, and rich Copts and, more important, called for the redistribution of wealth. Originally from the village of Salimiyya, al-Tayyib, like his father, was a Sufi mystic and self-proclaimed messiah. He used religious rhetoric to mobilize the rural masses who were discontented, this time, over foreign commercial activities, massive...

  10. FIVE Rebellion in the Time of Cholera (1882–1950)
    (pp. 122-146)

    In 1885, three years after the British colonization of Egypt, an incident that appeared to be an ordinary theft in a village market revealed the existence of a gang of audacious bandits. It was a period of dark, hard days in Qina Province, deep in the south of Egypt, as signs of a serious cholera breakout were spreading throughout the villages of the region. ‘Ali Effendi Ibrahim—the province’s Parliament member—was on his plantation when he received the bad news: money and jewelry had been stolen from his house, along with the precious state medal bestowed upon him by...

  11. EPILOGUE: America—The Last Imagined Empire?
    (pp. 147-156)

    On the eve of the Egyptian Revolution of 2011, the US administration was acting as another empire, a sole global hegemon, in the south and north of Egypt and most of the world. After the end of the Cold War, many theorists asserted that America functioned as an “informal,” “postmodern” empire that penetrated its dependencies with minimal to no military interference and invented nuanced discursive tools of soft hegemony in a globalized realm of action. In Egypt and elsewhere, American imperialism aimed to take place through the neoliberal dictum of the so-called Washington Consensus, or by pressuring satellite regimes to...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 157-186)
  13. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 187-197)
  14. ART CREDITS
    (pp. 198-198)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 199-201)