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Domestic Sovereignty, A‘yan Developmentalism, and Global Microhistory in Modern Egypt

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 March 2018

Adam Mestyan*
History, Duke University


Through a new type of global microhistory, this article explores the remaking of the political system in Egypt before colonialism. I argue that developmentalism and the origins of Arabic monarchism were closely related in 1860s Egypt. Drawing on hitherto unknown archival evidence, I show that groups of Egyptian local notables (a‘yan) sought to cooperate with the Ottoman governor Ismail (r. 1863–1879) in order to gain capital and steam machines, and to participate in the administration. Ismail, on his side, secured a new order of succession from the Ottoman sultan. A‘yan developmentalism was discursively presented in petitions, poems, and treatises acknowledging the new order and naturalizing the governor as an Egyptian ruler. Consultation instead of constitutionalism was the concept to express the new relationship. The collaboration was codified in the Consultative Chamber of Representatives, often interpreted as the first parliament in the Middle East. As a consequence of the sultanic order and the Chamber, Egypt's position within the Ottoman Empire became similar to a pseudo-federal relationship. I conclude by contrasting different ways of pseudo-federalization in the global 1860s, employing a regional, unbalanced comparison with the United Principalities and Habsburg Hungary.

Egyptian Vernacular
Copyright © Society for the Comparative Study of Society and History 2018 

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1 Attachment to undated letter from Sayyid Ahmad Agha Nafi‘, headman of Dandit, to Isma‘il Siddiq Pasha, 421/39, microfilm 199, al-Ma‘iyya al-Saniyya Turki (Turkish correspondence of the Governor's Entourage, henceforth MST), Dar al-Watha'iq al-Qawmiyya (National Archives of Egypt, Cairo; henceforth DWQ). Dandit is a small town in the Daqahliyya Province of Egypt. All translations are my own unless otherwise indicated. Arabic and Ottoman Turkish transliteration follows the simplified standard of the International Journal of Middle East Studies. Names of Ottoman elite individuals are written according to Turkish orthography.

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57 Letter from Mehmed Şerif, 7 Muharram 1283 (22 May 1866), 32/38, microfilm 197, MST, DWQ.

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62 Most letters are in microfilm 197, MST, DWQ.

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64 Letter dated 13 Muharram 1283 (28 May 1866), from Mehmed Şerif, 51/38, microfilm 197, MST, DWQ.

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66 Davis, Challenging Colonialism, 28–29.

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75 Undated letter from Isma‘il Siddiq (ca. 21 Muharram 1283/5 June 1866), 111/38, microfilm 197, MST, DWQ.

76 For groupness, see Cooper, Colonialism, 75–76. For the Arabic translation of the firman: letter from Ismail Sal, 23 Muharram 1283 im (7 June 1866), 125/38, microfilm 197, MST, DWQ.

77 Letter from Ali Cevdet, 2 Muharram 1283 (17 May 1866) 148/38, microfilm 197, MST, DWQ.

78 Letter from Qasim Pasha, 26 Muharram 1283 (10 June 1866), 138/38, microfilm 197, MST, DWQ.

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116 Ibid., 4.

117 Ibid., 33.

118 Ibid., 45.

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120 The title malik is not new: Said Pasha had already been praised as “possessor/king of Egypt” in the 1850s. [Salih Majdi], Diwan (Collected poems) (Bulaq, 1311 [1893 or 1894]), 1, 12, 55, etc.

121 M. Plessner, “Mulk,” and A. Ayalon, “Malik,” both in P. Bearman et al., eds., Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2d ed., Brill Online, 2014.

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138 Al-Najjari, Rawd Madih, 59.

139 Davis, Challenging Colonialism, 24; Mitchell, Rule of Experts, 62–65; Stolz, Daniel, “The Voyage of the Sammanud: Pilgrimage, Cholera, and Empire on an Ottoman-Egyptian Steamship Journey in 1865-67,” International Journal of Turkish Studies 23, 1–2 (2017): 118 Google Scholar.

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142 Letter from Musa al-Jundi, 11 Rabi‘ al-Thani 1283 (23 Aug. 1866), 55/39, microfilm 198, MST, DWQ.

143 Letter from Ahmad Mustafa, 15 Rabi‘ al-Akhir 1283 (25 Oct. 1866), 82/39, microfilm 198, MST, DWQ.

144 Anderson, Imagined Communities, 21.

145 Undated letter from Muhammad al-Shawarli, village headman of Qayub, and Hamza ‘Ali, village headman of Tasma, 150/39, MST, DWQ.

146 Undated letter from Ahmad al-Yamani entitled “Malhuzat tata‘allaq bi-aqlam min al-irad wa-l-masarif wa-umur al-dabt wa-l-rabt” (Notes related to the Offices of Income and Expenditure and General Security), 151/39, microfilm 198, MST, DWQ.

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