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Jurisdictional Borderlands: Extraterritoriality and “Legal Chameleons” in Precolonial Alexandria, 1840–1870

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 April 2013

Ziad Fahmy*
Cornell University


This essay highlights the role of thousands of nineteenth-century Alexandrian residents with multiple extraterritorial legal identities. The manner with which extraterritoriality was practiced in Egypt effectively gave Western consulates legal jurisdiction not only over their citizens but also over all those able, through whatever means, to acquire protégé status. Many Alexandrians acquired legal protection from multiple consulates, shifting their legal identities in order to maximize their immediate social and economic interests. These legal realities present historians with the dilemma of how to account for and “classify” this highly flexible and syncretic society. I strive to answer this question through the use of a borderland lens. Realizing that the heart of Egypt's borderland society was legal has led me to consider the concept of “jurisdictional borderland” as a productive method for examining the complexity of Egypt's nineteenth-century heterogeneous population. I define a jurisdictional borderland as a significant contact zone where there are multiple, often competing legal authorities and where some level of jurisdictional ambiguity exists. Jurisdictional borderlanders have their own unique and independent agenda that often conflicts with many of the competing “national” or imperial positions. Without an allegiance to any single government—be it Egyptian, Ottoman, or Western—and living in a peripheral environment with multiple, separate, and often competing “national” institutions, these borderlanders thrived in the jurisdictional spaces created in between multiple authorities. I conclude by suggesting how a jurisdictional borderland lens is useful for globally investigating other colonial and precolonial cities, many of which had similar extraterritorial legal systems.

Research Article
Copyright © Society for the Comparative Study of Society and History 2013

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1 M'Coan, James Carlile, “Consular Jurisdiction in Turkey and Egypt,” Foreign and Commonwealth Office Collection (London: G. Norman & Sons Printers, 1873)Google Scholar, 8.

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4 Brinton, Mixed Courts, 8.

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6 Brinton, Mixed Courts, 9. For more on the mixed courts in Egypt see, Brown, “Precarious Life,” 33–52.

7 See the works of William Marçais, George Marçais, Brunschvig, and Savauget. For more recent works, see Raymond and Abu Lughod on Cairo, Mantran on Istanbul, and Marcus on Aleppo. Many of these early works were mainly concerned with the urban morphology of so-called “Islamic” cities in order to contrast their divergent characteristics with “Western” cities.

8 Kasaba, Keyder, Tabak, Reimer, and Quataert all argued that the integration of these regions into the world economy increased the share of sea-born trade and shifted the center of gravity toward these port cities. For one of the earliest articles setting the trend to documenting the shift to Mediterranean port cites see, Issawi, Charles, “British Trade and the Rise of Beirut, 1830–1860,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 8, 1 (1977): 91101Google Scholar; Kasaba, Resat, Keyder, Caglar, and Tabak, Faruk, “Eastern Mediterranean Port Cities and their Bourgeoisies: Merchants, Political Projects, and Nation-States,” Review 10, 1 (1986): 121–35Google Scholar. An entire issue of Review, titled Port-Cities of the Eastern Mediterranean 1800–1914, was devoted to this thesis, arguing for the application of world-system theory in the study of nineteenth-century port cities. See Keyder, Caglar, Ozveren, Y. Eyup, and Quataert, Donald, “Port-Cities in the Ottoman Empire: Some Theoretical and Historical Perspectives,” Review 16, 4 (1993): 519–58Google Scholar. For editorial reasons however, Alexandria was not one of the cities discussed. The cities discussed in this volume are Beirut, Izmir, Patras, Trabzon, and Salonica. Michael Reimer continues with this world-system analysis through a comparative examination of three Ottoman-Arab seaports. See Reimer, Michael J., “Ottoman-Arab Seaports in the Nineteenth Century: Social Change in Alexandria, Beirut, and Tunis,” in Kasaba, Resat, ed., Cities in the World-System (New York: Greenwood Press, 1991), 135–56Google Scholar. Reimer later expands this thesis in Colonial Bridgehead: Government and Society in Alexandria, 1807–1882 (Boulder: Westview Press, 1997)Google Scholar.

9 See Ilbert, Robert, Alexandrie 1830–1930: Histoire d'une communauté citadine, 2 vols. (Cairo: Institut Français d'Archéologie orientale, 1996), vol. 1, 7298Google Scholar.

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11 Fahmy, Khaled, “For Cavafy with Love and Squalor: Some Critical Notes on the History and Historiography of Modern Alexandria,” and “Towards a Social History of Modern Alexandria,” both in Hirst, Anthony and Silk, Michael, eds., Alexandria Real and Imagined (London: Ashgate, 2004), 263–80Google Scholar, and 281–306.

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15 Brown, Nathan J., “The Precarious Life and Slow Death of the Mixed Courts of Egypt,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 25, 1. (1993): 3352Google Scholar; Cannon, Byron, Politics of Law and the Courts in Nineteenth-Century Egypt (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1988), 114Google Scholar. Before the mixed courts were established in 1876, some of the commercial disputes between foreign and Egyptian merchants were settled at Majlis al-Tujjar (The merchants' council). For more on Majlis al-Tujjar, see Goldberg, Jan, “On the Origins of Majālis al-Tujjār in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Egypt,” Islamic Law and Society 6, 2 (1999):193223Google Scholar; Reimer, Colonial Bridgehead, 81–82.

16 Baud, Michiel and Schendel, Willem Van, “Toward a Comparative History of Borderlands,” Journal of World History 8, 2 (1997), 211–42Google Scholar, here 216.

17 Haefeli, Evan, “A Note on the Use of North American Borderlands,” American Historical Review 104, 4 (Oct. 1999): 1222–25Google Scholar, here 1224; see also Martinez, Oscar J., Border People: Life and Society in the U.S.–Mexico Borderland (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1994), 818CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

18 For one of the first examinations of the Mediterranean as a borderland, see Darling, Linda T., “Mediterranean Borderlands: Early English Merchants in the Levant,” in Kermeli, Eugenia and Ozel, Oktay, eds, The Ottoman Empire: Myths, Realities and ‘Black Holes’: Contributions in Honor of Colin Imber (Istanbul: Isis, 2006), 173–88Google Scholar. Also see Darling's “The Mediterranean as a Borderland,” Review of Middle East Studies 46, 1 (2012): 5463Google Scholar.

19 For the differentiation between a frontier and a borderland, see Stoddard, Ellwyn R., “Frontiers, Borders and Border Segmentation: Toward a Conceptual Clarification,” Journal of Borderland Studies 6, 1 (Spring 1991): 19CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Adelman, Jeremy and Aron, Stephen, “From Borderlands to Borders: Empires, Nation-States, and the Peoples in Between in North American History,” American Historical Review 104, 3 (June 1999): 814–16Google Scholar; Haefeli, “A Note,” 1222–24.

20 American studies and legal scholars have recently used the concept of “legal borderlands” to more broadly examine American sovereignty. See, for example, Mary Dudziak and Volpp, Leti, “Introduction: Legal Borderlands: Law and the Construction of American Borders,” American Quarterly 57, 3 (2005): 593610Google Scholar; and Tirres, Allison Brownwell, “Lawyers and Legal Borderlands,” American Journal of Legal History 50, 157 (2008–2010): 157–99Google Scholar.

21 Benton, Lauren, Law and Colonial Cultures: Legal Regimes in World History, 1400–1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002)Google Scholar, 261.

22 To examine these phenomena, the mid-nineteenth-century records of the foreign consuls in Alexandria provide an invaluable resource. Though French and British consulate reports and contemporary newspapers were consulted, this study relied principally on American consulate records, which have been largely disregarded by historians studying this period.

23 Martinez, Border People, 20.

24 I use the term “legal chameleons” instead of “political amphibians,” because unlike the Spanish-French borderland where the later term was born, the Alexandrian seaport-borderland brought together many more than just two identities or allegiances. See Sahlins, Peter, Boundaries: The Making of France and Spain in the Pyrenees (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991)Google Scholar, 227.

25 Muhammad Ali was a native of the Balkan seaport of Kavalla. He arrived in Egypt as an officer in the Ottoman army sent to confront French forces in Egypt. After the departure of the French in 1801, he became one of the main contenders for power and was designated as the governor of Egypt by the Ottoman Sultan. Unsatisfied with this nominal position, Ali sought to achieve complete autonomy from the Ottomans by independently ruling Egypt. Such a bold strategy, however, not only required the building up of a strong military to defeat the Ottomans, but more importantly, the revenues to support such an ambitious endeavor. The search for economic self-sufficiency was partially solved through the takeover by the state of all Egyptian agricultural production. Muhammad's Ali's state monopoly paid Egyptian farmers a low fixed price and the crops were sold at market price to European factories. See Hunter, F. Robert, Egypt Under the Khedives 1805–1879: From Household Government to Modern Bureaucracy (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1999), 1415Google Scholar.

26 Historically, only the Eastern Harbor (which was less protected from the elements) was opened for European shipping. See Mubarak, Ali Pasha, Al-Khitat al-Tawfiqiyya al-Jadida, 20 vols. (Cairo: al-Hayi'a al-Misriyya al-‘Ama lil-Kitab, 1987 [1887]), vol. 7, 134Google Scholar; Reimer, Colonial Bridgehead, 55.

27 See Ilbert, Alexandrie, vol. 2, 758.

28 al-Jabarti, ‛Abd al-Rahman, ‘Aja'ib al-Athar fi al-Tarajim wa al-Akhbar, 4 vols. (Cairo: Bulaq Press, 1880), vol. 4, 133–45Google Scholar; Reimer, Colonial Bridgehead, 60–61.

29 Many were from the Greek islands, Malta, Cypress, Sicily, and so forth. See Statistique de l'Egypte, 1914, Ministère des Finance, Départment de la Statistique Générale (Cairo: National Printing Department, 1914)Google Scholar, 25, 42. Essai de statistique générale (Cairo: n.p., 1879), vol. 2, 6. See Ilbert, Alexandrie, vol. 2, 761; Reimer, Colonial Bridgehead, 160.

30 Reimer, Colonial Bridgehead, 108–9. Ilbert, Alexandrie, vol. 2, 758.

31 Reimer, Colonial Bridgehead, 96, 109–10. Europeans were exempt from local taxes.

32 Pasha, Amin Sami, Taqwim al-Nil, 3 vols. (Cairo: Matba‛at Dar al-Kutub al-Misriyya, 1936), vol. 3, 1518–25Google Scholar; Mubarak, al-Khitat al-Tawfiqiyya, vol. 7: 243–46, 251; Annuaire Statistique: Statistical Yearbook of Egypt for 1909, Ministry of Finance, Statistical Department (Cairo: National Printing Department, 1909)Google Scholar, 132. For more on railroads and other infrastructural change in Egypt in the late nineteenth century, see Fahmy, Ziad, Ordinary Egyptians: Creating the Modern Nation through Popular Culture (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011), 2027Google Scholar.

33 Ibid., 112–14; Hunter, Egypt Under the Khedives, 37.

34 Reimer, Colonial Bridgehead, 115.

35 U.S. Department of State [hereafter USDS], Dispatches from the United States Consuls in Cairo, 1864–1906 [hereafter DUSCC], dispatch 24, 28 Apr. 1876.

36 In 1900, C. Salvago became the president of la comunauté hellénique d'Alexandrie, and was one of the founders of the National Bank of Egypt. Ilbert, Robert, “Qui est Grec? La nationalité comme enjeu en Egypte (1830–1930),” Relations internationales 54 (Summer 1988): 155–56Google Scholar; Reimer, Colonial Bridgehead, 82–84.

37 For example see, New York Times, 9 Jan. 1867; New York Herald, 29 Apr. 1869; Washington Post, 22 Jan. 1894, 25 Jan. 1894, and 11 Mar. 1894; Independent, 12 Oct. 1871.

38 USDS, DUSCA, 15 Apr. 1837.

39 USDS, DUSCA, dispatch 19, 1 Mar. 1865.

40 Ibid.

41 Ilbert, “Qui est Grec?,” 139. Harlaftis, Gelina, A History of Greek-Owned Shipping: The Making of an International Tramp Fleet, 1830 to the Present (London: Routledge, 1996), 4445Google Scholar, 56. Most of these cargo ships were from Alexandria and typically contained cotton, maize, wheat, linseed, and barley.

42 For a closer look at the interconnectivity of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century Mediterranean cities, see Ilbert, Robert, “De Beyrouth à Alger, La fin d'un ordre urbain,” Vingtième Siècle. Revue d'histoire 32 (Oct.–Dec. 1991): 1524CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

43 See Harlaftis, History of Greek-Owned Shipping, 49–50, 56.

44 USDS, DUSCA, 15 Apr. 1837. George Gliddon, U.S. vice-consul in Alexandria, wrote this forty-page report.

45 USDS, DUSCC, dispatch 117, 6 Apr. 1877.

46 Ibid.

47 Ibid. The report clarifies that this state of affairs “applies to the agents who are not subjects of the khedive the same as to those who are.”

48 USDS, DUSCC, dispatch 117, 6 Apr. 1877.

49 This disagreement between the U.S. State Department and the consulates in Egypt is very similar to the reaction between London and the British consulates. See Reimer, Colonial Bridgehead, 86, 142.

50 USDS, DUSCA, dispatch 64, 12 Nov. 1866.

51 USDS, DUSCA, dispatch 81, 15 Apr. 1867.

52 Ibid.

53 New York Herald, 29 Apr. 1869, cited in USDS, DUSCA, 22 May 1869.

54 Most members of this organization were culturally Italians, with some Greeks and Maltese. All of the society's letterhead, official seals, and stamps were written in Italian.

55 USDS, DUSCA, 25 June 1872. This document's dispatch number is obscured by an inkblot.

56 See the letter of Zoulfikar Pasha (Egyptian foreign minister) included in USDS, DUSCA, dispatch 166, 23 July 1869.

57 See letters of Cherif (Sharif) Pasha (Egyptian foreign minister) included in USDS, DUSCA, dispatches 77, 7 Feb. 1867, and 126, 25 June 1868. Dainese, Francis, The History of Mr. Seward's Pet in Egypt: His Acts Denounced, and His Usurpations Condemned by the Courts (Washington, D.C.: n.p. 1866)Google Scholar, vii.

58 Kindineco, Thomas, “Memorial to Congress: Memorial of Thomas Kindineco Concerning Actions of Charles Hale, Consul to Egypt” Ramsey Pamphlet 35, no. 17 (1865): 18Google Scholar; Dainese, History of Mr. Seward's Pet, iv–viii.

59 See letter of Zoulfikar Pasha (Egyptian foreign minister), dated 21 July 1869, to the U.S. Consulate General, included in USDS, DUSCA, dispatch 166, 23 July 1869.

60 USDS, DUSCA, dispatch 78, 29 Mar. 1873.

61 See letter of Cherif (Sharif) Pasha (Egyptian foreign minister) included in USDS, DUSCA, dispatch 77, 7 Feb. 1867.

62 USDS, DUSCA, dispatch 78, 20 Feb. 1867. Ra‘aya means Ottoman and/or Egyptian subject.

63 Jampoler, Andrew C. A., The Last Lincoln Conspirator: John Surratt's Flight from the Gallows (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2008)Google Scholar, 141.

64 Dainese, History of Mr. Seward's Pet, 1–40.

65 Dainese, History of Mr. Seward's Pet, vii. Kindineco, “Memorial to Congress,” 4.

66 Dainese, History of Mr. Seward's Pet, 57. New York Times, 17 Aug. 1864.

67 Dainese, History of Mr. Seward's Pet.

68 Ibid., x, xii–xiii.

69 Hinckley, Frank Erastus, American Consular Jurisdiction in the Orient (Washington, D.C.: W. H. Lowdermilk and Co., 1906)Google Scholar, 28, 51. For the Supreme Court ruling, see U.S. Supreme Court, Dainese v. Hale, 91 U.S. 13 (1875).

70 Kindineco, “Memorial to Congress,” 4; The Egyptian government owed at least $29,000 to the Kindinecos, and there were likely other debts and legal reparations owed as well. The sources are unclear on the nature of the debt—whether it was from cash loans or the undue balance on timber or machinery imported by the Kindinecos. For example, see Dainese, History of Mr. Seward's Pet, 34.

71 Kindineco, “Memorial to Congress,” 1.

72 Ibid., 8.

73 USDS, DUSCA, dispatch 121, 20 May 1868.

74 USDS, DUSCA, dispatch 133, 22 Oct. 1868.

75 USDS, DUSCA, dispatch 143, 29 Jan. 1869.

76 See letter of Zoulfikar Pasha (Egyptian foreign minister) included in USDS, DUSCA, dispatch 166, 23 July 1869.

77 USDS, DUSCA, dispatch 40, 25 Jan. 1871.

78 Jampoler, Last Lincoln Conspirator, 141.

79 USDS, DUSCA, dispatch 164, 15 July 1869.

80 Kayaoglu, Turan, Legal Imperialism: Sovereignty and Extraterritoriality in Japan, the Ottoman Empire, and China (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010)Google Scholar, 6.

81 No taxation or limited taxation was one of the hallmarks of extraterritoriality throughout the globe. Kayaoglu, Legal Imperialism, 45; see also Reimer, Colonial Bridgehead, 130–31, 168–70.

82 Martinez, Border People, 10, 19–20.

83 Ilbert, Alexandrie, vol. 2, 761; Reimer, Colonial Bridgehead, 160.

84 For an examination of British and French consular courts in post-1880 Alexandria, see Hanley, “Foreignness and Localness.”

85 Benton, Law and Colonial Cultures, 261.

86 Harlaftis, History of Greek-Owned Shipping, 56; Ilbert, “Qui est Grec?,” 139–41.

87 Kayaoglu, Legal Imperialism, 2. See also Ruskola, Teemu, “Colonialism without Colonies: On the Extraterritorial Jurisprudence of the U.S. Court for China,” Law and Contemporary Problems 71, 217 (2008): 217–42Google Scholar.

88 The Kindinecos, for example, were at best indifferent about American, Greek, or Austrian interests and had no special allegiance to either one of these three states, yet when they appealed to the agents of these states they made sure to cast their demands in a language the state can understand. For instance, when Thomas Kindineco addressed the United States Congress or the U.S. State Department, he made sure that his demands or requests were written in such a way as to appeal to American national and economic interests.

89 Julia Clancy-Smith uses a borderland lens to, in part, examine the foreign community in Tunisia during the nineteenth century. See her Mediterraneans: North Africa and Europe In an Age of Migration (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011)Google Scholar. See also, Lewis, Mary Dewhurst, “Geographies of Power: The Tunisian Civic Order, Jurisdictional Politics, and Imperial Rivalry in the Mediterranean, 1881–1935,” Journal of Modern History 80, 4 (2008): 791830Google Scholar.