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

  • Ziad Fahmy (a1)

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.

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Comparative Studies in Society and History
  • ISSN: 0010-4175
  • EISSN: 1475-2999
  • URL: /core/journals/comparative-studies-in-society-and-history
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