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THE EGYPTIAN LABOR CORPS: WORKERS, PEASANTS, AND THE STATE IN WORLD WAR I

  • Kyle J. Anderson (a1)
Abstract

In this article, I detail the British imperial system of human resource mobilization that recruited workers and peasants from Egypt to serve in the Egyptian Labor Corps in World War I (1914–18). By reconstructing multiple iterations of this network and analyzing the ways that workers and peasants acted within its constraints, this article provides a case study in the relationship between the Anglo-Egyptian colonial state and rural society in Egypt. Rather than seeing these as two separate, autonomous, and mutually antagonistic entities, this history of Egyptian Labor Corps recruitment demonstrates their mutual interdependence, emphasizing the dialectical relationship between state power and political subjectivity.

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NOTES

1 British National Archives (BNA) WO 107/37, “Controller of Labour Report on Labour with the British Expeditionary Force in France,” 14 November 1919. See also Starling, John and Lee, Ivor, No Labour, No Battle: Military Labour during the First World War (London: The History Press, 2009), 275–76. The Arabic historiography seems to put the number of Egyptians in France at 15,000. See Amin ʿIzz al-Din, “Awwal Dirasa ʿan Sabab Ham min Asbab bi-Thawrat 1919: Al-Shughul fi al-Sulta: Qissat Filaq al-ʿAmal al-Misri wa-Filaq al-Jamal,” al-Musawwar, March 1969. By the time British soldiers arrived on the front lines in the newly opened Italian theater of the war on 4 November 1917, there were also 2,009 Egyptians of the ELC employed on the Italian port of Taranto. BNA CAB 27/14.

2 Three thousand Egyptians served in the Gallipoli campaign. Starling and Lee, No Labour, No Battle, 107; Amin, “Awwal Dirasa.” 8,000 Egyptians served in Mesopotamia. Starling and Lee, No Labour, No Battle, 278; Salim, Latifa, Misr Fi al-Harb al-ʿAlimiyya al-Ula (Alexandria: al-Hayʾa al-ʿAma li-Maktabat al-Iskandariyya, 1984), 245 .

3 Hourani, Albert, “Ottoman Reform and the Politics of Notables,” in The Emergence of the Modern Middle East (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1981). Hourani first presented this essay in 1966, and his “politics of notables” paradigm proved to be a durable way for scholars to understand the history and social organization of the Middle East. For useful reviews of the “notables paradigm,” see Khoury, Philip S., “The Urban Notables Paradigm Revisited,” Revue Du Monde Musulman et de La Méditerranée 55 (1990): 215–30; and Gelvin, James L., “The ‘Politics of Notables’ Forty Years After,” Middle East Studies Association Bulletin 40 (2006): 1930 .

4 For helpful reviews of the labor literature, see Lockman, Zachary, Workers and Working Classes in the Middle East: Struggles, Histories, Historiographies (Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 1994); Quataert, Donald and Zürcher, Eric, Workers and the Working Class in the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic (London: I.B.Tauris, 1995); Beinin, Joel, Workers and Peasants in the Modern Middle East (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001); and Quataert, Donald, “Labor History and the Ottoman Empire, C. 1700–1922,” International Labor and Working Class 60 (2001): 93109 . For reviews of the “peasant studies” movement in Middle East studies, see Kazemi, Farhad and Waterbury, John, Peasants & Politics in the Modern Middle East (Miami, Fl.: Florida International University Press, 1991); Hopkins, Nicholas and Westergaard, Kristen, Directions of Change in Rural Egypt (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1998); and Hopkins, Nicholas and Saad, Reem, “The Region of Upper Egypt: Identity and Change,” in Upper Egypt: Identity and Change, ed. Hopkins, Nicholas and Saad, Reem (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2004). For studies of women and gender, see Beck, Lois and Keddie, Nikki, Women in the Muslim World (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1978); Tucker, Judith, Women in Nineteenth-Century Egypt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985); Zilfi, Madeline C., ed., Women in the Ottoman Empire: Middle Eastern Women in the Early Modern Era (Leiden: Brill, 1997); and Abu-Lughod, Lila, Remaking Women: Feminism and Modernity in the Middle East (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1998). For studies of slavery in the Middle East, see Baer, Gabriel, “Slavery and Its Abolition,” in Studies in the Social History of Modern Egypt, ed. Baer, Gabriel (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969), 161–89; Troutt-Powell, Eve, A Different Shade of Colonialism: Egypt, Great Britain, and the Mastery of the Sudan (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2003); and Zilfi, Madeline C., Women and Slavery in the Late Ottoman Empire: The Design of Difference (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

5 Robcis, Camille, “China in Our Heads: Althusser, Maoism, and Structuralism,” Social Text 30 (2012): 52 .

6 Mitchell, Timothy, “Everyday Metaphors of Power,” Theory and Society 19 (1990): 545–77; Abu-Lughod, Lila, “The Romance of Resistance: Tracing Transformations of Power through Bedouin Women,” American Ethnologist 17 (1990): 4155 .

7 See Selim, Samah, The Novel and the Rural Imaginary in Egypt, 1880–1985 (New York: Routledge, 2004); Gasper, Michael Ezekiel, The Power of Representation: Publics, Peasants, and Islam in Egypt (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2009); and Esmeir, Samera, Juridical Humanity: A Colonial History (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2012). For a broader discussion on how these trends have affected historians in general, see Clark, Elizabeth A., History, Theory, Text: Historians and the Linguistic Turn (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2004).

8 For Tignor, the colonial state was confronted with peasants who were an obstacle to the government's efforts at “modernization.” Tignor, Robert, Modernization and British Colonial Rule in Egypt, 1882–1914 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1966), 142 . For Harik, the Nasserist state was judged by its (in)ability to affect behavioral change in a “depoliticized” peasantry. Harik, Iliya, “Continuity and Change in Local Development Policies in Egypt: From Nasser to Sadat,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 16 (1984): 4366 . For Khaled Fahmy, Mehmed ʿAli's state was met with rebellion and resistance in its efforts to institute conscription. Khaled Fahmy, All the Pasha's Men: Mehmed Ali, His Army and the Making of Modern Egypt (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1997).

9 Brown, Nathan, Peasant Politics in Modern Egypt: The Struggle against the State (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1990); Schülze, Reinhard, “Colonization and Resistance: The Egyptian Peasant Rebellion in 1919,” in Peasants and Politics in the Modern Middle East, ed. Kazemi, Farhad and Waterbury, John (Miami, Fl.: Florida International University Press, 1991), 171202 .

10 Abul-Magd, Zeinab, Imagined Empires: A History of Revolt in Egypt (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2013).

11 Timothy Mitchell's work inspired a range of scholars to pursue colonial discourse analysis. Mitchell, Timothy, Colonising Egypt (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1988). Recent efforts employing this methodology include El-Shakry, Omnia, The Great Social Laboratory: Subjects of Knowledge in Colonial and Postcolonial Egypt (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2007); Gasper, The Power of Representation; and Esmeir, Juridical Humanity.

12 Chalcraft, John, “Engaging the State: Peasants and Petitions in Egypt on the Eve of Colonial Rule,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 37 (2005): 303 . Similar epistemological problems have emerged in a variety of fields since the last quarter of the 20th century, including British Marxian labor history, Anglo-American feminism, and the “Subaltern Studies” school of colonial South Asian historiography. See O'Hanlon, Rosalind, “Recovering the Subject: Subaltern Studies and Histories of Resistance in Colonial South Asia,” Modern Asian Studies 22 (1988): 189224 .

13 Chalcraft, “Engaging the State,” 304.

14 Clément, Anne, “Rethinking ‘Peasant Consciousness’ in Colonial Egypt: An Exploration of the Performance of Folksongs by Upper Egyptian Agricultural Workers on the Archaeological Excavation Sites of Karnak and Dendera at the Turn of the Twentieth Century (1885–1914),” History and Anthropology 21 (2010): 73100 .

15 Fawaz, Leila Tarazi, A Land of Aching Hearts: The Middle East in the Great War (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2014); Rogan, Eugene L., The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East (New York: Basic Books, 2015); Ulrichsen, Kristian Coates, The Logistics and Politics of the British Campaigns in the Middle East (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011); Woodward, David R., Hell in the Holy Land: World War I in the Middle East (Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky, 2006).

16 For studies of logistical laborers, see Starling, and Lee, , No Labour, No Battle; Xu Guoqui, Strangers on the Western Front (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2011); and Beşikci, Mehmet, The Ottoman Mobilization of Manpower in the First World War (Leiden: Brill, 2012). For studies of non-Westerners serving as soldiers in Europe, see Stovall, Tyler, “The Color Line behind the Lines: Racial Violence in France during the Great War,” American Historical Review 103 (1998): 737–69; and Christian Koller, “The Recruitment of Colonial Troops in Africa and Asia and Their Deployment in Europe during the First World War” 26 (2008): 37–41.

17 Ruiz, Mario, “Photography and the Egyptian Labor Corps in Wartime Palestine, 1917–1918,” Jerusalem Quarterly 56 & 57 (2014): 5266 .

18 Tignor, Robert, Modernization and British Colonial Rule; Tignor, State, Private Enterprise, and Economic Change in Egypt, 1918–1952 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984); Davis, Eric, Challenging Colonialism: Bank Misr and Egyptian Industrialization, 1920–1940 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1983); Aaron G. Jakes, “State of the Field: Agrarian Transformation, Colonial Rule, and the Politics of Material Wealth in Egypt, 1882–1914” (PhD diss., New York University, 2015); Claire Jean Cookson-Hills, “Engineering the Nile: Irrigation and the British Empire in Egypt, 1882–1914” (PhD diss., Queen's University, 2013).

19 ʿ al-Raf, Abd al-Rahmanʿi, Thawrat 1919: Tarikh Misr al-Qawmi min 1914 ila 1921 (Cairo: Dar al-Maʿarif, 1947); Salim, Misr Fi al-Harb.

20 BNA FO 141/798, “Circulars Concerning Voluntary Employment in the ELC”; BNA FO 141/667/1 No. 2689/171, “Synopsis of Voluntary Recruiting Circulars,” 6 June 1918; BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/31 Rushdi to Wingate.

21 Quoted in Salim, Misr fi al-Harb, 252.

22 ʿIzz al-Din, “Awwal Dirasa.”

23 Goldberg, Ellis, “Peasants in Revolt—Egypt 1919,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 24 (1992): 263 .

24 Goldberg writes, “service in the Labour Corps could be dangerous enough to make volunteering for the corps irrational,” and emphasizes the importance of “economic and extra-economic incentives in regard to determining the outcome of the chicken game” among suppliers of labor (i.e., workers and peasants). Goldberg, “Peasants in Revolt,” 269. See also Popkin, Samuel, “The Rational Peasant – The Political Economy of Peasant Society,” Theory and Society 9 (1980): 411–71.

25 BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/13 Chief London to Chief EEF, 21 May 1917.

26 BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/17 Murray to WO, 24 May 1917.

27 BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/16 Murray 6 July 1917. The total desired strength of the ELC was to be 100,000. Murray put the number of laborers employed by the EEF at that time at approximately 98,000, but he included 15,000 casual laborers in this pool.

28 BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2869/12 Minutes of Meeting, 28 May 1917.

29 BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/17 FO 18 June 1917.

30 BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/19 Graham to Wingate, 23 August 1917.

31 BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/21 Wingate to Rushdi, 23 August 1917.

32 This proposal included provisions to raise the pay of the laborers with the difference covered by the Egyptian government; a release from military service for every man who served in the auxiliary labor corps for at least one year; exemptions from certain taxes; and “tours of the provinces by a high functionary of the Ministry of Interior to manage the execution of these orders.” BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/21 Wingate to Rushdi, 23 August 1917.

33 BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/31, “Traduction de Deus Circulaires Addresser par les Ministere de l'Interieur aux Moudirs et Gouverneurs au Sujet du Labour Corps,” 28 August 1917.

34 BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2869/42 Ministry of War, 19 October 1917.

35 “Firqat al-ʿUmal al-Misriyya,” al-Afkar, 22 October 1917.

36 BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/7 Herbert to Haines, 3 May 1917.

37 BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/8 Haines to Herbert, 13 May 1917.

38 These statistics are unreliable. The document notes that for the early part of the time official statistics were kept, the Middle Egyptian provinces of Beni Suef and Fayyum were included as part of “Upper Egypt,” and they were later changed and considered part of “Lower Egypt.” BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/8 Hazel to Haines, 12 May 1917.

39 BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/64 Allenby to Wingate, 13 February 1918.

40 There were also five muḥāfiẓāt directed by a muḥāfiẓ, including the “governorates” of Cairo, Alexandria, Suez, the Canal Zone, and Damietta.

41 Hunter, F. Robert, Egypt under the Khedives, 1805–1879: From Household Government to Modern Bureaucracy (Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1984), 1819 .

42 BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/44 Rushdi, 21 October 1917.

43 BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/22 Rushdi to Wingate, 24 August 1917.

44 BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/1 Whittingham, 1 May 1916.

45 Badcock, G.E., A History of the Transport Services of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force 1916–1918 (London: Hugh Rees Ltd., 1925), 31 .

46 BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/60a Haines, 5 February 1918.

47 BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/134 Haines to Wingate, 6 August 1918.

48 Musa, Salama, Tarbiyyat Salama Musa, 4th ed. (Cairo: al-Hayʾa al-Misriyya al-ʿAma li-l-Kitab, 2012 [1947]), 112 . Also cited in ʿIzz al-Din “Awwal Dirasa”; and Salim, Misr fi al-Harb.

49 “Itiham ʿUmda,” al-Ahram, 1 March 1915.

50 “Dafʿa Firiyya,” al-Ahram, 3 March 1915.

51 For more on censorship of the press during World War I, see Fahmy, Ziad, Ordinary Egyptians: Creating the Modern Nation through Popular Culture (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2011).

52 Musa, Tarbiyyat Salama Musa, 113.

53 Elgood, P. G., Egypt and the Army (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1924), 318 .

54 Cf. BNA FO 141/667/1 No. 2689/171 Claghin to Allenby, 5 July 1920, “Synopsis of voluntary recruiting circulars—6 June 1918.”

55 Salim, Misr fi al-Harb, 266.

56 DKM “ʿUmdat Asyut,” al-Afkar, 10 October 1917.

57 BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/31 Rushdi to Wingate, 28 August 1917.

58 Salim, Misr fi al-Harb, 408.

59 Quoted in ʿIzz al-Din, “Awwal Dirasa.”

60 BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/64 Allenby to Wingate, 13 February 1918.

61 Salim, Misr fi al-Harb, 188.

62 BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/64 Allenby to Wingate, 13 February 1918.

63 ʿAbd al-Hamid Husayn, “Khamsa wa-Sabaʿin ʿAman bayn Qibat al-Masajid wa-Jaysh al-Ingliz, wa-Sugun Israʾil,” Ruz al-Yusuf, 17 June 1968.

64 Ibid.

65 Ibid., 24–25.

66 Elgood, Egypt and the Army, 51.

67 Salim, Misr fi al-Harb, 104–5.

68 Salim, Misr fi al-Harb, 175.

69 But the “vast majority” of laborers received no bonus for re-enrollment. BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/38 Wingate, 20 September 1917.

70 BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/63 Memo from the Ministry of Finance, 9 February 1918.

71 BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689, Haines, 30 June 1918.

72 BNA FO 141/667/1 No. 2689/171 Claghin to Allenby, 5 July 1920.

73 BNA FO 141/667/1 No. 2689/171 Claghin to Allenby, 5 July 1920.

74 For examples, see Brown, Peasant Politics, 174; and Chalcraft, “Engaging the State,” 304.

75 BNA FO 142/797/2 “Raising the Egyptian Labour Corps.”

76 For examples, see BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/110 Ministry of Interior 19 June 1918 for a report from the Delta province of Gharbiyya about an act of individual resistance in which villagers used a kitchen knife and a nabūt, or a wooden stick used in a popular combat game, to resist the khafīrs.

77 For example, see BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/86 Ministry of Interior, 21 May 1918 for a different report from Gharbiyya detailing relatives “living in a neighbouring house” resisting the recruitment of their family member with sticks and an axe.

78 Imperial War Museum (IWM) EKV/2, E.K. Venables Papers, They Also Served: The Story of the ELC in Sinai and Palestine (unpublished manuscript).

79 BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/119 Ministry of Interior, 3 July 1918.

80 For example, see BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/86 Ministry of Interior, 21 May 1918.

81 Amin, “Awwal Dirasa,” 26.

82 BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/96 Rushdi to Mudirs circular No. 10, 26 May 1918.

83 BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/88 Haines, 25 May 1918.

84 BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/60a Haines, 5 February 1918.

85 BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/75 Notes of Meeting at the Residency, 6 May 1918

86 BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689 Haines, 26 May 1918. See also BNA FO 141/798 “Circulaire Concernent l'Enrôlement Volontarie.”

87 See BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/66 MacDonald, 2 March 1918.

88 BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/142 Wingate to Balfour, 15 September 1918.

89 BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/129 Wingate, 25 July 1918.

90 BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/96 Rushdi to Mudirs circular No. 10, 26 May 1918.

91 BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/78 Copy of Letter from Rushdi to Mudirs, 8 May 1918

92 BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/89 Haines 26 May 1918; BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/87b Keon-Boyd, 26 May 1918.

93 BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/96 Rushdi to Mudirs circular No. 10, 26 May 1918.

94 BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/96 Rushdi to Mudirs, 30 May 1918.

95 BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/134 Haines, 6 August 1918.

96 BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/85 Keon Boyd, 30 May 1918.

97 BNA FO 141/797/2 No. 2689/134 Haines, 6 August 1918.

98 For more on the history of the corvée in Egypt, see Anis, Muhammad, Tatuwwur al-Mujtamaʿ al-Misri min al-Iqtaʾ ila Thawrat 23 Yulyu 1952 (Cairo: Matbaʿat al-Jablawi, 1977); and Mikhail, Alan, Nature and Empire in Ottoman Egypt: An Environmental History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011). On British efforts towards its abolition, see Brown, Nathan, “Who Abolished Corvee Labor in Egypt and Why?,” Past & Present 144 (1994): 116–37.

99 On 9 April 1919, in the middle of the revolution, officer Venables writes in his diary: “our ELC men worked quietly all day.” IWM EKV 1/4 E.K. Venables Diaries.

100 BNA FO 371/3717 Parliamentary Question.

101 For example, see Schülze, “Colonization and Resistance”; ʿAbd al-Rahman al-Rafiʿi, Thawrat 1919, chap. 6.; and Salah ʿAzzam, “Maris 1919 al-Dami wa-l-Fallahun,” Ikhtarna li-l-Fallah 2 (1967): 34–41.

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International Journal of Middle East Studies
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