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Tag: Mehmed Ali

“State paradox”: Adam Sabra’s review of In Quest of Justice

Adam Sabra published the following review of In Quest of Justice in al-Ahram Weekly, issue 1437, 4-10 April 2019. Khaled Fahmy’s fascinating and important new book addresses fundamental questions about the nature of Egypt’s modernity. Tracing the origins of forensic medicine to the middle of the 19th century (1830-1880), Fahmy offers a revisionist account of the origins of the modern Egyptian state and its relationship to Islamic law. Critical of modernisation theories of both the right and left as well as of Islamist critiques of the legitimacy of Egypt’s path to modernity, Fahmy suggests that Egypt under the descendants of…

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Adventures in the Archives (3)

Last semester, spring 2017, I taught a class at Harvard on Arabic paleography and archival skills. Each week, we’d read a couple of Arabic, hand-written archival documents that I had culled from the Egyptian National Archives. The documents were mostly from the 19th century, although some dated from the 16th and 17th centuries. I’d have the documents transcribed and the quaint and odd words explained in advance. On their part, the students were supposed to a. translate the document,  and b. practice reading it at home and be prepared to read it in class from the original, hand-written text. The documents…

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The threat to Egypt’s mighty state

Published in Ahram Online on August 25, 2013 Even in exceptional times, legitimate violence as embodied by the state — its army and police — is based on popular consent, which means oversight and asking questions. Without this, the state itself is at risk It is often said that Egypt saw the first centralised state in world history. That may be very well true. However, the modern Egyptian state cannot be said to be more than 200 years old. It has nothing to do with the Pharaohs or the Ptolemy. Two pivotal events contributed to the foundation of this modern…

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Dripping with blood and dirt

Originally published in Al-Ahram Weekly, December 20, 2012. In 1805 Mohamed Ali, a young upstart who hailed from Kavala in what is now Greece, who spoke no Arabic and who had no prior links with the land, ended up as governor of Egypt on behalf of the Ottoman sultan. In the few years to follow, he struggled to establish his authority and to restore the productivity of a country ravaged by years of internecine warfare, devastating plagues and foreign invasion. Most seriously, he found himself embroiled in the quagmire of complex Mamluk politics with literally hundreds of Mamluk war lords,…

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The constitution: Language and identity of science

Published in Ahram Online on November 21, 2012 Cultural and civilisational diversity of the Egyptian society inspired mega project like arabising medicine in the 19th century. But, unfortunately it did not motivate the members of the Constituent Assembly. A few days ago I met with some friends to read the draft constitution that the Constituent Assembly is about to finalise, the first copy of which was published in the press a few days ago. As soon as we started to closely read the text, we were shocked by the poor language, lack of vision, contradictory ideas and flawed logic in…

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The Sheikh and the corpse

Published in Ahram Weekly on November 12, 2012 As I go through the draft of the new Egyptian constitution, Article 11 strikes me as one of many curious articles in that supposedly foundational text: “The state protects the cultural, civilisational and linguistic unity of Egyptian society, and strives to Arabise science and knowledge.” Like others who have commented on the draft constitution, I have a problem with this article, but unlike others my problem is not that Arabising science might result in our doctors and engineers losing touch with the latest developments in medicine and engineering. Nor does my problem…

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When historians read WikiLeaks

Published in Egypt Independent on December 26, 2010 Ever since WikiLeaks began posting some quarter million leaked cables sent by US embassies on 28 November, people around the world have eagerly read about secrets revealed by what the WikiLeaks website calls “the largest set of confidential documents ever to be released into the public domain.” Given America’s heavy involvement in the Middle East, it was only natural to expect the uncovering of a large number of cables sent by US embassies and consulates in the region. And again, as expected, many of the leaks have revealed details embarrassing to US…

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