Through a microhistory of a small province in Upper Egypt, this book investigates the history of five world empires that assumed hegemony in Qina province over the last five centuries. Imagined Empires charts modes of subaltern rebellion against the destructive policies of colonial intruders and collaborating local elites in the south of Egypt.
Abul-Magd vividly narrates stories of sabotage, banditry, flight, and massive uprisings of peasants and laborers, to challenge myths of imperial competence. The book depicts forms of subaltern discontent against “imagined empires” that failed in achieving their professed goals and brought about environmental crises to Qina province. As the book deconstructs myths about early modern and modern world hegemons, it reveals that imperial modernity and its market economy altered existing systems of landownership, irrigation, and trade— leading to such destructive occurrences as the plague and cholera epidemics.
The book also deconstructs myths in Egyptian historiography, highlighting the problems of a Cairo-centered idea of the Egyptian nation-state. The book covers the Ottoman, French, Muhammad Ali’s, and the British informal and formal empires. It alludes to the U.S. and its failed market economy in Upper Egypt, which partially resulted in Qina’s participation in the 2011 revolution. Imagined Empires is a timely addition to Middle Eastern and world history.
Imagined Empires A History of Revolt in Egypt
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Ottomans, Plague, and Rebellion
In 1785, the Ottoman sultan received a report on the state of affairs in Egypt that revealed unpleasant news. Egypt, one of the shiniest jewels in the empire's crown, was not one intact province under the sultan's full hegemony. The eminent officer who compiled the report described the existence of an autonomous state in the south. Seemingly enjoying no access to this state, the Ottoman officer gave brief and incomplete information about its government. According to the report, the autonomous regime in Upper Egypt was ruled by its own Arab tribal regime that did pay an annual tax to the sultan, but Cairo's Ottoman governor exercised no authority over it. About one of its legendary leaders, the report stated,
The Arab named Shaykh Hammam is resident in ... the province of Upper Egypt. He always has in his side four thousand Arab troops, and he controls by right of inheritance most of the villages of Upper Egypt. They [Hammam and his sons] never come to Cairo.... They always pay in full all the money and grains required for the treasury from their village, and they never oppose the tax collection. They themselves appoint and send twenty governors annually to the towns and provinces under their authority, and they collect approximately several thousand pur