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Water, Land and Early Nationalism: Protest and Popular Resistance in the Suez Canal Cities, 1859-1919

The Historicity of Democracy Seminar with Mohamed Gamal-Eldin

Using court, police and other colonial-era records this paper produces a narrative of the built environment and urban space from below, and how individuals shaped out space for political protest and resistance. This study uses consular court records from the British consulate in Port Sa‘īd in tandem with Suez Canal Company’s (SCC) archival material on street inspections, hygiene and health and general policing in the Suez Canal cities. Additionally, intelligence records from the British Foreign Office gives us a unique view of the 1919 revolt along the Suez Canal. Individual interactions with the consular court came about primarily because of a criminal complaint that led to the involvement of police and then subsequently consular officials, because either the defendant or both were a subject of the British empire. These documents demonstrate the various ways in which residents interacted with one another on the street. The mention of specific public spaces or streets allows the urban historian to locate these cases on the urban landscape. For instance, a street fight between an Egyptian and a Maltese resident at a prominent promenade offers us a sample into how the physical environment was used. Furthermore, the repetition of popular locations supplies the historian insight to which areas were popular with residents, tourists and passersby, as well as locations which received the gaze of the police authorities. Additionally, the documents from the SCC detail the policing of the urban to curb the shopkeepers, café owners and fruit-sellers from further impinging on the streetscapes of the city. This was an intentional attempt to restrict, control and order the physical appearance of the roadways. The disciplinary vantage point of maps etch clean lines and make sterile urban environments, yet both sets of documents, consular court and SCC archival material, offer exciting new ways to complicate our understanding, and moves us towards a more nuanced, urban history.

Mohamed Gamal-Eldin earned his Ph.D. from the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Rutgers University. His dissertation is entitled: Cities of Sand: Reshaping the Environment, Building Towns, and Finding Modernity in the Isthmus of Suez, 1856-1936. His most recent article, “Searching for a Past: French Colonial Memory of Ismailia in the early 20th Century,” was published in Egypte. Monde Arabe.

The online seminar is free and open to the public upon registration: https://forms.gle/A8AJDvdaQyUiG5qD8

This event is part of the lecture series:
Lecture series in the academic year 2021/22
The Historicity of Democracy Seminar

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