Robin Schmahl – HISDEMAB

A Tale of Two Narratives: Deliberative Systems in Egypt during the French Military Campaign of 1798–1801 and the Inception of the Modern Middle East


The PhD project “a Tale of Two Narratives” will provide a detailed analysis of the deliberative systems and proto-democratic or proto-parliamentarian structures in Egypt established during French imperial rule of 1798–1801. As such, it will explore their functions, formations and operations within the greater framework of European imperialism and Ottoman hegemony. The project will utilize a plethora of differing sources including contemporary Arabic chronicles, personal testimonies and correspondences of the French officer corps as well as the accounts of the savants accompanying the French expedition, pamphlets, proclamations and newspapers produced in Egypt during 1798–1801, and official documentation appertaining to the expedition found in various archives within Europe and the Middle East. Furthermore, the project will discuss how these structures where influenced by previous modes of participation established before 1798 and how they affected Egypt’s political system in the first half of the 19th century.

Proceeding from that, the dissertation will reflect upon whether the French military campaign should be considered to constitute the inception of a so-called Modern Middle East and the initial foundational period of democracy in the Arab and Muslim world. For that it will provide a postcolonial critique of dominant narratives on the inception of democracy, processes of democratization and the rise of modernity in the Arab world and Egypt in particular. As part of the HISDEMAB (“Historicity of Democracy in the Arab and Muslim Worlds”) – project, the dissertation aims at providing a historical contextualization of the Middle East’s long road towards democratization and troubled history of European colonialism in the region.