ZIAD FAHMY: So thank you all for joining us. This is something that a lot of us in NES are very much proud of, welcoming one of our own back to Cornell. So, welcome, Carl, back to NES. I'm very, very proud and excited to have you here today, five years after graduating from NES with your PhD.
Kyle-- or should I say Dr.-- Anderson is currently an assistant Professor of Middle East History at SUNY Old Westbury. He will be talking to us today about his first book, which was recently published by the University of Texas Press. The title of the book is The Egyptian Labor Corps-- Race, Space, and Place in the First World War. So, without further ado, thank you, Kyle, for coming. And I'm sure we're going to enjoy your presentation.
KYLE J. ANDERSON: Well, thank you, Ziad. I appreciate that. Le me just make sure I get the slides up here. Yes. You can see-- it's a real book. It happened. My first book-- and possibly only. I can't imagine doing this again. But maybe, sometime in the future, I'll feel differently.
But yeah-- Egyptian Labor Corps-- Race Space, and Place in the First World War. It's really great to be here and talk to you guys about this book, because it started as my dissertation here at Cornell in the Department of Near Eastern Studies, back-- I think I started research about seven and a half years ago, at this point. And I want to thank Ziad and Deborah and Mostafa, who were my advisors as I was working on this dissertation, and [? Munther ?] and Ibrahim and all the other familiar faces out there. It feels really good to be here, back at Cornell, and talking about the culmination of all this work.
So I put up a link and a discount code, here. You can get 30% off, if you're interested. The book is titled, as Ziad said, Race Space and Place in the First World War. That's the subtitle.
And what I'm going to do today is to basically lay out some of the main arguments of the book. It's changed a lot since it was a dissertation, and so I'll be looking forward to hearing people's thoughts about those changes.
And then I'm going to dive in, in particular today, and focus on the implications of my research for how we think about Egyptian racial and national identity. And I'm going to leave out a lot of the empirical richness from the middle of the book. That talks about the Egyptian Labour Corps themselves and how they worked-- how they were recruited. If you want to talk about those details, of course we can do so in the Q&A that's going to follow this.
But for now, as I said, I'm just going to read a few sections of the book that lay out the main arguments around race and nation and identity. And then we'll take it from there. So, the book--
SPEAKER: Did you want to share the screen? I'll do it.
KYLE J. ANDERSON: Yeah. Oh-- right, to the Zoom. Great, OK. Let me make sure that I can do that. Sharing my screen. And now the slideshow. And presumably, Zoomland can see these slides now. So that's great.
So let me start off by showing you guys a picture of a company of the Egyptian Labour Corps in Boulogne, France, in 1917. So, a company of laborers, anywhere between 500 and 1,000. And during the First World War, the British recruited, I estimate in the book, about half a million Egyptian young men to work as migrant laborers to support the British during the First World War. Most of these men were recruited from the countryside. They were fallahin. They were peasants. And most of them, or at least a good portion of them, were recruited by force, by violence, and they were compelled to go and join the Egyptian Labour Corps.
And they worked doing numerous odd jobs. They were stevedores on the docks of France and Italy. And here is a picture from Boulogne. Again you can see the men unloading supplies from a ship. And this is actually before the invention of the shipping container. So nowadays, being a stevedore requires punching some numbers into a machine and having the cranes take the shipping containers off the boat. But back in 1917, you had to remove everything from boats in boxes by hand.
So this was a very labor-intensive job, back then. And the men even did stevedore work in the Dardanelles, on the islands of Moudros and Lemnos, in the Allied supply lines during the Gallipoli campaign against the Ottomans. And they actually landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula and were digging trenches, when the Allies decided to land and try a land invasion in Gallipoli. That invasion, of course, was unsuccessful, as I'm sure you all know. But the Egyptian migrant laborers played an important role in it, and it's a role that most people are not aware of.
Another thing that Egyptians did during the First World War is they drove camels laden with supplies. And the main place they did this was in the Sinai Desert. So as you can see, in this picture, in the background what you see is the terminus of the railway. So before a railway was built, during World War One, that connected Cairo and Jerusalem, the only way that you could travel from Egypt to Palestine was by camel. And it took three weeks, according to some sources that I have seen. You had to disembark at the Suez Canal and then load everything onto camels, travel by camel to Palestine, and then unload.
So in the early phases of the war, that was something that Egyptian drivers did-- was, they took supplies from the terminus of the railway, as the forces were pushing through the Sinai, and they supplied the troops, in this way. And also in the campaign through the Sinai and into Palestine, this is where Egyptians laid hundreds of miles of railway and water pipeline that ultimately connected Egypt and Palestine, so that, by the end of World War One, travel time between Cairo and Jerusalem was 36 hours instead of 3 weeks. So without the Egyptian Labour Corps, this change of space and time would not really have taken place.
And one of the fascinating things for me is that this railroad really provides the infrastructural foundations of the British Palestine mandate in the interwar period. A lot of the employees of the British mandate in Palestine started their careers working for the Anglo-Egyptian army and for the Anglo-Egyptian government back in Egypt. And after Egypt was granted nominal sovereignty, in 1922, many of these men made their way into Palestine on these railroads and continued working for the British Middle Eastern empire.
So my book, The Egyptian Labor Corps, it documents the experiences of these men in the war, and it follows them through to the Egyptian revolution of 1919, which happened right after the war, of course. But most importantly, I think, and what I'm going to focus on today in my comments, is how the Egyptian Labour Corps was influenced by and also influenced contemporary ideas about the racial identity of Egyptians. And I think this picture shows these men working on this railway, and it is evocative perhaps of scenes we might see in the American West, for example, where similarly racialized laborers were called upon to construct railroads.
So as I was looking through the sources-- most of this race stuff was not in the dissertation, because that wasn't the lens I was thinking of. That was not the analytical categories that were in my mind, as I was finishing my aid and I was getting my dissertation. But as I was looking and rewriting the book, after getting my PhD, this race stuff really started to stick out to me. And I noticed that it was an important lens through which both British and Egyptian nationalist authorities talked about and viewed these migrant laborers.
So, for the British, the ELC was just one part of what they called the Colored Labor Corps. And this Colored Labor Corps-- or also known as the Native Labour Corps, in the British sources-- it included workers from Egypt but also from places as far-flung as China, South Africa, India, Vietnam, the West Indies, the Caribbean and Fiji. So people from all over the world were brought together in this organization which was called the Coloured Labour Corps.
And what I argue in the book is that this was the clearest example for the whole world to see what African-Americans had recognized for at least a generation as the color line. Right? So, Frederick Douglass, as far as I can tell, is the first individual to talk about the color line. In 1881, he wrote a piece called "The Color Line," where he talked about the system of racial segregation in the American South after the failure of Reconstruction. And of course, it was W.E.B. Du Bois, a generation later, who reformulated the color line on a global scale. And in the year 1900, he gave an address to the American Negro Academy-- which would become the NAACP-- where he insisted that, quote, "the color line built the world. And the problem of the 20th century is to be the relation of the civilized world to the dark races of mankind"-- end quote.
So what I argue in the book is that this global problem identified by Du Bois in 1900 was made acute in 1914 to 1918, during the First World War, by this massive movement of racialized laborers from across the globe and that, as the war ground on, millions of people from the other side of the global color line began to resist this unprecedented approach to races-- binary approach of White versus non-White that the color line implies, which was not the way that most people thought about race, in Egypt, at least, before the First World War.
So that's why the ELC makes sense to think about in terms of race from the British perspective. For them, the Egyptians are just another group of people of color who we can tap to be source of manpower as we're prosecuting our colonial wars. But, for people living in Egypt, the sight of young men being sent away from their villages to work abroad-- and oftentimes, as I mentioned, they were brought by force. So they were bound together by a thick rope that's tied around their trunk. And as Egyptians saw young men being led away in scenes like this, it was reminiscent of nothing for them if not slavery. And we see this metaphor popping up a lot, and I'm going to be talking about this metaphor in the Egyptian sources.
And the reason this metaphor is significant to me is because actually slavery was a very widespread institution in Egypt. By the late 19th century, most enslaved people, and especially enslaved young men engaged in hard labor, were Black Africans. Right? And even after slavery was officially abolished, in 1877, in Egypt, it persisted surreptitiously alongside a link between Blackness, African origins, and enslavement in Egyptian culture.
So the way I see it, when urban-educated Egyptians from the cities saw farmers from the countryside, whom they had, over the past generation, come to perceive as almost the repository of Egyptianness or Egyptian national authenticity-- the Arabic word we here is [ARABIC]. Right? The fallahin were considered to be kind of the repository of [ARABIC]. And when the fallahin are all of a sudden being seemingly enslaved in large numbers, I think that this gives urbane Egyptian nationalists a-- really, it makes clear to them that Egyptians as a whole had been racialized as people of color, during the war.
And I argue that the 1919 revolution should be seen partly as an attempt to articulate an alternative conception of Egyptian race. So we are not people of color, but we are Egyptians-- as a race. And I call this "racial nationalism."
And so we can talk more about racial nationalism in this concept in the Q&A, if you want, but that's the basic argument of the book. And that's a selection from the intro. And what I'm going to do now is read a little selection that focuses more on the argument about Egyptian racial nationalism and how it evolved over time.
So I'm going to start where Chapter 1 begins, with the story of the Goeben and the Breslau. These are two German warships that were pursued by the British navy after World War One began, in August of 1914. And they escaped the British navy and found refuge in the Ottoman navy, in August of 1914. So, let's pick the story up there.
"On August 16, 1914, the Ottoman Empire violated its official neutrality in the First World War by accepting two German warships"-- including the Goeben, as you can see here-- "into its navy. But despite this defiance, the British officials in Egypt were hesitant to supplant Ottoman sovereignty." And this is a bit of a puzzle for me. Right? If the Ottomans are violating their neutrality, why don't the British just declare Egypt as officially a British colony and terminate official Ottoman sovereignty, which had been kind of a veil over the veiled protectorate in Egypt for so long. And to me, I think, the reason why the British did not initially do this in August of 1914 has to do with their fears about what they called "Panislamism." Right?
So documents in the British archives paint a picture of a colonial government, the Anglo-Egyptian government, which was concerned at the prospect of what they called Panislamic feelings and stirring those feelings, if they were to declare war on the Ottoman sultan-- who called himself, of course, the "caliph," at the time. So in the British imagination, Panislamism-- or what other scholars have referred to as "the racialization of Muslims"-- connected two large hubs of the British Empire-- India and Egypt-- with the Ottomans. And one British official in 1914 even attributed anticolonial nationalism in India and Egypt to the Ottomans, writing "as long as Turkey claims to be the secular champion of Islam, its every act in Muslim countries-- for example, India and Egypt-- must savor a political Panislamic propaganda. Similarly, Egyptian nationalism, or Young Egypt, and Indian Nationalism in the case of the Mahommedans, are cognate and sympathetic movements, tinged with, and inherently indistinguishable from, Panislamism."
So you can see that in a letter from Mallet to Grey, here. And I think this designation of the Ottoman Empire as the secular champion of Islam kind of strikes us today as a contradiction. Right? How can one be the secular champion of Islam?
But, for British officials in 1914, there is actually significant overlap between concepts like Empire, religion, and race. So I think it's really crucial to understand that, before the war broke out, Muslims were thought about almost in racial terms, and Egyptians were considered to be Muslims. Right? So Egyptians were kind of racialized as Muslims. in this sense. By the time of the war, British officials posited the existence of a number of what they called "subject races." And this included what they referred to as the "Mahommedan" race, the Black race, and the Yellow race.
And in one letter from the consul general in Egypt at the time, Herbert Kitchener, we can really see how the racialization of Egyptians as Muslims informed imperial policy in the years before the war. So, writing to the foreign secretary, Grey, in 1912, Kitchener is seeking here to justify his attempts to limit self-government in Egypt. And he writes a quote that I think is really illuminating, so I'm going to quote from it at length.
He says "Orientals differ so fundamentally from Western races, in their characteristics, principles, and in the working of their minds, that the constitutional institutions which have developed as the result of years of experience in Western life fails to meet their requirements." Sounds a little bit like what some Egyptians are still saying, today, but this is Kitchener, back in 1912. He says "We are bound to consider carefully whether the endowment of a Mahommedan country with a political system copied from Europe might not do incalculable harm." And this is, I think, the key point. He says "Although among the people of Egypt there exists a very natural aspiration towards progressive constitutional government"-- "party spirit is to them like strong drink to uncivilized African natives."
So I think this quote is illuminating, for a number of reasons. We see that Kitchener is dividing Egyptians and other "Mahommedan" countries, quote unquote, as fundamentally different from Western races in both civilizational and biological terms. But at the same time, at the end of this passage we can see the ambivalent relationship between Muslims and what Kitchener calls "uncivilized Africans." In his mind, there appears to exist a unique Islamic form of civilization which defines Muslims as somewhere above Africans yet still below the Western races. And at the same time, the racialization of Muslims in the eyes of men like Kitchener rendered both Egyptians as Muslims and Africans unfit for self-rule. Right? So there's a clear distinction between Egyptians as Muslims and Africans, but they're both not fit for self-rule.
"So Egyptian intellectuals are aware that men like Kitchener are saying these types of things. And they pushed back against the implications of this racialization of Muslims' ideology by calling for political independence for themselves But most Egyptians did not reject"-- or at least Egyptian nationalists-- "did not reject the fundamental assumption that human beings are naturally divided into biologically distinct, hierarchically organized communities"-- or races, right? "And while the pan-Africanist Edward Blyden and the African-American Frederick Douglass looked to the Mahommedan race and Egyptians to learn lessons relevant to the struggles of Black people, the famous Egyptian nationalist Mustafa Kamil looked to Japan.
And in his 1904 treatise of [SPEAKING ARABIC], The Rising Sun, Kamil wrote, "Some of us oriental races"-- and the phrase that we uses here is [SPEAKING ARABIC]-- "they said that they are nations whose time has passed. But the Japanese nation resisted this, lie, showing all of the Orientals [SPEAKING ARABIC] that there is a simple path in front of them for their advancement." So here Kamil is using a word from classical Arabic that refers to tribal genealogy, [ARABIC], to assert the existence of oriental races-- [ARABIC]-- which are distinct from one another yet in a similar position vis-a-vis the West.
And of course, Kamil is writing this about Japan, right, in 1904. So the following year, Japan of course defeats Russia in the Russo-Japanese war, and this global pushback against the rising tide of White Christian imperialism emanating from Europe from the late 19th century seems to be gaining momentum, with this Japanese victory. So by 1914, when the war begins and when the Goeben and the Breslau make their way into Istanbul, British officials are anxious. They're worried about the effects to be produced in places like India and Egypt by the likely visit of Turkish dreadnoughts flying the caliph's flag to Alexandria or Port Said or [INAUDIBLE] or Bombay or the Persian Gulf. It doesn't really make a difference where, if you think about Muslims as a race. Right?
So, the British try to walk a delicate line, at the beginning of the First World War. They want to assert their prerogatives in the new war while also appealing to the states in their empire that they had racialized as Muslim. And so they tried to maintain cordial relations with the Ottoman caliph and keep the war isolated to just Europe. Right?
But of course, the dynamic begins to shift, in late October, when the Ottoman navy used the Goeben and the Breslau in a bombardment of Russia from the Black Sea. And British administrators, of course, felt compelled to respond to this. So, on November 2, 1914, John Maxwell, the commander of British occupation troops, announced a policy of martial law in Egypt. And five days later, he announced that Great Britain was at war with the Ottoman Empire-- terminated official Ottoman sovereignty in Egypt for the first time. So, since 1882, the British have been occupying Egypt, but they haven't officially terminated Ottoman sovereignty yet, until this moment of November 2, 1914.
But when they do so, John Maxwell, the commander of the British forces, the troops that are occupying Egypt-- he makes this declaration. He says, basically-- you can read it here-- basically, we're not going to pull Egyptians into the war. We're not going to ask Egyptians to participate into this war. Right?
So why does he do this? I argue, because he's worried that Egyptians are going to revolt and join the caliph. Right? He's thinking about Egyptians as Muslims. And so a war against the Ottomans is potentially disastrous. Right?
So I argue that this gesture is designed to provide the political cover that the British needed, to start fighting the Ottomans. But the following week, something really important happens. The Ottoman caliph, the sultan, declares a jihad, a holy war, against the British. And what do Egyptians do? Not much. They don't rise up. They don't start a revolution. They don't fight.
And my argument is that this totally changes the way the British perceived Egyptians. Right? When they're not responding to this call for jihad. And this emboldens the British authorities. And by the end of 1914, they officially terminate Ottomans suzerainty over Egypt. They install the oldest living descendant of Mehmet Ali as the official head of state, with the new title of Sultan. Right? So they're taking that title from the Ottomans. And Egypt is henceforth considered a British protectorate, for the first time, alongside a number of other protectorates that are in Southeast Asia, the Persian Gulf, and Africa.
So the Maxwell declaration, of course, then is soon violated. As soon as they realize that there is no risk of Egyptians rising and joining the jihad, now they can start recruiting Egyptians for migrant labor as much as they want to-- start treating them like any other old group that would provide manpower to the British army. And this is the roots of the decision to start the Egyptian Labour Corps. Right? That's what I think.
And you can see that the Egyptian Labour Corps were spread chronologically and geographically. They start out in Palestine, of course, but also in the Dardanelles in the Gallipoli campaign. And as the Palestine campaign takes off, you can see that this is the primary source of demand for Egyptian labor. But they are also traveling to Iraq, traveling to France, traveling to Italy, Libya, Sudan, in the campaigns against [NON-ENGLISH] and against Ali ibn Dinar in Darfur. Egyptians are serving in all of these places. Right?
So, to paraphrase Ernest Hemingway, the way that I see this, "the color line in Egypt was drawn slowly and then all at once, with the First World War exposing the fundamental binary logic at the heart of colonial racism for all to see. Over the course of the 19th century, Egyptians had drifted away from an Ottoman-oriented, Islamic civilization and become associated instead, in the minds of imperial administrators, with a British-dominated Mahommedan race." That's where Kitchener was at in 1912.
"But total war against the Ottomans lifted the veil on the British occupation of Egypt and exposed what had appeared to be an intricate taxonomy of racial difference" that separated, for example, Muslims from Black Africans "as a simple global color line that divided the world into White and non-White races. And the British made the promise of the actual declaration because they had long racialized Egyptians as Muslims and were anxious about pan-Islamic sympathies. But during the war, the racialization of Egyptians as Muslims was displaced by a simpler notion of Egyptians as people of color."
So that's the first part of the story-- Egyptians shifting to being thought about as Muslim in race to now being thought about as people of color, alongside Africans and others from across the globe. And most of the middle of the book talks about the experiences of the men of the ELC-- the racialized abuse that they were subject to as they were working in the war. I have examples of British referring to Egyptians with the N-word. They were flogged. They were whipped, at a time when British troops-- it was outlawed to flog British infantry troops in the 19th century. But the British were still using these techniques of whips and flogging with Egyptian laborers in the early 20th century, during World War One.
And I have some pictures, here, that kind of illustrate this a little bit. So you can see the men here. These men are working on a road. The four men to the right, they have the base stones that would be laid out on the roads in Palestine. The man on the left has a bucket full of gravel that would fill in the spots between the stones. The man in front is known as the [ARABIC] or foreman. And the British created kind of internal organization within these companies, where they promoted certain laborers to foremen and had them manage the process.
Another thing that you can see here, perhaps, if you look closely is, this man is not wearing shoes. So, in many cases, the Egyptians were not provided with footwear. And this was justified on the basis of their supposed racial characteristics. The British would write that the fallahin have soles on their feet that are as tough as leather, and so they don't need shoes-- even though they're working on the rocky hills of Palestine, here.
So I think that visually illustrates some of what I'm talking about, in terms of the racialized abuse they were subjected to. Here's a picture that I got from the YMCA archives. Because the YMCA also was involved in the First World War in Palestine and Egypt. On the far left, you can see, the man's tunic says "ELC" on it. So that's the official Egyptian Labour Corps uniform.
As these men were taken from the countryside and they moved to places like France or Palestine or Italy or Gallipoli, they were transformed along the way. They actually had all their body hair shaved off of. They were sanitized with heavy delousing soap.
And they were given uniforms. And they were subjected to military discipline, so they could be tried by field general court-martial. And some of them were killed. They were executed for protesting against their British officers.
Two of the key characters from the book, you can see here. There's Ernest Venables on the left and Abdul Hamid Mohammed Hussein on the right, here. This is the only biography of an ELC laborer that I've been able to find. They didn't leave behind a lot of written accounts. That's one of the big struggles in researching them.
But the guy on the left, Venables, he wrote a ton. he wrote letters home. He wrote diaries. He wrote a book that was never published. And I was able to find all these resources and talk about them in the book.
OK. So, I have about 10 minutes now. So, what I want to do is move on and talk about the 1919 revolution. And in the book, I talk about the symbolic and the practical role that the ELC played in the 1919 revolution. I'm going to start by focusing on the symbolic role. And if we have time, I'll get into the practical stuff. But I think the symbolic stuff really helps us see the next step in the evolution of Egyptian racial nationalism or ideas about the racial identity of Egyptians.
So as the war ended, nationalist politicians in Egypt struggled to organize a wafd, or a delegation, to participate in the Paris Peace Conference. And the Wafd would go on to become the most popular political party in interwar Egypt.
Their leader was this man, Saad Zaghloul. And he was the oldest son of an [NON-ENGLISH]. He was born the oldest son of an [NON-ENGLISH] of a village in the Nile Delta. "And at the age of 14, he moved to Cairo, to study at Al-Azhar University, where he studied under luminaries of Islamic modernism like Jamal edin Afghani and Muhammad Abduh. But Zaghloul soon traded in his Azhari robes for the suit of a modern gentleman.
In 1893, while he was working as a lawyer, he met two influential young journalists who were speaking out against the British occupation-- Ahmed Lufti el-Sayed and Ismail Sidky." And in the book, I talk about Ahmed Lufti el-Sayed in particular and the role that social Darwinism played in some of his thinking. But, for Zaghloul, I think, Ahmed Lufti el-Sayed's main influence was pushing him towards nationalism and this idea of, instead of thinking about Egypt as pan-Islamic, thinking about Egypt and Indigenous Egyptians as the real Egyptians, as those who the country of Egypt was meant for, in a way. Right?
And so, Saad Zaghloul sort of gets exposed to these ideas. And he continues his career in government. "In 1906, he is named minister of education, where he famously clashes with his British advisor by insisting on Arabic as the language of instruction. And in 1913, he wins a seat on the legislative assembly," which is an experiment in self-rule for Egyptians under the British occupation. But then, the war breaks out, and the legislative assembly gets canceled, and martial law gets instituted. So Zaghloul loses that job. And as the war is coming to an end, Zaghloul starts organizing the Wafd-- starts building support for it. And this brings him into conflict with the British authorities.
"So on March 8 of 1919, Zaghloul and the leaders of the Wafd were arrested and exiled to Malta. Soon thereafter, protests broke out in Cairo. And a strike coordinated by a network of middle-class professionals, including lawyers, government employees, students, and religious notables from Al-Azhar, spread across the country.
At the same time, one of the largest rural rebellions in the history of the modern Middle East took place, with masses of people in villages and towns attacking the infrastructures of the colonial state. Authorities, the British authorities, ultimately relaxed their pressure on the Wafd, allowing Saad Zaghloul and his colleagues to travel to Paris. And they began negotiating with them, in a process that would ultimately lead to a unilateral and highly conditional drawdown of British troops in Egypt."
In the meantime, the army, the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, which was just sent to conquer Syria, is now let loose in the Egyptian countryside and used to crush the rural rebellions. The Egyptian Expeditionary Force kills approximately 3,000 Egyptians, over the course of a couple months in the spring of 1919. "And this episode, taken together, is known in Egyptian historiography as the 1919 Revolution. And popular memory in Egypt has enshrined it as the founding moment of the modern Egyptian nation-state."
So the ELC, I found in my research, played an important symbolic role for nationalist activists and intellectuals, during the revolution. "In their rhetoric, the men of the Wafd lambasted the hypocrisy of what the British called 'voluntary recruitment,' insisting instead that what was happening in Egypt was closer to slavery. Representations comparing ELC workers to, for example, Black slaves"-- and here we have a section from Salama Moussa's memoir-- [SPEAKING ARABIC]. He describes a trip that he's taking to the countryside, and he witnesses a recruiting levy of Egyptian migrant laborers. And he says "It looks like a village of Black slaves"-- [ARABIC]. Right? And this word [ARABIC] is an Arabic word that refers particular to Black people from the highlands of Tanzania and Kenya, a place where the Abassid caliphs and others recruited Black slaves from, traditionally.
Another place where we see such representations is in the writings of Muhammad Sabri, who was kind of the official historian of the Wafd. And he was known as a [NON-ENGLISH]. So he was the first Egyptian to get a doctorate from the Sorbonne. And he was trained by Alphonse Aulard, who was a famous historian of the French Revolution. And his dissertation was about history of the 1919 revolution, treating it like the French Revolution in a sense.
And you can see here that he's talking about how Egyptians have suffered, from being called the N-word, and how numerous ignorant functionaries have been treating them poorly. And he says, you know, they're acting like Egyptians have been imported into their own country and they're men of color who have been introduced to their own country. Right? So I think, here, Muhammad Sabri perhaps is relating what he's seeing with Egyptians to what he's seeing in France, right, during the war. And he's actually studying in the Sorbonne during the First World War.
But the key part here is this notion that Egyptians are being treated like men of color. And that's a bad thing. That's insulting, to Muhammad Sabri.
I think the most interesting, perhaps, piece of evidence that I found was in the French archives. And this is a petition, from an anonymous lawyer who calls himself [ARABIC]. And most of the petition deals with this incidence of gang rape that took place in [NON-ENGLISH] during the 1919 revolution. But it's this line in the beginning that's really interesting to me. Right?
[SPEAKING ARABIC] "The British are treating the Egyptians like African savages." Right? And so, I think that he's talking about the Egyptian Labour Corps, here. He doesn't specifically mention this, but he's focused on [ARABIC] in the petition. But I think here he's really talking about the Egyptian Labour Corps and how these scenes remind him of African savages. Right?
And so the question, to me, is, what do these representations do? How do these representations generate political support and mobilizing force for a revolutionary and nationalist program? And to me, I think these representations "drew their mobilizing force from popular conceptions of Egyptian national identity that posited Egyptian racial difference from, and superiority to, Black Africans. At the same time, the good works of the ELC and their contributions to British victory in the war were taken to undermine claims of White political supremacy."
So it's paradoxical, here. The 1919 revolution is an antiracist act, against White supremacy, against the British presence in Egypt. At the same time, it creates mobilizing force by drawing on notions of Egyptian racial superiority to Black Africans. "So in response to the racialization of Egyptians as people of color, I argue that nationalist politicians and public intellectuals centered the fallahin-- like the men of the ELC-- as the true symbols of Egyptian national and racial authenticity. The dominant discursive mode of nationalism that emerged in the decade or so after the revolution, which posited a biological and cultural link between modern Egyptians"-- especially the fallahin, who were seen as kind of an endogamous, pure group of Egyptians that was isolated from the diversity and multiple different groups that existed in the cities. Right?
So these fallahin were considered to be especially linked to the ancient pharaohs. And I think that this notion of a social group that has reproduced biologically through time is similar to ideas about race science that were circulating in the late 19th century and the early 20th century. And so I think that Pharaonism-- and I am going to be exploring this more actually in a talk next week at SUNY Old Westbury. But I think Pharaonism-- which is super popular now for people like [NON-ENGLISH]-- is a version of Egyptian racial nationalism.
"And this discourse of Pharaonism worked to differentiate political leaders like Saad Zaghloul and Salama Moussa and Muhammad Sabri"-- "Muhammad Abduh"-- many of these canon figures of Egyptian nationalism that I've been talking about. They were all rural-to-urban, middle-class strivers who were born in the countryside and therefore got their bona fides to represent Egypt on the national stage as a result of their rural descent and parentage. And they also tried to position themselves as heirs to an ancient civilization. That's what the pharaohs allowed Egyptians to claim, is that Egyptians are also a civilization. Right? And therefore, that they are not deserving of imperial subordination.
So it's 5:43. I'm going to end it there, talking about the symbolic role of the ELC. We can talk more about the practical role, if you want to, in the Q&A. But I think what I've done here is kind of sketch out the skeletal argument I'm making about Egyptian racial identity-- how Egyptians get racialized as Muslims and then people of color, and then the 1919 revolution is about presenting an alternative picture of Egyptian race, at a time when race was really an active category for everybody across the political spectrum, and that it was Pharaonism that was kind of that last iteration of Egyptian racial nationalism.
And for those of you Iranian scholars, I think there's a good parallel here to Aryanism and what Reza Zia-Ibrahimi calls "dislocated nationalism." Right? I'm using the term "racial nationalism." "Dislocated nationalism" is a kind of a clunky term. I think "racial nationalism" encapsulates more what is going on here, in the late 19th and early 20th century, when Iranians were talking about the Aryans or Egyptians talking about the pharaohs. And I think it also really helps us think about fascism in the region, and how fascism evolves, and how fascism has sort of taken root today, to some extent.
So we can talk about this more in the Q&A. But I'll leave it at that. And thanks, guys, for your time.
SPEAKER: Thank you very much, Kyle. Why don't we-- I have a question online, but why don't we start with questions here in our live audience.
KYLE J. ANDERSON: Sure.
KYLE J. ANDERSON: I see a couple questions. Yeah.
AUDIENCE: Hi. I really enjoyed this talk. And I just-- what resonates is so many [INAUDIBLE]. So, one of the things that really struck me is that, at the time they were making this association between being Egyptian and being Black, you had Black [INAUDIBLE].
KYLE J. ANDERSON: Man down!
We're listening. We're listening.
AUDIENCE: OK. But you have-- there are people celebrating in Egypt [INAUDIBLE] this example of either Black capacity for empire-building and monumental architecture-- all that stuff.
And so, it's also interesting to think about, or to wonder what sort of conversations happened, at the-- in Paris in 1919, because you had Du Bois and all those people who were there at the same time. So I wonder if there was any sort of dialogue or a conversation between them.
The other thing that comes to mind is, how are you describing the-- what becomes defined as Egyptian nationalism actually reminds me very much of what the Cubans did. Because part of what José Martí does is to, in a sense, erase race as a component within Cuban nationalism. So everybody becomes Cuban. And we're not going to make distinctions between natural Cubans and those who are of Spanish heritage.
And it's a conversation that's happened in-- or, an attempt to define this in roughly the same period-- probably, in fact, by 1912, then you had the massacre in Cuba, where they do try to exterminate Blacks after they formed their Independent Party of Color. And so it's just an interesting contrast, to look at how nation and race are being negotiated in these different spaces.
KYLE J. ANDERSON: Definitely. I mean, the Cuban example is not one that I've read up on a lot. And I think that I would love to read more about it, because one of the challenges and things that I've tried to undertake in this book is reading widely in the period and trying to draw connections across the globe, instead of being so focused and centered in the Egyptian nation-state-- which is what I was trained to do. And I'm sure there are a lot of parallels there.
Of course, this idea of there being no difference between Afro-Cubans and Spanish-descendent Cubans-- on the one hand, one could look at this and say this is kind of an admirable attempt at civic nationalism. But on the other hand, I think when we look at the Arab world, and in Turkey and in Iran, efforts to create national identities that don't acknowledge the unique position of African-descended people in these countries has had the tendency to just erase these people entirely.
So I know that some of our colleagues in the room are working on this issue in Iran. And I think in Egypt, too, there have been multiple generations of scholars who have almost just ignored the slave trade and ignore the role of Ottoman imperialism in Africa, for example, that Dr. Minawi here has so rightly pointed to, in his work. So one of the challenges that we have, coming out of this, is recovering the legacy of the African slave trade and the unique position that African-descended people have been in, because there are no census categories that capture the existence of this population.
And then, as to the relationship between nation and race, I mean, I really think that there was a time in which these two terms were almost synonymous. You hear things like talking about the Irish race or-- I mean, even in-- all over the world, I think, we see race science becoming extremely influential at around the same time that nationalism is gaining broad purchase globally.
And I really think it's only in the wake of-- in my mind, the wake of the Second World War, and as we start to see the results of national socialism in the death camps and how important race was to the Nazi ideology, social scientists start to say, well, this is a bad concept. We shouldn't think about this. We should ignore this. And what ends up happening is, we kind of forget how important this concept was for people all across the political spectrum, because nobody wanted to associate themselves with race after Hitler and the fascists made it look so bad. So I do think that race and nation were synonymous and, at a time when perhaps, in the minds of some people at least-- and then, as time goes on, the two words become kind of decoupled, in a way.
And then, as to your question about, is there a dialogue between Du Bois and Egypt, It's interesting. You know, Frederick Douglass was in Egypt in the 1880s. Du Bois and his family, you know, he moves to Ghana in his later life. But his family ends up getting kicked out of Ghana, and they relocate, in the '70s, to Cairo.
So those African-Americans were in Egypt, and they were interested in Egypt, and they were interested in learning from Egyptian lessons. Du Bois wrote an article in The Crisis in June of 1919, where he talked about the Egyptian revolution. And in his mind, this is a revolution of Black people, of people of color, of fighting against White supremacy. Right?
But I think that the ironic part is, I don't think Egyptian nationalists would have liked his characterization of their revolution very much. And I think that, even though African-Americans want to look to Egypt as an example of people of color rising up, Egyptians want to distance themselves from Black Africans at this moment. There is a time, of course, when pan-Africanism becomes more important in Egypt, politically. And even then, under the Nasser, as Ibrahim knows and as many others know, it's complicated. Right? Nasser tries to be a pan-Africanist, at the same time he signs an agreement with Ethiopia to get a larger share of the Nile River waters to Egypt and he tries to reconquer the Sudan, in different ways, using soft power. Right?
So, that pan-African moment is there, in Egyptian history, but it's not there in 1919, and it's not there in the 1920s. It's not until later that pan-Africanism starts to gain some purchase in Egypt. Before that, Egyptians are trying to articulate a distinct sense of Egyptian racial identity that's not about, in my mind, building solidarity with Black Africans.
And if I'm wrong about that, I would love for somebody to prove me wrong. I would love to read more about that period. I just haven't found those sources. And when I look to the sources, this is what I see. [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] You know? And that's significant, to me. Yeah, Mustafa.
AUDIENCE: Wasn't there someone else, before me? Because you said there's a couple quesions.
KYLE J. ANDERSON: Ross, I saw your hand up.
AUDIENCE: Yes. Any order is fine.
KYLE J. ANDERSON: Go for it, Ross.
AUDIENCE: OK. [LAUGHS] Yeah, I think your shift in emphasis towards race and [INAUDIBLE] along those lines is really fascinating. I had a couple questions.
One is, how if at all did the presence of Copts-- Coptic community-- complicates the-- you know, Island being a race or [INAUDIBLE] racialized? And then the other one is, if you could just clarify a little more how you were interpreting the term [NON-ENGLISH] and what precisely [INAUDIBLE].
KYLE J. ANDERSON: So, [NON-ENGLISH], to me, means basically "Black slaves." I think it refers to Black Africans from a particular region-- the highlands of Tanzania and Kenya. But this is the region where the Abbasids and others got their Black slaves from. And in Egypt, there comes a time when particular labels for different communities in Africa-- there are moments where Mustafa Kamil, for example, will refer to the Mahdi uprising in Sudan and he'll call them [NON-ENGLISH]. Right? And he's not talking about Tanzania and Kenya. Right?
He's talking about Black people. But why does he use this term [NON-ENGLISH]? But to me, the term is linked with slavery. And so some people, I see-- I see Mustafa shaking his head. Right? And I've seen some people translate this as, like, "Negro," for example.
But I think that, even if that's the translation, I think the word signifies a sense of, for lack of a better term, kind of anti-Blackness within the-- that has deep roots in the Arabic language. Right? And so, when Salama Moussa who is looking at a village in Zagazig, and he's saying that this reminds him of the [NON-ENGLISH], I think what he's saying is that these Egyptians look like slaves. But he doesn't use [ARABIC], you know? He's saying that they look like slaves and they look like Black slaves-- to me. Like, I don't think--
He's looking at these guys being tied up. Even if you translate [NON-ENGLISH] as "Negro," there, what does that mean? To look at men being tied up and led away, and to say they look like Negroes, what are you saying about Black people? I think that there's a link between Blackness, trans-Saharan origins, and slavery, in Egyptian popular culture at this time.
And a guy like Salama Moussa, for those of you who are familiar with him, I mean, his antipathy towards Black Africans is well attested. He is very interested in eugenics. When he goes over to London, he becomes the foreign correspondent of [SPEAKING ARABIC], and writing about the eugenics laboratories that are being founded in London. And the people at [ARABIC], and these are not progressive people, are like, man, you're too into this eugenics stuff. You're too anti-Black. You know?
So he even gets into a fight with guys like [NON-ENGLISH], who were, like, the biggest supporters of the British occupation in Egypt at the time. And even they think that his eugenics is over the top. But that could be something we talk about, this word [NON-ENGLISH].
Your second question was about the Copts. And I think that one of the interesting things that's happening, over the course of the British occupation, is reforms within the interior ministry. One of the reforms the British make, for example-- they make it so that every [NON-ENGLISH]-- the mayor, basically, of every village-- has to be a Muslim. And they make this decision because they define Egypt as a Muslim country. The Copts, at the same time, are struggling with this idea of being a minority and kind of pushing against that label that's been applied to them.
I think there's a sense in which the-- there's also, for example, Boutros Ghali, who gets assassinated in 1910, the Coptic prime minister. He's seen as kind of a [INAUDIBLE] or a collaborator with the British. So, if the British are this colonial authority and they're ruling over this population that they define is Muslim, the Christians within that population become a kind of-- they occupy this kind of liminal space, where, to some extent, they become kind of allies with the British and then, at other times, what the British are doing by defining Egyptians as Muslims is really alienating them and making it harder for them, as well.
But I think, most importantly, one of the big things about Pharaonism is that it rejects this. Right? Pharaonism says, no, Egyptians are not Muslims. Egyptians are Egyptians. And so the Copts and the Muslims and the Jews, at the time, can all get together and take pride in their descent from the pharaohs. So, that's one aspect of the 1919 revolution, I think, that pushes back against the history of race and the way that the British have tried to racialize Egyptians.
AUDIENCE: You said there was somebody [INAUDIBLE].
SPEAKER: Yeah I have a question personally, and I also have a question online. So I'm going to ask the question from online. This is [? Katherine Hawking ?] asking, "Is there any evidence of literacy of the Egyptian Labour Corps or any written records of their experiences?" You mentioned that there were few written records.
STUDENT: Is that the end of the question?
SPEAKER: That's the end of that question. But I see that she puts a second question. So I will ask the second question, which is, in 1910 the Dreadnought hoax in Britain was a spectacular event, a practical joke involving Cambridge students impersonating Abyssinian officials to view the latest warship in the British navy, named the Dreadnought. Virginia Woolf was one of these hoaxers. It would be interesting to look at the period leading up to the period of the First World War and [INAUDIBLE] as far as how they are viewing Egyptians, [INAUDIBLE].
KYLE J. ANDERSON: Well, I don't know anything about the Dreadnought hoax, but that's interesting, and I'll have to look into it. The question of literacy and written records-- I mean, there's been a lot of work, in the past five years or so, that's tried to push back against dichotomy between literate and illiterate. There are a lot of people who have some mastery over writing but they perhaps can't write a book.
But the important thing is that Egyptian Labour Corps men did not leave behind a lot of written sources for us, whether that was because they were illiterate or because they were too busy working. Seems the result is the same anyways. So we do have one brief, three-and-a-half, four-page memoir of an Egyptian Labour Corps worker.
And then there's reports that refer to letters that Egyptian Labour Corps men would write home, but I haven't found a single letter. I haven't found the censor's office that might have records of these letters. The best we can do, I think, is try to get in touch with surviving family members of the Egyptian Labour Corps, and that's not something that I've really been able to do. But I think it's something that my book is hopefully starting a conversation within Egypt to get some of these family members to sort of share what's happened with them.
But, long story short, we don't have a lot of written records. I try to get around this by focusing on sound, songs, and embedded colloquial Arabic in the-- poorly transliterated colloquial Arabic in the writings of British officials, and [INAUDIBLE] Sufi rituals. These kinds of things are recorded by observers, and so I try to focus on sound in Chapter 6 of the book. Thanks. Thanks also to Ziad for that.
AUDIENCE: Yeah. I'm so glad you went in this direction. It's really, really rich. I happen to be also thinking about the question of race. But for me, race seems to always intersect with class in the Middle East at that time. So I wanted to ask you-- in the Egyptian case, how does notions of race map onto the different classes that make up the Egyptian people, from the perspective of the British but also from the perspective of the Egyptians that are writing and are from a specific class. And some of them not even Arabic speakers or at least Arabic speakers only in public. So how does that fit into this?
Egypt is a unique case within the Ottoman Empire. The way that I see it is, I associate Saad Zaghloul and the leaders of the 1919 revolution with a movement to redefine the dominant political community in Egypt as indigenous Egyptians. So, before the 1919 revolution, throughout the 19th century, as you know, the Ottomans are coming in. They've reasserted their control in Egypt under Mehmet Ali. Ali and the class, the upper class of people that he creates below him, are importing concubines from the Caucasus. And most of the elite, upper-class Egyptians, by the end of the 19th century, have White mothers. And they have Turkish or Ottoman father.
And as the middle class is struggling against this [NON-ENGLISH] class, they start to articulate a notion of the Egyptian ummah, the community, as indigenous Egyptians. And so I think there's a sense in which it's the middle class that is defining itself as Egyptian. And they are also, then, reading race science and having a kind of organic conception of Egyptians as a people, where they think about themselves as-- and I've seen different metaphors-- the head, the soul, of the Egyptian ummah. Right?
So, because they are Egyptians and because they are upper-class, they can claim-- or middle-class-- they're educated; they maybe have traveled back and forth between the countries and the countryside and the cities-- they can claim to represent both working-class Egyptians and all Egyptians as the head, the part of the body, of the organic community of Egyptians that is tasked-- or has the function of writing and representing and engaging in politics. And there's also a sense, at the same time, in which the fallahin are grouped alongside Black slaves, in different moments, like Mehmet Ali's army-- where he's conscripting fallahin and he's also importing Black slaves from Sudan as infantry troops-- or on the Delta plantations, the [NON-ENGLISH], which are harvesting cotton.
There's a census that takes place in 1848. There's another one that takes place in 1868. In these censuses, there are significant proportion of the population that are Black African slaves in the countryside-- up to 5%, in some villages in the Delta. So you have enslaved Black Africans working alongside the fallahin-- who are also coerced, in some senses, in different laws that have forced them to be on their land and the [NON-ENGLISH] and different types of coercive labor regimes.
So on one hand, the middle class is trying to say, look, we're all Egyptians here. And us as the middle class, we have the right to represent you as lower-class Egyptians. Because we're all Egyptians, but we're the ones that are the head. And then, on the other hand, Egyptian fallahin are being put in positions that are analogous to Black slaves at different times. So those dynamics are rather complex, I would say.
But I think the important thing is that it's the middle class, in Egypt, that's trying to represent Egyptians as a organic totality. And in doing so, they claim to represent the lower-class Egyptians.
And there's recent articles that talk about the [NON-ENGLISH]-- different parts of Egypt, where the Sa'idis are considered to be perhaps of a different race, are treated like-- well, who shall I-- savages or barbarians. Right? And certain characters from the Sa'idi-- and Ziad talks about this in his book, but I'll also-- there's an article that came out in [INAUDIBLE] couple issues ago, about [NON-ENGLISH]-- how they were being portrayed. These are two famous serial killers in Egypt-- and how they were being portrayed as particularly barbarous and savage because of their upper-Egyptian origin.
So there's a lot to unpack there, and I'm not really sure how it all maps onto each other and what's the overarching framework in which we can think about this. But the intersections between class and race are definitely there, but they don't map on to each other perfectly. And I think, for the middle class in Egypt, there's some times where it benefits them to present Egyptians as a race, and then there's other times where it benefits them to say, we're upper class-- we're better-- you know, we're different than these other Egyptians who you are calling whatever or treating in a certain kind of way.
That's an important question that I think more people need to think about.
AUDIENCE: Sorry. Can I ask just a quick follow-up?
AUDIENCE: --again, still, class, middle class-- and where does being Arab fit into all this, when Arab is becoming identified as an ethnicity?
KYLE J. ANDERSON: Yeah. That's a really good question. I don't think it's there yet, in 1919. You go back and you look, for example, at Sharif Hussein's efforts to negotiate an Arab Kingdom with the British. Egypt is nowhere in that kingdom. Perhaps the British cooperation with Sharif Hussein during the First World War and the Egyptian antipathy towards the British, at the same time, makes identification with the Arab cause particularly fraught around the time of the First World War.
But I don't think it's until the interwar period that Egyptians really start to identify with "Arab" as an ethnicity. To me, the vector for this is the Palestinian cause. And Egyptians, I think, begin to identify parallels between their own situation and the situation of Palestinians, who are also subject to British colonial rule in the interwar period.
And it is as the Palestinian cause becomes this cause celebre in Egypt that Egyptians begin to identify as Arabs. I don't think it's until the '20s and the '40s-- especially the '36 Arab revolt-- where this really takes off in Egypt. But that's actually what I'm thinking about for my next book-- asking, how is it that Egypt entered the '48 war? And I think a lot of it has to do with these shifting notions of Egyptian identity.
But in the '20s, it's pharaohs. We're the pharaohs. We're not Arabs. We're not Muslims. We're not people of color. We are the pharaohs.
You know, and it vacillates. I think now, in the present day, Egypt has this reservoir of-- they've been-- it's been almost like a palimpsest it's been layered over and over. And now the leaders can call on these different identifications at different moments. Right? So there's moments when it's politically advantageous for el-Sisi to say we're pharaohs. And he puts on these ridiculous parades and puts the mummies in the most expensive, air-sealed boxes, while people are starving on the streets and can't get enough bread. And then there are other times when there's a-- when Israel is bombing [NON-ENGLISH], and he wants to say, oh, we can step in! We can negotiate. We can be-- we're politically meaningful, because we can mediate between [NON-ENGLISH] and Israel. Right? Because we're Arabs, too.
So, at different moments, these different identifications become politically beneficial for people like [NON-ENGLISH]. And today, we're left with this big, confused jumble about what is an Egyptian.
SPEAKER: Yeah. Thank you very much. It's really exciting to hear how this project has shifted. And I can agree, the work you're doing is really fascinating. I'm trying to sort of square some of what you're saying with-- some of this is a comment, and some, I think, is a question-- with the figure of the comic actor [NON-ENGLISH], who is certainly on the stage in this period. I'm not quite sure precisely when his character [NON-ENGLISH] is introduced. I don't have that quite in my head. I think it's during the 1930s.
But his persona is as [NON-ENGLISH]-- right? And he wears blackface. And his tagline is, like, we are in time-- this is an anti-British-- we are [INAUDIBLE]. The British are treating us like African slaves. Right? [INAUDIBLE]
So I think, on that side of it, it's very much in support of the argument that you're making. And I think it's this comic take and this reappropriation on this. [INAUDIBLE] does a good job of talking about some of the complexities of the wearing the blackface and the implications of that in the way that it's both sort of politically critical and whatnot.
But the other side of this is this character is-- he says, I'm half Libyan, half Sudanese, 100% Egyptian.
KYLE J. ANDERSON: Mm-hmm.
SPEAKER: And so my question is, where does Egypt's relationship with Sudan built into the-- but with their political designs on Sudan? And how does that all fit into this question of where are the boundaries of Egypt and what it means to be Egyptian?
KYLE J. ANDERSON: Well, it's extremely complex, but there's a sense in which, when Egyptians say that there is no difference between Sudan and Egypt, what they're really trying to do is keep the British from giving Egypt independence and keeping Sudan for themselves. Right? And of course, I mean, what the goal is is to return to the situation before the British occupation, when Egypt ran Khartoum from Cairo. Right?
So, you can look at this, and you can say, well, you know, he's saying that Egyptians and Sudanese are the same. Isn't there a kind of solidarity there? But the reason why that sameness is being emphasized is because Egyptians want-- they believe that, if Egypt and Sudan are considered as part of the same family that shouldn't be under British control, then Egyptians would sort of naturally dominate the Sudan. Right?
And remember, this is all going on in the context of the Mahdist revolt and the White Flag revolt, which takes place in the 1920s. So, as the Sudanese are rising up and saying, we are different-- we don't want Egyptian control-- Egyptians are saying, no. [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]-- It's all Egyptian Sudanese. Right? But there is a way in which this Egyptian Sudanese identity implies the domination of the former over the latter--
KYLE J. ANDERSON: --I think.
SPEAKER: Well, thank you very much. Thank you, Kyle. Thank you to the online audience, as well, for joining us. And thank you to everyone who's here [INAUDIBLE].
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Kyle Anderson Ph.D. '17, assistant professor at SUNY Old Westbury, gives a talk on his recently published book "The Egyptian Labor Corps: Race, Space, and Place in the First World War" (University of Texas Press, 2021).