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Title: The rule of strangers : empire, Islam, and the invention of "politics" in Egypt, 1867-1914
Author: Omar, Hussein
ISNI:       0000 0004 6499 7022
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2016
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At the centre of the thesis is puzzle of why Egypt appears to have contributed little to the global corpus of political thought. Although the country witnessed two major revolutions in 1882 and 1919, there are virtually no histories of the ideas they generated or the thought that fuelled them. Colonial observers frequently suggested that Egyptians were 'political ciphers'. They pointed to the absence of abstract political theory in the post-Classical Islamicate world as evidence for that assertion. By extension, contemporary historians have accepted those claims uncritically. They have often held that Muslim clerics, jurists and intellectuals, though long engaged in brokering power, have had little interest in theorising its workings. Against those claims, the thesis asserts that this apparent deficit of ideas was rather the product of foundational assumptions on the part of intellectual historians. These include a dependence on a Eurocentric concept of 'politics', which emerged in the 19th century and eclipsed older modes of thinking about sovereignty, and a reliance on colonial distinctions between 'religion' and 'politics'. Further, the dichotomy between political 'thought' and 'action' (and the presumption that the former precedes the latter) upon which intellectual history of the Middle East has relied not only oversimplified a complex reality, but justified imperial domination then, and now obscures the intellectual contributions of anticolonial activists. Drawing on overlooked and fragmentary sources, I provide a history of political ideas for a place that, it is said, failed to produce any. I reconstruct the sophisticated political theology behind the precolonial system of rule that would be dismissed as 'Oriental despotism'. I then examine how British imperial perceptions of despotism and the Egyptian subject on which it was predicated determined their programme of reform as well as generated theory for an academic 'Science of Politics' in Britain. I end by charting responses to those reforms by political activists, who would evince with remarkable clarity insights - generated through struggle rather than armchair speculation - that would decades later be described as postcolonial theory.
Supervisor: Rogan, Eugene Sponsor: Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available