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The New Mamluks
Egyptian Society and Modern Feudalism

Amira el-Azhary Sonbol
Foreword by Robert A. Fernea

Cloth $49.95L    |   0-8156-2844-7    |   2000

Paper $19.95s    |   0-8156-2845-5    |   2000

This study of modern Egypt aims to open the debate regarding new terms and methods for understanding the Middle East and Islamic societies.

"Attempting to construct a narrative of Egyptian politics and society from the Mamluks until the present day is a formidable and important task. Amira El-Azhary Sonbol’s The New Mamluks is an ambitious attempt to explore the continuities and processes that Egypt underwent from the late Mamluk period through the recent Islamist movement under Presidents Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak. Sonbol directs her argument against past studies of nineteenth-century Egypt, which she argues have resorted to ‘oriental despotism and great-man theories,’ and studies that have too often seen contemporary Islamic revivalism as a reaction to, or even rejection of, modernity."
dash Arab Studies Journal

"This ambitious book aims to apply new terms and methods to the study of Egyptian society in particular and Islamic history in general. The author argues against some dominant concepts such as Oriental despotism, absolutist state, and authoritarianism, which have been dominant in the study of the relationship between the state and society in Egypt. . . . Stressing the need to go beyond the usual emphasis on Muhammad Ali’s rule, Sonbol traces back the birth of modern Egypt to the late part of the Mamluk rule of Egypt. In contrast to the usual depiction of this as violent, chaotic, and ‘backward,’ Sonbol describes a dynamic society where people had direct access to the legal system and expected (and often got) justice. . . . For an anthropologist, it is exciting and refreshing to see a historian pay such great attention to the notion of ‘culture,’ granting it a central role in the understanding of the relationship between the governing and the governed. Sonbol provides fascinating and provocative insights into the cultural forms that are being increasingly shared by the different classes as well as of the possible political consequences of these commonalities. . . . The New Mamluks, with its many provocative insights and stimulating ideas, could and should be of great importance to current debates on globalization, social inequalities, and cultural identities. It’s an excellent reminder of the richness that could result from more dialogue between different disciplines, especially history and anthropology, in understanding the current challenges facing the Middle East and the histories shaping its current realities."
dash Journal of Middle East Women's Studies

By introducing her own methodologies and applying them to the history of modern Egypt, Amira el-Azhary Sonbol has produced an analytical history spanning the time of pre-Muhammad Ali to the present day. Using local idioms and terms such as khassa and amma, iltizam and faiz she has developed a methodology that is more meaningful since it ties events of the eighteenth century to those in the twentieth.

Sonbol shows continuity in the division of Egyptian society into two groups: the khassa, which tried to impose a hegemonic culture on society, one which reflected and encouraged its economic interests, while amma clung to its heritage and customs in an attempt to acquire a share of the wealth. Sonbol also discusses today's Islamic movement in Egypt as a revolution correcting the duality of culture that was brought about by historical events like colonialism and the importation of exogenous ideologies. She suggests a different way of looking at culture and the necessity of seeing cultural struggle as a method for studying the historical process that goes beyond the political and economical.

View other books in this series

Amira el-Azhary Sonbol is associate professor of Islamic history, society, and law at the Center for Muslim Understanding at Georgetown University. She is the author of The Creation of a Medical Profession in Egypt, 1800-1922 and editor of Women, the Family, and Divorce Laws in Islamic History, also published by Syracuse University Press.

6 x 9, 272 pages, notes, bibliography, index

New Mamluks

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