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A Continuation of State Policies by Other Means: Cultural Politics in Interwar Egypt

December 4, 2017, 5:00pm BST - 7:00pm
Department of History, SOAS, University of London

Wolfson Lecture Theatre, Paul Webley Wing (Senate House Building)
SOAS, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square
London WC1H 0XG
United Kingdom

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A Continuation of State Policies by Other Means: Cultural Politics in Interwar Egypt

Hazem Jamjoum (New York University)

In a 1933 dispatch that he would later refer to as his “magnum opus”, British High Commissioner for Egypt Sir Percy Lorraine wrote: “The question of maintaining and developing English education and culture in Egypt is becoming… of such gravity that, if our political and commercial futures in these parts are not to be immediately compromised, His Majesty’s Government must re-examine the whole problem.” This dispatch was the first step towards the establishment in what would later become known as the British Council.

The main thrust of Lorraine’s rhetoric was that French and Italian cultural efforts were giving these two imperial adversaries a “cultural edge” that would result in long-term commercial and strategic losses to the British Empire. What Lorraine’s advocacy for a British imperial cultural policy omits—as does the scant literature on interwar cultural politics in Middle East—is that such a policy was also, and perhaps mainly, a response to the Egyptian state’s increasingly pronounced cultural activity.

The paper discusses ways in which the contest between the Egyptian national, women’s and labor movements and the Egyptian, British, Italian and French states in the 1920s opened an era in which the “cultural” became a key arena of politics. In it, I trace the ways capitalist commodification of cultural production—which I follow through a history of music production—figured in determining the key facets of this cultural arena.

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