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Conscript and Sacrifice: the Political Theology of the Egyptian Revolution of 1919, Hussein Omar (University of Oxford)

Yesterday, 5:00pm BST - 7:00pm
Department of History, SOAS, University of London, SOAS, University of London, SOAS, University of London

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

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Hussein Omar, University of Oxford

Like the European revolutions of 1848 and the Arab uprisings of 2011, 1919 was a year of travelling revolutions. War-weary and angry, revolutionaries took to the streets of Egypt in vast numbers in what became one of the largest peasant insurgencies of the twentieth century. While the Great War may have ended officially in 1918, to returning conscripted peasants the real struggle had only just begun. In Egypt, the movement known as the 1919 revolution was only suppressed when tens of thousands of British troops, aided by aircraft cover, killed nearly a thousand unarmed people. Egyptian revolutionary fervour spread to Iraq, and soon the reverberations were felt across the entire Middle East. Yet while the events of the peripatetic uprising have been chronicled, we have no accounts of the thought that fuelled it, or the ideas it generated. I refute the notion that these uprisings are best understood as ‘Wilsonian’ or ‘Leninist’ in inspiration, and instead ask: how to write the history of a revolution that produced no identifiable manifestos, ideologues, or philosophers? How to write the intellectual history of a ‘leaderless revolution’?

Hussein A H Omar is currently an AHRC Postdoctoral Fellow at Pembroke College and the History Faculty, as part of the 'First World War and Global Religions’ project. His postdoctoral research examines the anticolonial insurrectionary movements in Egypt and Iraq between 1919–1920. It builds on his forthcoming monograph, ‘The Rule of Strangers: Empire, Islam and the Invention of "politics" in Egypt, 1867–1922’ (Oxford University Press), which examines political ideas, as well as the very emergence of politics as an autonomous category between 1867 and 1914. Other areas of research interest include: how the property endowed to God (waqf) was managed by the colonial and postcolonial state; the emergence of 'minority rights' claims among Egyptian Christians; and ideas about Muslim sovereignty, kingship and republicanism, before, after and during the Ottoman defeat in the First World War.

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