Postcolonial Egypt Essay, Research Paper
European mischief was typified by the Egyptian exhibition in Paris for Barnum’s All World Show in the second half of the nineteenth century. The show itself was a huge display built to mimic old-fashioned Egypt architecture, designed down to minuscule detail such as dirt purposeful rubbed into paint to make the display look old. People could come to the All World show to see the display and feel that they were learning about other cultures and peoples. Simultaneously people could feel good about strengthening their intellect and their brave curiosity concerning other cultures while reinforcing racist stereotypes about non-Western culture. This curiosity and intellect were the justifications Europeans used to explain their relationship to Egypt. This gaze was thought to help Europeans know Egyptians and other Middle Eastern people, and finally, that without these types of interactions, Europeans would never know and never be able to dominate the Orient.
Mitchell’s response to the European gaze and its justification is that there are reasons beneath the espoused, public reasons. Through the European gaze, Europeans could see others without seeing themselves, a positions of true power. They were able to remove themselves from the world while still interacting with it through the ‘gaze’, because they were able to disappear not only
European culture but the dilemmas and reality of Orient culture as well.
The rebuilding of Cairo and other Middle Eastern cities became about the creation of a map and a plan that could be read and understood by European colonists. Previous to its rebuilding, the lack of street signs, house numbers or any obvious patterns to the street made it impossible for Western people to understand the rules for navigating through the city. The exhibition, which was completely planned, yet retained the elements of Egyptian architecture that Europeans were interested in, was a predictor of the ways in which Cairo itself would be rebuilt.
2) Foucault’s analysis is very useful in studying the relationship between Europe and the Middle East. Foucault believed in the power of surveillance. My basic understanding of this analysis is that surveillence is a power the privileged hold over the oppressed. Those in power create systems that give them the ability to watch closely without being watched closely in turn. Those being watched know it; the psychic effect of always being seen without the ability to see back has a huge impact on them and reinforces the power of the ruling class. For Europeans, Egypt was definitely a place to come and stare. When Europeans left their home space and traveled to Egypt, or the Middle East in general, this phemenonon took place. Europeans framed their culture as progressive/forward, and looked into Egyptian culture for signs of backwardness/antiquity. The colonists themselves knew to widen roads and eliminate their twists and turns, name all of the streets and number the houses and residences. All of these actions moved the life of Egyptians into spaces more easily monitored by Europeans colonists. Egyptians knew about this monitoring and, as Foucault predicted, it had a major psychic impact on their sense of self and society.
3) Europeans in Egypt wanted to gain control over the agricultural wealth of the Nile valley. In order for them to accomplish this, they had to gain control over its production. As rulers of a colonist government, they introduced a system of agricultural so heavily regulated that no aspect of farm production was outside their grasp. Very, very specific job descriptions were written for jobs at every step of the production process. Everybody was also checked on, at least once a day. This part of the process falls under Foucault’s concept of surveillance and its role in the relationship between oppressor and oppressed. Europeans rationalized their control by claiming it replaced system of punishment with a system of continual support.
Bourdieu’s conversation about the Kabyle house reveals the difference between 19th century conceptualizations of space and 20th century Algerian conceptions. In 19th century European understands of space, plans, functionality, and display of class status were the three determining factors behind the construction of home. Egyptian and Algerian homes were analyzed through this framework. Bourdieu’s analysis of a Algerian home reveals how ineffective and wrongheaded it is to force a classic Western analysis on Middle Eastern space. In a Kabyle house, things are kept in places via a system of associations and oppositions. These are NOT symbolic NOR functional. Everything within the house is polarized into systems of opposites. This order is not Western and should not be defined as such — it is better to read the space as a balancing space, concerned and attentive to the world’s fertility.
4) Cairo was transformed hugely to enable Europeans to establish discipline over the city. As I mentioned above, the streets were widened and houses and businesses were given numbers. Due to these changes, any person could find any place they desired. In Cairo before, only people familiar with a space could navigate within that space. This change majorly affected the experience of living within Cairo.