Egypt's Imagined Empire: Egyptian Perspectives on Sub-Sahara Africa in the Age of Colonialism

By Omar Omar
Submitted to Session S4005 (Undergraduate Research Workshop Poster Session, 2014 Annual Meeting
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European accounts have long dominated the way colonial Africa has been portrayed. This research project seeks to offer an alternative portrait of sub-Saharan Africa as seen through the lens of Egyptian travelers and explorers who journeyed into the African interior in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The European Scramble for Africa coincided with Egypt’s own bid to carve out an empire in the African hinterland. This venture ended with the death of Egypt’s nascent militarism in 1882, but Egypt continued to claim the Sudan as her own, even while succumbing to British imperialism. This research seeks to document the dynamic power relationship between colonized peoples as one group-the Egyptians-sought to assert themselves over other colonized Africans.

This paper draws from the extensive archives of the Egyptian Geographic Society, using both published and unpublished journals, most of which have never been translated into English. The travelers and explorers who contributed to the Society have bequeathed a rich legacy of diaries, journals, maps, and reports, which were produced as part of the Society’s mission to explore, discover, and document Africa. The Society’s extensive photographic collection will feature prominently in the research project, offering insight into how Africans were portrayed and viewed by Egyptians at the time. The sources demonstrate how Egyptian accounts often internalized European notions of the primitive, uninhibited, African ‘Other’, even while Egyptian themselves were portrayed in subjective terms by Europeans.