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Session R4790 (Competing Discourses of Masculinity in the Arab World), 2017
My contribution to this round-table is based upon my current research examining the competing images of masculinity contextualized within the struggle for hegemony in Egypt during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. It is generally accepted that the Western ascription of cultural meanings to hierarchical structures of power and authority built a powerful legitimacy for European colonialism in Africa and Asia. The new doctrine of progress convinced skeptics and advocates alike that Western intervention in “less developed” societies ensured the maturation of these more primitive peoples toward modernity and civilization. Indeed, the British political and popular discourse at the time portrayed Egypt’s rulers in particular as not being “manly” enough to properly govern the lands around the Nile.

I will discuss the ways in which Egyptian nationalists also utilized representations of masculinity to assert their own claims of patriarchal authority over the country; at times collaborating with or competing against British depictions. I have found that nationalists accomplished this by portraying the Khedives Isma`il and Tewfiq as ignorant, disloyal, and incorrigible children in contrast to images of nationalist leaders as strong, heroic, and fatherly men. Moreover, nationalists sought to break the Western frame of reference by depicting themselves in social scenes as more manly than Europeans. Thus, I assert that while the “Egypt Question” may have been rooted in economic and geo-strategic concerns, we must continue to address the gendered politics of the struggle.