Aaron Jakes talks about his latest book, Egypt’s Occupation: Colonial Economism and the Crises of Capitalism, with Marc Lynch on this week’s podcast. The book offers a sweeping reinterpretation of both the historical geography of capitalism in Egypt and the role of political-economic thought in the struggles that raged over the occupation.
Jakes explains, “In the broadest sense, the book, it is a history of the period of British rule in Egypt after the occupation of 1882. And it makes three broad arguments: first, that this particular form of colonial rule was organized around the discourse that I call colonial economist…the second major argument of the book is that under these conditions, Egypt became a crucial laboratory and target for financial investment in the worldwide financial expansion that was characteristic of global capitalism at the end of the 19th century. And finally, I’m sort of interested in the interplay between the discursive claims of the British regime and these dramatic transformations that were taking place…”
He goes on to say, “You have people who, by the early 1900s, are articulating critiques of imperial finance that look logically quite similar to arguments that were more familiar with from people like Lenin…You have people who start to articulate things that look like early instances of dependency theory and those people are all at the same time trying to think through what the implications of these dramatic economic transformations were for the possibilities of different kinds of politics in the country.”
“It was certainly the case that by the early 1900s, the British could, in their annual reports and other modes of publicity around what they were doing in Egypt, claim that they had delivered unprecedented prosperity to the country, and those claims, which had a power to circulate globally, that was much greater than that of most of the people that were contesting them, have a really significant resonance in other places…it’s quite interesting that the government of the United States at the moment, which is beginning to think through what American forms of colonial rule in places like the Philippines might look like, looks to Egypt as a possible model for what they might do there,” said Jakes.
Aaron Jakes is an Assistant Professor of History at The New School for Social Research and Eugene Lang College, where he teaches courses on the modern Middle East and South Asia, global environmental history, and the historical geography of capitalism.