Capitalism and the Courts in 19th Century Egypt

with Omar Cheta

hosted by Zoe Griffith

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The Capitulations are regarded as one of the most obvious and humiliating signs of European dominance over Ottoman markets and diplomatic relations in the 19th century, granting European merchants and their Ottoman protégés extensive extraterritorial privileges within the empire. In this podcast, Professor Omar Cheta probes the limits of the Capitulations in the Ottoman province of Egypt, where the power of the local Khedives intersected and overlapped with the sovereignty of the sultan and the capitulatory authority of the British consulate. Commercial disputes involving European merchants and their protected agents on Ottoman-Egyptian soil reveal the ambiguous and negotiable nature of jurisdiction and legal identities in the mid-19th century. These ambiguous boundaries provided spaces for merchants and officials to contest the terms of extraterritorial privileges. The creation of new legal forums such as the mixed Merchants' Courts gave rise to new norms and procedures, while reliance on Shari'a traditions continued to appear in unexpected places. 

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Omar Cheta is Assistant Professor of Middle Eastern and Historical Studies at Bard College. His current book project focuses on the intertwined histories of law and commerce in nineteenth-century Egypt.
Zoe Griffith is a doctoral candidate in History at Brown University working on political economy and governance in Egypt and the Ottoman Mediterranean. Zoe is a co-curator of the OHP series on legal history in the Ottoman Empire and Islamic world.   


Episode No. 265
Release Date: 1 September 2016
Recording Location: ANAMED
Editing and production by Chris Gratien
Sound excerpts: Baglamamin Dugumu - Necmiye Ararat and MuzafferHarmandali - Recep Efendi, Cemal EfendiIstanbul'dan Ayva Gelir Nar Gelir - Azize Tozem and Sari Recep
Special thanks to Kara Güneş for allowing us to use the composition "Istanbul" in the outro music
Bibliography courtesy of Omar Cheta


Ahmad, Feroz. "Ottoman Perceptions of the Capitulations, 1800-1914." Journal of Islamic Studies 11, no. 1 (2000): 1-20.

Wansbrough, J., H. Inalcik, A. K. S. Lambton and G. Baer. “Imtiyazat.” Encyclopedia of Islam, Second Edition. Brill Online, 2012.

Brown, Nathan J. "The Precarious Life and Slow Death of the Mixed Courts of Egypt." International Journal of Middle East Studies 25, no. 1 (1993): 33-52.

De Groot, Alexander H. "The Historical Development of the Capitulatory Regime in the Ottoman Middle East from the Fifteenth to the Nineteenth Centuries." Oriente Moderno 83, no. 3 (2003): 575-604.

Fahmy, Ziad. "Jurisdictional Borderlands: Extraterritoriality and ‘Legal Chameleons’ in Precolonial Alexandria, 1840-1870." Comparative Studies in Society and History 55, no. 2 (2013): 305-329.

Goldberg, Jan. "On the Origins of Majalis Al-Tujjar in Mid-Nineteenth Century Egypt." Islamic Law and Society 6, no. 2 (1999): 193-223.

Hunter, F. Robert. Egypt under the Khedives, 1805-1879: From Household Government to Modern Bureaucracy.  Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1999.


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