- Nurturing the Nation: The Family Politics of Modernizing, Colonizing, and Liberating Egypt, 1805–1923 by Lisa Pollard
Lisa Pollard’s Nurturing the Nation: The Family Politics of Modernizing, Colonizing, and Liberating Egypt, 1805–1923 is a most welcome addition to the large and continually expanding body of scholarship on anticolonial nationalism in British-occupied Egypt. Beginning in 1805 with ruler Muhammad ‘Ali’s state-building and modernization programs—long before the British formally occupied Egypt in 1882—and culminating in 1923 when Egypt was granted nominal independence, Pollard’s study examines the ascendance of the image of the “reformed” monogamous, nuclear family and their “modern” home that bourgeois nationalists used to demonstrate their political transformation. In response to British allegations that their “backward” practices of polygamy and female harems proved how incapable Egyptians were for self-rule, Pollard argues, Egyptians came to define their national character and demonstrate their readiness for independence through their newly-acquired, sometimes borrowed but always “modern,” domestic behaviors and methods for running their households, raising their children, and nurturing their nation.
Pollard’s historical account of colonial Egypt is divided into six chapters that are more or less organized chronologically and interspersed with press caricatures of the “modern” Egyptian family and its nationalist members. The first chapter surveys travel literature by Egyptian state servants studying in Europe between the 1820s and 1840s who wrote about European domestic practices as a means for measuring the modernity of Europe. Chapter two examines the inverse: travel literature written by Europeans visiting Egypt in the nineteenth century that depicted Egyptian “backward” domestic habits such as harems and polygamy which warranted British colonization. The third chapter specifically focuses on the alleged domestic practices of Egyptian leader Isma‘il Pasha and his ministers, which purportedly invited the establishment of the British protectorate in 1882. In chapter four, Pollard relies on late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Egyptian school textbooks, teachers’ guides, and syllabi to determine how new domestic relations were learned, practiced, and taught to translate into political success. Perusing the Egyptian press between the 1870s and the First World War, the fifth chapter analyzes images of Egyptian homes and families that incorporated, disparaged, and resisted British critiques about their society. The final chapter concentrates exclusively on the 1919 revolution to demonstrate that the reformed Egyptian family had become a tangible symbol during the three-year struggle for independence that ensued. By 1919, Pollard contends, nurturing the nation had become a political ideal for both sexes.
Pollard’s most useful contribution is her use of the family as a category of analysis for Egyptian nationalism. Despite the appeal of scholars of nationalism to examine how “the nation has invariably been imagined via metaphors of family,”1 Pollard is the only scholar of Egyptian nationalism to have heeded their calls. Her use of the family as a critical tool allows her to illustrate the extent to which the home served as the arena in which both men and women learned to be modern nationalists. She argues that the Egyptian nation as a whole came to be seen as an extended household in which both men and women played central roles, nurturing and giving birth to a new order of modern, domestic behavior that symbolized Egypt’s preparedness for self-rule and independence from its British occupiers.
Pollard’s second, but no less significant, contribution is her gendered analysis of Egyptian nationalism. Even recent scholars, who likewise view Egyptian nationalism as a multifaceted process that must also be situated beyond the activities of the Anglo-Egyptian state and a handful of male elites, have largely neglected the various roles of women.2 Likewise, a number of women’s scholars, who have written women into historical narratives to underline their important contributions to the development of Egyptian nationalism, largely ignore gender as an analytical tool.3 Instead, these works tend to posit a rigid binary opposition between Egyptian feminism and nationalism, and between the “public” nationalist domain of men and the “private” cultural sphere of women and...