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Stolen Husbands, Foreign Wives: Mixed Marriage, Identity Formation, and Gender in Colonial Egypt, 1909-1923

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This paper explores the multiple ways in which Egyptian women and men conceptualized mixed marriage between Egyptian men and European women from 1909 to 1923. It argues that mixed marriage in colonial Egypt was a contested site of national identity formation that attracted the growing attention of writers. The debates on mixed marriage provide convincing evidence of the political and cultural anxieties which often underwrote experiments in colonial modernity. I aim to situate mixed marriage—where these anxieties particularly coalesced—as a place in which notions of colonial modernity were produced and reproduced as a condition for the enlightenment and progress of the Egyptian nation and its citizens, most notably its women. As the sources make clear, tensions about marriage between Egyptian men and European women evolved out of the particular circumstances of the British occupation. These anxieties coalesced particularly in critiques that often portrayed mixed marriage as endangering the marital futures of Egyptian women, and the political and cultural identities of mixed marriage offspring, the family, and the Egyptian nation by extension. An analysis of these debates will reveal that mixed marriage was often portrayed as an impediment—and sometimes as a facilitator—to Egypt's path of modernity. I argue that these writers used mixed marriage to critique Egyptian men's and women's gendered roles as fathers, husbands, mothers, and wives. In doing so, they aimed to construct a new vision of the family and society as sites of modernity where the Egyptian colony could reform and prove to be 'modern' and, thus, worthy of political independence.

Affiliations: 1: New York University


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