Theses Doctoral

Counting Colonialism: Calculation, Egypt, Britain and the Ottoman Empire 1805-1954

Malak, Karim

This dissertation argues that the Anglo-Egyptian colonial encounter of 1805-1954 colonized Ottoman Egypt through the introduction of Western calculative technologies such as the census, accounting and auditing. These calculative technologies reorganized the community by usurping its powers and endowing it in the state. They replaced prior negotiated forms of enumeration in which the community organized itself and its information gathering apparatuses such as collective taxation, cadastral surveys and pious philanthropic endowments. The first chapter tracks the birth of the census in Egypt and the introduction of a new modality of power.

The second chapter shows that pious Muslim endowments were once the predecessor to the joint-stock corporation, but without its surplus extracting mechanism and accumulation ethic. For the state to be born, these endowments had to be seized – usurping the community’s enumerative powers. The third chapter argues that Egypt was granted sovereignty in 1840 based on its ability to pay its colonial financial obligations and financial reform.

The fourth chapter explores a court case filed in 1924 by Nathan Rothschild, who sued to guarantee that Egypt continued to pay its debt obligations, making Egypt subservient to a colonial form of sovereignty even after independence in 1922. Chapter five closes by reflecting on postcolonial sovereignty after British evacuation of Egypt in 1954. It argues that Britain set the terms of decolonization by using Egyptian financial obligations and sterling balances deposited in London as bargaining chips.

Geographic Areas


This item is currently under embargo. It will be available starting 2027-06-25.

More About This Work

Academic Units
Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies
Thesis Advisors
Mitchell, Timothy
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 3, 2022