Modern Egypt through Japanese Eyes

Modern Egypt through Japanese Eyes:
A Study on Intellectual and Socio-economic Aspects of Egyptian Nationalism.

Cairo, Merit Publishing House, 2009, 410p.

This book was introduced by an Egyptian newspaper (Arabic)

The author's interview (Arabic)


This book is a collection of articles by a Japanese author who has studied modern Egypt for thirty years. Most of the articles here were translated from their original Japanese on different occasions. This collection therefore does not focus systematically upon a specific theme, nor does it represent all the subjects and themes the author has dealt with pertaining to area studies in modern Egypt and the Arab world. Also, the author is aware that this book may lack consistency in its annotations and bibliography. In spite of these problems, the author has decided to go forth with the publication of this book for the sake of his Egyptian friends and other Egyptian intellectuals interested in Japanese scholarship on Middle East studies, especially on modern Egypt.

The main subjects and themes the author has studied to date are outlined below, shedding light on the context of the articles collected in this book within the framework of his life’s work.

The first area of research that interested the author at the beginning of his studies was the socio-economic history of modern Egypt, specifically pertaining to rural migrant workers and the cotton economy in modern Egypt. His first academic article was “Migrant Workers (‘ummāl al-tarāhīl) in Rural Egypt” in 1979, and his most prominent article on the topic was “The Dispute over Agrarian Capitalism and Development of Communist Movement in Egypt” (1990), in which he analyzed the relation between the debate on Egyptian capitalism and communist movement, by focusing Ibrahim Amir’s definitive book (al-ard wa al-fallāh) and its critique. One of main topics in this article is an examination of the historical character of ‘un-free wage labor’ in the ‘izba farm system in the Egyptian cotton economy. He also conducted a field study on the transformation of the irrigation system in modern Egypt.

The author’s research work also included labor economics, the issue of labor migration in particular. He conducted research on the effects of labor migration on employment conditions in rural Egypt and agricultural management in the late 1970’s (“Agricultural Labor Force and Labor Migration in Egypt”, 1986) and the structure of the international labor market in Middle Eastern oil producing countries (“Wealth of Oil and Labor Migration: An Analysis of International Labor Market in the Middle East Oil Producing Countries, 1994).

A third topic the author studied was the sociology of contemporary Egyptian society. His first article in this field was the research note “Modernization of Family Relationships in Egypt” in 1987, which he wrote as a comparative study of two family-oriented societies: Egypt and Japan (or ‘āila and ie). This interest is consistent in his three articles: “Urbanization and Social Solidarity: An Analysis of the Transformation of tha’r (Feud) Customs in Modern Egypt” (1991), “Power Relations and ‘umda (Village Head) in Modern Egypt” (1994), and “The Incident of the ‘Ataba Square: Public Dispute on the Issue of Sexuality in Egypt” (2000).

From the early 1990’s onward, his interest gradually began to shift to a fourth field: the study of contemporary Arab thought and personal histories of intellectuals in modern Egypt. In 1993, he published two articles: “Intellectual Crisis in the Contemporary Arab World” and “Contemporary Arab Thought and the Popular Thought Heritage”. The first article aims to describe basic intellectual trends in the post-al-Naksa period, and the second focused on the attitudes of Arab intellectuals on the heritage of popular thought (al-turāth al sha‘bī). The third part of this book contains his studies on three Egyptian intellectuals: Sayyid ‘Uways, Ahmad Sadiq Sa‘d, and Gamal Hamdan, analyzing the relations between their personal histories and their intellectual products.

The author has paid attention to the works of Ahmad Sadiq Sa‘d since studying the dispute over agrarian capitalism, the theme of the Asiatic mode of production in particular. Later he recognized that Ahmad Sadiq Sa‘d as well as Sayyid ‘Uways belonged to a small number of intellectuals who conducted their studies on the heritage of popular thought, albeit from different approaches and political stances. It is quite important to note that the interest of both scholars in popular thought heritage stemmed from their inclination to Egyptian nationalism. Gamal Hamdan is known as a great ideological architect, a geographical thinker of Egyptian nationalism (watanīya), who constructed a substantial intellectual system of nationalist theory based on his unique geographical methodology. As a researcher of Area Studies of the Middle East, the author highly appreciates his intellectual work of systematizing the idea of one area from an inner vantage point. The article in this book is edited from three articles the author wrote in Japanese.

Currently the author is working on the subject of Ahmad Sadiq Sa‘d and the Palestinian Question. It is a continuation of his study of Ahmad Sadiq Sa‘d, but the author undertakes a comparison with Henri Curiel on this subject. The whole study includes personal histories of these two Marxists, the problem of Jewish leaders in the Egyptian communist movement, and their attitudes to the Palestinian Question. One of the intentions of the author in this study is to explore the possibilities of living as internationalists in an era of ardent nationalism.

Part Two of this book contains three articles from the author’s studies of the political economy of modern Egypt. These can be classified as the fifth focus of his area studies. The author wrote these articles in order to respond on different occasions to requests from research projects in Japan on contemporary analysis of the Middle East or developing countries. However, these studies are based on other research fields of the author—socio-economic history and sociological studies—and they also provide a kind of backdrop for his fourth field of studies, the intellectual history of modern Egypt, especially personal histories of intellectuals. One main theme of these studies is the economic aspect of Egyptian nationalism that has characterized state-society relations in modern Egyptian history, in the process of the evolution of the nation state system in particular.

The articles of Part Three also were written for demands to the author to introduce Middle East studies in Japan. Chapter 9, an introductory article on Middle East studies in post-war Japan, was originally written as a paper presented at a conference on the study of Asia-Arab relations held in Amman in 2001. Chapter 10 is revised from one chapter of Understanding the Developing World, Thirty-five Years of Area Studies at the IDE (edited by Hiroichi Yamaguchi and Hiroshi Sato, Institute of Developing Economies, 1996): “The Middle East: Politics and Society”. The author engaged in area studies of the Middle East with a focus on Egypt for nineteen years at the Institute of Developing Economies (IDE) successively after graduating from the Faculty of Economics of the University of Tokyo in 1976. While working for IDE, he was dispatched to Cairo to conduct field studies from 1981 to 1983. Later, he moved to the Institute of Oriental Culture of the University of Tokyo. He also worked as the director of JSPS (Japan Society for Promotion of Science) Research Center in Cairo from 1998 to 1999.

The author hopes that the articles and book reviews in Part Three, as an overview of Middle East studies in Japan, may provide some useful suggestions and information to readers interested in academic works by Japanese researchers.

As mentioned before, this book was compiled with the intention of expressing the author’s thanks from the bottom of his heart to Egyptian friends who have supported him for many years. The author remembers an Egyptian proverb that he knew through a conversation with an Egyptian intellectual in a local town in the Nile Delta when engaged in field work on the irrigation system in 1992-93: ‘ayn al-gharīb asdaq aw al-gharīb a‘ma wa law basīr (Sometimes the eye of the foreigner is more reliable, and sometimes the foreigner is blind even with eyesight). As the author mentions in the Acknowledgements section, he would like to extend his greatest gratitude to his friends in Egypt and the Egyptian people he has met, who have always welcomed and encouraged him with their warm and curious attitude, as expressed in the proverb.

Eiji Nagasawa, The Author


Introduction & Acknowledgements
Part One: Intellectuals’ Inquiry into Egyptian National Identity
1. "An Autobiography as Case Study" of an Egyptian Sociologist: Sayyid ‘Uways, The History which I Carried on My Back
2. The 1919 Revolution as Seen by an Egyptian Child
3. A Jewish Egyptian Marxist Intellectual and his Inquiry into Popular Heritage
4. Inventing the Geography of Egyptian Nationalism (Wataniyya): A Review of Gamal Hamdan’s The Personality of Egypt and his Personal History
Part Two: Economic Transformation and Social Movement
5. The Development of Etatism and ‘National Bourgeoisie’in Modern Egypt
6. Historical Context of Economic Reform in Egypt
7. Urban Unrest and Social Movement under ‘Soft State’ after the Introduction of the Open-Door Policy in Egypt
8. Crises of Global Modernization and Radical Social Movements: Japan and Egypt
Part Three: Reviewing Middle Eastern Studies in Japan
9. Japanese Arab Studies after World War II: The Case of Two Pioneer Researchers (Nakaoka San’eki and Itagaki Yuzo)
10. Social Scientific Research on the Middle East in Japan: Focusing on Research Activities at the Institute of Developing Economies
11. Book Reviews
Book Review 1: "The Present in History and Areal Science: A View on the Contemporary Middle East" by Yuzo ITAGAKI
Book Review 2: "Private Landownership and the Egyptian Society" by Hiroshi KATO