The Gospel of Wealth: Charity and the Making of Modern Egypt, 1879-1939

Amy Fallas
UC Santa Barbara

This project charts the development of transnational and inter-faith charitable networks that socially engineered modern Egypt. Charitable associations in Egypt served as essential spaces of confessional partnership as increasing sectarian conflict threatened to undermine Egyptian nation-building from the late-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. I argue that charity mediated these tensions and also served as a crucial site of political experimentation where elites could shape civic values. The formation of this network of social welfare was an intentional claim to power, legitimacy, and representation in a contested landscape. The Egyptian state’s paralysis in the wake of the debt crisis (1876) and British occupation (1882) produced overlapping crises of social provision and state erosion. Egyptian elites seized the opportunity to develop lay-operated philanthropic institutions that challenged competing charitable ventures of foreign missionaries, British colonial officials, and the Egyptian dynastic family. In this period (1879-1939), charity was the fulcrum for formalizing networks of need and provided notables with opportunities to shape, model, and inculcate standards of social order and citizenship. Based on a diverse set of original sources, my dissertation examines this history that reveals how religious difference was not an impediment to but a pillar of modern Egypt’s state and society.