The Egyptian Labor Corps
Race, Space, and Place in the First World War
263 Pages, 10 b&w photos, 9 b&w illustrations
Sales Date: December 14, 2021
During World War I, the British Empire enlisted half a million young men, predominantly from the countryside of Egypt, in the Egyptian Labor Corps (ELC) and put them to work handling military logistics in Europe and the Middle East. British authorities reneged on their promise not to draw Egyptians into the war, and, as Kyle Anderson shows, the ELC was seen by many in Egypt as a form of slavery. The Egyptian Labor Corps tells the forgotten story of these young men, culminating in the essential part they came to play in the 1919 Egyptian Revolution.
Combining sources from archives in four countries, Anderson explores Britain’s role in Egypt during this period and how the ELC came to be, as well as the experiences and hardships these men endured. As he examines the ways they coped—through music, theater, drugs, religion, strikes, and mutiny—he illustrates how Egyptian nationalists, seeing their countrymen in a state akin to slavery, began to grasp that they had been racialized as “people of color.” Documenting the history of the ELC and its work during the First World War, The Egyptian Labor Corps also provides a fascinating reinterpretation of the 1919 revolution through the lens of critical race theory.
In this creatively researched, innovatively argued book, Kyle Anderson makes a signal contribution to the histories of the First World War, colonialism, race, and the development of modern nationalism. In the best tradition of the “global turn” in contemporary First World War studies, The Egyptian Labor Corps compels a truly worldwide perspective and forces a reckoning with the complexities of diverse lived experiences, while situating these experiences in the broadest contexts of some of the most important events in twentieth-century Egypt, the Middle East, Europe, and the world. Readers will come away from this groundbreaking study with a firm conviction that race, space, and place are as integral to understanding this period as soldiers, battles, and war.
— Richard S. Fogarty, author of Race and War in France: Colonial Subjects in the French Army, 1914-1918The Egyptian Labor Corps is a deeply researched, carefully crafted, riveting history of the forgotten role of a vast army of Egyptian workers in the victorious campaigns of the Allied Powers in the First World War. Kyle Anderson upends what we thought we knew about the war, Egypt’s 1919 revolution, nationalism, and the lived experience of racism in a key part of Great Britain’s Middle Eastern empire.
— Robert Vitalis, author of Oilcraft: The Myths of Scarcity and Security that Haunt U.S. Energy Policy[Anderson uncovers] intriguing details about the Egyptian Labor Corps and its influence on the 1919 revolution. Far from being minor historical actors, Anderson understands the men of the ELC as central to the events that wrested Egyptian independence from Britain....well worth a read, especially for those interested in the legacies of empire in the Middle East.
— Middle East Research and Information Project[The Egyptian Labor Corps] makes creative and thorough use of a wide range of available source materials to produce a compelling vignette of a critical and largely forgotten moment in Egyptian and colonial history. It makes a solid contribution to the literature on race and racialization in Egypt, with much more wide ranging implications for British imperial history. It also offers intriguing depth to the later complexities of Egyptian nationalism’s place within pan-Arabism and pan-Africanism.
— Marc Lynch, Middle East and Northern Africa AcademyThis is an attractive, informative and well-researched account...Anderson has successfully provided an innovative interpretation of a critical period when Egyptians were seeking to imagine a post-Ottoman and postcolonial future for their country that sheds important light on the nature and legacy of British imperial practices and recognises a range of inspirations that informed Egyptian national visions.
— Contemporary LevantAnderson offers a multifaceted history of the half a million Egyptian logistical laborers involved in the Allied war effort during World War I...The Egyptian Labor Corps is a timely example of the productive avenues that open when race and racialized experience are incorporated into once-familiar narratives. Anderson displays a sensitivity to the source material and generosity toward his subjects. Accessible writing and short thematic chapters make this recommended reading for an informed general audience and academic readers alike.
— International Journal of Middle East Studies
A Note about Language
Chapter 1. A Broken Promise
Chapter 2. The New Corvée
Chapter 3. From Home to the Front
Chapter 4. “If This Is the Holy Land, What Must Hell Be Like?”
Chapter 5. Race and Space in ELC Camps
Chapter 6. Listening in on the ELC
Chapter 7. The Men of the ELC Take Action
Chapter 8. “I Will Not Accept Slavery!”
Chapter 9. The ELC and the 1919 Revolution