Corvee in Mehmed Ali Pasha's Egypt: Capitalist Agriculture and the Transformation of Peasant Labor


AMME IDARESI DERGISI, vol.54, no.1, pp.1-29, 2021 (Journal Indexed in SSCI) identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 54 Issue: 1
  • Publication Date: 2021
  • Title of Journal : AMME IDARESI DERGISI
  • Page Numbers: pp.1-29


The widespread use of the Greek word 'angarya' (Corvee) in the Ottoman world is one of the many examples of cultural transition in the Greek-Islamic geography. Both Greek origined word 'angarya alpha gamma gamma alpha rho epsilon iota alpha/aggareia' and less common Arabic term 'suhra', imply a political reality; they refer to a hierarchy based on an inequality. Even if the degree of this inequality varies, the term necessarily refers to the relationship between subordinate-superior, sometimes master-slave. Corvee is not the invention of Mehmed Ali Pasha, on the contrary, the history of drudgery goes back to the construction of the pyramids. As a matter of fact, in the long history of Egypt, corvee always existed and has always survived by gaining different forms. The main reason for this is that the Egyptian economy depends on agriculture and agriculture depends on the Nile. The question that this study seeks to answer is the transformation of the ancient corvee in Mehmed Ali Pasha's modern Egypt. Mehmed Ali Pasha after his appointment as the governor of Egypt made important reforms: a new administrative division, a new penal code, the establishment of a modern army and bureaucracy. Funding for all these far-reaching efforts are through the radical and forced transformation of the traditional structure of the Egyptian economy; such as land reclamations, new irrigation ditches and dams, integration of traditional agricultural production to capitalist world economy and to industrialization, through product diversification taking two yields instead of one. The direct or indirect carrier of this whole process is the corvee and the subject is the Egyptian peasant. In other words, Mehmed Ali Pasha's 'modern' Egypt was built by the fellah labor that was exposed to modern exploitation relations through corvee. This article focuses mainly on discussing Egyptian modernization through corvee by making use of empirical data-documents.