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“The [Egyptian] citizenship law category consternation just described echoes the confusion of European-trained census takers who worked to measure the Egyptian population in the late nineteenth century. … In a sense, the malleable landscape of nationalities reflected in
these censuses appears a category game, in which the population was reclassified by different criteria each decade. As we will see in the next section,
however, nationality was anything but an abstraction: in the complex legal
landscape of turn-of-the-century Egypt, nationality determined jurisdiction
over the bodies of the territory’s subjects.  The confounding incoherence
of nationality categories in the Egyptian census shows that in a system of
overlapping sovereignty, identification is performative. Egyptians and Otto-
mans were labeled not for their own needs – the labels entailed no access
to rights – but for presentation to their imperial administrators. Like
nationality law, the census provides only unsteady ground for the study of
Ottoman-Egyptian citizenship.

The 1882 census was hardly the first to categorize Egypt’s population
by national type. The 1800 Description de l’Egypte described eight groups:
Egyptians, Turks, Arabs, Moors (specifically, Maghrabis), Greeks, Syrians,
Jews, and Europeans. The 1840 census divided the population between those under local authority (dakhil al-hukuma) and those beyond government authority (kharij al-hukuma).  A contemporary study of the 1855
cholera epidemic differentiated between eleven categories: Europeans,
Greeks, Armenians, Syrians, Copts, Israelites, Natives, Turks, Maghrabis,
Barbaris, and Blacks.  

The 1882 census employed a new hierarchy of three major categories
(settled native, nomad, and foreigner), each of which was subdivided into
minor categories. The decennial censuses of 1897, 1907, and 1917 reduced
the decisive split to foreign and local. Local subjects (as opposed to foreigners) were subdivided in the four censuses in question… 

…four main groups adulterat[ed] a vision of a purely
Egyptian local population: Ottomans, Bedouins, Sudanese, and local subjects of European origin (such as Greeks). The 1897 census divided the local
population much as the one in 1882, but Sudanese were dropped, and the
divide between settled and nomadic Egyptians was set aside. Sedentary,
Bedouin, and Ottoman were all clearly labeled as “real” Egyptians. In 1907,
Sudanese reappeared, and certain Ottomans were divided into four “local”
nations. The 1907 census was the first since the inchoate Egyptian nationality law of 1900. Perhaps as a result, Ottomans appeared for the first time
as foreigners. Subdivision was extended ten years later: Egyptians were
distinguished according to sect, and four new miscellaneous population
categories were added. But only now, once it was divided in a dozen ways,
did “local” emerge as a distinct, collective category given a cumulative population figure of its own. In previous years, census makers offered an aggregate total of foreigners but never of local subjects. 

From the time of the 1882 census, settlement was the hallmark of a
national population; Bedouins and foreigners were anomalous because they
were mobile. Although the desert and sea hinterlands of the Nile valley
were sites of problematic flux, “real” Egyptians were suitable f(n· counting
because they were tied to the land and isolated from other nations. Turkish
and Syrian immigration had slowed, and Europeans were now the principal
immigrant group. Their “distinct social and political behaviour (al-mukhtalijiyin mashraban/situation sociale et politique apart) prevent[ed]
them being confused with the native population (zummt al-wataniyin),”
which was agrarian and sedentary. The census makers claimed that this
distinction was “social and political”; in reality, it was jurisdictional. Bedouins and foreigners were considered separately because they were exempt from the laws that governed other subjects. The distinction between real
Egyptians and all others made operative sense in terms of 1880s domestic
policy, according to which dangerous Bedouins were to be taken under
government control, foreigners were to be protected, and settled natives
were to be taxed. 

Nonstandard subjects were deficient subjects, and they tarnished the
census project. In an opening apologia, the authors of the 1882 census
distinguished their work, which only measured de facto population, from
the study of resident population that a proper European state required.
Only the systematization of civil status would make such a project possible
in Egypt. In other words, something like “indigenous nationality” had to
be clearly defined if Egypt was to join the community of nations. Subsequent censuses track the progress of this project. By 1917, a full range of
local nationalities joined the foreign diversity previously on display. It is
no surprise that census counts of national groups in Alexandria were as
inconsistent as the categories themselves. Although the overall population
of the city increased steadily from census to census to census, the share
assigned to each group fell and rose and rose and fell. 

Faced with these unwieldy categories, social historians are as otibalance
as the legal scholars cited in the previous section. Daniel Panzac has produced several studies of the population of nineteenth-century Egypt in
which he displays careful critical faculties. His suspicion of uneven growth
rates, for instance, leads him to a radical departure from census figures of
Egypt’s aggregate population.  But where nationality is concerned, his
work is in the thrall of the census and its categories and content to trace a
smooth growth rate for the foreign population, ignoring the fact that Ottomans appear and disappear from the census figures. Other studies of the
censuses avoid this trap, but their critical approach toward statistics rarely
extends to the categories employed.  This remarkable omission manifests
the allure of dividing population into singular nationalities that seem to
possess some inherent validity discouraging critical probing. 

Three pieces of evidence call into question the national categories of
identity used by census takers: the changing stock of categories used; the
inconsistent statistics that they produced; and the calculated, nuanced performances that court documents demonstrate lay behind most black-and-white claims to nationality. Census
makers certainly witnessed the same genre of performance on polling day.
Little is known of the details of their data collection.”

– Will Hanley, “When Did Egyptians Stop Being Ottomans? An Imperial Citizenship Case Study.” in Willem Maas (ed.), Multilevel Citizenship. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013. pp. 89-109.

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