During the second half of the 19th century, intellectuals and everyday Egyptians alike grappled with affiliation to the Ottoman Empire, a nascent sense of nationalism, growing pressure from European colonialism, and debates on how to chart the country’s future and the role that the past should play in it. One of the main arenas in which these issues played out was in the legal system, where local shari’a courts and councils worked alongside consular commissions and Mixed Courts that handled cases where a foreign interest was present. In 1883, the Egyptian government established the National Courts (al-Mahakim al-Ahliyya), introducing with them new codes that would, in theory, create a single court system for all Egyptians and provide a more uniform application of modern justice.
My research with ARCE uses periodicals from the first 20 years following the introduction of the National Courts to answer questions about the perceived effectiveness of the new court system, its relationship with the past, and the changing idea of justice. With homicide as a case study, my project highlights the role of local actors in Egyptian judicial circles and looks at the complexities of implementing major changes that form the foundation for the laws and courts still in use and fuel current debates about the role of Islamic law in the modern period.