In May of 1921 Alexandria was consumed by demonstrations against the British-backed Adly Cabinet. In a matter of days these protests developed into violence which targeted people based on perceived communal affiliation. In total, 88 people were killed and 238 were wounded. Through a detailed examination of this communal and political violence, a moment that has largely be left out of the Egyptian historical narrative, I provide a greater understanding of how the complex dynamics of identity and power operated in Alexandrian society in this crucial period in the formation of the narrative of Egyptian identity. Utilizing a variety of primary and secondary sources, I use this moment to complicate both the romantic cosmopolitan narrative which has dominated much of Alexandrian historiography and the anti-colonialist narrative of 1950s nationalism. The cosmopolitan narrative is flawed because it ignores or celebrates the inherently exploitative colonial structure of early twentieth century Egypt and, as I show using court records, relies on simplistic understandings of identity in Alexandrian society. Many anti-colonial narratives rely on similarly simplistic understandings of identity. Ultimately the goal of this thesis is to use a specific incident to explore and complicate the dominant narratives of the historiography of Alexandria.


Arab & Islamic Civilizations Department

Degree Name

MA in Arabic Studies

Graduation Date


Submission Date

November 2014

First Advisor

Reimer, Michael

Committee Member 1

Han, Nelly

Committee Member 2

Seikaly, Sherene


111 p.

Document Type

Master's Thesis

Library of Congress Subject Heading 1

Cosmopolitanism -- Egypt -- Alexandria -- 20th century.

Library of Congress Subject Heading 2

Commulism -- Egypt -- Alexandria -- 20th century.


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Institutional Review Board (IRB) Approval

Not necessary for this item


Supported by a fellowship from the American University in Cairo