A prehistory of the modern legal profession in Egypt, 1840S-1870S

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1 Scopus citations


This article examines the emergence of a new corps of legal practitioners in Egypt during the 1860s and early 1870s. The proceedings of hundreds of merchant court cases in mid-19th-century Cairo are replete with references to deputies and agents (wukalā; sing. wakīl) who represented merchant-litigants in a wide range of commercial disputes. Examining how these historical actors understood Egyptian, Ottoman, and French laws, and how they strategically deployed their knowledge in the merchant courts, this article revises the commonly accepted historical account of the founding of the legal profession in Egypt. Specifically, it argues that norms of legal practice hitherto linked to the establishment of the Mixed Courts in 1876 were already being formed and refined within the realm of commercial law as part of a more comprehensive program of legal reforms underway during the middle decades of the 19th century. In uncovering this genealogy of practice, the article reevaluates the extent to which the khedival state shared a legal culture with the Ottoman center, and, simultaneously, created the space for a new form of legal representation that became ubiquitous under British, and, subsequently, postcolonial rule.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)649-668
Number of pages20
JournalInternational Journal of Middle East Studies
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Egypt
  • extraterritoriality
  • lawyers
  • merchants
  • professionalization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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