Newspaper headline - Egypt not excited by League's Action

Examining Modern and Contemporary Identity Deformations in Egypt

Shaimaa Abdelkarim, University of Birmingham.                



Doctrinal international legal scholarship usually frames institutional practices of international recognition as those practices that affirm the presence of a unified international community, which has shifted the basis of international relations from civilising missions to sovereign equality and inclusion. Against this progressive narrative, Third World Approaches to International Law problematise the role of international institutions in universalising colonial governance, in which sovereignty is ‘granted’ to formerly colonised societies. 

The article analyses the internationalisation of the question on colonial governance through the communications on drafting the Covenant of the League of Nations. In the communications, colonial governance was never a problem. The drafters of the League were dealing with the question of administering the colonies of the falling German and Ottoman empires after the First World War and which gave rise to the Mandate System that applied to collapsing colonial empires and excluded the doctrine of self-determination in relation to determining the status of non-European territories. Nevertheless, the League’s membership was open to any ‘self-governing entities’. Concerning the initiation of the League, the article analyses how formerly colonised societies, specifically Egypt, responded to the League’s formation to strengthen their anti-colonial strategies. 

The article unpacks a link between practices of recognition in the League of Nations and those of the United Nations, in which both declare a unified political will in formerly colonised societies. It builds on Frantz Fanon’s analysis of the colonial encounter and Jacques Derrida’s diagnosis of the European crisis in the interwar period to examine the implications of affirming a unified European identity while reproducing self-racialising agencies in formerly colonised societies. Within the formation of the League of Nations, the exemplarity of European civilisation was seen as the source of international legal relations.

The articles demonstrates that while the League’s membership produced an affinity to an international community that is allegedly separated from colonising desires, it consumed the potential of anti-colonial strategies by sustaining an analogy with the League’s founding members. This analogy was crucial for the Egyptian Nationalist party, al-Wafd, who hoped it would actualise Egyptian independence after the 1936 Anglo-Egyptian treaty and strengthen al-Wafd’s international presence through joining the League of Nations. The modernisation of the Egyptian legal identity maintained a dependency on European values to construct an autonomous political and legal subject that can compete with that of Europe. This identity persists today as a source of societal dissatisfactions.

The article moves between two political moments that recognise a unified Egyptian identity: first, the League of Nations’ reception of al-Wafd Party, as an international representative of Egyptian sovereignty against the British Empire; and second, the United Nations’ response to the Egyptian uprising in 2011 as a triumph of a popular will. The article suggests a resemblance between the United Nations’ reception of the uprising and granting Egypt its membership to the League. In both moments, international recognition is contingent on maintaining a close affinity between a unified Egyptian identity and western exemplarity. Against that, the paper proposes that the societal deformations in those two moments suggest that representing a unified political will has become an interminable source of social dissatisfaction and political repression. The paper suggests working through the chasm between the narratives that get internationally celebrated and those that remain repressed in social relations when the ‘international’ is a space of conformity and unification. International recognition appears as practices that reshape conflicting desires in moments of uprisings to affirm a unified political agency against the plurality of demands on a national level.

 Published in TWAIL Review