Sunday, 30 May 2010

Conference Review: The 7th Annual Forum on The Economic and Business History of Egypt and the Middle East

Last week I attended the last two days of the 7th Annual Forum on the Economic and Business History of Egypt and the Middle East, which was hosted by the American University of Cairo's Economic and Business History Research Center, and ran from May 22-25th. I was invited to Cairo as part of a panel of British Business Historians put together by AUC's Abdul Azziz Ezzel Arab and the LSE's Terry Gourvish. Peter Lyth of Nottingham University Business School and Dilwyn Porter of De Montford University's International Centre for Sports History and Culture also attended as part of this party, while Chris Wrigley of Nottingham University's History Department attended independently. In addition, there were three well-known participants from the USA - the eminent Egyptian historian Robert Tignor (Princeton), Don Babai of Harvard's Center for Middle Eastern Studies, and Ellis Goldberg from the University of Washington. The intention was to forge closer links between western and middle eastern scholars in the field.

The outcome was somewhat interesting. Most of the discussions following papers moved into the area of political economy, and the argument that Britain had invaded Egypt in 1882 purely to stop development from occurring in Egypt. Indeed some of the academic papers from Egyptian scholars also tended towards this argument, notably Ahmed Elsherbiny (Cairo) whose paper on Cotton and Anglo-Egyptian Business relations in the second half of the nineteenth century, who argued that the UK exploited Egypt's cotton producers. Meanwhile Mohamed Mabrouk (Cairo) argued in a paper on Egypt's national bank that the bank was not truly an Egyptian national bank, being merely a British puppet, even claiming that the UK ran Egypt via the national bank, although providing relatively little evidence for the claim. Generally speaking there was disappointingly little interest among established Egyptian scholars in the role of actual firms in colonisation, as I discovered with my own speculative paper on Egyptian free-standing companies, which laid evidence from Australia, New Zealand and the USA before the Egyptian audience, before examining British FSCs in Egypt, hoping to gain some pointers from the audience about possible research directions - these did not emerge, as discussion instead seemed to focus on the political dimensions rather than the organisational ones. Egyptian historians also did not seem hugely receptive to a global approach. Terry Gourvish's paper on research directions in Egyptian Business History got a similarly off track reaction, although Peter Lyth's work on Thomas Cook in Egypt and Dilwyn Porter's work on the UK media's reaction to the Suez Canal crisis gained a more positive reaction.

Despite the distance in methodological viewpoint existing between British and Egyptian business history scholars, there were some positive outcomes. Tina Staples, the HSBC's chief archivist, gave a well received paper on preserving corporate archives to Egyptian businessmen, some of whom responded very enthusiastically. Cliometric Historians may be interested in Naglaa Abd Alagawad's (Banha University) work on Egypt and the 1907 Financial Crisis, which showed that the crisis had few economic knock on effects on the Egyptian economy. Younger scholars in Egypt seemed more receptive to firm level approaches and appeared to be extremely keen. Additionally, new personal links were forged for the future, and the profile of Business History as a distinct discipline was raised in Egypt.

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About Me

London, United Kingdom
I'm Lecturer in Management at The York Management School, at The University of York, UK. I teach strategic management to undergraduate and masters students, as well as running the masters dissertation module. My research focuses on business and management history.