During the past thirty years, the study of the family in European history has developed with a strong comparative emphasis.1 In contrast, the study of the family in Middle East history has hardly begun, even though the family is assumed to have had a major role in “the structuring of economic, political, and social relations,” as Judith Tucker has noted.2 This article takes up the theme of the family in the economic, political, and social context of 19th-century rural Egypt. Its purpose is, first of all, to explicate the prevailing joint household formation system in relation to the system of landholding, drawing upon fatwas and supporting evidence. Second, it argues that rural notable families in particular had a tendency to form large joint households and that this was related to the reproduction and enhancement of their economic and political status. Specifically, the maintenance of a joint household appears to have been a way of avoiding the fragmentation of land through inheritance. After the middle of the 19th century, when it appeared that the coherence and durability of the joint family household were threatened, the notables sought to strengthen it through legislation. Their involvement in the law reform process contradicts the progressive, linear model of social and legal change that is often applied in 19th-century Egyptian history.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Geography, Planning and Development
- Sociology and Political Science