Robin F.C Schmahl, “Treading a Fine Line: Deliberation, Mediation and Colonial Propaganda within the Diwan of Cairo, July-October 1798”
In July 1798, shortly after his conquest of Cairo, Napoleon Bonaparte set out to institutionalize a colonial administration for Egypt under French rule. A centerpiece of this endeavor was a permanent Diwan – or council – of notables, powerful bureaucrats, and religious scholars that functioned as a venue for deliberation between the French and local population. With ongoing political turmoil, military strife, and the changing generalship of the Armée d’Orient during the troublesome years of 1798-1801, the Diwan went through a long process of institutionalization. Members of this institution were oftentimes caught in between pressures from both the French administration and local population, while trying to answer to petitions and voicing concerns over colonial policies without pushing the boundaries of deliberation too far. Participation within the Diwan was sometimes characterized by conformity and opportunism, though also real sensibilities for the realities of their fellows under occupation. While the Diwan offered the possibility for some Egyptians to address their concerns to the administration, the French intended to use it to prevent local uprising by controlling the spread of public information and colonial propaganda. The chapter will analyze these different aspects of the Diwan through an institutionalist approach. It will explore its functioning along the dimensions of polity, policy, and politics. With tracing its process of institutionalization beginning from July 1798, a special focus will be given to its last months from November 1800 until the end of French rule in Cairo in 1801. French correspondences, proclamations, and journals, as well as two Arabic manuscripts of the Diwan’s minutes held in the BnF and chronicles written by three of its members serve as the primary source material for this endeavor. While touching on contentual, procedural and formal aspects, the chapter will situate its findings within research on deliberative institutions. It aims to contribute to new historical applications of deliberative theory for exploring non-European societies, colonial regime types, and Ottoman Arabic political practices.