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Class and community in an Egyptian textile town

El-Messiri, Sawsan


Sawsan El-Messiri


Talal Asad


The study reported here was designed to analyse the social and economic conditions underlying the development of class relations in an Egyptian industrial town, al-Mehalla al-Kubra. The research was directed at understanding social and economic relations among groups in the textile industry in al-Mehalla in terms of the reality which exists there, without a priori assumptions regarding the nature of groupings in that community. In investigating the socio-economic conditions underlying the development of class relations, the question of to what extent there is class alignment, class identity and class consciousness is emphasised. Very little such work has ever been done in the Middle East, and it is hoped that the findings of this study will prove useful in illuminating some of the processes of development in the region as a whole. Al-Mehalla provides a particularly good setting for the study and analysis of industrial development and the emerging of certain classes and class conflict. A large, modern industrial centre, it has a long history of textile production. Not only is the transformation of the town due to industrialisation completely within the memories of many living informants, which is of great importance given the absence, of documentation on working and social conditions in earlier years, but various phases in the development of the industry can still be seen in operation. Quite apart from its interest as a case of industrialisation in Egypt, al-Mehalla merits close study because it is inherently fascinating as a community. As will become clear in the course of this study, developments there in many ways contradict commonplace assumptions about the nature of Egyptian industry and Egyptian character. It is a vital, active, committed community of weavers whose history and patterns of social relations throughout the period of industrialisation must be documented at the micro-level now or not at all. Also, in order to meaningfully evaluate the development of al-Mehalla and its contemporary reality, it is imperative to analyse its past history. This thesis is therefore intended primarily as an anthropological study which may serve future social historians as well.Although there is a growing body of sociological studies on urban Egypt, only a handful of these have dealt with class and related topics such as class conflict and class consciousness. Those which do attempt to deal with these phenomena can be broadly classified into two groups: studies which take an economic determinist position (roughly, a Marxist orientation), and those which seek cultural explanations of variables associated with class. The studies in both categories leave something to be desired, though for somewhat different reasons. The present study seeks to overcome these limitations in the literature by examining present-day social relations in the textile industry of al-Mehalla from a broad perspective. Clearly the relations between workers and managers or owners cannot be dealt with properly if they are isolated from the wider socio-economic structure in which they are located, and from the historical development of the Egyptian economy as a whole. On the other hand, questions about class formation and class conflict cannot be understood merely on the basis of gross statistics related to the national economy. Rather, the dynamics of the process must also be investigated at the microlevel. The question of class identity and class relations in Egypt is a very complex one, requiring an elaborate framework for analysis. No pre-established body of theory can be assumed to be suitable for such analysis, although certainly various Western schools of thought regarding social class have much to contribute to the analysis. Nevertheless, these bodies of theory remain, so far as Egypt is concerned, empirically unverified. My main concern, therefore, is to provide as broad a view as possible, in order to highlight the significant elements in the class-relation development in al-Mehalla. Thus from the outset emphasis has been on investigating the complementarity between the macro-level and the micro-level of society. While the research was designed to account for present-day patterns of class relations, a full understanding of these relations requires an examination of the historical development of the industry and the patterns of social relations which developed along with patterns of production, with an analysis of the manner in which international and national economic and political forces have influenced developments within the community of al-Mehalla. Such concern with the impact of external forces and events in no way implies that the community itself may be seen as passively responding to external occurrences. Rather, examination of the dynamics of community responses and adaptations helps to bring to light the linkages which exist, with differential intensity and consequences, between macro-level structures and micro-level processes. This in turn enhances the subjectively-oriented investigation of the various groupings within the textile industry, and an evaluation of, the class structure and the positions of individuals within this structure in terms of people's own definitions and perceptions.


El-Messiri, S. (1980). Class and community in an Egyptian textile town. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Aug 18, 2011
Publicly Available Date Feb 22, 2023
Keywords Sociology; Human services
Public URL
Additional Information Department of Sociology, The University of Hull
Award Date Sep 1, 1980


Thesis (36.4 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 1980 El-Messiri, Sawsan. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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