Most comments I have heard about Ahmad Al-Gamal’s call for legal suits against Israel, Turkey, Britain and France focus on the ridiculousness of Egypt suing Israel for the Exodus and to be fair I spent much time on it I’m gonna sue Part 1 However the rest of Al-Gamal’s article should not be lost to criticism. In many ways it is more interesting, more revealing and may even have a shot at success.
No one agrees on the events of the Exodus. Apart from the differing Koranic and Biblical accounts there is no direct archeological evidence. Some consider the events to be myth designed to demonstrate God’s commitment to the Jews.
Others say that there is a kernel of truth but none of the details can be reliably checked. For example, Freud speculated that Moses was not Jewish, but actually born into Ancient Egyptian nobility and was perhaps a follower of Akhenaten, an ancient Egyptian monotheist.
Egyptian people should sue the Egyptian government as the successors to Pharoah! That’s only fair. Al-Gamal wants to sue the State of Israel as successors to the Ancient Israelites.
No such disagreement about the facts in an anticolonial suit against Turkey representing the Ottoman Empire; France representing Napoleon and the United Kingdom representing her former Imperial self. The thought of having to pay billions in compensation to former British colonies might push Scottish succession a little closer :-).
We are talking about modern recorded history, photographs, movies, personal accounts and even living witnesses. Egypt will have to work fast to record their testimony. Depending how one counts, the last of the Ottoman left Egypt in 1915 and the British in 1952.
Like so many I ridiculed the idea of an anticolonial suit but to my surprise there is precedent. The United Kingdom was forced to pay compensation for Mau Mau fighters tortured during the uprising in Kenya between 1952 and 1960, although it has vowed to fight any other claims. New Zealand has agreed to recompense Maoris for damages done since 1840, the year the British Crown signed a document known as the Treaty of Waitangi with indigenous leaders, establishing New Zealand as a British colony.
However there are important differences between the UK and NZ cases and the Egyptian claim. The British had to contend with living plaintiffs with individual claims. The New Zealand case was at heart a contract dispute. Britain had come to a written, signed and ratified agreement with the indigenous (let’s not get into an argument here about semantics) locals and had not fulfilled her side of the bargain.
Nevertheless the precedent raises many, many philosophical and therefore legal questions. Perhaps someone who didn’t sleep through Public International Law, as I did, might be able to provide some answers?
The psychologists call it projection
As for the Turks, we must demand [from them] adequate compensation for the economic, social, cultural, intellectual and political backwardness that their presence in our midst imposed upon us, for the world during those centuries [i.e., during the Ottoman period] made tremendous progress in all areas.
This comes from an interesting perspective. Not Muslim; not Arab Nationalist but Egyptian Nationalist. It also shows a remarkable inferiority complex. I find Al-Gamal’s complaints have a familiar ring to them. Just as today Arabs hide behind ‘Israel and/or the Jews are the source of all their problems’ and therefore an excuse not to fix them, he hides behind Egyptian history to excuse Egyptian failures.
The Ottoman Empire was the one of the largest and longest lasting Empires in history. At its peak it included: Turkey, Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania, Macedonia, Hungary, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, parts of Arabia and much of the coastal strip of North Africa.
Clearly the Sultans didn’t spread multiple classes of backwardness evenly. The Hungarians, Romanians, etc. are not blaming past history for their problems although a successful court case undoubtably would have them rechecking their history books.
Everything about imperial rule wasn’t negative. The Ottoman gave Egypt several things that should have raised them. Among them, a state-run education system and judicial system. They incorporated religion in the state structure and created alliances across political and racial groups; kept power centralised and promoted local Egyptians to positions of power largely depended on merit. Western technology was adapted.
The empire collapsed in 1922 but its control of Egypt was nominal for more than a century before. The Egyptians should have been able to surmount their backwardness since then, shouldn’t they?
Likewise, we want compensation from the Turks for damaging the Egyptian psyche through their racism and haughtiness, their contempt for Egypt and the Egyptians, and their disgraceful treatment of the peasant as someone who [merely] plows, sows and reaps …
Poor dears. Did those nasty Turks hurt your feelings? Can we sue the Arabs for calling us the sons of pigs and monkeys?
The real issue is the treatment of the peasants – the fellahin. The implication is that the peasant farming class was treated better before the Ottoman. There is no evidence of that. The Mamluk slave-soldiers, who preceded the Turks, were hardly quasi human-rightists.
They are not treated much better today. Comprising 60% of the Egyptian population, many still live in mud-brick huts. Since the early twentieth century there has been an influx to urban areas where they form the poorest strata. If Egypt suffers starvation ,which some predict, it will be the peasants who go without eating first.
We also want damages for the Turkish-Zionist plot hatched during the 1950s and 1960s, when Egypt led the Arab and global liberation movement and opposed the plans of the imperialist alliance …
I wasn’t aware that Turkey helped Israel in any way to avoid massacre by the Egyptians in 1967 but if they did, thank you.
For the lawyers
- Is there no statute of limitations in anti-colonial cases? How far do we go back? Could Britain sue France for the Norman invasions?
- Are we looking at decades of lawfare with a whole new category of legal practitioner?
- Who is the party to be sued? Is Turkey really the legal successor for the Ottoman empire outside Turkey? One could make a good case in court that the legal successor to the Ottoman Empire, in Egypt, is the Egyptian government.‡
- What about counter claims? Muhammad Ali extended Egypt’s borders south into Sudan, and eastwards into the Arab Mashreq, particularly the Levant. Will a successful Egyptian case lead to suits by Sudan, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine – and by Palestine would that mean only Arabs or would Israel self-acknowledged as the legal successor of the Ottoman and the British have standing?
- Counter claims for expenses? As I don’t know that much about the Ottoman period in Egypt I will use a Commonwealth example. If India was to sue Britain for damages resulting from colonialism, how much could Britain counter-claim for building India’s railways and providing a common language, English?
- UK to expect more colonial-era compensation claims, Ian Cobain and Jessica Hatcher, The Guardian, 6 June 2013
- New Zealand to pay colonial compensation, Yasmine Ryan, Aljazeera, 24 May 2013
- Ottoman Empire (1301-1922), BBC, not dated
Source for Erdogan photograph Senat RP/Polish Senate, 2009
† The Tino Rangatiratanga Flag of the Maori sovereignty movement. Recognised as the national Maori flag of New Zealand by the NZ Cabinet in 2009
‡ There has been a sea change since 1923. The Turkish War of Independence (as much against the Allies as the Sultan) overthrew the Ottoman Sultanate and led to a modern, secular state. Despite the efforts of current Turkish President to reclaim Ottoman glory for himself and return to the religious status quo ante it remains so.
Monarchs of the Muhammad Ali Dynasty reigned over Egypt from 1805 to 1953. Muhammad Ali Pasha, an Albanian commander in the expeditionary force sent by the Ottoman Empire in 1801 to dislodge the French occupation of Egypt led by Napoleon Bonaparte. The Ottoman considered Egypt to be a province of the empire but Muhammad Ali and his successors considered themselves to be Khedives, essentially absolute monarchs. Ottoman rule was nominal. Actual control was Egyptian.