A Tale of Two Contagions: Science, Imperialism, and the 1883 Cholera in Egypt

Proving that I can write about things other than the Spanish flu …

In the summer and fall of 1883, the newly-installed Anglo-Egyptian government faced its first public health crisis when cases of cholera were reported in the Nile Delta and rapidly spread throughout the country. The government’s response was based in part on long-standing European prejudices about the “Orient” as the origin of plague and pestilence and “Orientals” as people who did not understand health, science, or hygiene, and were unconcerned—even fatalistic—in the face of life-threatening illnesses.

To the contrary, Egypt had, over the course of the 19th century, developed a basic national health system, which had earned praise from European observers prior to the British occupation in 1882. The prejudices expressed by British occupation authorities also elides the British government’s own stance in ongoing debates among European scientists about contagion and the appropriate methods for preventing the spread of diseases like cholera.

The Anglo-Egyptian government’s response was based on imperial policies, racial prejudices, and scientific understandings that failed to adequately deal with the pandemic at the cost of 50,000 Egyptian lives.

Go read the rest at: A Tale of Two Contagions: Science, Imperialism, and the 1883 Cholera in Egypt — Islamic Law Blog