Circulating Anti-Colonial Cairo: Decolonizing Information And Constructing The Third World In Egypt, 1952-1966
LeBlanc, Zoe Genevieve
This dissertation is about how Cairo’s involvement in anti-colonial politics in the 1950s and 60s became intertwined with the new revolutionary Egyptian state’s expansion into all areas of information, from intelligence to the press to mass media. I trace how from 1952 onwards, Gamal Abdel Nasser’s government started constructing a mass information regime capable of cementing the revolution at home and asserting Egypt’s independence abroad. Initially focused on the Arab world, the spread of decolonization meant that increasingly Egyptian independence was premised on opposing imperialism and neo-colonialism across the globe, leading Cairo to promote a broad range of anti-colonial political solidarities, from Arab unity to Afro-Asianism to non-alignment. This utopian anti-colonial politics was furthered through this expansive information infrastructure, which combined put Cairo on the map not just regionally but globally, especially for national liberation movements and leftist intellectuals. This new international stature was reinforced with Cairo’s prominence as a host of anti-colonial conferences and institutions, leading observers to remark that the city was at the crossroads of the world. To uncover this global moment and how it was distinctive in Cairo, I utilize machine learning and natural language processing methods to analyze discourses in new publications from this mass information regime, and compare them to those from across the larger anti-colonial world. While I argue that Cairo was central to international anti-colonialism, I also contend that the success of Egypt’s efforts spelled its doom. Over the course of the 1960s, I detail how other decolonizing states built competing information regimes, diluting the strength of Cairo’s signal. Egypt’s message was further challenged as increasing Cold War tensions and coups in some of the leading non-aligned states strained the bonds of anti-colonial solidarities. Ultimately, the final death knell was the rise of the Egyptian Left, whose co-opting of the information regime would eventually exacerbate Egypt’s economic prospects, leading to the shuttering of most the government’s efforts to reach beyond the Arab world by the end of 1966, which signaled the end of anti-colonial Cairo.