Conference takes new approach to Egypt's legal history

Daily News Egypt
5 Min Read

CAIRO: Braving swine flu concerns that continue to plague the American University in Cairo, the university law department hosted a three-day conference that took a new approach to understanding and interpreting the development of modern Egyptian law.

Titled “New Approaches to Egyptian Legal History: Late Ottoman Period to the Present, the conference, which began Thursday, is jointly organized by AUC and New York University’s Department of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies.

The conference, which brought in academics from around the world, could not escape the repercussions of swine flu’s appearance in Cairo, but ultimately it may have come out ahead. Organizers had planned to hold the event at the Downtown AUC campus. In the aftermath of positive swine flu tests, that space was no longer available.

Since the confirmations of seven swine flu cases at AUC, the university announced that all classes and events through June 14 would be cancelled.

Instead, the conference, which had been in preparation for nearly a year, with additional AUC funding arranged by the university Provost, was moved to a chandeliered room at a five-star Zamelek hotel.

The Ford Foundation and the Egyptian National Archives had provided the original financial support.

The relocation was not the only effect swine flu had on the event. One of the AUC law department chairs could not attend because he was under quarantine in the university’s Zamelek dorm, according to organizer Maria Elander

Representatives from universities around the world arrived in Cairo to meet with local professors and other professionals in the field of law.

“It’s a mixture of academics and practitioners, Elander said.

Judge Tahany Al-Gebaly of the Supreme Constitutional Court attended the conference, and several other high ranking judges spoke in a session on Saturday.

AUC President David Arnold opened the discussion Thursday, which began by questioning the “new approach indicated by the conference’s title.

In the invitation to the conference, organizers noted that “the past few decades have witnessed the emergence of a new stream of scholarship on Egyptian legal history, one that relies on alternative methodologies, fresh primary historical sources and new research agendas, and in the process unsettles some of the basic premises underlying the country’s dominant legal historiography.

Bringing together under the same roof scholars interested in Egyptian legal history and those interested in colonial cultures, the conference seeks to “chart out how this new evolving field is developing and to identify what questions may still benefit from further research. Additionally, we aim to outline how this new stream of scholarship impacts on two areas of current public policy debate, namely: Islamic law reform, and law and economic development, organizers said. NYU professor and event organizer Khaled Fahmy said that newfound sources as well as new approaches have developed the topic in recent years. The advances, he said, are “based on new methodologies or new sets of questions that have been posed in our field.

He explained the new approach that many of the attending scholars are taking as they review old sources and find new ones, especially among the Egyptian National Archives.

“Do they constitute a transparent medium? he asked. “Or are they more opaque?

Hofstra University Assistant Professor Mario Ruiz said the new approach has allowed scholars to expand beyond some of the more traditional outlooks on the development of Egyptian law, generally focusing either on Islamic law or ancient Egyptian and Roman law. He said that by focusing on the more recent history, the conference incorporates European influence that might not be relevant to the traditional discussions.

The scholarly analysis of European influence is a recent development, Ruiz said. “If we can find ways to incorporate them in a dialogue, we can move to another stage, he said. “On a very broad level, it’s about bridging differences.

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