Rural Labor Movements in Egypt and Their Impact on the State, 1961-1992

James Toth

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"This important book rescues Egypt’s migrant workers, the tarahil, from their usual neglect. It follows them from the fields into the urban labor market to argue that, in spite of the weakness of their position, they played a significant political and economic role in the turbulent years of the Sadat presidency and beyond."--Roger Owen, Harvard University

Analyzing the role of rural workers in Egypt’s economy, James Toth provides a bottom-up account of the country’s recent history, including the 1961 agricultural crisis that undermined Nasser’s Arab socialism, the 1965-66 recession that doomed Egypt’s performance in the Six-Day War, the rural roots of the 1977 Cairo bread riots, and the Islamic movement of the 1980s and 1990s.
Toth’s work is grounded in a richly detailed ethnographic study of migrant (tarahil) labor and of the everyday lives of the workers who perform it. He maintains that, because peasants make up a substantial portion of the Egyptian working class, their influence has been great, often manifesting itself in ways unforeseen by government planners and thwarting government schemes for promoting economic development.
Combining anthropology with political economy, Toth presents a clear theoretical framework for examining the role of unskilled rural labor in the developing world. He makes a strong case for rethinking current notions of socioeconomic change in developing economies.

James Toth, associate professor of anthropology at the American University in Cairo, is the author of articles in Dialectical Anthropology, International Journal of Middle East Studies, Critical Sociology, and British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies.

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"A remarkable book on tarahil workers (internal migrant laborers) in Egypt. An ingenious blend of micro and macro level analysis. No only does it give a detailed ethnographic description of tarahil workers' lives and choices, but it is also unique in conceptualizing the interconnections and continuities between rural and urban, agricultural and industrial life, and showing their interdependence and complexity. A vivid portrayal of Egyptian social and economic life as seen from the bottom up, which will be of value to scholars and students alike." MESA Bulletin
--MESA Bulletin

"A significant contribution not only to recent Egyptian history, but also. . . to our understanding of the political and economic impact of unorganized workers on the peripheries of world capitalism."-- Labor History
--Labor History

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