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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Murder in Alexandria: The Gender, Sexual and Class Politics of Criminality in Egypt, 1914 - 1921

  • Author(s): Takla, Nefertiti Mary
  • Advisor(s): Green, Nile
  • Gallagher, Nancy
  • et al.

My dissertation analyzes the effects of World War I on the port city of Alexandria, Egypt through the investigation and trial of a serial murder case that took place in 1920 - 21. The victims of the serial murders were seventeen women who had engaged in clandestine sex work in Alexandria during the war, and their death marked the rise of domestic trafficking networks in interwar Egypt. Two of the female accomplices to the murders, Raya and Sakina, became scapegoats for the crime and were the first women in Egyptian history to receive the death penalty. Numerous Egyptian films, TV shows and comedies have been produced about these murders in recent decades, and the case is still widely known throughout the Middle East today as "Raya and Sakina." Despite the many afterlives of this case, no historian has studied the two thousand pages of handwritten legal records that were produced about these murders. My dissertation utilizes the records of the Egyptian National Archives and Library, the microfilm collection of the National Judicial Studies Center in Egypt, and the digitized materials of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina to analyze the case in its broader historical context. I argue that the murder of the clandestine sex workers and the execution of Raya and Sakina marked the formation of new relationships of power between workers, the state, and an expanding middle class, and new discursive relationships between gender, sexuality, class and criminality. This study examines how these relationships were institutionalized legally, materially, spatially, and discursively, leading to the spread of middle-class modernity in Egypt and the beginning of the end of cosmopolitan Alexandria.

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