Field of Reeds brings one of America’s leading scholars of rural Egypt full circle, back to his starting point of PhD field research in the Nile Delta under Nasser. Rarely if ever has a political scientist completed such an intellectual journey, visiting along the way, not only every single governorate in Egypt his primary interest, but also to a host of rural settings in other countries around the globe, to say nothing of engaging with the dramatically changing circumstances and their scholarly interpretations over these last several decades.
Have you ever wondered: 1.Who built the Pyramids of Egypt and who are their descendents today? 2.Why does the author challenge the great Greek historian Herodotus, by auguring that Egypt is more a gift from the Fellahin, than a gift of the Nile? 3.What great event happened in the early 1960s that completely changed the life of the peasants of Egypt? 4.Why did the peasants (fellahin) of Egypt not engage in a massive revolt in the 1990s, when the Government allowed landowners to reclaim their land that the peasants had been cultivating for over 30 years? 5.Do you know the story of the village of Dinshaway that precipitated a national crisis, and that eventually forced Great Britain to leave Egypt after over fifty years of colonial rule? 6.Are the villagers of Egypt prone to violence or to submissiveness and what does that tell us about the future of Egypt? 7.Which farmers in the world have the highest yields in wheat, rice and corn? 8.Are the villagers of Egypt favorable to the Islamic extremist or more favorable to some form of democracy based upon moderate Islam? 9.When the villagers of Egypt were asked where would the like to live if they could live anywhere in the world? 10.Why did a friend email the author on September 12, 2012 and tell him: “Please tell the American people that the Egyptians they see storming the American embassy do not represent the people of Egypt. They are mostly a misguided minority of people who see the world through clouded glasses of hatred and bigotry, provoked and misinformed by extremists who share an agenda that is unIslamic, violent and destructive for Egypt’s future.” Dr. James Mayfield, professor of Middle East Studies since 1967, has been studying the villages of Egypt (as a student, professor, researcher, trainer, manager and consultant) for over 40 years. This is a very comprehensive, multi-disciplinary, study of the rural Egypt. This book presents chapters on the history, the culture, the local government system, village schools and health care systems, the agricultural systems, causes and solutions for extreme poverty, the challenge of establishing a civil society in Egypt, and what prospects there are or democracy in Egypt. Each chapter includes a short narration story that brings the existence and culture of the Egyptian villagers to life through short but rich examples of how the Egyptian peasants (fellahin) live, work and survive in a world filled with challenges, problems, but also opportunities and hope for the future.
The concluding chapter is a compelling and novel effort to assess rural Egypt’s future. Combining once again anthropological data in the form of first-hand interviews and survey-research findings, with his in-depth knowledge of Islamic theology as well as the actual practice of Islam, especially through its rural variant, he portrays a society in which religion can and likely will support other drivers of democracy, global and local. He is thus reasonably confident that the dramatic events of 2011 will in due course result in improvements in the quality of life in rural Egypt, in part because more democratic government will enable rural Egyptians to take greater control of their lives. The bottom line then is one of confidence in the social, political and productive powers of rural society, a view that is not unique, but certainly one that is rarely expressed so forcefully and eloquently. Knowing rural societies around the globe, and especially that of Egypt’s, no one is better placed to reach this finding than Jim Mayfield.