Managing Egypt’s Poor and the Politics of Benevolence, 1800-1952

Mine Ener, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003. 195 pages.

In Egypt and elsewhere in the Ottoman Empire, the social safety net represented by the extended family branched off in many directions. By Mamluk times, it encompassed the patronage of wealthy and noble families who distributed food to the poor on religious festivals and during times of hardship, and who sponsored the construction of bridges, waterworks, and public fountains. In addition, mosques sometimes housed schools, soup kitchens, and hospitals; merchants regularly fed beggars; Sufi lodges housed travelers; and waqf endowments sponsored various religious and charitable activities. Ruling dynasties, including their women, created funds that sponsored orphans’ homes, paid the dowries of poor women, and provided pensions for the widows and children of soldiers killed in battle.

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