The Probate Regime: Enchanted Bureaucracy, Islamic Law, and the Capital of Orphans in Nineteenth-Century Egypt

Journal Article

Abstract In this article, we explore the “probate regime,” an administrative field of government activity of legally transferring, taxing, and administering bequests. As an example, we study the changes of the Egyptian probate regime in a longue durée perspective, with a focus on the nineteenth century when Egypt was a sub-Ottoman “khedivate.” We argue that the rationalization and expansion of the previously Ottoman administration of bequests, unlike Western bureaucracies, retained religious norms in the 1850s-1860s. In the context of Egyptian legal transformation, the change in the probate regime represents a case when Islamic norms became contested between administrative bodies of the government and the Muslim judge (qadi). Drawing on novel archival research in Egypt and elsewhere, we first consider the institutions of the Ottoman probate regime (probate judge, fees, and a probate bureau). Next, we zoom in on the way the khedivial probate bureau became a large, de-Ottomanized, Muslim administration of death by the 1870s in a partnership between khedives and local jurists. The khedives also considered the orphans’ wealth under the care of the bureau a source of government capitalism. Despite the abolishment of the probate bureau in 1896, the khedivial transformation ensured that Muslim principles remained normative during the British occupation which ushered in a new division of law into “religious” and “civil” legal domains.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Mestyan, A; Nori, R

Published Date

  • January 5, 2023

Published In

Start / End Page

  • 1 - 28

Published By

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1939-9022

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0738-2480

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1017/s0738248022000529


  • en