Colonial Egypt, the Military, and World War 1

Organized/conscripted labor and construction works have been part and parcel of the Egyptian army’s history and development (as well as other armies’ histories). Military history is often complex and is interspersed with scientific, infrastructural, and technological experimentation and expansion, as well as medical, spatial, embodied, and professional management and disciplining.

At the outset of the war [World War 1], the British, French, and Ottoman empires created various labor corps and battalions to support the logistical needs of their respective armies. The ELC [Egyptian Labor Corps], similar to the other labor corps that served in different theaters of the war, consisted primarily of specially formed units that worked primarily in transport and military construction….With regard to recruitment, Egyptian peasants first arrived in Cairo and then moved to base depots in the Canal Zone, where military officials disinfected, clothed, equipped, and organized them into different gangs and companies of laborers. The martial law regime that the British established in Egypt during the war sent most members of the ELC to Palestine, but others also went to Mesopotamia, France, Italy, Salonika, and the Dardanelles to perform jobs such as railway construction, laying pipelines, and digging trenches. Although Egyptians who served in the ELC were not technically frontline soldiers and were paid a daily wage, a large number of these men suffered from wartime injuries, disease, and death.—Mario Ruiz, “The Egyptian Labor Corps

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