This chapter describes the bureaucratic, legal, and laboring mechanisms through which irrigation functioned in the countryside of Ottoman Egypt. It begins with an analysis of the earliest survey of irrigation in Egypt shortly after the Ottomans conquered the province in 1517. It shows how precedent for the management of irrigation works and local knowledge of environments shaped the Ottoman bureaucratic understanding of rural Egypt that came to be ensconced in their survey of the countryside. The chapter then discusses how these ideals on paper were challenged and changed by the ever shifting ecological circumstances on the ground in Egypt. Analyses of numerous court cases concerning irrigation repairs in Egypt bring to light the constant negotiation between Egyptian rural cultivators and the Ottoman state, the role of peasant expertise in the management of water resources, and the use of precedent in the adjudication of disputes over water. Overall, this chapter aims to set the context for understanding how irrigation functioned in the Egyptian countryside.
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