From the Ottoman conquest of Egypt in 1517 until the second half of the eighteenth century, Egyptian farmers initiated and oversaw the construction and repair of small-scale irrigation and other infrastructural works in their local environments. They controlled how and when their labor was used. At the end of the eighteenth century, rural labor in Egypt dramatically changed. It became coerced, required the large-scale movement of peasant laborers, resulted in enormous environmental manipulation, and was often deadly. This chapter explains this massive sea change in environmental labor in Egypt. It makes clear how and why forced labor, deleterious environmental exploitation, extractive economics, and population movements emerged at the end of the eighteenth century and how they have come to characterize the relationship between work and the environment in rural Egypt from that period until today.
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