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Meiji Japan, Ottoman Egypt, and the British Occupation: A Turn of the Century Colonial Triangle of Non-Western Modernity and Anti-Colonial Egyptian Nationalism



The independent Japanese nation-state of the late 19th century, with its modern institutions and its enlightened officials, became a powerful role model for other non-Western societies who struggled to acquire the trappings of modernity they often associated with the West – parliamentary constitutionalism, universal compulsory education, and patriotic love of homeland, for example. Under British occupation since 1882, Egyptian nationalists in late Ottoman Egypt looked to this Japanese example in formulating their anti-colonial resistance ideologies. After Japan’s dramatic victory in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, the pages of the Egyptian nationalist press were full of articles arguing for a British withdrawal in order to facilitate independent Egyptian nationhood. The authors of these anti-colonial demands used the Japanese example as a discursive tool to highlight their particular strategies for liberating Egypt. But a question arises: could an “Eastern” nation such as Japan, which served as an exemplary nation-state for other “Easterners” to emulate, also be acknowledged as colonialist? Or was colonialism at this time only understood as a by-product of Western imperialism to suit the needs of Egyptians, allowing them to deploy the Japanese model rhetorically, with knowing regard for Japanese colonial endeavors in East Asia?