Thèse de doctorat
|This dissertation analyses the role of Belgian diplomacy in the establishment of Belgian-Egyptian relations in the long nineteenth century. The perspective of entangled history in which an actor-based approach is combined with a relational understanding of diplomatic history is at the core of this study. For Belgium, a country that increasingly saw potential in its relations with Egypt as part of a more general expansionist dynamic, its diplomatic corps was the main instrument to create international connections. As a result, the general history of Belgian-Egyptian diplomatic relations serves as the background against which the role diplomats played in forging connections between both societies is sketched. In general, the ability to pragmatically adapt itself to the possibilities of Belgium’s foreign policy, international trends, and the Egyptian context characterise Belgian diplomacy in Egypt in this period. First of all, this study stresses the importance of consular representatives in the establishment of these ties. Via the consular apparatus, local elites were deeply integrated into the Belgian diplomatic corps and the specificity of the networks, intelligence and cultural expressions they had access to, strengthened Belgium’s diplomatic position in Egypt.Secondly, this dissertation supplements outdated perceptions that tend to overstate the contributions diplomats made to the improvement of commercial relations. Until Egypt became a theatre of Belgian economic expansion in the 1880s, the economic ties were after all rather marginal. Surprisingly, it was by connecting Belgian capital with Egypt’s investment opportunities, Belgian diplomats were mostly involved. Instead, a kaleidoscopic view on the variety of roles played by Belgium’s diplomatic corps is put forward. Especially when Egypt’s viceregal regime transformed into a more politically-independent Khedivate, the professionalization of the Belgian diplomatic corps matched the increased political relevance of the country. This was particularly true when the introduction of the Mixed Courts offered Belgium an opportunity to effectuate its extraterritorial rights, but also when Belgium’s agency in Egypt became a liaison office for Leopold II’s colonial ambitions in Central Africa.Thirdly and lastly, the history of Belgium’s diplomatic presence in Egypt show that the forms of cultural brokerage in which foreign diplomats were involved were far more diverse than the narrative on Egyptological practices suggest. Initially, the Belgian diplomatic presence in Egypt resulted in direct bilateral cultural exchanges that was facilitated by the appetite for Western culture of the local Egyptian elites and the Orientalist expectations in Belgium. In the middle of the nineteenth century this evolved into a Belgian diplomatic contribution to the emergence of Levantine cosmopolitan elite setting that supported Egypt’s claims for political independence. Upon the installation of the British occupation in Egypt during which an increasing amount of Belgians would gain key positions in the country’s elite, Belgium’s diplomatic corps secured the ties between this small expatriate community and the new regime.