In 1882, about 60 years before the book’s setting, Britain defeated the Egyptian army and occupied the country. Even when Egypt was declared independent by England, the British government maintained a strong military presence in the country.
During World War II, the British used Egypt as an Allied base of operations. Britain’s enemy in Northern Africa was the cunning German general Erwin Rommel, also called the “Desert Fox”.
Egyptian solders fought under the British army, but the successes of the desert Fox made it seem like the war was going to last forever. The “Desert Fox” had pushed the combined forces of Egypt and Britain back all the way to Alexandria, a major Egyptian city.
The “shared enemy” mentality may have quelled anti-British feelings during the setting time-frame of Midaq Alley, but right after the “Desert Fox” was defeated, nationalistic feelings erupted again in Cairo.
Egyptian social classes during the 1940’s consisted primarily of upper class, middle class, and lower class people. What class you were in (as usual) depended on how well off you were and how successful you were. i.e. a beggar would be lower class.
Many of the upper class or very well off people were people who profited off of the war during the times.
They title of ‘Bey’ was given to those especially of great prosperity and was a high ranking title. Above that was then Pasha. Bey is equivalent to the English title of Sir.
Men were dominant over women, although women could often speak their minds in the family. How ever they were not given any political positions.
Men’s jobs were usually to work for or own businesses while women stayed at home and raised their children.
Main exports are oil, natural gas, steel, and textiles.
During the 1920’s and 1930’s, industrialization occurred in Egypt thanks to the British. These factories were owned by Egyptian entrepreneurs.
Through investment in fertilizers and drainage, Egypt was able to use cotton as a cash crop in the 1940’s.
During the 1930’s, wages dropped steeply so many Egyptians could only buy maize and beans to feed their families.
During the British occupation, many Egyptians who worked for the army traded simple goods (Sweets, tea, coffee) for higher prices with the soldiers.