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This chapter focuses on the paradoxical relationship between the center of Cairo (“Downtown”) and the gated communities in the satellite cities in the desert, by attempting to weave fictional narratives with reality, and by investigating how spatial and class polarization intensified after 2011. It is no coincidence that the counterrevolutionary moment that Egypt has experienced in the past years has led to the proliferation of a fascinating dystopian literature that turned the cityscape of Cairo into the center stage of hallucinatory apocalyptic landscapes. Furthermore, the exodus to satellite cities in both the eastern and western deserts poses another set of serious challenges and problems, in turn raising questions about how the future of Downtown will evolve.
Five years after founding the journal Der Islam, Carl Heinrich Becker published his study “Steuerpacht und Lehnswesen eine historische Studie über die Entstehung des islamischen Lehnswesens” (1914) in it. This article had a surprisingly deep impact. It is not only a milestone in the assessment of the “oriental” iqṭāʿ as very different from the European “fief”, but it also served some authors as basis for far-reaching statements: Max Weber and Marc Bloch referred to it in their work. The article was “state of the art” until 1953 when Claude Cahen opened up new axes for research on the iqṭāʿ in a ground-breaking study.
The present article outlines Becker’s perspective, starting with his statement that the iqṭāʿ falls short from being a fief first of all because “the Orient” does not know the homagium, the voluntary submission of a nobleman under a prince. The article identifies some of the sources for this statement, shows its implications and traces its impact, among others on Weber and Bloch. The article also names sources that must lead to a re-assessment of this statement: contrary to Becker’s claim, in Seljuq Iran, there were social relationships and ceremonies that can usefully be compared to the Latin homagium. At the end, the article contextualises the iqṭāʿ as one form of “benefit”, one duty that the lord has in the mutually engaging relationship of “service” (khidma).