Beyond borders: The Egyptian 1947 epidemic as a regional and international crisis

Liat Kozma*, Diane Samuels

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article examines the post-Second World War regionalization and internationalization of public health by focusing on the 1947 cholera epidemic in Egypt. We argue, first, that for the Egyptian medical profession, the epidemic served as an opportunity for both anti colonial critique and soul-searching and self-criticism: it attested to the poor medical condition of the Egyptian countryside and the work required to ameliorate it. Second, we place the Egyptian epidemic in its regional context. We show how travel restrictions affected the mobility of people and merchandise between Egypt and its neighbours, as newly formed borders were solidified, crossed or transgressed. At the same time, the epidemic served as an opportunity for Arab solidarity. Finally, since epidemic erupted during the short term of the WHO’s Interim Commission, Egypt served as the WHO’s first testing ground, helping to prove its capability to mobilize medical assistance, disseminate medical alerts and negotiate the abolition of quarantine restrictions. The epidemic, moreover, erupted against the background of renegotiation of international sanitary conventions, which historically placed cholera and the Muslim pilgrimage to the Hejaz at their centre. The source of the epidemic in a British military base and Egypt’s ability to contain the epidemic resonated with on-going debates over international travel restriction, international health policies and local sovereignty. The 1947 cholera epidemic was thus, a defining moment in the emerging relationship between international organizations and the decolonizing world.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)50-67
Number of pages18
JournalBritish Journal of Middle Eastern Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 British Society for Middle Eastern Studies.


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