Rights on the Ground Voices from the Field

Report | A dissident history of a city

Introduction

“De Lesseps statue has fallen twice: the first of which was during the nationalization wave in 1956, and the second is in 2020. Its remnant is a witness of a nationalist populist struggle that has fought tooth and nail to bring it down, forcing the colonial power… This Historic m oment is what we have been working for”. (Aly Ragab, a Port Saidi) 

A discussion has been ongoing lately around de Lesseps In relation to Port Said’s nationalist movement. De Lesseps is the engineer that has been directly associated and connected to the Suez Canal project since its initiation. He was commemorated through building his statue and placing it in the northern entry point to Port Said. The timing of bringing back the statue coincided with a global movement against statues that represent various exploitative faces to the people. Examples of this were seen in the United States after George Floyd was murdered brutally by the police. The movement started and expanded into cities and countries around Europe, India and South Africa. Another global movement against colonization was witnessed in Cherouzberry city in Britain as people burnt down the status of East India Company, which was a major tool of colonialism and has led to a variety of crimes against humanity during colonial waves in the early twentieth century.

Recently, there were discussions on social media over the attempt to return of De Lesseps’ statue to Port Said while its inhabitants were asleep. Although there have been various attempts and governmental-related discussions since the 2000s to bring back the statue, none have been accepted with any reaction other than pure rage from the Port Saidis. However, this time, the story of bringing back the statue was different. This is because never before have the Port Saidis been confronted with the statue being brought back. It was all premised purely on hearsay and discussions. This time, De Lesseps was brought back without any consultations with the public. It was rather suddenly returned to its pedestal. Port Saidis woke up to a heightened uproar. This paper discusses the various narratives around this contentious historical figure who is producing polarizing reactions across Port Said and Egypt at large. I start by introducing De Lesseps according to nationalist discourses. I, then, move into presenting various snippets of movements: calling back for, or utterly rejecting de Lesseps return, while delving into their narratives and framings. Finally, I conclude by raising questions around historical narratives that are contested and in flux, and continue to shape, and be shaped, by the present.

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