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From Extortion to Obligation. The Creation of a Revenue Tax in 19th Century Egypt
Archival evidence suggests that Muḥammad ʿAlī, shortly after acceding to power in Egypt in 1805, took steps to emancipate political authority from its financial dependence on local notables by creating a broad-based tax levied on different socio-economic groups. This tax was based on economic activity, classified according to estimated profitability and location. There was but a short step between the invention of such a tax obligation and one based solely on individual revenue. Being engaged in a productive activity came to justify paying a portion of one’s revenue to the State – no longer as a forced contribution, but precisely because income-generating employment (especially in the form of salaried government work) could be presented as a privilege granted by the government. A much closer approximation to a pure income tax was instituted around 1855; in the 1860s, massive recruitment into the state apparatus took off once more after a hiatus, and a new law granted government staff a set of social guarantees. The institution of the income tax and its precursors as an expression of state power will provide the focus of this paper.
Keywords: Egypt – taxation – state-building – economic history – nineteenth century.
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