Malak Labib: ‘From the Needle to the Rocket’: International Development, Social Engineering and the Politics of Economic Planning in Egypt (1941-1965)

Labib’s project explores the history of development in Egypt, from wartime debates on state interventionism to the first Five-Year Plan. It examines the set of institutions, individuals and practices that created the development strategies of Egypt between the 1940s and 1960s. The project contributes, firstly, to a long-term history of development, which explores the links between the state- and economy-building projects at the end of empire, and the development strategies pursued by national elites and international actors in the post-colonial and Cold War era. In addition, the project moves away from a view of developmentalism as the simple expression of technocratic reason and high modernism, and it pays attention to the knowledge networks, institutional mechanisms and social practices that shaped the politics of development planning. Finally, this research is an attempt to place the Egyptian case within the wider history of international development. Where much of the existing scholarship on the topic has remained Western-centered, the project explores the complex interactions between the global and domestic levels, and it pays particular attention to the ways in which various local actors – from intellectuals and experts to policymakers and workers – debated and experienced development. This research draws on oral history interviews and archival research in Egypt, Europe and the United States.

Malak Labib is currently a EUME-FU Fellow of the Fritz Thyssen Foundation. She received her doctorate from the Institut de Recherche sur le Monde Arabe et Musulman of Aix-Marseille University (2015) and her MA from Sciences Po Paris (2005). Her background is in History and Political Science. Her research interests cover the history of knowledge and science, political economy and the history of development. In 2018, she was a CEDEJ/CNRS Postdoctoral Fellow. She taught at Aix-Marseille University, the American University in Cairo, and Cairo University, and has also been active in a number of alternative teaching initiatives in Egypt (Mubtadaa’ and Sikkat al-Maarif). From 2008 to 2010, Labib was a Research Fellow at the Economic and Business History Research Center of the American University in Cairo, where she conducted an oral history project on the history of development planning in Egypt.


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