Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations
Heather J. Sharkey
Contrary to common perceptions, the history of beer (and indeed of other alcoholic beverages) in the Muslim-majority context of Egypt has not been a history of government officials desperately seeking to extirpate the evil of alcohol as rumrunners, backyard brewers, and moonshiners stayed one step ahead. Rather it was a history of a commercially-marketed product that enjoyed relatively wide popularity and robust growth from 1880 to 1980, and sat at the cutting edge of technological innovation in Egypt in that same period. Its success was not only evident from the profitability of the companies that sold it, but also from its increasing appearances in all popular forms of art and media. The title of my dissertation is "Grand Plans in Glass Bottles: An Economic, Social, and Technological history of Beer in Egypt, 1880-1970". My dissertation studies Egypt during an exciting period, when the country was transitioning from being a quasi-colonial state, under British Occupation after 1882 and, until 1914, under Ottoman influence as well, to being an independent country within a highly competitive global economy. Using American, Dutch, and Egyptian archival sources, as well as Arabic literary sources, I focus on two closely linked companies, Crown and Pyramid Breweries. Originally founded by Belgian expatriates in Egypt, these two firms in their various incarnations developed the Egyptian beer industry and cultivated a wide customer base. I take the story past the 1950s, when the Egyptian government under Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the beer industry (which was by then led by Stella Beer and owned primarily by Heineken) much as it nationalized the Suez Canal. Through the study of this beverage, my research connects the history of Egypt to Belgium, Netherlands, Britain, and elsewhere; the history of a business to developments in technology, politics, and consumer culture; and the history of the people - of "everyday Egyptians" - to business elites. Viewed through a mug of beer, we can tell the economic, political, and cultural history of Egypt at large.
Foda, Omar D., "Grand Plans in Glass Bottles: The Economic, Social, and Technological History of Beer in Egypt 1880-1970" (2015). Publicly Accessible Penn Dissertations. 1055.