Court records, police reports, and security statistics indicate that theft was the most frequent crime committed by imprisoned Egyptian women in the interwar period, although scholarship has largely focused on their involvement in prostitution. Theft by women was typically an isolated act motivated by urban conditions of poverty, but many women became skilled repeat offenders who worked individually or in teams, taking advantage of the growing transportation networks that linked villages, towns, and cities. The theft examined includes shoplifting, pickpocketing, burglary, laundry stealing, scams, and stealing from domestic employers. Given their low wages, poor and working-class women had difficulty meeting their material needs in a semicolonial capitalist urban economy even when they worked in legal occupations. In addition, the legal work most available to them, in factories or as domestic servants, violated classed and gendered notions of respectability. Theft offered the possibility of material gain without great loss in status if one were captured, since poor and working-class women who lived in Egypt’s growing cities between the two world wars already had difficulty measuring up to the standards of being mastura, a morally and sexually protected member of society.

You do not currently have access to this content.