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“Mental Hygiene” and Child Governmentality in Egypt
In 1945, Dr. ‘Abdel Azīz al Qūṣī published his seminal work ’Usus Aṣ-ṣiḥḥah an-nafsiyyah (Foundations of Mental Hygiene). Few years earlier, in 1938, his master, Ismā‘īl al Qabbānī (the Egyptian John Dewey) published Qiyās al dhakā’ fil madāris al ’ibtidā’iyyah bil Qāhirah (Measurement of Intelligence in Cairo Primary Schools), first of its scope and methodology in Egypt and the Arab World. The significance of the work of both al Qabbānī and al Qūṣī is due to their introduction and representation of the “mental hygiene” movement, a hybrid of pedagogy and psychology. “Mental hygiene” centred around “the development of personality,” with the assumption that personality maladjustments were the cause of individual mental disorder and social problems of all sorts (shudhūdh). Because childhood was the locus of development of personality, any deviance would render children vulnerable to personality disorders. As such, according to both Qabbānī and Qūṣī, the school was the strategic agency to prevent, detect and "adjust" problems in children's personality development. Due to the work of al Qūṣī, and others, we see for the first time in Egypt the publication and distribution of government sponsored books and pamphlets addressed to children giving “proper” and scientific sex education. This shift from a moral discourse on sex to one more entrenched in medicine and science signaled a nuanced case of biopower aiming at the “normalization” of childhood sexuality, and managing the body and mind of the child as an individual member of the population. Simultaneously, the work of al Qabbānī signaled the medicalization of education, by introducing IQ tests, behavioral clinics and,al madāris al tajrībiyyah (experimental schools), to measure and “quantify” the intelligence capacities of a child and consequently pathologize, and perhaps treat, those who did not conform to the “normal.” The work of al Qabbānī and al Qūṣī represent yet another episode of “childhood gaze” by “child experts” which started at the fin-de-siecle Egypt, reaching a peak in the 1940s. Policies and laws were drawn to rescue, protect and reform “the child,” who was perceived as the capital and future of the nation. In such turn, the education of children as a matter of public order was not the only concern. Children’s physical, moral and intellectual integrity, their sexuality, their leisure and their well-being became part and parcel of pedagogy and the education process, which became more open to public intervention and no longer a private matter
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19th-21st Centuries