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Elena ChitiAssociate professor

About me

I am Associate Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at Stockholm University, which I joined in 2018-2019.

I hold a PhD in History of the Middle East from IREMAM/Aix-Marseille University and a Master in Arabic Language and Literature from Ca’ Foscari University of Venice. I studied Arabic at Birzeit University and the University of Jordan.

I worked, as a teacher or a researcher, in Italy, Egypt, France, and Lebanon. I completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Oslo. I am research associate at LARHRA (Laboratoire de Recherche Historique en Rhône-Alpes) and a member of the Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul (SRII).

In 2018, I joined the team of the ERC-DREAM project ("Drafting and enacting revolutions in the Arab Mediterranean, from the 1950s until today"), led by Leyla Dakhli.

I am a translator of Arab world's literature (from Arabic and French) into Italian.


I teach courses on history, societies, and cultures of the Middle East, for BA and MA levels. Since 2018-2019, I have offered the new MA course on "Revolutions in the MENA: Practices and Paradigms".


As a historian, I am interested in cultural productions as sources to explore identity-making in times of social and political turmoil. From this perspective, I studied Alexandrian literary circles between the late 19th century and the first third of the 20th. I aimed to go beyond the cliché of “cosmopolitan Alexandria” to examine a period of conflicting horizons (the end of the Ottoman empire, the British occupation, the rise of Egyptian nationalism).

Since 2011, I applied the same perspective to the present and to popular culture, studying the cultural productions connected with the recent uprisings in the Arab world, with a particular focus on Egypt.

I am currently engaged in a study of Egyptian criminal figures from 1920 until today, to investigate the construction of public morals in its connection with national belonging in times of social and political turmoil.


A selection from Stockholm University publication database

  • National Robin Hoods and Local Avengers

    2021. Elena Chiti. Journal of Historical Sociology 34 (3), 517-534


    The article examines bandit myths from a socio-historical perspective, as part of the socio-cultural reality of present-day Egypt. It engages in the semiotics of banditry encouraged by Stephanie Cronin by taking a first step towards a social semiotics analysis of Rayyā and Sakīna, the two Egyptian female criminals par excellence, arrested in 1920 and executed in 1921. I will argue that Rayyā and Sakīna's criminal myth is currently being resignified in terms that can be conceived of as social banditry. Ethnography, press, and broadcast sources help to highlight two different recent shifts towards bandit myths, linked respectively to national and local circulation.

    Read more about National Robin Hoods and Local Avengers
  • Building a National Case in Interwar Egypt

    2020. Elena Chiti. History Compass 18 (2)


    In November 1920, the Alexandria police arrested two sisters, Raya and Sakina, along with their husbands and others, and charged them with the murder of seventeen women. At the end of a trial held in May 1921, the judges sentenced to death six members of the gang, yet it was Raya and Sakina who monopolized public attention as the first women sentenced to death in the Egyptian secular justice system. A century later, they are still alive in the Egyptian collective memory, which has turned them into a long-lasting criminal myth and remembers them as former prostitutes, madams, and female murderers. Previous studies seem to see the myth as resulting from the supposedly exceptional character of the case. This paper is a first step toward exploring how this exceptionality was constructed and how it took on a national dimension after the announcement of Raya and Sakina's arrest. The focus is on al-Ahram, the main national daily newspaper at the time, which covered the issue systematically, providing information on the investigation while building the case in national terms. A micro-historic approach to al-Ahram will enable a deconstruction of exceptionality through comparison with a precedent. An analysis incorporating both the precedent and Raya and Sakina's case will lead to a first hypothesis about the longevity of Raya and Sakina's case and the disappearance of the precedent from the Egyptian collective memory. This perspective offers insight into the connection between the press, public morality, and nation-building in interwar Egypt, linking textual and extra-textual realities and shedding light on the local aspects that make the nation. Indeed, the organization of al-Ahram in the provinces may be seen as a key factor in revealing what attracts national attention and what remains confined to a local dimension.

    Read more about Building a National Case in Interwar Egypt

Show all publications by Elena Chiti at Stockholm University