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The transplantation of European legal systems in the periphery often occurred via semi-colonial institutions, where Europeans were subject to their own jurisdictions that placed them outside the reach of local courts. In nineteenth-century Egypt, the option of extraterritoriality was extended to local non-Muslims. Drawing on Egypt’s population censuses in 1848 and 1868, we show that locals did not seek extraterritoriality to place themselves under more efficient jurisdictions. Rather, legal protection mitigated uncertainty about which law would apply to any contractual relationship in an environment where multiple legal systems co-existed and overlapped.