Making Space: Taking Part in the Everyday Politics of Cairo’s Popular Quarters

By James H. Sunday
Submitted to Session P4845 (Activism, Contestation and Political Participation in the Middle East and North Africa, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Studies of political participation in authoritarian systems have generally taken two forms: on the one hand vis-à-vis formal, liberal democratic institutions or by contrast in favour of informal networks, coalition politics, and mediation mechanisms which largely escape the purview of the state (cf. Lust and Zerhouni 2008). The visible varieties of political participation leading up to, during, and after the Egyptian uprising(s) of 2011 complicate this distinction.

This study offers an ascending analysis which addresses wider debates about the varied impact of governmental actions (latent and manifest) arising from global and local exchanges between state and society— and the exercises of power that entwine them. With extensive post-2011 ethnographic fieldwork across three popular quarters in Greater Cairo, the paper highlights how everyday experiences with uneven development impact subject formation and lead to capillary efforts to improve livelihood and reach community objectives. An exploration of the varieties of youth engagement in political and economic activities, the aim is to problematise contemporary conceptualisations of collective action and participation amongst the urban poor. I posit that a Foucauldian reading of neoliberal governmentality provides a coherent framework for understanding how power relations within these popular quarters play out in everyday practice and how such relations are constructed by, and constitutive of, different forms of political engagement.