Violence, Deviancy and Police Masculinity in Contemporary Egypt

By Michael Farquhar
Submitted to Session P4832 (The Cultural Politics of Violence, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Security Studies;
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This paper considers how representations of violence in accounts authored by Egyptian policemen in recent decades speak to the construction of a particular understanding of “police masculinity” which, I argue, stands at the heart of contemporary Egyptian security discourse. While there is a growing literature that seeks to historicise constructions of masculinity in the Egyptian context (e.g. Jacob 2011; Ghannam 2013) and while there is also an emerging literature on the history of “police masculinities” in European and North American contexts (e.g. Barrie and Broomhall 2012), there have until now been few attempts to make connections between these bodies of work. Paul Ammar’s insightful research on gender, sexuality and security in Egypt is a valuable point of reference but the broad way in which he conceptualises “security” has tended to displace the police institution as a central concern. In seeking to make connections between these disparate literatures, and in taking violence as the theme for doing so, I take my cue from Michael Taussig’s contention that cultural representations of violence – in forms ranging from storytelling, gossip and rumour to ostensibly “factual” reports – play a central role in constructing social identity and relations between perpetrators and victims. I engage with representations of violence in a variety of police-authored texts, including memoirs, semi-autobiographical novels, and articles published in Egyptian police journals. This source material includes an array of accounts authored by Egyptian policemen of violence exercised by Islamist militants upon the police, violence exercised by the police themselves upon Egyptian citizens, and violence that police officers mete out to their subordinates. I argue that the continuities in narrative strategies, tropes and symbols that span this wide range of genres illuminate the ways in which violence has been a locus for the construction of an understanding of the police as masculine guardians of society from a variety of “deviants” whose danger is located partly in the threat that they post to hegemonic gender norms. At the same time, I suggest, police-authored accounts of intra-police violence serve to illuminate the extent to which the gender norms at stake are themselves ambivalent and perpetually open to question.