Local Governance and the Authoritarian Egyptian State: Forced Evictions in Cairo’s Informal Settlements

By Caroline Abadeer
Submitted to Session P5002 (Urban Imaginaries: Governing through Housing, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Egypt;
Urban Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Rapid urbanization and population growth have led to the rise of large informal communities throughout Greater Cairo over the last four decades, and approximately two-thirds of the city’s population (over twenty million) now live in unplanned or slum quarters. Informal neighborhoods have always been viewed as illegal and undesirable by government officials, and the poorest of these areas are also considered to be hotbeds of violence, crime, and religious extremism. The goal of this paper, therefore, is to situate Egyptian urban upgrading and rehabilitation efforts of informal areas in their broader socio-political context. In particular, this paper examines the specific practice of forced eviction and resettlement of slum communities as one strategy that the state has adopted to assert itself in otherwise “uncontrollable” urban spaces. Using an original data set of forced eviction occurrences over the last two decades in the Greater Cairo Region, this paper seeks to address the following questions: How does the Egyptian state govern or infiltrate informal areas? What factors explain the spatial variation in the state’s ability to project its power, and what drives the concentration of violent forced evictions in certain Cairo neighborhoods? Are particular demographic groups more likely to be targeted for removal? Identification of the conditions under which autocratic regimes deploy repressive or violent strategies against their populations is an important puzzle that has long preoccupied scholars of comparative politics. The main argument advanced here is that slum evictions and related urban policies are not undertaken—as policymakers often contend—solely for the purposes of advancing urban development and renewal. Rather, the findings suggest that forced evictions may sometimes be politically motivated as well, and target communities where Islamist sympathizers concentrate.