Informality and access to services among youth of Cairo’s ashwaiyyat

By Rasha Hassan
Submitted to Session P4826 (Vulnerability and Exclusion: Examining Access to Services and Institutions for Syrian Refugees and Residents of Cairo's Ashwayyat, 2017 Annual Meeting
Development; Population Studies; Urban Studies;
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Informality is a defining characteristic of urban life in Egypt, spanning the extensive informal economy to the hidden fees associated with ostensibly free public services. The growth of informal urban settlements – known in Egypt as ashwaiyyat – is often attributed to the failure of urban housing policy and is a physical manifestation of the spread of informal markets that parallel many of Egypt’s formal institutions. Popular and public policy discourse in Egypt has constructed the ashwaiyyat as problematic; they are widely seen as areas of insecurity, poverty and at times extremism (Bayat & Denis, 2000; Ismail, 2006). Young people growing up in informal areas are often assumed to be facing multiple inequalities of opportunity compared to formal urban dwellers. Yet there is substantial variation in poverty levels, security and access to services in the ashwaiyyat, blurring the boundaries between informal and formal neighborhoods of Greater Cairo. Although surveys have demonstrated that the majority of residents in the ashwaiyyat have access to basic services, case studies indicate that the quality and accessibility of those services, as well as informal mechanisms of exclusion from them, vary widely across areas (El Zanaty and Way 2004; Centre for Development Services 2013; Sabry, 2010). In this paper, we draw on representative survey of nearly 3,000 young people aged 15 – 29 and complementary qualitative interviews with youth in informal areas of Greater Cairo to examine differences within informal areas in young people’s geographic and effective access to services. We define services to encompass education, healthcare, cultural/recreational services, employment programs, and security services (e.g. police), taking a broad view of how access to and experiences with formal services and institutions influence young people’s lived experiences in the ashwaiyyat. We also explore how youth negotiate their inclusion/exclusion from formal services, and the informal mechanisms of social support, economic relationships and conflict resolution that they and their communities rely on in the face of unreliable public services.