Revolution in Parallel Times: An Ethnography of an Egyptian Village in Flux

By Hebatallah Khalil
Submitted to Session P5024 (Ethnographies of Everyday Politics, 2017 Annual Meeting
Ethnography; Transnationalism;
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In 2012, a village of 3000 residents in Egypt’s Delta declared its secession from the governorate. None of its residents had joined the Revolution in 2011, and none of my respondents from the village considered their act of secession to be political. This paper builds on a 3-year ethnography in a small Egyptian village, Al-Tahseen, in an attempt to explicate the relationship of the rural to the Egyptian Revolution.

Most accounts of the Egyptian Revolution have marginalized the village, describing the uprisings as a rupture enabled by city dwellers par excellence (Sassen 2011); an assertion hard to resist considering the iconic space that Tahrir Square occupied worldwide. Other accounts brought the village into the story of the revolution by focusing on the participation of the rural youth in the revolution by traveling to the cities (Abu-Lughod 2012). These accounts not only spatially reconfigure the Revolution as urban, but also temporally fix it as a rupture, thus ideologically injecting it with the presumption of revolutionary actors, and disregarding the multiple threads of actors, geographies and timelines that have come together to enable an epitome in January 25th. Placing Al-Tahseen’s revolutionary action on the timeline of the Revolution challenges accounts of the urban, sudden, youth/ activist revolution.

Through this account, I attempt to examine how the mobilization in the village relates to the mobilization in the urban squares, and to the narrative of the revolution, including through the media, legislatures and the political conflict. The villagers were not part of the Event of Revolution, but have watched it closely on TV, and modelled their choice of action and timeline accordingly. The village had its own revolution, but its timeline was consciously differentiated from the timeline of the Event of Revolution. A parallel narrative of the rural revolution emerges, one that is particular and local, but still inevitably in negotiation with the national discourse and event. In doing so, I explore the multiple meanings of “the political”, investigate the plural actors of the revolution, and make a humble attempt to underscore the complicated ways the rural connected to what has been observed as an urban revolution. Instead of bringing the village to the center of the Revolution, I insist that Al-Tahseen is a particular revolution, forming one contingent reality for a Revolution that is hard to pinpoint as singular or exclusive.